The Pondering Pastor

These "Ponderings" originally appeared as articles in our church newsletter or bulletin or just as the musings of one bald pastor. I place them here to encourage you, my fellow blogite and maybe to help us all in our pondering.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Naked Spirituality: A Review

Brian D. McLaren has done it again.  In his recent book, Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in 12 Simple Words, he has sought to strip Christianity to its basic core. And for the most part he has done a good work at trying to pull the clothes of much of what we know as the Christian religion in order to get down to basics.

At the outset it should be noted that the title is a little misleading. There is a whole lot more than 12 words. Heck, there's 27 chapters alone, and those are filled with numerous words and ideas, so if you're thinking that by reading this book you'll come away with 12 words that will forever change the way to tackle the task of being a follower of Christ, think again.

That being said, McLaren provides an honest evaluation of those "clothes" that the church has worn for so long that we have lost the sense of what it really means, in simpler terms, to

be a disciple, a follower of Jesus Christ.

There is much I appreciated about the book.  First, as what seems to be a hallmark of McLaren's writing is his own ability to be transparent to his own struggles and growth.  This book was not conceived and complied in the ivory towers of Christendom, but rather on the gritty streets of life. He writes from his own struggles and growth. He has "been there," and yet has also "not arrived." And for a fellow-traveler like myself, this book offers a sense of direction, as well as some ideas about how to best experience and grow from the journey of following Jesus Christ.

There are a few things that concern me in his writings, and those mostly stem from his broader view of spirituality.  What I mean by that is that at times it seems as those he is a little more inclusive to other religions and faiths.  Every so often I got the sense that Jesus was not the only way...but then he would seem to bring things back around to focus on a more "orthodox" view of the Christian faith.  This is nothing new for McLaren considering his previous books like A Generous Orthodoxy and the The Kind of Christian series. This inclusiveness is not a reason not to read the book, just a item to watch for.

There is much I gained from the book, and I would recommend to those who are seeking to peal off the layers of western Christianity and to gain some hope for what it means to follow Jesus closely with all their heart.

The two aspects of the book which I appreciated the most was the format of seeing the journey of following Christ as a series of recurring seasons. Spring, a time of simplicity, summer at time of complexity, fall the season of perplexity and winter a time of harmony. These seasons are recurring in nature, we go through them time and time again, but hopefully with the growing awareness of what each season brings to our lives as Christians.  We are reminded to see the strengths and the weaknesses of each of these seasons, and to learn to grow through what each has to bring.  McLaren's illumination of these seasons were refreshing to me, and allowed me to see them in my own life, and even to be more aware of the season I presently find myself in.

I must say that his choice of the "12 simple words" could be helpful, if we take time to truly understand their meaning, learn them, and then be able to recall them as we need them in the various seasons of our life.  I would venture to say that it will take writing these words down, or reading the book a few times, at the different seasons of our lives in order to remember and apply the spiritual disciplines these words seek to convey.

The chapter that I appreciated most is entitled, "Please: At Least Two Hearts Care" (Chapter 14).  It deals with the ministry of intercessory prayer. Being part of a church that has always had a heart and ministry for praying for others (Felton Bible Church), this chapter opened my eyes to seeing intercessory prayer in a whole new light. It was most encouraging, parts of which I have already shared with some of our regular prayer groups. The thrust of the chapter deals with the compassion of God and our joining in that compassion as we pray for others.  This past week I shared the following descriptive passage with our weekly prayer group and later with the larger church family through our newsletter.  McLaren wrote,
“When we practice ‘compassion’ through simple words of intercession we affirm two profound truths. First, that God cares for all who suffer and are in need, and second that we care too. If we didn’t believe God cared, we wouldn’t turn to God, nor would we do so if we ourselves didn’t care. When we call out ‘please’ on behalf of someone else, we build a bridge between our compassion and the compassion of God. We say to God and ourselves, ‘Someone is suffering, and at least two hearts in the universe notice and refuse to turn away – God’s heart and my own.’” 

This chapter alone was worth the read of the entire book. His previous chapter on praying for our own personal needs is worth the "price of admission" as well.

Brian D. McLaren is a man on a journey to discover what it means to follow Jesus and I would recommend this book to any who seek to travel that journey as well. Does he get it all correct? No, but then which of us do.  I appreciate his struggles, as he seems to appreciate my own and thus has written this book for fellow struggling travelers along path of following Jesus Christ, the Son of God, so that we can know Him and glorify through all of life.

!2 simple words?  Hardly!  Worth the read?  Most definitely!  Just remember, a naked spirituality may leave you a little self-exposed, thankfully we can be clothed in the righteousness of Christ.

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Thursday, April 28, 2011


GROWING UP, IT WAS AN EASTER TRADITION to find a basket filled with “goodies” left in the middle of our living room. This tradition has continued for our children as well.
     Inside that basket, amidst all that green shredded plastic “grass,” were all sorts of surprises. There were of course the plastic eggs filled with jelly beans, the tiny foil-wrapped eggs, and the often large hollow chocolate Easter bunny festooned with flowers made of hardened sugar. Every so often I might even find a special toy hidden among the grass or money placed inside one of the plastic eggs. Easter morning was filled with surprises.
     On those Easter mornings as a child, unwrapping the basket came first, then there was a wonderful family breakfast to enjoy, followed by adorning ourselves in our new Easter duds and then off to church…a church always more packed than usual (some things never change). It is interesting, now that I look back, that we went from filled baskets, filled tummies, and filled church pews to hear about that which was empty; the empty tomb.  We went filled to hear about empty.
     Yet, it was the reality of the empty tomb and the resurrection of Jesus Christ that truly brought fullness to our lives.
     Soon the plastic eggs would be empty. Soon our chocolate candy and candied-ham filled tummies would be empty, and yes, soon even the filled pews of Easter morning church would be empty (or at least less-filled in the weeks to come.) But, because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ our lives can be filled with forgiveness, hope and love.  Our lives can be filled with the joy that only comes when we are living in a reconciled relationship with our Creator. The empty tomb truly fills the baskets of our lives.
     As you consider and contemplate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, allow me to ask you, "What’s in your basket?"
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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What's in a Name?

THE PEOPLE CRIED, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!”  As Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem on the day we have come to call, Palm Sunday, the people were hoping that this one, riding on the donkey would be the promised Messiah. (Malachi 3:1)  The one God had promised to send to save Israel and rule as the anointed king upon the throne of King David of old (Isaiah 16:5).
     He did come as the Savior, (1 John 4:14) but not in the way they had hoped. He came not as a champion to create and rule a new army to defeat the Romans, but He came as the suffering servant, (Isaiah 53:11) He came as the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world (John 1:29).
     This Jesus, the Son of God (John 3:16), was so much more than we can simply describe in a title or two. Consider, mediate, upon the descriptive names of Jesus. The Bread of Life (John 6:35), the Gate, (John 10:9), the Word (John 1:1), the Good Shepherd (John 10:11,14), The Alpha and Omega (Revelation 1;8, 22:13), the Mighty God (Isaiah 9:6), the Light of the World (John 8:12), Immanuel (Matthew 1:23), the I AM (John 8:58), God (John 1:1). The list can go on and on. In fact, one compilation I discovered listed over 103 descriptive names for this One we know as Jesus, the Christ (1 John 2:22).
     I guess the song writers Bill and Gloria Gather got it correct when they wrote,
Jesus, Jesus Jesus;
There’s just something about that Name!
Master, Savior, Jesus,
Like the fragrance after the rain;
Jesus, Jesus Jesus,
Let all heave and earth proclaim:
Kings and kingdoms will all pass away,
But there’s something about that Name!
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Monday, April 11, 2011


SHOCK AND AWE. LIGHTS! CAMERA! ACTION! We live in a culture that demands bigger and better, larger and louder.  It used to be little mom and pop stores that were the norm, now it’s huge warehouses filled with items packaged in lots of 144.  I mean do I really need to buy 144 Gillette razors? (That should strike you as funny considering who’s writing this.)  The saying now is, “Go BIG or go home!”  Faced with that kind of worldview it can leave most of us feeling pretty impotent and believing the lie that we since we really can’t do something that will rock the world we might as well not even try.
     That is just the lie that Satan wants you to believe. And if my memory serves me correctly, he’s not a good person to trust.
     Today we celebrate the contrary reality that little things do matter.
     This past week an intrepid team from our church family headed south to the City of Angels (now run more by the demons) to help build the Kingdom of God by joining God in the work He has been doing through the ministry of the Dream Center.  Our Dream Team was a mixture of faith and fear, seeking to provide hope and yet knowing that the needed the Holy Spirit’s help to do so.  
     Did they change the world? No. 
     Did they help to change lives a little at a time? Yes!   
     Did it make a difference in their lives and the lives of those they served? Most definitely!  
     You see, the little things do matter!
     Today we join with many other church fellowships in promoting Compassion Sunday. A day where we share about the needs of children around the world. Children who need to know God’s saving love in both word and deed. Today we are offered the opportunity, not to change the world, but to change a little life in the world.  
     Will we end poverty? No. 
     Can we change a life for the good? Yes! 
     Can we make a difference that helps to bring salvation to soul and body? Most definitely! 
     You see, little things do matter!
     What little thing will you do for God’s big Kingdom today?
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Monday, April 04, 2011


CALIFORNIA HAS ALWAYS CARRIED A MYSTIQUE. It’s seen as a place of perpetual warmth, beauty, opportunity, wealth and success.  Many have left far away places to seek fame and fortune, if not at least a golden tan, in this mystical, magical place called, California.  The Beach Boys have sung about its beaches and its warm California sun. The Mamas and the Papas dreamed about it on a winter’s day. Albert Hammond told us it never rains in California. (Yeah, right!)
     Sadly, for too many, the dreams of a great life in California have only turned into nightmares. The hopes and desires of a better life have found many living on the streets, under bridges or in dangerous war zones of places like south-central Los Angeles. The dream is shattered and hope is displaced by fear. It is into these places of hopelessness and broken dreams that the Dream Center of Los Angeles comes to minister God’s grace.
     This week a small group of hearty souls from our church are headed to the City of Angels to join hearts and hands with the ministry of the Dream Center.  I like to refer to them as our own Dream Team. We are going with eyes and hearts wide open, knowing that we are not going to change the broken world of the inner-cities of Los Angeles, but we are ready to be used of the Lord to help bring His message of grace, love and hope. And maybe, just maybe, by the Holy Spirit’s power, we can help someone gain not a new dream, but a new reality, of God’s redeeming love.
     Please join us this week by praying for us everyday, morning, noon and night. Be part of that most vital aspect of this Kingdom work…the ministry of prayer.  We need you!  They need you!
     God bless you!
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Friday, April 01, 2011

Wisdom of the Ages

WALTER BREUNING IS 114 YEARS YOUNG.  He was interviewed in the April 2011 edition of Men’s Journal (p.126) on the topic of “Survival Skills.”  When asked, “What is the skill that every man should have?”  He sagely answered, “The skill of being kind to people. In today’s world, everybody is mean to each other. But if you can help other people, you help yourself at the same time. You do, really.  I used to walk all over town every morning after breakfast, and one day a lady stopped me and tied my loose shoestring. Well, I could’ve fallen down, you know. You see, it’s the little things.”
     I would love to spend a day with Walter.  He is definitely a sage (he’s seen a lot since his birth in 1896, Can you imaging the stories?!)  Even though he is 114, he seems to have a good handle on what really is happening in our world today.  Meanness is epidemic, and kindness is pushed to the shadows.  I see this every week as I spend time at my son’s school.  Sadly, too sadly, I even see it within the walls of the church, the very place that is to be marked by the character of Christ, the one who was and is supremely kind.
     My mom used to tell me, “Randy, if you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all.”  If I had followed that advice as a young person I wouldn’t have had much to say. That would be true for so many areas of life.  I mean, think about it. Think how quiet our state and national elections would be, or the family gatherings around the dinner table. Sporting events, would be quiet both on and off the field. What about driving or the workplace or even blogs and Facebook status, not to mention YouTube uploads?  How about church? Oops, sorry about that, I’m starting to meddle now.
    Tragically, our world, as Mr. Breuning so wisely pointed out, “In today’s world, everybody is mean to each other.”  For the one who claims to follow Christ it must not be that way.  Consider what the Word of God says regarding kindness.
22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)
12Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Colossians 3:12-14)
5For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. 8For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. (2 Peter 1:5-9)
      Kindness must mark our lives as followers of Jesus. Kindness is compassion and care in action. I appreciate the story that Mr. Breuning ends with when he tells of the woman who did not just tell him his shoe was untied, but she knelt to tie it for him. Kindness in action is kneeling to another person’s need.  Not unlike a Savior I know.
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