Review & Question

Last Tuesday afternoon I had time to spare. Nap was taken. Running a race the next morning. Wildcard Baseball not on yet. What to do in small town PA? I decided to visit about the only place I hadn’t yet checked out that seemed interesting. I went to the library.

It was 4pm; they closed in three hours. My only plan was to look for something that caught my attention and see how long it lasted. Here’s what I found:

I’m telling you this for two reasons: 1) Book review and 2) Personal question

Book Review

I had no idea when I registered for this half marathon that I would end up driving through Amish country. Having spent part of the morning in that area roughly 20 minutes away, it made complete sense that a portion of the religious section of the library revolved around the Amish lifestyle and beliefs. Remembering this national headline and reading the subtitle of this book, caught was my attention.

In about the right length of a movie-two hours-I knew the story of this family and this event in much more detail. I had learned. I had cried. I had grown. If that’s not a ringing endorsement for a book, then what is?

Question

I’m keeping track of the books I’ve read this year. Yes, I added this title to the list. But I had to answer a question that might sound silly, but it was a real question in my mind. And it wasn’t the first time I’ve wrestled with it. Could I truthfully say I’d read that book? Yes, I read it for two hours. Yes, I knew the story. Yes, I knew the ending. I even looked up whether the author is still alive due to what she shared about her health condition. I knew a lot about this book and its author. But, I didn’t read every word of the book. I read as much as I could in two hours.

So here’s my question to you. If you’re a reader (definition: you read a couple of books a year), how much of a book must you read in order for it to count? 51%? 75%? 100%?

All my life, I’ve been the 100%er. Not no more.

For fun, let’s see your answer. You can comment on this post. Or return to the social media link you followed and post your answer. No shame. Be honest.

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Twist on a Good Question

If you are in church leadership, it’s possible in some conference or workshop you’ve been asked this question: “If your church closed its doors, what would the community lose?” Another way to word it, “Would anyone notice if your doors closed?”

Someone at my church recently shared they’d heard this for the first time. They responded like we probably all did the first time we were asked: Thoughtful, Challenged, Evaluating.


Last week I shared that question with someone else, but for a different reason. A comment had been made about my role at the church, to which I made a twisted connection with this question.

What if this question dropped from the corporate level to a personal level and every church member and staff member asked, “If I walked away from this church, what would be lost?” Another way to word it, “Would anyone notice if I stopped bringing what I’m currently bringing to the table?”

Now that’s completely different. But what would happen if every child of God thought more about what they bring versus what they receive? What would happen in the community if believers said, “I’m here. I’m for you. I’m bringing what I got to the table. I’m not going anywhere. How can I help?”

Give ‘Em What God Gave You

It’s possible for someone in my position to ask myself this question more than others; but the reality is we all ask it, consciously or not: “Why is this person in my life?”

Reality also is we can ask that question from a negative or a positive place. The negative place might contain spoken or unspoken expletives. The positive place would not; they would be replaced with a better question, something like this: “How can I fulfill the reason God placed me in this person’s life?”

When you read John’s account of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well (chapter 4), you get the sense Jesus asked this better question. It’s most likely what prompted him to start the conversation. He needed something from her, yet he wanted even more to reveal to her she needed something that only he could provide. The Father had brought them together for a reason.

If you were to make a list of those people you believe God has put in your life for a reason, who would make the list? What if you wrote their names down and then added by each name what that reason might be? It could be something as simple as to listen. Maybe a slightly bigger reason of to recognize. What if like Jesus, God has given you something unique that, with his help, only you could provide for this person? According to Paul in Ephesians 2:10, God’s already given you what you need to fulfill your reason. Nothing stands in your way. Go ahead. Give ’em what God gave you.

“Which Way?”

I have a new favorite verse. At least for today.

“This is what the Lord says: Stand by the roadways and look. Ask about the ancient paths, “Which is the way to what is good?” Then take it and find rest for yourselves. But they protested, “We won’t!””‭‭Jeremiah‬ ‭6:16‬ ‭CSB‬‬

(Check out how these translations ask the question: ESV, NIV, NKJV “Where the good way is?” The Message paraphrases it as the “tried-and-true road.”)

The visual is so clear, yet we seem blind.

Rest doesn’t have to be that hard. Temptations draw us away convincing us rest is a myth. But according to God’s message through Jeremiah, rest has been found by all our preceding generations. In this day of great change and progress, God’s message is still the same:

“Stop hurrying about looking for a new way. Cease driving up and down the road chasing disguised lights of hope. Search out those who have heavenly peace. Humbly ask them the road to it. Join me on that road where rest awaits anyone who trusts rather than protests.”

That Person

I have them. You have them.

I am one. You are one.

That person…

  • …you are constantly battling the thought that they can’t do anything right
  • …you are tempted to believe is unforgivable
  • …you wish they’d just move on
  • …you wonder if there’s such a thing as too much grace
  • …you’re convinced doesn’t have a clue

That person(s) that you’re thinking about right now is your that person.

As a recovering judger and teller, I’ve labeled many people as that person. The more I own and understand that I’m also that person the fewer people I label. We have to resist labeling in our minds and hearts, and we need to be aware when we’re spreading our labeling to others by talking about that person. Not easy work.

How do we do this work? I’m doing it by asking myself three questions:

  1. How am I praying for that person?
  2. How will I stay engaged with that person?
  3. When’s the last time that person…
  • …had an arm around their shoulder?
  • …heard, “I forgive you”?
  • …believed they weren’t alone?
  • …experienced grace from another human?
  • …felt safe with those who knew them well?

It’s hard relationship work. But that person needs it. And as someone else’s that person, I need it.

When God Asks You a Question

When’s the last time you recall a conversation where a question was asked and the person replied, “Wow! That’s a good question”?  I’ve been on both sides of that, and mostly likely you have also.  Those are life-giving conversations.

Elijah had one of those conversations with God in 1 Kings 19.  In this case, Elijah got asked this question, not once but twice: “What are you doing here?”  Similar to God questioning Adam and Eve in the Garden and to Jesus asking Peter the same question three times, this conversation was a learning moment, one that gave direction to a wandering child of God.

Is there shame in wandering?  I’m guessing if there were God wouldn’t bother showing up to ask us a question.  He doesn’t show up because he’s lost or doesn’t know the answer.  He’s showing up for our benefit.  The answer to his question is for our learning, our misdirection, and our relationship with him.

Are you wandering?  Are you lacking direction?  Elijah had walked 40 days and nights and entered a cave where this conversation happened.  What if you gave God that much attention or space so that you could have a life-giving conversation?  What would it take to put yourself in position to hear when God asks you a question?

The Reason We Ask, Seek, and Knock

(Post from a youversion reading plan by Adam Stadtmiller)

God answers prayer, but asking prayer is not primarily about answers. Asking prayer, like all other forms of prayer, is about relationship. If you make asking prayer about answers, you’re moving into dangerous territory.

When prayer is primarily about answers, our relationship with God becomes results focused. When God says no or works outside of our time schedule, we desperately question why and are tempted to feel inadequate or unloved by God. Be assured that as you grow in the area of asking prayer, the Devil will seek to shift the focus of your prayers from relationship to results.

Christ was well aware of the relational purpose of asking prayer. In the seventh chapter of Matthew when Jesus dared His followers to ask for things – big things – like “elephants” in prayers. He immediately transferred the focus from the asking to the fatherly or paternal relationship that surrounds each request we make.

Jesus was saying that whenever you ask in prayer you open up the familial lines of communication and put yourself in a position to experience relationship with a loving and compassionate Father.

When God answers your prayers in dramatic fashion, you will grow in the knowledge of His power and care for you. When God works on His schedule instead of yours, you will come to know more about His sustaining power. And when God says no and your dreams die or perhaps you lose someone close to you, you will come to know the God of all comfort who weeps with you. If you want to know God as Father, begin to assault the throne of heaven in asking prayer.

Are We All Brothers or Not?

Finished this book today. (Is there an unworthy read by Gladwell?)

If nothing else, I like the orderliness of his books. In this one, the nine chapters are divided into three parts driving home this theory: The powerful are not as powerful as they seem-nor the weak as weak.  Each chapter is entitled by the person’s name, the “David,” whose story Gladwell unfolds supporting his theory. These people include students, doctors, activists, coaches, educators, lawyers, pastors, Irish Catholics, and parents of murdered daughters. (Saw some glimpses of myself in Wyatt Walker, chapter 6. You’ll have to read to decide if you agree or to see in which person you see your own glimpse.)

The final chapter tells the story of Andre Trocme, a Huguenot pastor that lived in the French town Le Chambon-sur-Lignon during World War II.  He led the town to become a haven for Jews, despite being imprisoned for it.  Gladwell argues that one reason why Trocme and his town could stand up for the Jews was because of their own history of persecution.  They didn’t view protecting Jews as a dangerous thing like the rest of France.  Trocme’s wife Magda said this about her thoughts when the first refugee appeared at their door:  “I did not know that it would be dangerous. Nobody thought of that….There was no decision to make. The issue was, Do you think we are all brothers or not?  Do you think it is unjust to turn in Jews or not?  Then let us try to help!”

Magda did what few of us do.  She dug beneath the surface question to answer the deeper question.  And the question she answered is critical to all our foundations.  After reading these nine stories, I’d say one of the most clear differences between Davids and Goliaths is their foundations.  Most likely, we’d all like to think our foundations are David-ish.  If you’d like to test yours, you should read this book.

The Big Question

Let’s just get straight to it. The big question for whatever you’re dealing with that appears insurmountable, unsolvable, even potentially life-changing is this: What Are You Willing To Do?

  • Are you willing to leave those benefits?
  • Are you willing to downsize?
  • Are you willing to stick your neck out?
  • Are you willing to get messy?
  • Are you willing to start all over?
  • Are you willing to be completely honest?
  • Are you willing to cut that check?
  • Are you willing to give up that vacation?
  • Are you willing to say, “I’m sorry”?
  • Are you willing to admit, “That’s my fault”?
  • Are you willing to drop all the excuses?
  • Are you willing to ask for help?
  • Are you willing to acknowledge your limitations?
  • Are you willing to listen?
  • Are you willing to answer, “Yes,” to God regardless of who else says you should say, “No”?
  • Are you willing to follow?
  • Are you willing to lead?
  • Are you willing to give up control?
  • Are you willing to be still?
  • Are you willing to be alone?
  • Are you willing to do whatever it takes?
  • Are you willing to come out of seclusion?
  • Are you willing to follow the plan?
  • Are you willing to tear down that idol?
  • Are you willing to say, “I need you, God”?
  • Are you willing to admit you’re addicted?
  • Are you willing to be loyal?
  • Are you willing to take on the responsibility for your own healing?
  • Are you willing to stop trying to save the world?
  • Are you willing to stop telling the Holy Spirit, “Hang on a minute. Someone else is calling in”?

What is the big question for you?

What is it that you know you need to be willing to do?

It Started With a Question

The question came last summer. I was searching for something. But it wasn’t really for me. And maybe that’s why the answer was so good.

My job as assistant pastor at a church is not normal. (Everyone said, “Amen!”) No need to get into all the possible answers to the wrong question here, so suffice it to say my job makes me ask myself a lot of questions. Last summer I asked the same question I’ve asked myself for several summers; but I was looking for something different, something deeper. And that’s why the core question I was really asking was this: “How can we go deeper?”

“We” referred to our church. “Go deeper” referred to our relationship with our ministry partner, Ballard Elementary School. This relationship has existed for five or so years. It’s very healthy, even admired by other churches and schools in our county. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t need evaluating and tweaking and improving. So to do these three things, we ask questions.

This time I got an answer that I hadn’t received before. Looking back, I believe the answer came because we weren’t asking how to improve an existing program but opening the question up by looking for other options, avenues, and pathways yet unexplored. The answer was revealing, refreshing, and certainly unexplored. That answer was, “What about connecting with the art teacher?” I dove in.

Long story short, we met and now are walking a path that is unlike anything either have experienced before. Students and their families are creating lifelong memories because an assistant pastor and an art teacher are collaborating on their behalf. And this collaboration has opened the door to a whole new ministry of the church in the form of an art gallery. Didn’t see that coming (more on that in an upcoming blog)!

But how can you see something coming when you don’t ask the question? 

How can you expect a different result when you keep asking the same question? 

How can go you deeper when you only ask questions about the surface? 

What could start in your corner of the world by asking the right question? 

What if you started by asking, “How can we go deeper?”