Afraid To Belong

I think you’re afraid of belonging.

Belonging to something goes against the grain of our culture. We’re meant to be individuals. We’re meant to be concerned purely with the self. We’re meant to do what we like in this day and age. Life is for our own pleasure, our own enjoyment, and our own fun. Why then would we belong to anything?

Despite our individualistic culture there is something about us that wants to belong. Look around, football clubs have members, Facebook has friends, Twitter has followers, wars have armies, politics have parties, institutions have chapters, and beer drinkers (or parma eaters) have locals. With belonging comes a sense of being part of something bigger. There is a feeling of commitment and mutual appreciation. There is a knowledge that other people are like us, they are centred on the same things we are. There is a togetherness, a mate-ship, a team bond.

This might all be well and good but there is also something within us that makes us afraid to belong. Belonging means we have to be investors, investors of time, energy, and emotion. Belonging means we are exposed, vulnerable, and out in the open. Belonging means disappointment, hurt, and heartache. Belonging isn’t easy and that’s why we’re afraid.

When the footy team never makes the eight, when the political party is stuck in opposition, when the family is in turmoil, when colleagues aren’t pulling their weight – situations like these make belonging hard. The same goes for the church, to belong to a local congregation is going to be hard. When 80% of the work is done by 20% of the people, when the offering decreases, when the rosters aren’t being filled, when the people won’t turn up, continuing to belong to a church is tough.

In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul talks about the church being like a body. And in v14-16 he says,

“For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body.” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And, if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body.” that would not make it any less part of the body”.

Paul is telling us, whether we like it or not, that there is no excuse for not belonging to the body. While the church may be made up of people with a number of different gifts there is still a responsibility to belong. Not everyone is going to be the preacher or the Sunday school teacher or the offering steward but that doesn’t mean we are excused from belonging.

We like to belong to something but we don’t like to commit. We like to belong in quiet ways. After all, it’s nice to sit up the back and hear pleasant music and words wash over us for an hour. But hey, getting involved in the constitution committee, having people around for lunch, building a relationship with a teenager, helping out with crèche, playing the guitar, or (dare I say it) beginning a new ministry, well, that’s not nice – that’s messy! That actually means it’s time to get our hands dirty, invest time and money, invest emotional energy.

So, whether you’re part of the 20% that does most of the work or the person who wafts in and out of church buildings each Sunday perhaps it’s time to evaluate where you’re at. Perhaps it’s time to commit to belong, truly belong, or are you too afraid?

Lectures To My Students (p131)

“It is impossible to hear a man who crawls along at a mile an hour. One word today and one tomorrow is a kind of slow-fire which martyrs could only enjoy. Excessively rapid speaking, tearing and raving into utter rant, is quite inexcusable; it is not, and never can be powerful, except with idiots…”

by Charles Spurgeon

Holiday Reading (July 2010)

I’ve been on holiday for two weeks and during that time had some great rest and a lot of reading. The following is the list of books I read during that time. I might blog about a few of them over the coming weeks, we’ll see.

The Prodigal God by Tim Keller.

Living the Resurrection by Eugene Peterson.

Desire and Deceit by Al Mohler.

Women, Authority & the Bible edited by Alvera Mickelsen.

Total Church by Tim Chester & Steve Timmis.

Shattered Icon by Bill Napier.

The Disappearance of God by Al Mohler.

Storm Warning by Billy Graham.

Storm Warning by Billy Graham

Billy Graham, Storm Warning (revised ed., Nashville, USA: Thomas Nelson), 2010.

Billy Graham is widely known as the pre-eminient evangelist of the 20th century. Throughout his 91 years he has proclaimed the gospel of Christ on every continent and to millions and millions of people. There is probably no other person in the history of Christianity that has spoken to as many people about Christ as Billy Graham – he has had an amazing ministry. From the poor to the President’s he has preached and invited a wide variety of people to call Jesus as Lord.

It is this Billy Graham that has now revised and updated his 1993 book, “Storm Warning” for the modern day reader. Using the book of Revelation Graham takes the reader through a variety of passages linking first to the gospel and then to current day situations. As the book of Revelation moves through from John’s initial calling and vision to his letter to the seven churches through to the picture of a new heavens and new earth so too Graham uses this as the outline for his book. It is well done in this respect. There is a constant reflection on the gospel in each chapter and also some personal illustrations to explain what he is talking about. In most chapters there is a connection with issues that are affecting the world today and how particular passages of scripture either speak into this situation or how the events illuminate the scripture. Topics discussed range from natural disasters to spiritual depression to fear and anxiety to terrorism to the loss of religion. They are broad topics but also illuminated by Graham and scripture.

To be honest i was bored by the time i got to the middle of the book. I think this book is important, relevant and quite often right in it’s reading of scripture and the world. However, at times i thought texts and events were stretched to fit the argument. There is a lot of proof-texting going on which just got annoying. I think Graham has a wealth of wisdom to give us, particularly the evangelicals of this world but the more personal experience stories i heard the more “samey” the book got. In some respects i could almost pick how the next chapter would turn out.

In some ways it was a book about the end times. It tries to show that the events of today are more and more evidential of the coming return of Christ. And, while this is true it just seemed a bit of a stretch in parts. I loved the basis of the book – Revelation, the Gospel, Christ but i found it lacking in keeping my interest.

2.5/5

Living the Resurrection by Eugene H. Peterson

Eugene H. Peterson, Living the Resurrection: The Risen Christ in Everyday Life (Colorado Springs, USA: NavPress), 2006.

The resurrection of Jesus is one of the central foundations which give the Christian hope and assurance in life. In this little volume Peterson tries to explain what living the resurrection is, how to go about it and strategies to cultivate it in everyday life. There is a threefold aim to the book (pg. 14):

What i want to do is recover our resurrection center and embrace the formation traditions that develop out of it. I’m going to deal in turn with threes aspects of Jesus’ resurrection that define and energise us as we enter the practice of resurrection lives. I will then set this resurrection life lived out of reality and conditions of Jesus’ resurrection in contrast to what i consider the common cultura habits about assumptions that are either oblivious to or make detours around resurrection. I will name this “the deconstruction of resurrection”. Finally, i will suggest something of what is involved in cultivating the practice of resurrection: living appropriately and responsively in a world in which Christ is risen.

With this beginning Peterson sets out on his task and by the end of the book i don’t think he got there. In many instances the book is rather confusing and talks in generalities and broad terms about life and “living the resurrection”. While the book may try to define what “living the resurrection” is I myself didn’t find the answer or found it awfully odd. What i got out of it was that “living the resurrection” involved keeping a Sabbath, witnessing, getting baptised and having meals with friends. In the final chapter i sensed that the summary of “living the resurrection” was simply to live a life that isn’t over-run by busyness.

The book left me confused as to what actually “living the resurrection” is. I don’t think it achieved its aims, however, if it did then it wasn’t clear enough for me. It does have some good things to say about those four or five topics mentioned above but for what it says its going to do i don’t think it does.

2/5.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from NavPress Publishers as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commision’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Jesus Manifesto by Leonard Sweet & Frank Viola

This book is an excellent book. In ten chapters Sweet and Viola give ample evidence in the promotion of Christ, his supremacy and sovereignty. Throughout each and every page there is continual recognition of Jesus and who he is. There is regular reference back to the Bible and seeing how God has been at work throughout history. The authors analyse the current church and it’s “Youniverse” centredness, speaking directly to the heart of the church and her attendees. It is a challenge to the hearts of the readers of this book as it speaks so much truth. The essence of much of the book and it’s aims can be seen in this quote on pg. 100:

“Our problem is this: we have created a narcissistic form of Christianity in which “conversion” is less turning toward Christ than a turning toward success or fame or fortunes. Narcissus never had it so good than in best-seller Christianity, which has become self-centredness wrapping up as ‘spirituality’, which has become the latest fashion accessory for the person who has everything…True “conversion” is to lay hold of Christ, or rather, as Paul corrected himself, to allow Christ to lay hold of us…You are not the point. And we are not the point. Jesus Christ always has been and always will be the point. All the arrows point to Him and not to us”

The theological and scriptural basis on many of their arguments are well-founded. There is a great chapter describing Bethany as the resting place for the Lord while on earth and the truth that comes from those passages in Luke. There is a constant looking at Christ and the Word and then reflecting on that for our day today. In many respects this book is harping on about exactly what John Piper has been harping on about for many years now, just from a different angle and a bit lighter.

The aim of the book is to capture the hearts of those within the church and present a vision of Christ that promotes Him as the “one thing” and the root of Christianity. I think it is an excellent book and well worth spending the time to read. It is an easy read with many illustrations to keep one engaged. You’ll want to re-evaluate your walk with Christ once you’ve read it.

4/5.

I Love My Church

I love my church.

I love that Jesus is glorified at my church.

I love that the Bible is taught at my church.

I love that people are hungry to know more of God at my church.

I love that people are willing to learn the Bible at my church.

I love that there is a growing community of young people at my church.

I love that visitors feel welcome enough to come out to snac at my church.

I love that during the week there are different people from my church meeting together for funsies.

I love that those who come are willing to serve at my church.

I love that there is a sense of the Spirit and of community at my church.

I love that young adults are willing to invest in young people at my church.

I love that there are a number of ‘older folk’ who support the evening congregation at my church.

I love that encouragement can be gleaned from just being with people and hearing their stories at my church.

I love that I have the opportunity to lead people at my church.

I love my church.

I love that it’s God’s church.

A House United by Frank Frangipane

Frank Frangipane, House United: How Christ-Centered Unity Can End Church Division (Grand Rapids, USA: Chosen Books), 2006.

I was given this book by a long-time serving member of my church. It was given to me on the back of a pastor leaving and also their interest in my article in the Baptist Witness. I was greatly encouraged to receive this and have spent a few weeks reading through it.

The central premise of Frangipane’s book is much like his title. He is encouraging believers the world over to quit being so divisive and start taking heed to the Bible’s commands for unity.

The book is in five parts and he comes out strong by talking about the sin of division straight up. I seemed to plough through the beginning of the book and it wasn’t until the last few sections where he captivated me a bit more. I don’t think he was particularly wrong in the beginning of his book but it just took a while to get into. He touches on important topics throughout and uses the Bible correctly in making his points – although he does tend to work interesting angles into his OT exegesis. I wasn’t convinced too much with his chapters on Lucifer and demons but he does hit many nails right on their heads in other parts.

As the book flows he works from stating the sinful nature of church splits and division to looking at areas where division usually starts. The third part that he touches upon is the way in which healing can come about after certain sins and divisions within a church and then encourages all believers to become more Christlike in their hearts.

I think that it is a great book and was quite thought-provoking. He is solidly evangelical and Biblically based and it is hard to argue against what he says. I would recommend this book to anyone who has gone through a church split or division, has felt hurt by the church or who wonders why the church isn’t united and how to bring healing to at least a little part of it.

4/5.

Productivity and The Bible

Recently I’ve been quite enamoured with a few organisational/productivity type blogs. They are the kind of blogs which promote and give insight into being more productive and organised.

I have found many of their articles and suggestions really helpful.

For example there was one particular article which promotes getting your email in-box down to zero each day. Since reading that article I have been quite efficient with my emails and would say that the time spent reading the article has been rather advantageous to my life. However, sometimes it takes a while to find that gold nugget of advice or instruction. Sometimes it could mean trawling through 50-100 different posts before something really strikes you and you feel that you can apply it to your lifestyle and that it will make a positive contribution to your life.

I’m glad the Bible isn’t like that. In 1 Timothy 3:16-17 we are told that all Scripture is God breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness. This is in order to make a person of God competent and equipped for every good work. Therefore, whenever I open the Scriptures and read what God says I can be confident that I am not wasting my time trawling through to find something that’s relevant – it all is!

If only I spent less time reading blogs and more time in His Word!

I wonder then, is the Bible a productivity tool?

Equipped for Adventure by Scott Kirby

equippedforadventureScott Kirby, Equipped for Adventure: A practical guide to short-term mission trips (186 pages, Birmingham, USA: New Hope Publishers), 2006.

Short-term mission trips are interesting things. Everyone in ministry seems to have an opinion, particularly those within the ‘mission’ community. This is yet another book promoting the use of short-term mission trips but also tells you how to run one. As its title suggests, it is full of practical ideas and helps in order to run a short-term trip successfully.

The book is OK. It has some really good tips regarding the preparation, organisation and debrief stages, but that’s about as good as Kirby gets (which is good, don’t get me wrong).

His main premise of doing short-term mission, stated in the first chapter, could use some work. While he does link it in with a casual reference to the Great Commission (Matt 28:19-20) he seems to focus more on it being an adventure. The impression from those opening pages wasn’t particularly high.

After only recently returning from leading a team myself I do think the practical tips given by Kirby are good. The overall sense of the book is certainly American (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing) which does need to be recognised and adapted for other countries/cultures. I think you would call this an entry-level STM trip book, other resources around this, depending on where one is going, would be beneficial.

2.5/5