My Bible "Reading" Plan

For the past few years I try to read completely through the Bible over the course of the year. I've read The Message, the TNIV, and the ESV (in chronological order). Part of me liked the chronological thing because I got a real sense of the story of the Bible. But honestly, it was hard to stick with it because it was fall before I got to read anything from the New Testament.

Anyway, this year I decided to read through the ESV again using one of the reading plans from the ESV website. (http://www.esv.org/biblereadingplans) There are several to choose from and I chose the ESV Study Bible reading plan. Each day includes a reading from a psalm or wisdom literature, Pentateuch or history of Israel, Chronicles or Prophets, and Gospels or Epistles. It's usually about 5 chapters and only takes about 15-20 minutes. So far, I've enjoyed the daily sampling from different parts of the Bible.

The other thing I like about the ESV reading plans is that the daily readings are sent to my iCal calendar on my MacBook. The complete text and audio also comes to my email through an RSS feed. I LOVE THIS! Now every time I check email, I'm reminded to read my Bible and I do it right there in my email feed.

ALL THAT TO SAY THIS: A few weeks ago, I got several days behind in my reading. I decided to get caught up by taking advantage of the audio of the reading that is also sent to my email each day. I started listening when I went to bed or when I was doing mindless office work. I've enjoyed it so much that I've decided to finish the year listening to the Bible instead of reading it. It's a whole different experience and I'm finding it to be a refreshing way to have my devotional time!


A Lion Among Men

Last night I finished reading A Lion Among Men. It's the third book in Gregory Maguire's Wicked Years series. I enjoyed it. I only write about it because this book received so many disappointing reviews. Many thought that it was a waste of time and that it didn't advance the overall storyline at all. I completely disagree. I felt it tied up several loose ends, increased the depth of the story, and left me with a strong sense of direction as to where Maguire would take the story next. This book centers around the story of the Cowardly Lion. If you're looking for a fictional escape, this one's not bad.

I will say this about Maguire's books. Inevitably there's a good-sized chunk in the middle that I find myself skimming instead of reading. If he has any writing flaws, one of them is to overdevelop a story a bit.


Lessons from the deYoung Museum

Today we took the kids on a field trip to see the Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharoahs exhibit at the deYoung Museum in San Francisco. The exhibit was really great, but it was one of the worst museum experiences I've ever had.

From the moment we arrived it was evident that the entire deYoung staff interpreted their role as being cranky rule-enforcers. We were rarely smiled at and for 2+ hours suffered a barage of "no"s and "don't"s. Our group was very well-behaved, but these are the statements I can remember that were either said to me or I overheard being said to someone else:
  • No strollers
  • No food or drinks
  • No sippy cups or bottles
  • Don't stand there
  • Don't touch anything
  • No running
  • Stay behind the ropes
  • No cameras
  • No flash photography
  • No chewing gum
  • No video
  • Shhhhhh!
  • You can't carry your backpack on your back. You must carry it at your side like a suitcase.
  • No re-entry
  • Don't carry your daughter on your shoulders
  • No boys, no!
  • Don't do that, girls!
What the deYoung needs to realize is that no matter how great your product is, if you're customer's every interaction with your staff is negative, it leaves a very sour taste in their mouth.

In the churches I've served in, I find great joy in reminding the finger-waggers that "This is a church, not a museum." I don't know how many times I've said that over the years. It's a great reminder to not take ourselves too seriously and enjoy life as it comes. But inevitably there will be some that insist on treating their church like a museum.
  • Don't run!
  • No food in the sanctuary!
  • You can't say that.
  • Don't go there.
  • You can't wear that.
...and on and on it can go. Churches who couldn't abide having children act like children in their church, now have no young families with children. Churches who wouldn't show grace to teens going through their rebellious stages, now have no teens to worry about.

The bottom line is this: Museums are made to house old stuff and dead things. Churches are made to give life and live life together in Christ. A museum is an organization; a church is an organism. It's the choice between death and life. Which would you rather be a part of?


Wicked & Son of a Witch

I don't do a lot of fiction reading. Probably only a couple of fictional books each year. But I generally enjoy it when I do. Last fall I read Wicked by Gregory Maguire and I just finished his follow-up to it, Son of a Witch. These books are based on Frank Baum's OZ books for children. However, Maguire's books are meant for adult readers.

First off, Maguire is a serious wordsmith. His writing
style is incredible and almost seems like it belongs in the 19th century more than the 21st. He has an amazing writing gift. For the most part, I really enjoyed both of these books. Wicked was amazing and tells the story of
Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, before Dorothy came to Oz. While it's a great story, it's a dark story and was at times a little too "adult" for my taste. As for Son of a Witch, I also enjoyed it. It centered around Elphaba's son, Liir. The central character in Son of a Witch was not as interesting as in Wicked, but the story moved along well and kept my attention. The middle of the book got a bit boring and I had to plow through, but it was worth it. It's a tamer story than Wicked.

There are heavy spiritual overtones to both of these stories. Some of Oz's population claim to be worshippers of the Unnamed God. There are churches to the Unnamed God and convents and missionaries. Many Ozians are annoyed at attempts to save their souls. The Unnamed God is often revered or feared. He is portrayed as distant and uninvolved in the lives of his worshippers. To me, it was an obvious reference to the Christian faith. While some of these depictions were true, what is never seen is any character with an active relationship -- just religion. It was just another reminder to me of how we must reject religion and embrace relationship. Religion turns people off, but a relationship with God is world-changing!

Obviously the broadway musical, Wicked, is based on the first of these books, but many changes were made to the musical version. The musical isn't as dark as the novel and has a much different ending. They are both good, but should not be compared too much. (I get to take Mollie to see Wicked in San Francisco next Wednesday as a Daddy/daughter date for her 13 birthday. Can't wait to see it again!)

A Lion Among Men is the third book in Maguire's The Wicked Years series. It tells the story of the Cowardly Lion after Dorothy leaves Oz. I look forward to reading it in my spare time soon.


Book Review: Fearless

I used to enjoy Max Lucado's books regularly. I still remember lessons I learned from He Still Moves Stones and In the Grip of Grace. But this is the first Lucado book I've read in quite some time. Fearless is honestly Lucado in prime form. In this book he leads the reader through a process of vanquishing all of our personal fears no matter how big or small. Fears about acceptance, disappointment, our children, challenges, catastrophes, violence, lack of faith, global warming and everything in between. Reading a Max Lucado is a little like settling into a conversation with a trusted friend. His writing voice is one that you quickly feel like you can trust. The illustrations are memorable, the lessons are profound. He has a great way of providing an "ah-ha" moment in every chapter. As a pastor, I would love to preach some of the lessons in this book. Good stuff. Definitely worth the read.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their Book Review Blogger 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 Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

6 Things to Consider in Ministry Interviews

I've had this conversation with several friends over the last few years and I thought it would be good to share with everyone. As a pastor or pastoral staff member, there's an art to interviewing with a church. You need to interview them more than they interview you. I've been a part of 7 or 8 ministries over the years and learned a little more with each interview.

1. Don't be afraid to ask the search committee hard questions. This is a rookie error. When you're young, you just want a job. But this is not like applying at McDonald's or Target. The goal is NOT to get through the interview as quickly as possible. In fact, if both sides are doing their due diligence, this process will take several months. Don't be afraid to ask very direct questions. You want to go into this position as well-informed as possible. (Side note: I personally think one of the LAST questions that should be dealt with is salary. Seek God's direction before you seek your checkbook's direction.)

2. Dial down beyond philosophy to implementation. What I mean by this is every church is going to say "we want to grow" or "we want to see change" or "we want someone young to help us reach our community". If you're not careful, you'll get so excited about these statements that you'll start thinking, "Great! We're on the same page." This is a huge mistake! Take it a few steps further and start asking "Are you willing to do ____________, to see the church grow?" or "What kind of things would you NOT want to see change in your church?" Many smaller, established churches will talk a big game about change and growth, but what they really mean is, "We want you to attract new families to our church, but don't change our building, our music, our structure, or our priorities." Dial down hard on this. Get detailed. Ask if, in the interest of church growth, they'd be willing to change their style of music, their service times, the church decor, the church location or name, kill some ineffective programs and start some new ones, be comfortable with really reaching out to "the least of these", etc... Not that you plan on changing ALL of that, but how far are they willing to go?

3. Find out if the leadership and the congregation are on the same page. This is extremely important if you're interviewing for a staff position. The pastor might be a great man with a great vision, but it's good to find out if the church shares his vision. This might not change your decision, but at least you'll be better prepared for potential battles.

4. Be yourself in the interview process. Don't put on your best face or, worse, a fake one. Just share your heart. Share what kind of ministry really gets you excited -- even if it's weird. It's in everyone's best interest if the church knows exactly what they're getting when they hire you. If you're not a coat and tie kind of guy, then don't wear one in the interview. Present yourself in the interview or sermon you give the same way you want to work/minister if you get the position.

5. Don't settle because you're trying to leave a bad situation. If you're currently in a dead-end church or miserable in your current position, don't settle for a less-than-ideal church just to quickly get out of the less-than-ideal church you're currently in. Be patient. God's timing is perfect. If he hasn't moved you on to a different ministry, it's because he still has something for you to learn in the current one.

6. "God's will" is not a Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card. People will want to know why you're leaving them. Rookies always say the same thing -- "I really felt it was God's will to move on." If that is not definitively true, then don't say it. You're confusing everyone. You also told those same people that you felt it was God's will to be their pastor or youth pastor or whatever. If we're not careful, we make God look indecisive. Reserve the "God's will" label for those decisions that you REALLY, genuinely feel like were His will. I've said before, I've only had two decisions in my life that I knew were God's will -- answering the call to preach at age 16 and accepting the call to be Living Hope's pastor two years ago. That's it. Every other decision was made out of convenience, fear, because it made sense for our family, exploration, emotion, etc... Be honest about why you're leaving, but don't be hurtful. It's always a bad idea to burn your bridges. Leave gracefully.


Are You Thinking SMALL Enough?

This is a great little 1 minute video that Seth Godin put out today in conjunction with his new book, Linchpin. GaryVee reminds us that maybe our idea is too broad or vague and we need to dial down on it a little further. Good stuff!

Linchpin: GaryVee from Seth Godin on Vimeo.