Our Gideon Moment

winepressThe leaves crackled under my feet.  I was walking through the backyard today and couldn’t believe my eyes.  It is only the first weekend of the fall and leaves were already beckoning to be raked.  This was especially surprising given the hot summer we endured which seemed to linger farther into September than I can remember in recent years.  The telltale signs of the coming autumn were there if I had paid a little more attention.  The days are shortening as the sunset comes earlier each day and some of the mornings this past week had that cool tinge that lets you know the seasons are changing.

As a child, I loved the seasons.  Growing up as a missionary kid in the West Indies, we had only two seasons – rainy and dry.  Coming home to the USA every few years, I longed to see the leaves change color, to watch the flowers come out again and yes, even to experience the snow (as long as it did not last too long).  There is something mysterious and sacred in changes that take place.  We don’t know exactly what day or hour it will happen, but we know without fail that it will happen.  While everything else around us may seem to change, this pattern remains the same.

This past week, I got to meet some of my favorite people again – Christian booksellers.  We gathered together like one big family and shared our stories.  As I listened I heard the sound of the seasons.  Some folks are at the end of autumn looking at a bleak winter ahead, not knowing if they can make it to the spring one more time.  Many are at the end of the summer, having experienced a drought of customers and wondering if they will have much to harvest this year.  Some are in the midst of winter with storms buffeting them on every side and praying for relief.  A handful are planting seeds, watering plants and watching the flowers bloom.

As we talked, I could not help but be reminded of Gideon who thought he was in the worst possible season of his life.  He was so afraid of his enemies that when the angel of the Lord arrived, he was at the bottom of a wine-press threshing wheat so that the Midianites would not find him.  Even when he realized that God was is on his side, he had doubts and put Him to the test.  Then God does the unexpected, he used this fearful, doubting man to change the fate of Israel.  Not only that, he does it in the most surprising way, winnowing down the number of men Gideon is allowed to use in the battle until only God could get the glory for the victory that that was won.

Much like Gideon, I and my family of Christian booksellers face some pretty fierce enemies.  The forces aligned against us do look like giants, Amazons if you will.  Our arch enemy, Satan, has convinced some of us that our time has passed, the culture is against us and we are no longer relevant.  In many ways it is our Gideon moment.  How will we respond?  Just like the twelve spies that went into “the promised land”, we have a report to give. What will we say?

The irony of the Gideon story and the twelve spies as well is that they were not wrong about the enemy.  In Gideon’s day, the Midianites had pillaged the people of Israel over and over again.  No wonder he was fearful.  The people that occupied the promised land were huge and had strong, well defended cities.  What both Gideon and the ten spies (with the bad report) got wrong was their understanding of the God they served.  He was so much bigger than their enemies and He was ready to do battle.

I don’t know what season we are in as Christian booksellers because the signs are confusing.  What I do know is this, the same God who helped my grandfather see the possibility for expanding a literature ministry in the midst of World War II is the same God that I serve today.  He is ready to do battle and I need to be prepared to worship and give Him the glory.

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Profile of a Servant Evangelist

rudyIt was 6AM and the lights were already on.  At the end of long week of meetings, Rudy had agreed to get up and be sure that breakfast was ready for anyone who had an early flight that day.  Our CLC leaders from around the world had gathered in Fort Washington for important meetings this past week.  No one had really thought about breakfast on the last morning when all the meetings were done and people had to leave early to catch flights to the other side of the globe.  Nobody that is except Rudy.  Without complaint he simply did what he had been doing for a long time – serving without complaint.

Spending time with Rudy is to watch a servant evangelist at work.  I met Rudy a year ago in Thailand when we worked at a missions conference together and served at a huge book table.  During our down time, we got to walk through the night market of Chiang Mai and I watched Rudy come alive.  People were gathered in huge groups to shop, eat and have fun.  Somehow, Rudy could look through the masses and see people as the individuals they were.  He was forever stopping to get into conversation and learning about the people themselves.  At one particular moment, he stopped to talk with a man who made musical instruments.  After a brief conversation, our group was ready to move one, but Rudy wanted to linger.  Even as Rudy ran to catch up with us, he realized he needed to say one more thing to this man and leave a gospel tract with him.  He just couldn’t help himself.

A few weeks ago, my pastor was preaching from the book of Isaiah and shared this quote from C.H. Spurgeon, the “Prince of Preachers” who lived in England from 1834 to 1892.   This is what he said about the urgency of evangelism,

“If sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our bodies. And if they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned and unprayed for.”

Watching Rudy at work was like watching a professional football player diving for the knees of everyone with whom he interacted.  No one who served him a meal, cleaned his table or took his credit card was safe.

Rudy Kujier is a Dutchman with a heart for the world.  Born and raised in the Netherlands, he spent nearly seventeen years working for CLC in Spain.  During that time, his passion for evangelism was a core part of his ministry and affected everything he did.  Following that time, he spent the next decade as a chaplain in the Rotterdam shipyards working with a Christian ministry to share the love of Christ with sailors from all over the world.  Who knows how many people that we will meet one day in heaven because of Rudy’s exertions.

This week, our ministry appointed Rudy as our Global Mobilizer.  In this role he will be heavily involved in recruiting, fund raising and of course – evangelism.  His urgency to win the lost is infectious and yet his approach is not obnoxious.  In a world that is wary of anything that looks like proselytizing and treats the word “conversion” like a dirty word, Rudy is a breath of fresh air.  His approach is just like Jesus – empathetic, loving and persistent.  As I think about the future, I can’t wait to see this humble servant evangelist recruit, train and inspire a new generation of literature evangelists.

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Learning to Say No

bro-just-say-noI am not quite sure when it happened.  Maybe it was the unexpected stomach pain that required a heavy treatment of antibiotics or maybe it was the look in someone’s eyes.   In any case, something was not right.  For too long I had been ignoring the signs that my body and other people were giving me.  If I didn’t slow down, make some changes in my life and begin to approach my work in a different way, I was going to be in big trouble.  Then I read her book.

Shauna Niequist, recently wrote a new book entitled, Present over Perfect and I just finished reading it from cover to cover.  While I approach my faith journey from a different theological perspective, I thought she had many helpful things to say.  One particular insight from her chapter called “Good Fruit” really stood out and here is what she had to say, “You don’t have to sacrifice your spirit, your joy, your soul, your family, your marriage on the altar of ministry.  Just because you have the capacity to do something doesn’t mean you have to do it.”  For driven leaders like myself, that sentiment is a lot easier said than done.

Saying no is something that we are taught from childhood to avoid.  As children, our parents trained us to be obedient and that meant saying yes to whatever we were asked to do.  As we got older, the implicit expectation from everyone around us says that if you want to get ahead, to build friendships, to be liked, you have to say yes.  In the church this is so deeply ingrained that saying no to a potential opportunity to serve as a volunteer can be seen as ungodly and maybe even unbiblical.  If your identity is tied to being liked and appreciated, this can become vicious cycle of saying yes and then finding yourself unable to meet the commitment or having to “plow through”, “gut it out” or similarly “killing yourself” to get something done.

I wish could say that I have discovered all the answers this huge problem, but truthfully I am still unpacking how big the problem really is. In Niequist’s book she goes on to make the devastating statement that “Your calling is not defined by the fruit it provides to the kingdom.  Your family and your very self are included in the kingdom you wish to serve, and if they are not thriving, the whole of your ministry is not thriving.”  In a year when I have said yes to more and more ministry responsibility and leadership, this was really hard to read.

One thing I do know, I have to own this problem and that is why I am writing about it.  I can no longer hide it in a corner and pretend that it does not exist. I must be willing to see the body language other people are giving me, listen to their concerns and be willing to be vulnerable enough to admit that I need help.  Even writing those last few word was not easy.   Someone recently told me that self-care and selfishness are not the same thing.  One is vital to our very survival and the other is a tool of Satan.  As a committed Christian, I think I have often conflated them as one and the same.

Going forward, I am actually looking forward to making some changes, I just don’t know what they will be.  Stay tuned for updates about this leap of faith as I spend more time listening, reading and praying.  Feel free to add your own comments about your struggle with this issue and what God had been teaching you.  I need to hear what you have to say.

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Ten Great New Books for the Fall

UnashamedUnashamed by Christine Caine

I first heard Christine Caine speak several years ago and was deeply impacted by her passion and purpose in life.  She is a founder of The A21 Campaign, and leads one of the largest non-profit organizations in the world dedicated to rescuing victims of human trafficking in twelve countries. In Unashamed, Christine reveals the often-hidden consequences of shame—in her own life and the lives of so many Christian women—and invites you to join her in moving from a shame-filled to a shame-free life. In her passionate and candid style, she leads you into God’s Word where you will see for yourself how to believe that God is bigger than your mistakes, your inadequacies, your past, and your limitations. He is not only more powerful than anything you’ve done but also stronger thPresent over Perfectan anything ever done to you.

Present over Perfect by Shauna Niequist

I first heard about this book at the Global Leadership Summit and knew I had to read it.  Being a driven person with a very busy schedule, I could relate to what Shauna had gone through.  Here is part of what she had to say. “A few years ago, I found myself exhausted and isolated, my soul and body sick. I was tired of being tired, burned out on busy. And, it seemed almost everyone I talked with was in the same boat: longing for connection, meaning, depth, but settling for busy.” In the last few years, her life has changed and she has learned a way to live, marked by grace, love, rest, and play.   In this book, Shauna offers an honest account of what led her to begin this journey, and a compelling vision for an entirely new way to live: soaked in grace, rest, silence, simplicity, prayer, and connection with the people that matter most to us.

uninvitedUninvited by Lysa TerKeurst

Nobody likes to be rejected, the last one to be chosen for a team or the person left off the invite list. In Uninvited, Lysa shares her own deeply personal experiences of rejection–from the perceived judgment of the perfectly toned woman one elliptical over to the incredibly painful childhood abandonment by her father. She leans in to honestly examine the roots of rejection, as well as rejection’s ability to poison relationships from the inside out, including our relationship with God. Uninvited reminds us we are destined for a love that can never be diminished, tarnished, shaken, or taken–a love that does not reject or uninvite.

Without Rival by Lisa BevereWithout Rival

Lisa and her husband, John, are bestselling authors and the founders of Messenger International.  In this new book she deals with the reality that there is a reason we look at others as rivals and limit ourselves to comparison and competition. We have an enemy assaulting our mind, will, and emotions in the hope that we’ll turn on ourselves and each other. It is one of his greatest tactics and it creates a cycle that isolates us from intimate connections, creates confusion about our identity, and limits our purpose.  In Without Rival, Lisa Bevere shares how a revelation of God’s love breaks these limits. As a pretty competitive person myself, I need this book.

The Broken WayThe Broken Way by Ann Voskamp

Ann Voskamp is the author of the groundbreaking book, One Thousand Gifts, that went on to become a New York Times Best Seller.  In this new book Voskamp sits at the edge of her life and all of her own unspoken brokenness and asks: What if you really want to live abundantly before it’s too late? She says “This book is for the lovers and the sufferers. For those whose hopes and dreams and love grew so large it broke their willing hearts. You could be one of the Beloved who is broken — and still lets yourself be loved.  You could be one of them, one who believes freedom can be found not only beyond the fear and pain, but actually within it. You could discover and trust this broken way — the way to not be afraid of broken things.”Making Sense of God

Making Sense of God by Tim Keller

Keller’s The Reason for God was one of the best books that I have read.  At his church he broke new ground by making space and time for skeptics.  In this companion book he recognizes that our society places such faith in empirical reason, historical progress, and heartfelt emotion that it’s easy to wonder: Why should anyone believe in Christianity? What role can faith and religion play in our modern lives? In response Keller invites skeptics to consider that Christianity is more relevant now than ever. As human beings, we cannot live without meaning, satisfaction, freedom, identity, justice, and hope. Christianity provides us with unsurpassed resources to meet these needs. Written for both the ardent believer and the skeptic, Making Sense of God shines a light on the profound value and importance of Christianity in our lives.

befriendBefriend by Scott Sauls

For a lot of people, especially men, real friendship often seems too risky.  Suspicious of others and insecure about ourselves, we can retreat into the safety of our small, self-made worlds. Now more than ever, it’s easy to avoid people with whom we disagree or whose life experiences don’t mirror our own. Safe among like-minded peers and digital “friends,” we really don’t have to engage with those who can challenge and enhance our limited perspectives. Tragically, even the church can become a place that minimizes diversity and reinforces isolation. Scott Sauls, senior pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee and author of Jesus Outside the Lines takes the reader through twenty-one meditations to inspire actively pursuing God’s love through expanding your circle of friends. Real friendship is costly. Love does make us vulnerable. But without risk, our lives will remain impoverished.The Day the Revolution Began

The Day the Revolution Began by N.T. Wright

The renowned scholar, Anglican bishop, and bestselling author widely considered to be the heir to C. S. Lewis contemplates the central event at the heart of the Christian faith—Jesus’ crucifixion—arguing that the Protestant Reformation did not go far enough in transforming our understanding of its meaning. In The Day the Revolution Began, N. T. Wright once again challenges commonly held Christian beliefs as he did in his acclaimed Surprised by Hope. Demonstrating the rigorous intellect and breathtaking knowledge that have long defined his work, Wright argues that Jesus’ death on the cross was not only to absolve us of our sins; it was actually the beginning of a revolution commissioning the Christian faithful to a new vocation—a royal priesthood responsible for restoring and reconciling all of God’s creation.

No One but GodNo One But God by Nebeel Qureshi

Having shared his journey of faith in the New York Times bestselling Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, Nabeel Qureshi now examines Islam and Christianity in detail, exploring areas of crucial conflict and unpacking the relevant evidence. In this highly anticipated follow-up book, Nabeel reveals what he discovered in the decade following his conversion, providing a thorough and careful comparison of the evidence for Islam and Christianity–evidence that wrenched his heart and transformed his life.  In Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, Nabeel Qureshi recounted his dramatic journey, describing his departure from Islam and his decision to follow Christ. In the years that followed, he realized that the world’s two largest religions are far more different than they initially appeared.

Good and Angry Good and Angry by David Powlison

Anger is one of those strange emotions.  We are supposed to “be angry at sin but not hate the sinner”.  Far too often I find myself getting pretty angry at the sinner too.   This new book from the Executive Director of CCEF (the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation), David Powlison, contends that anger is more than a problem to solve.  Powlison reminds us that God gets angry too. He sees things in this world that aren’t right and he wants justice too. But God’s anger doesn’t devolve into manipulation or trying to control others to get his own way. Instead his anger is good and redemptive. He is both our model for change and our power to change

 

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Raising Kids that Don’t Leave the Church

Faith that LastsIt was a little over two years ago when I picked up the phone and hoped that he would answer.  This was one of the crazy leaps of faith that every publisher takes when they have a hunch.  I had read a blog post by Jon Nielson and was deeply impacted by the content.  Surely he must already be a published author if his work was being posted on the Gospel Coalition website.  Even more likely, he would probably not be available to take my call.  As the phone rang a few times, my heart began to sink…and then he answered.

After a few moments of introduction, we got into the heart of the matter.  I asked if he had been contacted about doing a book on the subject of his blog post and if he had a book deal already in the works.  To my great surprise and joy, he did not.  Now to the really hard question – was he willing to write an entire book on a concept that had started as a blog post.  It didn’t take long for Jon to agree that the subject of his blog was really important and that he could actually do what I was asking.

So what was this blog post about and why would a publisher consider doing a book about it.  Well the blog post touched on a subject that is becoming more and more resonant with parents all across the country.  It is no longer a secret that millennials are leaving the church in droves when they hit the all-important age of 18.   Many of these kids have grown up in the church, attended youth group, Sunday school and Bible Camp.  Most of them made genuine professions of faith.  And then for many different reasons, as soon as they hit that magic age they stop going to church and become part of the “none” generation – those that claim to have no particular religious affiliation.  The title of Jon’s post was “Why Youth Stay in Church When They Grow Up”.  It had created a lot of buzz in the blogosphere and was being read several years after it was first posted in 2011.

Jon’s new book, Faith that Lasts, goes on sale this Tuesday and deals with this subject head on.  His subtitle, “Raising Kids that Don’t Leave the Church” is the heart of his content.  Instead of wringing his hands like many of the pundits and prognosticators, he approaches the topic in a really counter-intuitive way.  So many other authors and commentators have focused on why kids are leaving the church and what can be done to fix this problem.  Jon takes a totally different tact and looks at kids that chose to stay in the church as they became adults and asks why.  This is not a how to book or some kind of recipe for parenting success, instead it is a book filled with hope that God is still sovereign and parents do make a difference in the choices their kids make.

I am so glad that I had the courage to pick up the phone and call Jon.  Over the last couple of years, he has moved from doing pastoral ministry at the College Church in Wheaton, Illinois to a campus ministry fellowship at Princeton University.  Every day he gets to interact with kids that are interested in pursuing and deepening their faith in Jesus Christ even as they deal with all the normal doubts that every college student faces.  As this book is birthed I am looking forward to hearing from parents who had been despairing in the face of what seem like insurmountable obstacles in our culture.  How do you raise kids that will follow Jesus on their own?  Some of those answers can be found in this really important new book that we get the privilege of bringing into the world on Tuesday.

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Investing in the Soul of a Leader

bill hybelsBill Hybels was talking and told this story.  He was consumed with leading and growing the Willow Creek Church and was in his office one day when his daughter stopped by.  His desk was covered with papers and he was deeply focused on an issue that needed his attention.  He looked up when she came in and saw that she wanted to talk with him.  Without thinking, he said “Can you talk quickly because I am really busy right now.”  She began to back out of the office and said, “It’s OK Dad, I can come back when you are able to listen slowly”.  Not surprisingly, that conversation was like a dagger to his heart.  He ran after his daughter, apologized for his abrupt response to her and asked for her forgiveness.  God used that incident to begin a deep work of transformation in his heart that would impact other leaders for generations to come.

This week, I was the beneficiary of that work in Bill’s life.  Not only was Bill the founder and pastor of the Willow Creek Church, but he founded the Global Leadership Summit that is held every year in August.  This live event is hosted at his South Barrington, Illinois church campus and is simulcast in nearly 600 locations around the USA.  Over 300,000 people attend and participate at one of these many sites.  I had the joy of attending two different sites in Philadelphia where our team was providing a leadership book resource table for the attendees.   It was exciting to see other leaders investing in their own growth and development and to learn from the excellent faculty of speakers that were sharing from the main stage during the two days of the event.

There were many highly influential and experienced leaders that Bill and his team had chosen to speak at the summit this year.  They included Melinda Gates (Bill Gates’ wife and head of the Gates Foundation), Alan Mulally (President of the Ford Motor Company) and acclaimed leadership author Patrick Lencioni.  While I learned a lot from every one of the speakers, I was most deeply impacted by Bill Hybels himself and something that he shared on the second day.  Maybe that is because he and I share some traits in common and are passionate and driven leaders who care deeply about God’s kingdom.  Maybe it is because I share some of the same flaws and have made some of the same mistakes.

In the middle of the second day, Bill walked to a flip chart and drew a diagram of a line that went diagonally from the bottom left of the page to the top right and said this represented the ever increasing pace of the life of a typical leader who takes on more and more responsibility.  Then he drew a second parallel line below it that only went half way up the page and then began to fall off and actually went down to the bottom right.  This line represented the amount of time, energy and focus that leaders spend on developing their own souls.  Far too often in the race to get things accomplished, leaders do not invest as much in the growth of their souls as they do in the growth of their ministry or business.  The result is often burn out and leadership failure.  As a leader who has been taking on more and more responsibility I could relate to everything he was saying.

For me and many of the other attendees, the Global Leadership Summit is a soul investment.  It was two solid days of leadership teaching and reflection that was fuel for my inner person.  As I was considering how to keep investing in this type of growth going forward, it struck me that many of the tools I needed were right on the book table in front of me.  Bill suggested taking 10-15 minutes every day in solitude before God to let Him speak deeply to our hearts.  He even gave us some practice by stopping the summit teaching at three specific points for two minutes of nothing but beautiful music and asked us to get quiet before God.  Coupled with this practice of silence he emphasized the value of reading daily and committing to let the words of these authors soak into your soul.  I was ready for the challenge and look forward to allowing God to shape me in times of silence, reflection and reading.

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An Enduring Commitment

mom and dad weddingHe sat by her side every day in the hospital and never complained.  This past April, my Mom was unexpectedly hospitalized for eleven days with a severe reaction to food poisoning.  My Dad made sure that he was there as much as possible and helped in any way that he could.  Ironically, only one year earlier, it had been my mom who was beside my Dad’s bed everyday as he recovered from major back surgery.  Little did he know that he would get to return the favor in so short a time and that he would be healthy enough to make the daily trek back and forth.   Though my Dad was not able to do much from a medical standpoint, his emotional support made all the difference in the world.  As I walked with him on many of those days from the parking garage to her room and back, I couldn’t help but admire his enduring commitment to a woman that meant so much to him.

Today, they celebrate fifty years of marriage and a life of faith that has lasted the test of time and trial.  Recently, I came across an on-line article that described the marriage they have lived before my eyes.  Here is a brief except,

Great marriages are formed, not found. Christian marriage is the opportunity to practice fidelity over time, so you can look back and call it love. A Christ-centered marriage has less to do with finding the right one and more to do with committing your life to the one you found. It bears witness to the same kind of sacrificial faithfulness Christ has for his church. And while this self-giving marriage may not make me more fulfilled all the time, if done right, it will most definitely make me more holy. Therefore, it is faithfulness, not fulfillment that is the defining mark of Christian marriage.

Before you begin to imagine that my parents are super saints, I need to point out that they are human beings.  Like all marriages, there were times of squabbling and disagreement, but there were also many more times of laughter, joy and forgiveness.  As I grew up, I never had to wonder if they really loved each other and the strength of their commitment to God made their marriage that much stronger.  I was blessed to watch two people who were very different learn to lay down their own agendas for the greater good of our family and their ministry.  Arguments normally happened behind closed doors and affirmations often happened in public.  Mom and Dad stood side by side in their parenting and supported each other’s decisions making it very difficult for us children to try to “divide and conquer”.  Nothing put the fear of God in us more than mom saying, “Wait till your Dad comes home” for us to receive a punishment.

During most of their marriage my parents worked in the same ministry and often worked alongside each other.   The kind of work related stress they endured over the years could have destroyed many marriages.  To God’s glory, my parents not only survived but thrived as they worked together to serve people all over the world and to fulfill their joint passion to see people come to faith and maturity in the Lord Jesus Christ.  At the core of their relationship was a deep friendship and an unrelenting commitment to prayer.  I cannot remember a day that they did not have our family pray together and their practice of praying as a couple has grown as they have had more margin in their schedules in recent years.

For some reason my parents love the board game Scrabble and they play it a lot.  With so much practice they are really IMG_3186good at it.  I have often wondered if it is that same tenacity that has infused their marriage all of these years.  No matter how challenging the circumstances they faced, they did it together in full reliance on God.  It is no surprise that all of their children are now in long term marriage relationships and committed to growing in grace.  May we all reach this illustrious fifty-year milestone and honor the God we love like our Mom and Dad have modeled so well for us.

 

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