Monday, January 18, 2016

Book Review of Making Friends, Making Disciples by Lee Spitzer

Making Friends, Making Disciples: Growing Your Church through Authentic Relationships
by Lee B. Spitzer
ISBN 978-0-8170-1645-6
Judson Press
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Making Friends, Making Disciples is a book written as part of the Living Church series by my denomination (ABC/USA) designed to support and encourage effective congregational leadership. This book is the first book in the series, and after reading it, it sounds like the Living Church collection will be insightful and helpful for many pastors and lay leaders in churches.

Making Friends, Making Disciples draws on resources from philosophy, literature, as well as social science and scripture to make an argument for placing the formation and care for friendships as the foundation of powerful and effective ministry. In doing so he asses our need for friendships, especially in our current cultural context,

This book is full of great insight, It also has assessment tools in the back of the book to help individuals understand their history and circles of friendships.

This book is also challenging. As I read this book and considered the contents I asked myself, "Am I really that good at making friends? Am I capable of being the kind of minister this book describes? How do I as a pastor maintain healthy boundaries and still become close friends with people in the congregation I serve?"

In addition to these questions I was challenged to ask questions about our church, "When people enter worship, do they find a place where they can form friendships? Do our facilities make space for friendship?"

There is a lot to think about in this book. And a lot to grow with too.

Friday, January 08, 2016

The Big Offering

Most churches, in one way or another, incorporate a collection of financial contributions into their worship services. For more liturgical churches, this happens after the message. The logic being that giving is a response to God’s action through answering our prayers and giving us his word. In the churches I grew up in and was a part of until I came to Hot Springs, an offering took place somewhere in the middle of the service, because we wanted to leave time for responding to the Word through seeking prayer and making commitments of faith during an invitation, or what others term an “altar call”. In either tradition, the bringing of tithes and offerings is considered an important part of worship, not simply because what we do with our resources is part of our worship, but because the presentation of tithes and offerings is an act where we not only offer our money but a time where we offer our very selves in worship to God.
One of my favorite verses is this, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship,” (Romans 12:1) or as it is stated in the Message, “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.”
One Christian music group in the 1980’s had a slogan, “He died for me, I’ll live for him”. That slogan has always rang true and sounded biblically sound to me. I think that sentence hits home because it summarizes Romans 12:1. We are to bring our lives before God as a “living sacrifice”. The term “living sacrifice” implies both a complete commitment, and a commitment that needs to continue to be renewed. It is not an offering, like you put in a plate at church, that is given and received at one point and then you are finished with. It is an offering that begins at a specific time, but continues through repeated resolve and commitment through God’s assistance and grace into the eternal future.

It also, as the Message reminds us, is an offering that takes place in the mundane and gritty details of everyday life, and not in the enclosed space of a sanctuary or the narrow window of time of a Sunday worship service. Worship services are important, not because we need to give an hour to God a week, but because that hour equips us to give our 24/7 to the service of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is important to give of your resources to others and to the church. It is even more important to make that giving a portion of giving your life in service of the Master.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Overcoming the Puppy Dog Syndrome

I quote the movie "Up" more than I care to admit. And when I say "quote", I mean that I mostly quote the dog in the movie. When I put Jake's cone on his head I often say, "I do not want to wear the cone of shame". And when I notice either myself or someone else is being easily distracted I say, "Squirrel!" and turn my head.

It is easy to have the puppy dog syndrome. Puppy-dog syndrome is want to get going with some project or with life in a certain direction, and then to see something else that looks interesting that diverts your attention for a moment, that then leads to another diversion, and then another. You get the point. You have a plan to start a career in one direction, but then another job comes along that sounds really neat and you take it. Pretty soon you have worked for a church, been a social worker, managed a retail store, and taught a few community college classes in the last ten years with no forward movement vocationally. Or, you decide to clean the kitchen, but pretty soon you are doing dishes, doing laundry, while you are shredding documents and your desk is a mess, you kitchen is only slightly cleaner, and there is a wet load of laundry in the dryer that you forgot to put in the washer and you have to run to pick up the kids. This is puppy dog syndrome.

There are certain parts of my life where I suffer from puppy dog syndrome. I am hoping in the next year to recover from them.

Use of organizational tools--I have an unhealthy interest in planners. I work best with Microsoft Outlook. One problem with my Outlook is that I have not been able to link it to my phone, which is my dream.  Another challenge is that I really need to write things down and have them on my computer to remember them best. So I buy planners. I have several cheap 2016 calendars.

My plan with several calendars is to use them like journals of sorts. One that records what I have done at work. One that has blogging plans. One with reading plans. One that has a journal for exercise. You get the point.

In addition to this I want a Franklin-Covey insert set that is on a really good sale right now as well. I already have the leather folder for it. It has always worked well as a planner that covers everything in the past. It allows me to do a to list, to record what I have gotten done, and to put together a schedule all in one place. I love Franklin Covey.

See what I mean..."Squirrel!"

Reading Plans--I have several books. I think I am close to around 2000 books in my library. About this time of year, I try to set some learning goals, which include a number of books I want to read to get me on my way to really growing personally, theologically, and in some practical skills and insight. My challenge is, I am always overly ambitious on these things.

Here is the draft list of topics I want to delve into in my study time next year:

  • Preaching
  • Spiritual Formation
  • Leadership 
  • Pastoral Ministry
  • Theology (non-current)
    • Continue Institutes
    • Read Barth's Dogmatics
    • NT Wright
  • Pauline studies (especially NT Wright's stuff)
  • Psalms in depth study
  • Contemporary Issues and Trends in Ministry
    • Church organization
    • Church growth
    • Small group development
  • Theology of the Holy Spirit
Devotional Plans--I would like some mix of the following. I have most of them on my phone
  • Praying the daily office
    • PCUSA version, book of common prayer, The Divine Hours,Seeking God's Face, Common Prayer, or other? Or just do whatever feels right that day?
  • Daily Devotionals
    • Tim Keller's new devotional, Hearing God's voice by Tiegren, or something else, as well as seasonal devotions during Lent, Advent, etc
  • Read through the Bible in a Year
See what I mean? Do I really have time for all of this?

I would also like to train for a 5k, 10k, and a half marathon as I lose at least 50 more pounds.

And I would like to be completely devoted to the church, wholeheartedly invested in my kids and wife's life, be more involved in my community, make more friends, etc etc.

See what I mean....SQUIRREL

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Book Review of Raw Spirituality by Tom Smith

Raw Spirituality: The Rhythms of the Jesus Life
by Tom Smith
ISBN 978-0-8308-3588-1
IVP Formatio
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Raw Spirituality was released over a year ago. I was eager to read it. So eager, in fact, that I waited to read it from cover to cover until I endeavored to write a book review. The length of time it has taken me to read this book has nothing to do with the skills of the author, and has everything to do with me, and how my life has gotten crazy and my priorities a little out of whack. This is a great book on Christian discipleship from an engaging communicator.

The author won me over right away with his earthy, real-life description of a few of the road blocks to authentic spiritual transformation. From the waiter who asked Mr. Smith when describing his struggle with Christian sexual ethics after beginning his spiritual journey the poignant question, "I have asked Jesus into my heart, but how do I get him into my penis?", to the reference to the journey of faith to participating in a gymnasium, to the metaphor of "butt-skins" (protection of rubber tubing between clothes and the skin to reduce the pain of spankings at school) Smith shares down-to earth word pictures of what it means to enter into an honest, vulnerable journey of faith with other disciples.

Throughout this book, Smith shares a simple set of spiritual disciplines that served as a rule of life for him, his congregation, and others that came under his influence. The steps that he shares are easy to understand and engaging, and at the same time not so overly spiritual that it would be overwhelming for anyone seeking a deeper journey of faith.

This book would be a great to share in a small group, but even better for a leadership team to consider as they attempt to lead their congregation to grow in meaningful ways.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Where I Stand....

I try not to get involved in politics, either as a pastor, on my personal social media platforms, or even blogging. I don't really think either political party has a market on righteousness, and I think both parties exists to please their special interests and donors more than to do what is right. Having said that, there are issues where the life of faith, culture, and politics intersect. There are some issues as a Christian, a minister, and decent human being I cannot keep silent. I like to think in the past I would have sided with civil rights protesters, the abolitionists, the small percentage of Christian missionaries that advocated for rights of indiginous people or supported women's sufferage in Jesus's name. I like to think I might have housed persecuted Jews, or supported their immigration to the United States. Today, there seem few social justice issues that cut and dry. But, the welcoming of refugees from Syria might be such an issue for our time.

Listen to the Word of the Lord:

"35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Listen to this parable. I don't think this is so hard to understand. It is not easy, but it is not difficult to comprehend. God has united himself with the cause of the refugee, and how we treat the refugee from Syria is a measure of how much faith we have in him and how much his love truly resides in our hearts. To be against welcoming the Syrian refugee is a decision to push Christ away, and to say we don't want Christ among us. As a matter of fact, if we are completely against welcoming the refugee, we should also finally banish the idea that America is a "Christian nation", and just admit we are at best a bunch of angry, greedy, frightened pagans, and at worst a bunch of bigots that simply don't want people that have a different skin tone and speak a different language living among us.

If you doubt this bigotry is a factor with some, I encourage you to watch this video, and compare it in your mind to the things people said about African Americans, both in terms of reasons not to free them from slavery or to grant civil rights, mixed together with a few things people are saying about Latin American immigration. The arguments against immigration from this video so far are, so far as I can tell
  • These refugees will rape your women and children
  • They have poor hygiene and diseases
  • They are loud and obnoxious
  • They are ungrateful that we keep them in internment camps and give them crappy food
  • Therefore...we can't trust these people cause they are so dirty and different.  
The interesting thing is, this brief parable I quoted earlier was not a new teaching to Israel. Biblical teaching speaks of welcoming strangers, and in fact being strangers at times throughout the Word of God. In other words, Welcoming people from other places central to Judeo-Christian ethics that are guided by Scripture. 

The Hebrew people were refugees in the desert for 40 years after they left Egypt. God is constantly reminding his people to care for the alien and the stranger (Ex 22:21, Lev 19:33-34 et al.) Deuteronomy 10:18-19 says "loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt." Jesus and his parents were refugees for violent political persection (Luke 2). Jesus said at the core of his mission was to "proclaim liberty to the captives and to let the oppressed go free" (Luke 4 copied from Isiah 61). The book of James tells us that faith without works is dead, and constantly links true faith with reaching out and offering help and hospitality to those in need. 

Colbert covers this well. Be advised, I do think he uses the word for the place of divine punishment once in a profane way. But he  makes his point, which is the same as mine: 

Do we have any guarantees of safety if we let in refugees? Nope. But we don't have any guarantees of safety if they are not here either. Heck, we have kids shooting up schools, crazies shooting up movie theaters, religious zealots attacking black Christians in bible studies in Charleston, cops killing black kids for petty crimes as they scream they can't breathe, people bombing abortion clinics, white supremicists attacking worship services, shootings at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, and of course Timothy McVeigh bombing the government building in Oklahoma City.

So instead of obscessing about being safe, lets do everything we can to be faithful if we are Christians to the gospel of Jesus and begin to let a few gatherings of "huddled masses" come to our shore. Then, instead of living in fear we can live by faith.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Book Review of Joy In the Journey by Steve and Sharol Hayner

Joy in the Journey: Finding Abundance in the Shadow of Death
by Steve and Sharol Hayner
ISBN 978-0-8308-4447-0
IVP Books
Reviewed by Clint Walker

I picked up this book, expecting to skim it. Instead I read it cover to cover in one day. Steve and Sharol share a powerful testimony of facing cancer and death in this brief, easily readable book. Joy in Journey is sure to become a reference for Christians for decades about what it means to die well, and leave a legacy.

This book is simply put together. It is actually a neatly organized transcript of a Caring Bridge journal, (Caring Bridge is an online blog that allows persons with health concerns to communicate with loved ones). Throughout the journal, the Hayners do a substantial amount of spiritual and theological reflection, and give witness to the joy that comes from being a follower of Christ,even in heart-wrenching circumstances.

Please pick this book up and read this. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Monday, October 05, 2015


I got a text message from my mom’s fiancĂ© on Friday morning. There is a shooter on the loose….it said. I did not read much further than that. Hal, even though he is nearing 70, tends to spend a lot his free time texting in group texts to family and friends about stuff. I thought maybe there was a crazy running around Phoenix. There had been a few freeway shootings on the highway there lately. Big city stuff I thought. Pray a little prayer for Mom and Hal and move on. I had work to get caught up on, and I could not do anything.

Then, I came home and turned on the television. I discovered that the shooter was not in Phoenix, it was in Roseburg, Oregon. Roseburg, Oregon is my hometown. I was born there. My mother’s side of the family homesteaded there in the 1800s. When I was little, we moved from an unincorporated community called Melrose, to an area just north of Winchester on the North Umpqua River. When I was growing up, we stopped at the fish ladder quite often to go to a viewing area and watch the fish climb up through the “ladder from the bottom of the dam up to the top. The dam is less than a mile from the UCC campus. At one point, we lived upriver from that campus and the dam, and thus drove by it going back and forth to town every day. My mom, my aunt, my uncle, and my grandmother at one point or another had all taken classes at Umpqua Community College.
So, needless to say, although with all the shootings that have happened I had become kind of numb to the mass shooting thing, this particular event caught my attention, and affected me a little bit more deeply than I expected.

I watched and wondered, would I know the shooter. I knew of course, that this was highly doubtful. Although I have some family there, many of us have moved away. I have not lived there since late grade school. But I was grieved that most likely, that when someone asks me where I was born and raised, one of the questions they will ask me is not about the lumber company or the beauty of the forests and rivers, but isn’t that the place where….

And of course, when this happens, we try and make sense of what happened, but we cannot make sense of what happened really. I mean we will hear that the guy was a loner, that he was angry and confused, that he didn’t really have any friends in real life, and all of that.

Some will argue for gun control. Others for better mental health testing. Others will want every student and teacher packing heat. All of them will seek to find causation. Find someone to blame. Maybe we need to do all that if we are going to keep this kind of thing from happening over and over again. But really, none of all of this is really going to make sense, and lend itself to easy answers.

This is especially true if you were to talk to the parents and children of the people who died. Why did this happen to my child? What was the purpose of all of this? There are no easy answers.

We have had a lot to deal with as individuals and a congregation in the last months, and in the last years. Those dear to us have died tragic deaths. Our health has inexplicably taken a turn for the worse. Our families have fallen apart. Our friendships have unexpectedly turned sour. We have searched for work, and not been able to fine any. And we wonder, “What Happened? Why am I having to go through this? Why me?”

Thank goodness the book of Job doesn’t try to make all that happened to Job make sense to us either. At least not with slogans or simple platitudes.

The book of Job begins by introducing us to Job. We learn that Job is a good guy. He is upright. He is blameless. He is the best guy around. In other words, whatever happens in the next 40 something chapters, you need to know that all of the hard things that are coming to Job are not his fault. The difficulties that he has faced are not the result of his sin, of his shortcomings, of the things that he has done wrong.

We need to remember this. The rain falls on the just and the unjust. The storms come to the man who built his house on the rock and the one that built his house upon the sand. There isn’t always an answer for why things happen that are heartbreaking and tragic. Sometimes they just happen. The good and the bad are both a part of life in the world we live in.

For most of Job’s life, things went perfectly. He was wealthy. He had a nice family. A good reputation. One day it began to unravel. His wealth, through a series of events, was stolen. And then, in a freak accident, his children were killed. And so he grieved.
Soon after that, Job was afflicted with boils. Inflamed painful, infected boils. As if things were not bad enough. Then, while Job was trying to grieve and wrap his head about everything that happened, his wife begins a conflict with him. She tells him that he should give up on his faith, and kill himself. Apparently, she is not happy with him either. 
To her mind, whatever he had built his life around was not really doing much for him now, and should be abandoned—including his relationship with God.

He is not very kind in return. He insults his wife, and says this, “Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?”

And then he is quiet. By the end of chapter 2, his friends gather, and sit with him. They do not say a word. They see how much he is suffering, and they just sit with him.

There is much discussion to be made of the argument between God and Satan, and Satan’s work at attacking Job. If you read the story, Satan enters God’s presence. He claims that Job is righteous because God has given him an easy life, and then he goes about trying to make Job so miserable he will lose his integrity and faith.

As we see this part of the story,  we could speak of spiritual warfare. We could talk about the way that Satan works to attack believers, and what he is able to do and not able to do. Indeed Jesus says that the enemy has come to kill and destroy, but God has come to give life and give it to the full. But, the role of Satan as a part of the problem of evil in the world is an item I would like to save for another day.

 For our purposes today, we need to know this. Job’s suffering is not something directly caused by his sin.Job’s suffering is not something directly caused by God, although God somehow for some reason allowed it to happen.Job’s suffering was caused by the evil that is out and around in the world. It has a cause outside of God’s hand and our own. We can’t blame God. It is not our own fault either.

Sometimes bad things happen, you know? Not because someone did something wrong. Not because someone deserved anything. But because life is hard. It is, sometimes.
Life is not a technology to be conquered, it is often a mystery to be lived into by faith.
Satan’s argument to God was that Job’s faith was inauthentic. That he believed that it was inauthentic because Job was so blessed, and when his blessings were taken away, when the difficult things in life come, that Job would either sin or give up on God.
It is easy to faith with things are going easy. When blessings seem to come your way as you are walking with Jesus. And trying circumstances do test our beliefs.
It is when we are in the crucible of heartache, when we don’t have all the answers, when we are at the end of ourselves, and we are wondering what in the heck God is doing and things are not different that our faith is really challenged. And proven.

I have friends who have had their children stillborn. More than one in the last few years. One of my friends attended a church that believed that bad things simply don’t happen to good people. And so, when they went to worship heartbroken and in despair, the church they attended left them feeling like things would have went better if they just had a little more faith. Because blessings come to the faithful, and suffering to the faithless.
Job shows us that this is a lie.

It often when we are living in the crucible of suffering and pain and heartache that we discover what faith is really all about. Because we have to trust God when we don’t quite understand all that is going on. We have to learn to take the good with the bad, and to cling to Jesus in the middle of the chaos, and know that in spite of the fact we may be frustrated or angry with him at the time, he is the only one who can see us through, the only one who can deliver us, that only one that can offer us a way to make sense and find hope through our pain, and the only one who can offer us eternal life.

Job understands this. His wife does not.

Job’s wife believes that God exists to serve us. To give us stuff. To somehow make us happy. The faith, to Job’s wife, is a consumer exercise. A technology to be manipulated to get what we want.

We hear people like this all the time. They talk about power thoughts. They preach sermons on television that hardly mention the Bible and simply talk about having a positive attitude. They say that if you are faithful your church will not have room to hold all the people who come rushing in. They say that if you are a good Christian you will never struggle in your marriage, never falter in your income, and never have kids that get in trouble.

What Scripture teaches us, and what Job teaches us, is that God can be trusted, and often does his best work in our lives, when it seems like everything around us seems to be falling apart.

So my friends, in the midst of your heartache and pain, continue to trust GOD. The evil that has been done to you has not come from his hand. Cry to Him. And yet at the same time, look to the cross.

On that cross, God incarnate hung on roug-hewn wood. His face bloodied. His flesh torn. Gasping for air. Exhausted. Abandoned. Alone. People spit on his face. He was lied about. He was in physical anguish. And he was also in spiritual anguish as all the sins of the world were placed on his body. The weight of the sin of the world on his shoulders. As the perfect lamb that was slain he died for my evil, he suffered for my wrongdoings.

Christ does not leave us alone in our heartaches. He too is acquainted with suffering. When we look at the cross we see the Son of God dying, we see a Lord who is willing to suffer with us, to bear our burdens with us, one we can turn to that is familiar with the brokenness of our hearts.

And yet, even as we remember Christ’s suffering and our own, we remember that suffering is not the end of the story. We know that Christ rose again, and through doing so he has set all things new. Our sufferings are not the end of the story. God isn’t finished with us yet, despite our anger, our doubts, our frustration, and our inability to take it all in.

At this table, we know that when we hurt, he hurts, and that he seeks to draw near to us. Now let us draw near to him.