A Simple Way to Connect with Ancient Christianity

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We have an ancient, mystical faith with brilliant minds and voices that have thought and written throughout the past 2,000 years.  But, how can you connect with them? Where do you go to explore these words without enrolling in seminary?  You begin with something simple: the Apostle’s creed as a doorway into the early church thinkers and writers.

It is one of the most ancient pieces of our faith and is recited by millions every Sunday.  Its concise statement of the core beliefs of Christianity are both profound and easily understood.  It is a work that, when studied properly in its historic context, can guide us to Jesus through beautiful voices from our rich past.

That is why I got involved with a resource centered around this most important document.  It is called “Creed” and centers around a brilliant devotional exploration written by a friend of mine named J.D. Walt.  Each devotion combines the text and themes from the creed with quotes from ancient Christians and offers ways for us to experience them all in our daily lives.  

While experiencing this as an individual is great, it is taken to the next level when the journey is shared with others.  That's where I came in.  I have written a small group curriculum for churches to use to help people journey together through the creed.  It is available as part of the Creed Experience that includes videos, audio, curriculum for kids, sermons and all you need to unite your whole church in this study.  

For groups, each week spends time studying and discussing the scripture behind that week’s portion of the creed, talks about the week's devotions and closes with a guide to pray through the theology presented in the creed as a group.  

I truly hope your imagination is captured by this link to our ancient faith and would love to hear your stories of how it has impacted your church.  I hope you’ll make the “Creed Experience” the next study in your group.

Question for the Comments: How has the Apostle's Creed been part of your faith?

God-Focused Christmas Gift Ideas: Teen Edition

Have some very cool teens to buy for this season?  Here's my picks for gifts that will help them grow spiritually:

NIV Teen Study Bible
By Lawrence O. Richards, Sue W. Richards

NIV Teen Study Bible - This is a great Ible to help teens engage with the scriptures and consider how to apply them to their life.  It is full of extras to help teens understand and engage as well as an interesting layout.  Great for youth who are getting interested in the Bible





Datable: Are you? Are They?  - Simply the best books for teens on navigating the waters of dating without compromising their integrity or never dating anyone until they are married.  Full of practical, godly advice and pre-doodled.  Every teen should have this. Period.

Dateable: Are You? Are They?
By Justin Lookadoo, Hayley DiMarco
Season One
By All Sons & Daughters

Season One by All Sons and Daughters - One of the best worship bands around making music that is original, artful, and a lot of teens enjoy.

Beautiful Things by Gungor - One of the best Christian CDs ever recorded that includes one of the most popular Christian songs in recent history: Beautiful Things.

Beautiful Things
By Gungor
Fading West
By Switchfoot

Fading West by Switchfoot -  One of the most prolific and popular Christian rock bands.  Their latest CD is  continuation of their non-trite lyrics and solid rock sound.

How We Got Our Bible: Youth Edition - This book examines how the Bible began, how it was preserved, transmitted, translated, spread, and communicated.  Great for curious teens!

Book of Fidgets: Jot and Doodle Journal - This makes personal time with God super-fun!  This is a devotional/journal that spends most of its space inspiring students to be creative with their thoughts prayers and Bible study.  From doodle pages to ideas of creative things to do, this journal is great for pretty much every teen.

Throw and Tell Ball - This is a fun way to get conversations started.  This ball is full of fun questions.  When you catch the beach ball, you have to answer the one under your right thumb.  Lots of fun!

God-focused Christmas Gift Ideas: Children Edition

Every year I try and spend time offering a couple of ideas for gifts you can get the children, youth, and adults you love that will help them grow spiritually.  So, without further adieu, here are my picks for the kiddos:

Fisher Price Nativity -This is one of my favorite items for my kids at Christms time.  I love to watch them pretend the Christmas story, and it really gets exciting when Greel Latern Shows up to save the day!

The Jesus Storybook Bible ( 4years old through 3rd grace) - This Bible is one of the most  beautiful pieces of art I have ever seen, and the way the stories have been artfully and faithfully rewritten for this younger audience is just as brilliant.  Our church has begun giving these Bibles to every child on the month of their fourth birthday!

 Adventure BIble (3rd -5th grade) - This is the Bible we give out at third grade now, and is an engaging copy of the full text of the scriptures.  Fantastic.

Veggie Tales: Saint Nicholas - Saint Nicholas was a really incredible guy!  Not only that, his story is one of the most inspiring stories for us to hear at Christmas.  Bob and Larry and the gang do an INCREDIBLE job at telling the story of the life of this humble, generous saint in a way that makes my kids beg to watch it!

Sign and Say: 36 Bible Verses for Children - This book is so much fun!  It shows you the sign language (in pictures) for 36 different Bible verses like the ver important "Honor your father and mother."  My kids love to grab this and learn how to say the Bible with your hands! 



The Small Group You Have Always Wanted

The small group you have been longing for actually started in 1742. It wasn’t strategically designed to appeal to the fact that you like dogs rather than cats, it wasn’t something that had hours of homework each week, and you definitely didn’t spend 30 minutes watching a mega-church pastor on a T.V..  This small group was about transformation through community, and it was called (back in the day) a class meeting.

I cannot tell you how I have hungered for a tool that helped contextualize this brilliantly formative practice in the 21st century.  I mean, How hard could that be?  The 1700s weren’t that different from today.  Wait, that world was a VERY different place.  Forget whether or not they had internet or TV.  There was no refrigeration, telephones, or light bulbs!  Taking a practice from that time and translating it to today takes an incredibly intelligent and culturally-aware individual.

Praise God for Kevin Watson.  In his forthcoming book (11/15/2013) The Class Meeting. He does just that.  He not only gives an accessible introduction to the story of the Class meeting, but he helps the reader place it in the modern context and envision exactly what it would look like in a suburban den or high-rise apartment.

That alone is worth the cost of the book, but The Class Meeting goes further by seamlessly merging re-imagined history, small group curriculum and a ministry guide into a single new category.  The book is not merely about class meetings; it is designed as a launching resource for these types of small groups.  That’s right.  You put this in the hands of small group members and as they go through the book together they begin practicing a modern version of Wesley’s class meetings!

How appropriate that the first credible book I’ve read about brining the class meeting to today ends up being as practical and innovative as Wesley’s original class meetings were.

If you have seen how quickly people hit the transformation ceiling of curriculum-driven small groups, if you have watched as affinity groups devolve into gossip groups, cliques, or into extinction, if you have seen the brokenness of the Sunday School model and the oft-hyped and oft-failed modern small group craze, this book is for you.

For those of you involved in Youth Ministry, this book will offer a model for groups that is more than accountability and more than Bible study.  It will help you tap into the desire of teens to be heard and understood as well as their need for guidance and partnership.  Though it will require some teenization, it will be well worth it!

If you haven’t already left to purchase it, what are you waiting for?  Go get it now!

How David Really Beat Goliath (Malcolm Gladwell)

My bet is that this publisher’s description will make you run to Amazon and buy David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell:

Three thousand years ago on a battlefield in ancient Palestine, a shepherd boy felled a mighty warrior with nothing more than a stone and a sling, and ever since then the names of David and Goliath have stood for battles between underdogs and giants. David's victory was improbable and miraculous. He shouldn't have won. 

Or should he have? 

In David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell challenges how we think about obstacles and disadvantages, offering a new interpretation of what it means to be discriminated against, or cope with a disability, or lose a parent, or attend a mediocre school, or suffer from any number of other apparent setbacks.

Here’s the skinny on what’s in the Book: Brilliance.  Hang on, this is supposed to be an unbiased summary.  Let me start over.

In this soon to be sermon-plagiarized book, Gladwell takes the Epic tale of David and Goliath and uses it as an entry point into a re-imagining  of our bias against disadvantage and obstacle.

He delves into the psychology behind the reason that those who are in the middle and bottom-third of Harvard’s Economics School publish about the same, on average, as students at that level at far less prestigious schools.  

He looks at the reason behind the fact that a disproportionate percentage of top performing CEOs and innovators have dyslexia.  He even tackles the problems created by California’s three-strike law.

He does all of this by exploring the story of people involved in each of these unique and perplexing situations.  Those stories are divided into three parts that represent the three main concepts he is putting forward: The advantages of disadvantages (and the reverse), desirable disability, and limits of power.

The advantages of disadvantages explores the question of why we are so surprised when the underdog wins.  It happens all the time.  David beating Goliath is one of many similar stories we all can tell.  It turns out that being smaller, having less money, or being less skilled is not necessarily a disadvantage. Often those things end up giving the apparently weak an advantage over the strong.

In part two, “Desirable Difficulties”, Gladwell makes the argument that the skills people develop to compensate for significant difficulties (like dyslexia) often end up being powerful tools that enable them to accomplish more than the average person who did not have to overcome that difficulty.  While no one who had overcome whatever it was would ever desire someone else to have their difficulty, having it is what allowed them to be who they are, and in that sense is desirable.

The final part explores the limits of power.  By that Gladwell means that there is a point at which any system of power begins to see dramatically diminishing returns to the point of working  against the powerful.  At some point more power becomes a disadvantage.  

He comes to the conclusion that the powerful are never as powerful as they seem nor the weak as weak.  And, in many situations the surprising advantages of those who are initially seen as weak ensure their ultimate success.

I am sure you can tell where I fall on the sentiment scale in regards to this book.  Malcolm Gladwell is an incredible author that consistently turns out interesting works that both intrigue and surprise by tying together interesting research from disparate fields into a cohesive argument.  

But the brilliance of this work is setting this entire story within the Biblical narrative even starting each part with Bible verses.  In fact, you may never read an exegesis of the David and Goliath story as good as the one in the first chapter, which alone is worth the price of the book.  

However the insight into the human psyche and systems of success make this a must read for everyone, especially Christians.


From Brave Reviews


4 Books Everyone Should Have

A friend stopped by my office to return a book he had borrowed the day before and I had to ask, “Not going to read it?” He said, no, I figured everyone needed a copy so I went out and bought it.  He was right, and it got me thinking about what other books I wished everyone had.  This is the list.  These are the books (besides the Bible of course) I think every Christian (and definitely every pastor) should have sitting on a bookshelf ready for action.  Click on them and buy them before you forget!  Then buy them again for a friend.

  • Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend - This is the book my friend was talking about. If you have ever heard someone say that they had bad boundaries, or someone needed to have boundaries, this is the book. Even if they had never read the book themselves, they were referring to the concepts introduced here. They put is best: “Boundaries are personal property lines that define who you are and who you are not, and influence all areas of your life.”
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  • Helping People Through Grief by Delores Kuenning - SIDS, Murder, Adoption, Divorce, Cancer, our world is full of difficult experiences, and most leave us unsure of what to do.  This book is for non-professionals.  What to do, what to say, and (most importantly) what NOT to say in those situations.  Everyone needs a copy (or two or three) to look over the appropriate chapter before returning that phone call or heading to the hospital.
  • Messy Spirituality by Michael Yaconelli - The idea that landed Jesus on the cross was that anyone, no matter how sinful, could be godly... that even messed up people could follow God.  This book claims to be “spirituality for the rest of us,” the imperfect, flawed, busy people who don’t have enough time to pray, read their Bible, and sleep in sometimes on Sundays.  In other words, it’s spirituality for all of us.  This book is full of the kind of grace that give you permission to follow Jesus no matter who or where you are.  And, it’s short!
  • Jewish New Testament Commentary by David H. Stern - Ever had a moment when you were reading the Bible and a reaction made no sense (disciples leave their jobs with no notice) or Jesus seemed a little dramatic (driving people out of the temple with whips), or some odd detail was slipped in (mary thought the resurrected Jesus was a gardener)?  This is the best place to start for finding the cultural explanations for those odd moments.  Verse by verse in the New Testament, it gives contects to this ancient holy text.