Friday, January 11, 2019

Book Review: Samuel McKibben, The God of the Miraculous

Samuel McKibben told me he wrote the God of the Miraculous as a record for his grandchildren.  He wanted them to know some of the miracles God had done in his lifetime.  Friends insightfully encouraged him to have the work published and we are all the richer. 

Subtitled, Amazing things happen when we believe, the book is a testimony of how God honored Samuel's faith with remarkable miracles of weather, healing, deliverance, and provision amidst a ministry which helped many come to know Jesus and to experience him in his power. 

The short book is very readable, written in a clear, gripping style and flowing seamlessly from story to story with occasional, pertinent application to the reader.   For the most part it follows the chronology of Samuel's life and ministry in the Apostolic Church of the UK which took him to Wales, Aberdeen, Glasgow, the Highlands of Scotland, and Italy. 

One of the many stories of healing involved a woman with a deformed leg which was restored so that she could run again.  Her doctor documented its growth from eighteen to twenty-one inches, and had no explanation for what happened (65-66).  He also describes stories of deliverance from demonic oppression and situation after situation in which God led him through a clear prophetic word.   Samuel pioneered work in the Highlands of Scotland and helped coordinate the Billy Graham live link event across churches the Highlands in which many came to faith in Christ, including Agnes Ferguson, the woman who is now my wife.  Together with colleagues he developed a training program for leadership development in the UK which has also been utilized by the Apostolic Church in Italy. 

I had the opportunity to meet Samuel in Inverness after reading his book.  He is a sharp, joyful man in his eighties who continues to serve the Lord at every opportunity.  Having met the man and knowing others who are well acquainted with him, I have no doubt as to the authenticity of his ministry and stories.  I felt both encouraged and convicted to know God better and to seek his gracious and powerful interventions in my life and in the church I serve.  I encourage everyone who wants to see the reality of God to read this book and let it give you a vision for more.

Available here.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Leadership Lessons From Scotland For Scotland and The Rest of Us: James and Robert Haldane

Into the china shop that was late-eighteenth century Scottish Presbyterian Moderatism came two charging bulls, revivalists James and Robert Haldane.  In an era of social, political and spiritual change, they saw Scotland as gospel-starved and took action.  Despite external opposition and schism and their own stubbornness and naïvity, Robert and James left a strong Evangelical legacy.  They trained and sent itinerant preachers, established preaching centres, and were the primary founders of the Congregational and Baptist movements in Scotland.  The account of their ministry provides valuable lessons on the importance of innovation, preparation, and harmony for twenty-first century Christian leaders.

James Alexander Haldane (1768-1851), orphaned son of James Haldane, was born in Dundee and raised with his brother Robert by their grandmother; he enrolled at Edinburgh University in 1781 before becoming a sailor.  He married in 1793, and while in Portsmouth in 1794 was influenced by Independent minister David Bogue towards a vital Christian faith.  James quit sailing and settled in Edinburgh where several clergymen and ironmonger John Campbell discipled him.  After joining Charles Simeon on a preaching tour of Scotland in 1796, James and two friends embarked the next year on their own similar tour, taking affirmation from the Great Commission and the blessing of minister David Black.[1]  They preached in barns, village halls and fields to crowds of up to 6,000 people and saw multitudes respond, with forty conversions following in Wick alone.[2]  Seeing a great need for gospel preachers, in 1798, James, Robert and some Edinburgh laymen formed the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel at Home (SPGH) in order to organize and support  itinerants and catechists.  However, the Established Church felt threatened by '...the perceived hostility of the Haldanes to ecclesiastical establishments...', owing not least to James initial habit of critiquing ministers' sermons during his missions.[3]  Despite condemnation by the Church of Scotland General Assembly regarding the work of unqualified itinerants, the Haldanes carried on; James was ordained pastor to the new Edinburgh Circus Tabernacle congregation in 1799.  Envisioned as a mission alongside the Kirk, it actually became one of the first Congregational churches, growing quickly from twelve to over three hundred members and beyond; in 1801, Robert built a new Tabernacle seating three thousand.   James continued summer preaching tours while he and his colleagues worked towards recovery of an apostolic model of local church.  However, his efforts to implement weekly communion, mutual exhortation in Sunday services, and a plurality of elders were not welcomed by every Tabernacle member. 

The movement ground to a halt in 1808 when James Haldane shocked his followers by embracing believers' baptism.  Though Robert and two hundred of James's church members followed him in this, those who did not, left.  The Edinburgh Tabernacle was reduced by two-thirds, and associated churches across the country split or sided with Baptist, or, more often Congregationalist (paedo-baptist) parties.  Nevertheless, James continued in ministry, serving the Edinburgh Tabernacle for a total of fifty years, becoming secretary of the Scottish Baptist mission society in 1830,  and writing polemically in defense of truth.[4]  The respect he earned in his career was demonstrated at his funeral, where over six hundred clergy and members of various churches turned out and people lined the streets and windows in a rare show of tribute to any private individual.[5]

James's brother Robert Haldane (1764-1842) was born in London; he worked under his uncle in the navy, then married and settled in 1786 at his inherited home, Airthrey Estate.  He was intrigued by revolutionary politics but, influenced by David Bogue of Gosport and William Innes of Stirling, embraced an evangelical faith in 1795 which reset his life course.  Putting his estate for sale, he attempted a mission to Benares.  This goal was blocked by the East India Company, so Robert focused his energies on Scotland, helping form the SPGH in 1798.  With the vision to send itinerant preachers throughout Scotland, Robert organized a seminary in 1799, initially headed by former Establishment minister Greville Ewing.  By the time of its closure in 1808, the seminary had trained over three hundred itinerant ministers, many whom later became pastors.  Besides building the Edinburgh Tabernacle in 1801, he bought or built others in Glasgow, Dundee, and various towns and villages.  The SPGH also printed and distributed thousands of tracts and Bibles until 1804 when the new Bible Society took on this responsibility.[6]  All the work of SPGH was financed by Robert Haldane, who from 1798 to 1810 invested GB 70,000 in gospel work.  By sheer numbers, the endeavor was effective: from 1800 to 1807 Independent churches grew from fourteen to eighty-five in number.[7]  This growth plateaued at the schism in 1808.

In the ensuing years, Robert taught at seminaries in Geneva and Montauban, helping ignite the continental Réveil revival movement; he combated the Bible Society's inclusion of the Apocrypha, helping shape the content of today's English Bible;[8] and he wrote extensively, being best known for his apologetic for Scriptural inspiration and his commentary on Romans.[9]  

By examining the themes of innovation, preparation and charity in the Haldanes' careers we can observe vital lessons for twenty-first century ministry.

The Haldanes believed the church was ineffective at saving souls, so they implemented a new approach to ministry.  Taking the Great Commission and the blessing of their friends as a mandate, they adapted English evangelical models to propagate the gospel.  They ignored ecclesial power structures by empowering laymen as Sabbath School instructors and itinerant preachers.  The novelty of lay-led meetings announced by the beating of a drum was accompanied by a powerful work of God bringing revival to communities.  To create a venue for ongoing mission and follow up, the Haldanes set up massive Tabernacles, George Whitfield style.  Answering the need for educated itinerants, they bypassed the Establishment-run university system and started a seminary, taking a cue from English Independents.  The Haldane team achieved this despite concerted opposition by the Established church and magistrates from the very outset.  The fruit of this effort was scores of converts and dozens of Independent churches.  Additionally, the movement  awakened greater zeal in other religious bodies and ultimately helped place more evangelical ministers in the Established church.[10]

When church leaders of today see limited effectiveness in the face of great gospel need, they must be prepared to lay down past ministry models, learn from fruitful ministries, and innovate for their contemporary context.  Sometimes the only way to overcome the inertia of an entrenched, ineffective model is to start something entirely new.  Innovators need to prayerfully seek contemporary, gospel-faithful answers to searching questions: How do we gain an audience for the gospel?  How do we structure church life to empower and release lay ministry?  How do we effectively train leaders?  How do we structure ministry for long-term stability and adaptability?  Innovators need conviction, courage, humility, and flexibility, and a willingness to become all things to all men for the sake of the gospel (1 Cor. 9:19-23).

Successful innovation requires preparation.  Though the Haldanes set up a rigorous seminary program for the preparation of itinerant ministers, it is evident that James and Robert themselves lacked preparation: they developed their ecclesiology on the fly and made amateurish leadership blunders.

Meeks and Murray observe, 'While they were expeditious organizers, they entered Evangelical circles without a firm theological foot-hold.  Their understanding of the Scriptures, and especially of the New Testament, developed as they proceeded...'[11].   James's early focus at the Tabernacle was on mission, not church order; the immediate results developed on a weak foundation.[12]  In time, 'The original lack of interest in forms and organization [gave] way to a self-conscious insistence on apostolic propriety.'[13]    Their biographer observes the issues which came up: the frequency of the Lord's supper; public mutual exhortation by members; the plurality of elders; the mode of collection.[14]  Being theologically unprepared, the Haldanes stumbled over secondary issues.

The Haldanes lack of theological preparation overlapped with their leadership deficiencies in the areas of people skills and foresight.  They tended to rigorously impose their own developing ecclesiology on the church, lacking the skill to assess the relative weight of an issue, the ability to consider the legitimacy of opposing viewpoints, and the grace to allow divergence on secondary matters.[15]  With maturity, James may have navigated the outworking of his Baptist convictions with a keen eye to the ongoing unity of the movement he had founded, and prevented schism.  Instead, 'Somewhat naively both brothers believed that they should be able to state their views plainly and then work through their application in the life of the church.'[16]

The Haldanes came by their lack of preparation honestly.  They were unapprenticed laymen; they were part of a reactionary movement; they were blazing a trail in uncharted territory: some mistakes were inevitable.  Perhaps what they needed to mature was slower ministry growth over time, yet the movement grew with exponential speed, due in no small part to Robert's singular generosity.  Rev. Dr. Lindsay Alexander of the Scottish Congregational Union assessed the result of Robert's investment: 'The influence, however, thus exerted was rather from without than within... and the consequence was, a show of flower and fruit much greater than the plant, when left to itself and to ordinary influences, could sustain.'[17] 

The Haldanes are a reminder that today's innovative leaders need adequate preparation.  Leaders must take the time to establish both themselves and those they lead on a firm theological footing, sorting out primary, secondary, and distinctive doctrinal issues from the outset.  Especially when charting new territory, leaders must resist the urge to build fast and instead must create space for reflection.  They should glean insights from the tradition they are building on, even if much is to be left behind, and they should reflect on the missionary and leadership insights of the Church's primary leadership manual, the book of Acts.  When facing a great dilemma or opportunity, they should draw back and gain perspective from counselors both ahead of, beside and behind them.  Leaders who would innovate with lasting effect must prepare.

Additionally, leaders must exemplify love.  'By virtue of his wealth and talents, [Robert] Haldane occupied a pivotal position in the revival of evangelical Calvinism within Scotland,'[18] but great wealth and talent were not always accompanied by great personal character.  Likewise, because controversy abounded, Lovegrove must qualify, 'However, [James] Haldane was essentially a practical Church leader rather than a controversialist.'[19]  The Haldanes were part of the wider Evangelical movement in Britain and in that respect exemplified a unity that transcended denominational boundaries, welcoming into the pulpit Anglicans, Baptists, and Independents.[20]  But with regard to the Established church, their own members and colleagues, and outside ministers with whom they disagreed, the Haldanes regularly lacked grace.

The SPGH's itinerant work offended the Kirk by its very nature: as a new evangelistic movement, it overturned norms, exposed the church's missional deficit, and attracted political suspicion.  James added insult to injury by his early itinerant practice of attending the morning service at the Kirk and critiquing the sermon at the SPGH meeting in the afternoon.  No wonder the Established church felt his aim was to alienate members from their ministers.[21]  Not only Establishment outsiders but Haldanite followers suffered from their leaders' lack of charity.  Lovegrove comments on the Haldanes' lack of accommodation to parishioners and colleagues: 'In their quest for purity of order the innovators showed that they were prepared to jettison any realistic chance of harmony for the sake of adherence to the letter of Scripture.'[22]  Sadly, when the movement split, rather than seizing the opportunity to bless seceding fellowships, Robert called in their building debts and closed the Glasgow seminary.  In fact, James and particularly Robert fell out with many people in their lifetimes.  Robert's authoritarian personality, his financial embeddedness and control in many of the tabernacles, and his tendency towards personal criticism in controversies made him a difficult person for many to work with.[23]

While today's innovative leaders may unavoidably cause offence, they do not need to be offensive.  1 Corinthians 13 must shape our understanding of faithfulness and success: without love, our work is nothing.  Leaders must undergird every activity with godly character and generosity of spirit.  The maxim, 'In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity', should inform our responses to controversy.  Leaders must take steps to ensure than money and power are not centred on an individual but stewarded by shared leadership, and that they are utilized not for control or personal agenda but for the display and advance of the gospel.  They will know we are Christians by our love (John 13:35).

Robert and James Haldane were used by God to bring revival and a fresh expression of the church to Scotland which endures to this day.  They overcame incredible opposition and broke new ground nationwide.  Their courage, innovation and sacrifice provide a model and inspiration to spearhead fresh gospel work today.  Yet the Haldanes and the movement they founded foundered in ways that should give us sober pause.  Their failures warn us of potential pitfalls and serve as a mirror in which to evaluate our own ministries.  Their goal to please Jesus alone and to bring people to him is their greatest legacy and one to which leaders of today should aspire.

[1]  Alexander Haldane, The Lives of Robert and James Haldane, 154
[2]  Ibid, 190
[3]  John MacIntosh, Church and Theology in Enlightenment Scotland, 209
[4]  Edward Irving, Thomas Erskine, Thomas Chalmers, and Ralph Wardlaw were among those he debated in print.  See D. W. Lovegrove, 'Haldane, James Alexander', in Nigel S. Cameron, ed., Dictionary of Scottish Church History & Theology, 385
[5]  As described by a unnamed newspaper referred to in A. Haldane, 693
[6]  Kenneth Brownell, "Robert and James Haldane and the Quest for Evangelical Union", 8-9
[7]  Ian Shaw, Churches, Revolutions, and Empires: 1789-1914, 80
[8]  According to John Macleod, cited on book jacket of A. Haldane, op. cit.
[9]  The Evidence and Authority of Divine Revelation (1816), The Authenticity and Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures Considered (1827) and Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans (3 vols, 1836-39).
[10]  A. Haldane, 352;  Percival Waugh, "The Converging Streams" in Geo. Yuille, ed., History of the Baptists in Scotland, 59
[11]  D. E. Meek and D. B. Murray, "The Early Nineteenth Century" in D.  W. Bebbington, ed., The Baptists in Scotland, 32

[12]  Deryck W. Lovegrove, "Unity and Separation: Contrasting Elements in the Thought and Practice of  Robert and James Alexander Haldane" in Michael W. Casey and Douglas A. Foster, eds., The Stone-Campbell Movement: An International Religious Tradition, 523

[13]   Ibid, 537
[14]   A. Haldane, 358
[15]   Brownell, 10-11
[16]   Ibid, 12
[17]  Cited in A. Haldane, 362-3
[18]  D. W. Lovegrove, "Haldane, Robert" in Nigel S. Cameron, ed., Dictionary of Scottish Church History & Theology, 386
[19]  Lovegrove, "Haldane, James Alexander" in Cameron,  p. 385
[20]  Lovegrove in Casey and Foster, 522
[21]  Ibid, 523.  His stark critique of the very concept of a State church in 1820 is no less condemning, see James Haldane, Two Letters to the Rev. Dr Chalmers, on his proposal for increasing the number of churches in Glasgow (1820).
[22]  Lovegrove cited in Brownell, 13
[23]  Brownell, 14

Saturday, November 26, 2016

If one thing has impacted me this fall at seminary... I would have to pick two things actually.  

One - I came to Systematic Theology class, late (unusually), and, also unusually, found a guest lecturer there making his introduction.  He was soft spoken and understated, but as he taught about 'the Perfection of God' I thought, 'this guy knows his stuff.'  I was spellbound.  He began - 'We are utterly reliant on God's initiative.  We don't know of what we speak - when we speak of perfection.  God is not in a genus.  He is not part of the metaphysical furniture of this universe.'  As he went on to talk about our glorious, Trinitiarian, redeeming God, the box I had God in exploded, and as I reflected over the next week, it was as if the truth of who God is had been unleashed in my mind.   Language comes so far short of describing the Lord we worship.

Two - in Scottish church history - a class I nearly dropped (last year I was thinking - why take Scottish church history? - Bob convinced me I would enjoy it - over the summer we have felt our call to Scotland grow - suddenly I'm very interested in the history of the church here!) -   so - in this class, the history is great.  But - even better is the relentless focus our professor has on Christ, and his urgent pleas with us to make him central in our ministry and especially our preaching.  I have felt corrected on that in the past, but now more than ever, I am impressed that all we can do when we minister is offer our gracious and glorious savior Jesus, the only hope for sinners, and the only hope for saints too.  Everything, everything flows from him.   As I was reading today - he is the cornerstone - the perfect foundation stone which sets all the rest true.

If only I could live and pray in light of this immeasurably great God.  If only I could reflect a fraction of the grace and goodness of our savior.  I am so thankful and amazed that he loves and takes me where I am, not waiting for me to get where I should be.

Since the summer, we have been praying especially for God's leading on next steps. He gave us such a burden for the mission of the church in Scotland, and the need to raise up leaders.  We love what God is doing here, but the need is great.  Possibly 3% of Scots are Christians, and hundreds of churches have no pastor at all, with so many others struggling.  We see ourselves currently being in a season of village mission and higher education where we trust God is graciously shaping us and preparing the next steps.  My course finishes in 2018.  Thank you for praying, giving, and encouraging us on this stretching, exciting journey.  Please pray in our service here we will point clearly to the great God and redeemer who Scotland so desperately needs, and that he will show up in his kingdom power.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Mom's Slipping Away From Us, But I Know She Is Going to Be Ok

The following stories were first delivered in a speech I gave at 60 Minute Toastmasters, Courtenay BC, in early 2013.  


In the cabin my father built 13 miles down a dirt road outside the small town of Houston BC.

I’m three years old. I’m having a nightmare. I wake up. The darkness around me is palpable and chills me to my little 3 yr old bones.

"Mom, mom."

They don’t hear me.

With all my courage, I risk it all against whatever is lurking in the darkness, lifting off the covers, leaping out of bed and hustling into the next room where my parents sleep.

"Mom, mom, I had a bad dream." The fear is still in my voice.

Disoriented, she stirs. Sits up a little. Rubs sleep from her eyes. Sees me. In her mind everything clicks into focus. It is her little boy. Looking to the one who is strong, wise, safe, an anchor.

"Come on under the covers. Don’t worry David. I’m here. it’s going to be ok. God is with you. Do you want me to pray for you?" "Yes."

"Lord Jesus, please take away David’s fear, and let him know you are with him, and everything is going to be ok."

Calm slowly enters me again.

I’m going to be ok.

As I lay there nestled under the warm covers, it never in a million years occurred to my little mind that one day our roles would be much different.

December 2012.

I wake up in the night hearing a soft voice persistently calling for help.

I’m disoriented. Where am I? Whose voice is this?

Usually it’s a child’s voice. But this isn’t.

My wife, next to me in bed, says, “It’s your mom.”

In my brain everything clicks into focus.

We’re at my sister’s house in Victoria.

Mom’s been staying there for a while.

We’re there for three days giving respite care for mom while my sister and her family go on a needed vacation.

We’re grandma sitting.

I’ve known my mom my whole life, but this is entirely new territory for me. For us.

Since when is she the one getting me up in the night?

When did it all change?

The Parkinson's disease had snuck up slowly on her like grey clouds inching their way across what was a clear blue sky.

Probably 7 years ago now, I remember walking on the beach with her, and finding it odd that she was so stiff and unsteady navigating around a few friendly pieces of driftwood.

Now, about 7 years into the disease and 3 years into a diagnosis, she is like an old lady at 62. Sometimes she freezes altogether, unable even to budge another inch.

Occasionally she walks at a regular pace, the only sign of her disease an uneven, awkward gait.

Most of the time, she lives in slow motion, shuffling from one room to another carefully and with effort.

Some days she slurs and mutters her words, other days she is clear. Buttons and zippers – usually too difficult.

An on it goes.

But the bigger shock came just in the last year.

Like a thief in the night that will keep coming back until he has robbed the house bare, out of the blue, it struck.


I’d seen it in snatches during brief visits and phone calls over the past several months, but now living with her, the dementia confronted me fiercely and brazenly.

Here she was in my sister’s little house in Victoria now for a month, and she still got lost making the 10 foot trip from her bedroom to the bathroom.

“What room is this? Is this the bathroom?” “no mom, that’s the kids room.” Oh ok. She shuffles next into our bedroom.

Looks up. “Hey, that’s my picture! I painted that!” “You sure did, mom. You must have given that as a gift to Deirdre.” “yes, that’s right I did. I need to go to the bathroom. Where is the bathroom in this house?” “It’s just out here.”

Where did my mom go, the mom who was strong and wise and an anchor in my life?

Now she’s the one calling to me in the night.

There’s my wife again, in the darkness, placing her warm hand on my arm.

“It’s your mom David. You’d better go see what’s wrong.”

I stumble out of bed, out the door, to mom’s room. I try opening the door. Something’s blocking it.

“I’ve fallen out of bed. I’m on the floor. I’m very cold. I’m freezing. I need you to help me. I need you to help me.”

“don’t worry mom. I’m here. It’s going to be ok. I’m going to help.”

She’s completely blocking the door. It will only open a crack. I jam my arm through, feel for her, find her back.

“I’m going to give you a push, ok?”

As gently as I can, I slide her body along the varnished wood floor. Now I can move the door enough to squeeze through.

“I can’t stand up. I can't stand up. You’re going to have to lift me.”

I get my arms under her, dead lift her back into bed, get the covers on.

The next day, she’s feeling afraid.

We talk.

"I hate being so weak. Stiff. It’s so hard."

And she breaks down.

"What if I am losing my memory? What do I do?"

And I remember when I was a little boy. Afraid. Her presence comforted me and her faith pointed me to someone greater and stronger than both of us. And her faith is now mine.

And so I said, "mom, remember when I was small, and afraid, and you would comfort me, and remind me that God is with me, and he will never leave me, and it’s going to be ok."

"Yes, I did," she says.

"Mom, you’re trusting him, right?" “yes, I am.” She says definitely.

"Mom," I say with tears in my eyes.

"you may get more confused, one day you may not be able to even speak. And God will still be with you. And these diseases will not ultimately win. One day everything is going to be ok."

And she says, "I know."

And I can see calm slowly entering her again.

She’s going to be ok.

March 29.2016   Possibly my last visit with mom.  Acacia and I are heading back on the plane to Scotland this afternoon.  Mom is now nearly always confused and says very little.  She no longer walks or feeds herself.  And God is still with her.  And the diseases will not ultimately win, because Christ has redeemed mom by his death and resurrection.  One day soon for mom, everything is going to be more than okay.  She will be made new in the presence of her savior.   I love you mom.  Miss you already.  See you there.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

It's good to stop

Today was prayer retreat day.  This is something I've found super helpful for years though I don't take the opportunity as often as I wish.  New year is a great time for it.  My friend Ivor kindly let me use their church building a couple towns from us as my retreat centre.   Guitar, journal (aka. computer), bible, place, time, all set. 

I'm in week four of five weeks off from classes at seminary(!) which is a ridiculously long time to be off.  But it's been perfect in our world to have some family time after the busyness of moving and full on school and life in Scotland the previous three months.  And a time to do some serious catch up on the backlog of stuff left undone / procrastinated relating to our move... my to do list is long but I'm chipping away at it.  (I will not bore you with the details because most of it is boring!)  And a chance to finally talk with friends back home we have not had opportunity to for so long!!  (PS we'd love to chat -message us!)

But today it was a gift to stop simply to worship, pray, walk, meditate on Scripture, read and write in my journal, look at the year ahead.  No lightning bolts struck, angels appeared, or audible voices spoke from heaven.   God was just present. 

As a human being I am such a work in progress and I was deeply blessed reflecting on a verse that has been coming at me relentlessly the past month - Philippians 1:6 - "being confident of this, that  he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."  It was good to intercede for the church in Scotland and to feel again the heart of God for this nation, his people, and those he wants to bring into his family.  It was good to pray for my family, confess my failures, and ask God to shape me as a husband and father.  It was good to lay some fears down before God and find some answers to questions.   It was good to be reminded what a good, good Father I have, and that he is God and I am not.  It was good to settle into accepting God's simple call to trust him, do good, and wait for him - Psalm 37.

I'll be home soon, and it will be all out mayhem as per usual with four kids... not to mention me and Agnes!  My to do list is waiting for me.  As well, I've had plenty of college work to do on this break  - attempting to read through half a dozen books, keep up my Greek, and I'm gearing up to enter an essay competition, only because they don't give us enough homework at seminary (lol yeah right)!   

Now it's time to go home.

Was it worth it to stop?  Take a whole day?  What did I accomplish?  Pretty much nothing I can measure by ordinary standards.

But my heart has been recalibrated a little closer to the reality of the kingdom of God.  I prayed for people I love and I carry a conviction that God is answering.  I tasted God's goodness in worship.  I am deeply grateful.  These intangibles are priceless. 

Yes it is worth it.  I hope I remember that the next time I hear the call to set aside some time.   I trust that the One working in me will give me the grace to say "yes."

Saturday, December 5, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: Francis Chan - Crazy Love ( one of those 'read at your own risk' books)

Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God

Life in Scotland has been crazy BUSY the past 3 months - haven't blogged as much as I'd like... so I thought I'd share with you some of what I'm writing and wrestling through at Edinburgh Theological Seminary.  

Francis Chan writes Crazy Love from within American church culture to his contemporaries.  In this book, he seeks to wake up complacent believers to the glory of God, to the experience of grace, and to the absolute demand placed on our lives through the gospel.  He intersperses exhortation with testimony of personal renewal in his own life and in that of Cornerstone Community Church, a church he planted and which, at publication date, he had pastored for thirteen years.  His stated goal is to '...convince you of something: that by surrendering yourself totally to God’s purposes, He will bring you the most pleasure in this life and the next.'[1]
From his opening words, 'We all know something’s wrong,'[2] Chan takes the direct approach and asks 'some hard questions,'[3] with the qualifier that his goal is not to bash but to spur on the church.  In chapters one to three, Chan addresses our perspective of God.  He paints a fresh picture of classic attributes of God; he reminds us that history is about God, not us; and he invites us to exchange performance-oriented fear for 'reverent intimacy'[4] with our loving God.  He goes for the jugular in chapters four and five, titled, 'Profile of the Lukewarm' and 'Serving Leftovers to a Holy God'.  First, Chan catalogues the traits of nominal Christians who, based on his reading of Revelation 3:16 'will not... [be] in heaven'[5].  Then he argues that offering God leftovers is not justifiable; it is 'evil'.[6]  With chapter six, the book turns a corner as Chan models the answer to lukewarm living: it is not guilt, but letting "God... help me love God."[7]  This love moves us from a life of comfort to one of faith-filled risk.[8]  Chan challenges us to pursue the exemplary traits of the "Profile of the Obsessed".[9]  Then he profiles twelve demographically diverse individuals, one family and one church who model 'crazy love'.  Chan shares these to '[eliminate] every excuse for not living a radical, love-motivated life.[10]  He challenges readers to not simply noetically assent but to respond by walking in surrender.  This challenge is supported by three 'how to' steps from Chan's own experience: continually pursue Christ, remember the great cloud of witnesses, and rely on the gift of the Holy Spirit.[11]
This book's greatest strength is its clear, passionate and unifying theme, robustly undergirded by Scripture: 'let's take seriously Christ's call to heartfelt, no-holds-back discipleship.'   Chan's choice of language serves his purpose well: it is simple, compelling, and it carries the theme forward in a fast-moving, logical and emotive flow.   Chan's habit of careful Bible meditation comes through in his fresh insights into familiar Scriptures.  For example, commenting on Jesus' analysis of salt losing its saltiness, he asks, 'How would you like to hear the Son of God say, "You would ruin manure"?'[12]  Francis writes to an audience he knows well, and he earns credence with them through his own authenticity.  He reinforces Scripture's injunctions with well-chosen quotes and with inspiring examples of ordinary people.  Finally, Chan calls for a strong response from his readers.
Crazy Love  is an important, well written message; what could Chan have done to make it even better?  He warmly expresses the truth of God's forgiveness and father-love.[13]  However, this foundational truth would have greater impact if Chan had proved it more thoroughly from Scripture rather than from experience, and if he had clearly expressed that the power to change is not only something to pursue on our part (e.g. 'swimming upstream'[14]) but also something to freely receive from God as part of the gift announced in the gospel.[15]   Additionally, Chan's declaration that the 'lukewarm' are damned begs at least a brief interaction with evangelicals who disagree, but he declines.[16]  In answering the 'Now, what?' question, his first prescription is 'to ask yourself, "Is this the most loving way to do life?" '[17]   I suggest this emphasizes the human element in discernment, to the neglect of cultivating a dependant, listening ear for the leading of the Holy Spirit (though he is clear in emphasizing the power  of the Holy Spirit[18]).  This appears to be his corrective to people using 'I didn't "hear God calling me" '[19] to excuse their disobedience to Scripture; however I believe his approach divides something which God has joined together - the Word and the Spirit.
On the research side, the book's statistics are weakened by Chan's choice in one case to cite the sometimes-reliable Wikipedia (historical world population[20]) and in the other case, to provide no citation source (income comparison[21]).
As a discipleship resource I would give Crazy Love an eight out of ten.  I have benefited from it and I would share it with others.
Personally, this book challenged me to have a big and growing view of God and to love him with every fibre of my being.  While my coming to Scotland this year has involved massive steps of faith, reading Crazy Love made me realize how quickly I am settling for a safe life now that I'm here.  Chan spurs me on to eschew my preference for comfortable living, and stirs afresh a longing that my greatest steps of faith will not be in my past.   The biographical sketches in chapter nine gave me a vivid picture of Jesus as the treasure hidden in the field who is worth any price to gain.   One of the 'trust' questions raised for me is, 'How should my family approach "giving" now that we have transitioned from salary to zero "guaranteed" income?'  I think above all I hear in Francis' book a call to not to neglect that sweet place of worship and intimacy with Jesus where abandon to God flows naturally.
In my vocation as a preacher, Francis' model of pulling no punches in laying out the call of Jesus convicts me.  Sometimes I over-qualify the demands of Scripture with the result that their potency is diminished.   I found Chan's own testimony of struggles and victories to be helpful, and  I am encouraged to grow in the practice of personal transparency as part of teaching the Bible effectively.  On the home front, I am inviting my twelve-year-old daughter to read Crazy Love and I look forward to discussing with her how it applies to our lives.
Finally, here is my favorite quote from Crazy Love:
Giving up everything and sacrificing everything we can for the afterlife is logical. “Crazy” is living a safe life and storing up things while trying to enjoy our time on earth, knowing that any millisecond God could take your life.[22]

Crazy Love: Original edition (reviewed).
Crazy Love: Updated edition
Written for Practical Theology 101 - fall 2015 @ Edinburgh Theological Seminary.

[1] Francis Chan and Danae Yankoski, Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2008), 20
[2]  Ibid, 19
[3]  Ibid, 19
[4]  Ibid, 57
[5]  Ibid, 83
[6]  Ibid, 91
[7]  Ibid, 104
[8]  Ibid, Chapter 7
[9]  Ibid, Chapter 8
[10] Ibid, 163
[11] Ibid, 169-171
[12]  Ibid, 81
[13]  e.g. Ibid, Chapter 3, also cf. p. 110
[14]  Ibid,  95
[15]  cf. Gal. 3:1-5
[16]  Chan and Yankoski , 84
[17]  Ibid, 166
[18] Ibid, 171-172
[19] Ibid, 169
[20] Ibid, 45
[21] Ibid, 89
[22] Ibid, 186