“Just Mercy” … an outstanding book to be reckoned with

 

In early June, Jennifer and I visited the newly opened National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama.  Both the memorial and the museum are part of the Equal Justice initiative, a nonprofit that, according to their website is “committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, to challenging racial and economic injustice, and to protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society.”

The memorial on a hill overlooking Montgomery memorializes the nearly 5,000 African-Americans that were lynched in the United States from 1870 to 1950. The museum traces the history of racism experienced by millions of African-Americans within the United States. Visiting both were stunning, sobering and fascinating.

I have just finished JUST MERCY — A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson, the Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative.  Stevenson’s powerful New York Times bestseller chronicles the inherent inhumanity within the American justice system, especially poor Blacks in the South.

JUST MERCY explores a number of devastating cases, including children as young as fourteen facing life imprisonment, and scores of people on death row – mostly poor, and mostly black – who have been unfairly convicted. For 30 years Stevenson, a Harvard Law School graduate, and his team have worked to help free men and women, largely African-American and poor, who were unfairly sentenced to prison, some of them facing the death penalty.

Stevenson is a gentle, empathic man, a fearless attorney for the poor and underrepresented and a great writer.  He takes you right inside his cases.  I was quickly and totally swept up in the story. The book made me angry, sad, and relieved, especially when justice was served, and sadly, it wasn’t nearly as much as it should have been.

After I read the book I said to myself, “I would love to meet Bryan Stevenson.”

By the way, Stevenson’s outstanding 2012 TED Talk garnered him one of the longest standing ovations in the history of TED Talks.

Both JUST MERCY and the TED TALK are HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!

Ruined & Redeemed — a story of incredible hope!

A horrific true story told in an incredibly redemptive way by a wonderful pastor.

Ruined” (Tyndale House Publishers, 2016) is Rev. Ruth Everhart’s gripping memoir of facing a horrific robbery and rape at her apartment during her senior year at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Two men masked men broken into Everhart’s apartment at 12:30am on an early November night in 1978, and Everhart and 3 Calvin roommates were held at gunpoint, robbed, verbally assaulted and raped.

“Ruined” is Everhart’s brutally honest and riveting account of what happened and how she survived and ultimately made sense of it. Calvin College is a Christian Reformed-based school and Everhart brought her traditional Christian Reformed faith – her birthright, she calls it – to see if she could make sense of what happened.

She writes: “The sovereignty of God means that God is supreme and rules over all. Nothing can happen apart from God’s will.” But suddenly and without warning, what she always had believed left her confused and wanting.

In the months following the brutal ordeal, Everhart’s traditional Christian Reformed faith came face to face with her anger, confusion, and shame. She had been violated in the worst way imaginable and she wanted to know where God was and how he felt about it.

In the ensuing months and years she questioned nearly everything about her faith and her practices. She was not about to let her childhood faith off the hook easily. What was true, anyway?  Who was God? Was He good?  Was He fair?  Was what happened to Everhart and her roommates part of His will, as some in the Christian Reformed tradition would have said? Everhart wondered if she even believed in God at all.

There was loss upon loss.  The girls immediately moved from the apartment and many did not stay together the next semester. There was so much sadness and grief and anger and confusion in the days immediately following the awful crime. But before long several of them graduated from Calvin and began moving on in life, or at least trying to. Everhart writes that ultimately “each of us had to navigate this terrible time alone. Our friendship was one more thing the rapists had stolen from us, perhaps the most valuable thing.“

In the memoir Everhart takes the reader through her years of recovery, including lots of emotional trauma and even making some decisions about her sexuality that she regrets. But in time she eventually emerged as a wife, a seminary student, a mother of 2 daughters and an ordained Presbyterian (PCUSA) pastor, where she now as served churches in a career spanning nearly 25 years.

Everhart’s own father was a principal in a Christian Reformed school in the Christian Reformed Church tradition where women could not be ordained. Interestingly, part of Everhart’s recovery from the horrific sexual assault finally led to her feeling called to the ministry herself, but it was not though the Christian Reformed tradition, where the door was closed for a woman to pursue ministry as an ordained pastor. Here’s how she describes it:

“It was a straightforward decision, really. Either I was called to ministry or I wasn’t. That was the key piece. Decades later, I understand why I wrestled with the decision. It may have been a straightforward matter, but it was hardly a simple one. Ordination rarely is.  As for a woman with my history – growing up in a conservative culture that barred women from ministry, being raped at gun point, taking up with a married man – the issue of fitness for ministry was especially fraught. Not just ‘Could a woman be a minister?’ but ‘Could I, a woman with a history, be a minister?’”

For Everhart, it really came down to making peace with not feeling good enough to be ordained. “I needed to put aside, once and for all, my sense of being not good enough. I was a woman. A rape survivor. A sinner. What’s more, I would always be these things. The Spirit could use me – not in spite of them, but because of them.”

Everhart emerged as a pastor who to this day is utterly, wholeheartedly convinced that all of us are of infinitely more value and worth than what happened to us in our past or what will ever happen to us in our future.

Here is Everhart in the Epilogue of her book describing that human value she holds onto and spreads to others as widely as she can. The Epilogue of her book actually is a beautiful, affirming letter she wrote to her 2 daughters.One line in the letter says:

“The truth is that women who have been sexually violated have the same intrinsic value as women who have not been sexually violated. Period. Another human cannot damage a woman’s sexual self and by doing so destroy her life. … Daughters, don’t believe the lies!  You are more than your virginity. You are more than your sexual history. You are more than what happens to you. You are immensely valuable. No wound can ever make you less than whole. Wounds become scars, and scars make a person beautiful. In fact, nothing is more washable than human skin. It is the most washable substance on earth.  Thank God.”

—–

Highly Recommended!

 

Thinking about how humans and animals grieve

Mother Orca whale carrying her dead calf, perhaps leading to her own death.

I have long thought that people don’t allow themselves time to grief the losses in life … the little ones and the major ones.  Over and over I have counseled pastors who spend little time grieving their losses or the losses in the church they lead. We all need to spend more time reading and praying the Laments in the Psalter. Emotional health church guru Peter Scazzero says one of the clearest elements of healthy living is when we can embrace grief and loss.

Here’s a fascinating August 2  National Geographic piece about an Orca whale mourning the loss of her calf.

And an August 7th piece in Sojourner’s online Magazine by a Native American writer thinking about the mother whale and dead calf and how the mourning of animals and humans may have similarities.

 

Jump in the water!

What a great way to say, “Be totally present!”

As I prepared to lead a marriage seminar with Jennifer last Saturday, I landed back at one of my favorite stories involving Jesus and his great self-awareness, his terrific emotional health.  As the title of my column below says, just because you are emotionally present does not mean everyone will like you. I hope you read my take on what happened to Jesus and give me your thoughts.

—–

Don Follis July 22 column: “Staying emotionally engaged does not mean everyone will like you”

When I present seminars on emotional health I tell a story from Luke chapter 7 (verses 36-50), where I think Jesus shows remarkable self-awareness. Jesus was invited to a dinner party hosted by one of the Jewish teachers of the day named Simon. Just after arriving Jesus is approached by a woman who heard Jesus would be attending the dinner.

            Now in first-century Palestine, women might be among the servants, but not guests. Neither guest nor servant, this woman somehow has made her way into the dinner party. This is not just any woman. The writer Luke tells us that she is a bad woman. Most Bible translations call her “a sinner.” People have labeled her. Eugene Peterson’s popular Bible version – “The Message” – simply calls the woman “the town harlot.”

As the dinner party started, the woman made a beeline for Jesus. She came up behind Jesus with a bottle of perfume and in the words of Peterson’s Bible version “stood at his feet weeping, raining tears on his feet. Letting down her hair, she dried his feet, kissed them, and anointed them with the perfume.”

At this point in my seminar I ask, “Now, if you were Jesus, and this had happened to you, how would you feel being in full view of the muckety muck dinner guests from your town?” You can probably guess the answers, especially from men in the seminar. “Uncomfortable.” “Nervous.” “Embarrassed.” “Stressed.”

As the woman wiped lotion off Jesus’ feet with her flowing hair, the host feels disdain toward him. Jesus the guest has become Jesus the fraud. One guy once told me that merely reading this story makes him feel tense. When I asked him what he would have done if he had been Jesus, he was quick to answer, “Oh, that’s easy. I’d have gotten out there as fast I could have. I probably would have bolted right in front of everyone.”

When presented with a stressful conflict, many people do in fact flee. Most can imagine few things worse than being publicly humiliated. But not everyone flees. A few stand their ground. “Excuse me, Mr. Simon the Pharisee. You and your cronies are sitting here looking down on me and this poor woman. I am one of your guests tonight. Frankly, I don’t appreciate your smirks or your judgment. You owe an apology to both the woman and me.”

Still others freeze. Those in that group go quiet and don’t say anything, even though their stomachs are doing somersaults. Dissociating from reality, they emotionally numb out, solidly embedding themselves deep into the land of numb. If we see someone freeze and ask, “Are you okay?”, they answer from the land of numb: “Sure. Lovely Party.”

At this point you can guess one of the questions I ask those in my seminar. “How do we stay emotionally present when things get tense and we feel out of control?”  Well, what did Jesus do? With a woman wiping lotion from his feet with her hair, and with all eyes in the room on him, Jesus stood and asked the host if he could speak.

The host gave Jesus the floor. With the woman next to him, Jesus told the guests this parable. A certain money lender had two debtors. One owed a debt of nearly two years wages, while the other owed a debt of two months wages.  The moneylender unexpectedly forgave the debt of both debtors.

Looking at his host, Jesus asked which of the two would love the moneylender more. “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt,” answered Simon the Pharisee.

“That’s right,” Jesus said. Then turning to the woman Jesus said the woman’s debts were significant.  And yet, he said her behavior toward him was prompted solely by deep love and profound repentance.  Turning to Simon, Jesus pointed out that Simon had not given him any of the customary Palestinian greetings when Jesus arrived for the party. The contrast between the woman’s actions and the host’s inhospitality was not lost on any in the room.

Now let’s be honest. At any given moment in most of our social interactions, we all have many emotions coursing through us – all at the same time! We are happy and sad and angry and ashamed and embarrassed and who knows what else. Though we want to stay calm, speaking the truth with love in stressful predicaments, our emotions get us all jumbled. Sometimes we respond way too defensively. Other times we deny our emotions all together, naively thinking if we sweep emotions under the carpet we’ll be done with them.

We all get caught off guard, just like Jesus did. That’s when we most need to be emotionally present, staying in the ring and remembering that Jesus stayed present and engaged when abruptly overwhelmed by a desperate woman.

Even though his courage made all the guests in the room harrumph with derision, Jesus stayed engaged, standing up for a woman who crashed the party. When we are emotionally present, we have the best chance of doing the right thing, of courageously loving ourselves and others, even when we may have to pay the price of not being liked.

Sunday School class at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia

Jennifer and I left our hotel room at 5:20am on Sunday morning, June 10. We were heading to Sunday School, of course. No kidding. We wanted to make sure we could get a seat.  I’m not kidding about that either. We had read that on many Sundays Maranatha Baptist Church has to turn people away.

Imagine heading out for Sunday School while it was still pitch black outside.  We drove 10 miles from our hotel in Americus, Georgia. Following a windy road in rural, southern Georgia, we headed to Plains, Georgia, population 735. At the only stop sign in Plains, we turned right and drove 1/2 mile north.  Just past the The Big Peanut convenience store, we pulled into the Maranatha Baptist Church parking lot. It was 5:40am and still dark. Suddenly, I found myself pulling up behind a string of cars in front of me all with their lights still on.

After waiting our turn, a man near the entrance of the parking lot gave us a yellow note card with #110 written in black marker.  At 5:40am we were the 110th car in the parking lot.  Imagine that? There were 109 cars in front of us and, we soon discovered, about 350 people in those 109 cars.

The Sunday School room (the church auditorium and the overflow) holds 500 people. The man who handed me the number #110 wore a white beard and a hat that said, “I dig peanuts.”  He said, “Looks like we are going to turn people away this morning.  We hate to do that. Hope we can fit them all in.”

Okay, here’s why we were in Plains, Georgia, at Maranatha Baptist… Maybe you’ve already got me figure out, especially if you know a little history about the country.

Jennifer and I had come to hear President Jimmy Carter, the 39th president, teach Sunday School in his hometown of Plains, where he has lived since 1981, after spending 4 years in the White House.

Rumor is that Carter will teach just a few more months and many people want to hear him teach before he lays down his Sunday School book.  People are arriving from all over the country, particularly the southeast, to see President and Mrs. Carter and to hear the President teach Sunday School.

(Although, we were told in fairly uncertain terms by church members who attend church regularly at Maranatha Baptist that in fact Carter has not announced his retirement from teaching.  It’s just a crazy rumor running around on the Internet, they said.  Well, I guess we’ll see.  Carter is 93 years old and indefatigable. Gosh, maybe he can go a few more years. Talk about the little engine that could.  The guy is amazing. Can you imagine teaching a Sunday School class with 500 people in attendance at age 93?  President Carter stands and lectures for 45 minutes.  He doesn’t have a cane or a walker, and he doesn’t lean on anything. He just stands straight and lectures. His voice is strong. He is well prepared, his mind is sharp and his biblical knowledge is impressive. That is just all pretty doggone impressive to me.)

After you get your number and park your car, you can sleep, walk around and talk to people wandering around the church grounds or walk 200 yards down to the The Big Peanut convenient store and get a cup of coffee. You can’t enter the church until you go through security at 8:30am. There are 2 port-a-potties outside you can use while you wait for, in our case, almost 3 hours before entering the church building. Once we were seated in the building, we sat for another hour before President Carter arrived.

President Carter’s Sunday School class doesn’t start until 10am and the church doesn’t open until 8:30am. That’s when all 500 of us lined up according to our number and waited to go through security handled by the Secret Service.

Jennifer and I didn’t make it into the main auditorium. We were in the overflow, where we watched Carter teach via video feed. It actually was just fine. To make it into the church sanctuary where President Carter teaches, we would have had to be at the church before 5am.  No way was that going to happen.

Carter came back into the overflow at 9:45am before class started and interacted with the 150 or so of us in the overflow. He greeted us and mostly wanted to know where people were from. He thanked us for coming.

The President is teaching a series on how God speaks through the minor and little-known prophets of the Old Testament. He talked a lot about how God can use us, if we make ourselves available to him. “Isn’t that great?” he asked.

In the first 5-10 minutes he made some comments about the world news of the day and then went into his 40 minute lesson.  I am still amazed that a 93-year-old man can stand before 500 people and lecture.  He interacted with the class, asking questions and soliciting comments as he went along.

Church followed Sunday School and pictures with President and Mrs. Carter followed church. The church has a new young pastor just out of seminary. He’s in a mid-20s and looks like he’s about 15. Imagine being 25 years old and getting to preach each week to the President.  Pretty heady, I’d say. President Carter is almost 70 years older than his pastor!

As you can see here, Jennifer and I enjoyed getting our picture taken with the Carters following church.

 

Here Jennifer and I are standing alongside Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia, on Sunday, June 10, 2018.  At age 93, President Carter is the long-time adult Sunday School teacher, having taught more than 50 years. Jimmy and Rosalynn will celebrate 72 years of marriage in a couple of months.  Talk about being 93 years young!

A story of beauty emerges from a broken life

Author Jack Deere, as he is today, pictured beside his new terrific memoir, just released by Zondervan earlier this year.

Jack Deere’s outstanding memoir Even in our Darkness — A Story of Beauty in a Broken Life is the most transparent memoir I may have ever read from a pastor.  It certainly is in the last 20 years.

I had never heard of Jack Deere before I joined the Vineyard church staff in Urbana in 2004. Once on staff, however, I read another excellent book by Deere, a book now 20 years old. It is called: Surprised by the power of the Spirit.

Let me tell you about Jack Deere.  He was a rising Old Testament professor at Dallas Theological Seminary in the early 1980s.  Surprised by the Power of the Spirit is Deere’s discussion of the so-called supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit (speaking in tongues, prophecy, words of knowledge) and how they operate.  Deere came to believe those gifts were for today and never ceased with the Apostolic Age, as he had been taught.  The folks at Dallas Theological Seminary where he taught did not believe that.

By the time I joined the Vineyard church staff, I had embraced these gifts and was comfortable with most people who practiced them. I had friends who spoke in tongues but I didn’t. In fact, I tried to speak in tongues a number of times. Well, I guess I actually did speak in tongues, but I was wasn’t very good at it, and it didn’t seem real to me personally. I knew people who spoke in tongues, and I was happy for them.

But not all speak in tongues, of course. Even at the Vineyard church where I served and attended for 15 years, I rarely heard speaking in tongues and only once or twice heard tongues or prophecy in a public worship service.  Still, bless you, if these are your gifts. You have a special gift when communicating with God and others and I encourage you to use it to God’s glory.

I always was curious about the Apostle Paul saying that he was thankful that he spoke in tongues with great frequency — “More than all of you” he told the church at Corinth.  Off and on for a time, I did “practice,” almost always in my car when I was driving — driving alone, of course. It was kind of fun, but it never really blessed me and never felt real to me, although it obviously is to those who have the gift, and practice it.

Even though I was by myself in my car “practicing” speaking in tongues, one time I got a little sheepish and broke out laughing. Oh my…

During my late 20s and 30s I was involved in a church that emphasized intimate worship with God. It was a congregation that did not discourage people who spoke in tongues and prophesied, although I didn’t hear it much and it was not overly encouraged. It just wasn’t mentioned much.

Even though I had been raised in a church tribe (the Christian Church/Church of Christ) that taught those “supernatural” gifts had pretty much ended with the Apostolic age, I grew to understand things differently.  I went to a Bible college that taught those special gifts had ended with the Apostles, or more specifically, the Apostolic age.

At that college for the first time I learned the word cessationist.  By the time I was at this college, though, the Jesus movement was in full swing and I had met a few students at the Bible college that spoke in tongues and believed that God was moving in powerful ways in their lives. They wanted all that God had for them. One night I went to a Bible study in a guy’s basement where several people spoke in tongues. There were some who interpreted those tongues. There was a lot of singing and praying. That was the first time I tried speaking in tongues as I walked back to my apartment in the dark. I got the giggles that night, too.

These fellow Bible college students kept this knowledge on the QT, however, knowing that the expression of those gifts would not be accepted by the faculty and administration.

Although one day in a theology class one of my female classmates told the professor she thought speaking in tongues was for the current age and that she knew people who benefited from this gift (including her, although she didn’t say that in class).  The professor quickly cut her off that day, telling her, and the entire class, that those gifts ended with the Apostolic age.  “No exceptions,” he said, before moving on.

After class I went up to talk with her. She was upset and crying. The professor was not mean per se, but he was firm and it was obvious he was not willing to have a discussion in class about such practices. I never exactly knew why. He seemed scared when he spoke about it, like what would he do if flames of tongues suddenly landed in the classroom and he totally lost control. My friend felt like he shut her down. And well, he had.

We had a long talk later that day, when she told me she spoke in tongues.  I felt honored that she would let me know about this part of her life.  No one had ever told me a story like this before. I trusted this girl. Her experience was fascinating to a kid from a working family in Northwestern Kansas who never had spoken in tongues and had been told that special ability had long ceased. Frankly, I believed my friend more than I trusted my professor’s take on the matter.

Jack Deere in his Surprised by the Power of the Spirit masterfully refutes the cessationist theology.  Years ago two highly regarded conservative scholars — Wayne Grudem and Sam Storms — said Deere’s refutation was the most convincing refutation they ever had read about the special “charismatic” gifts.

Deere’s book is now more than 20 years old, but I still remembering being deeply impressed with Deere’s excellent mind as he challenged the cessationist movement. Ironically, Deere himself was a young, rising professor at the renowned Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) in Dallas, where you could not practice any of these gifts. Well, of course! How could you practice a gift that no long existed?

It was while he was teaching at DTS that Deere met John Wimber, the founder of the Vineyard Churches and eventually got himself fired at the seminary for becoming Wimber’s friend and for openly believing in the so-called supernatural gifts of the Spirit.

I had lost touch with Deere in the last dozen years or so until I saw his new book advertised a few weeks back.  I read some endorsements by people I really admire and I wanted to get the book, and I am so glad I did.

In his new book, Deere tells the story of his life.  And what a story he tells.  Wowza!  As they say, “You’ll just have to read it for yourself to feel the full impact of the story of Jack Deere.” Believe me, you will not want to put it down.

Jack Deere takes the reader on an incredible ride of beauty through a very broken life, a life that still is being redeemed. Above everything else, through all the ebbs and flows of his life, Deere is incredibly transparent.  He doesn’t hold back.  I read.  I cringed. I cried. I wanted to know more .I said more than once, “I can’t believe he just told us that.” I read the book fast, the entire 280-page book in 2 settings last Saturday. The book is just so incredibly honest.

Deere explores his childhood … both fun and yet so hard.  His own father committed suicide when Deere was just a boy.  The pain in his young life started and it only got worse. Deere struggled with pleasing and understanding his controlling mother, and we get the details. We read about how Deere fell in love with theology and was a rising start at Dallas Theology Seminary, only to be fired because of his new understanding of the gifts of the Spirit and because of his friendship with John Wimber.

We read about how Deere moved from Texas to southern California to become Wimber’s right hand man, only to get crosswise with Wimber a few short years later and part company with him. We read about how Deere went from the Vineyard church movement to become a Presbyterian pastor in rural Montana, where he was struck with tragedy in his own family.

When the Deere family moved back to Texas from Montana, we read about Deere’s wife Leesa and her serious, almost life-ending struggle with alcohol. Read this book and you will see.  It was bad, real bad.  But she survived, somehow.

This is a woman who was a sweet young Texas girl who had met Jack Deere when they both were in Young Life in Texas back in the day.  She loved the Bible, especially reading it. This pretty young girl came to love Jack, and he fell head over heels in love with her.

And yes, she read her husband’s account of her serious drinking problem before this book was released. Yes, you heard it right.  A sweet Young Life girl who back in the day loved to read the Bible growing up, reached a day in her adult, married life, when she started drinking way, way too much and on several occasions nearly drank herself to death.

Life happens, doesn’t it?

In sum, this is a story about transparency, friends.  (I’m pretty sure that if we have the courage to believe it, transparency is our friend, or want to be. But how many of us really believe that deep down? We fear the judgment of others. We fear that others will think less of us if they really know “how bad I really am.”)

At the end of the day, this is not just Jack Deere’s story.  It is my story. It is everyone’s story. It is the story of God making straight blows with very crooked sticks, the only kind of sticks God uses when making his mark in the world.

I work with pastors all the time, counseling pastors every day in my work. Very often I see them as they are, but I rarely have heard, or read, a story with the kind of transparency found in Jack Deere’s well-written new book.

I never have met Jack Deere, but I would like to.  I hope to. I’d like to buy his breakfast and have my coffee cup refilled 3 or 4 times as I listen to him tell me more about his life.  There is something about his honesty in talking about his brokenness that is believable, enviable, and even healing for the soul.

Deep down, I think most people just want to be known, and that’s why I’d highly recommend you get this book and read it.  Friends, you can’t be known if you don’t take a few risks and tell your story. Jack Deere is willing to put his story out there for all to read.  I think reading this new book will change your life for the better and perhaps cause you to say to someone close to you, “I have something I want to tell you about my story. I’ve never told a soul, but I want you to know.”

That will validate Jack’s Deere’s new book. It will be a little humiliating for you, but in the end, it will be good for your soul as you feel the freedom be more honest, more authentic, more real — the real person God wants you to be.

 

Confession killers

Yes, confession is good for the soul!

I heard a man in a church who had really hurt someone try to confess his sin with these words:

“I’m sorry if I’ve done something to upset you.”

That sounds like an apology to get someone off your back. Let me tell you, if you don’t really apologize, it’s only a matter of time until you hurt the person again.

How about this apology: “It wasn’t intentional.”

There’s an apology from a person who may not have intentionally started off trying to hurt you, but he wasn’t making much of an effort not to hurt you either.

Or these words of “confession”: “It wasn’t personal.”  Huh? That’s like saying, “It wasn’t personal to me so you shouldn’t take it personally either, even though I am sure it really hurt you.”

When you own your stuff and truly make an honest confession it involves what author Ken Sande calls the 7 A’s of confession:

  1. Address everyone involved (All those whom you affected)
  2. Avoid if, but, and maybe (Do not try to excuse or diminish the effect of your wrongs)
  3. Admit specifically (Both attitudes and actions)
  4. Acknowledge the hurt (Express sorrow for hurting someone)
  5. Accept the consequences (Such as making restitution)
  6. Alter your behavior (Change your attitudes and actions)
  7. Ask for forgiveness

You might not have to go through all 7 every time you confess a sin, but the point is, the more thoughtful and sincerely you confess, the more likely it is your confession will promote forgiveness and reconciliation.

Lots of us feel like a “Misfit”, especially during the holidays!

Knowing how often I have felt like a misfit, especially during the Christmas holidays, I am happy to recommend Brant Hansen’s new book Blessed are the Misfits.

Now a popular radio host and living in Harrisburg, PA, Hansen is an introvert who grew up as a preacher’s kid here in the Midwest.  He is a University of Illinois graduate and early in his career worked locally for both WDWS 1400AM and WBGL 91.7FM. You can learn more about Hansen and how he now spends his time at his website.

Hansen’s dad went from church to church when Hansen was a boy, frequently moving his family from one small town to the next in Indiana and Illinois, as he tried to find himself.

Hansen expands that story in his new book, centering his thoughts on how, as an introverted, awkward son, he frequently felt like the odd person out. Brant looks back on those days 30 years ago, and writes about what it felt like then, what it feels like now that he is a married father with two adult children and how he tries to make sense of it in his relationship with God.

Hansen is frank, transparent and funny.  Like all families, the family Brant Hansen was raised in definitely did it’s part to put the fun in dysfunction. They may have done more than was required.  You’ll see. Sadly, some of what happened is not pretty.  Brant tells about that, too, but does his best to show the redemptive side, too.

I’ve known Hansen for 20+ years.  He’s smart, funny, quirky and in this new book he’s quite insightful about helping people of faith understand where they fit in when much of the time they feel like a total misfit, even wondering if they are a Christian at all.

Take a Look at the book on Amazon. It just became available a couple of weeks ago. Be sure and check out the chapter descriptions (they are funny and will tell you a lot about the book) and read some of the reviews — already more than 70 great reviews already!

The book would be a great Christmas gift!

The cross is the way of Jesus

Pastor Chuck Carlson ends his ministry in Champaign, IL.

My friend pastor Chuck Carlson said farewell on Sunday (October 15) to the folks at First Presbyterian Church in downtown Champaign.  He served at the Church 11 years, but he was also concluding 43 years of full-time service in the ministry.

Chuck is a wonderful man, a fine pastor, a thoughtful preacher.  Chuck and Betty, his wife, are headed today on the train, going west to their home on Flathead Lake in Montana.

Chuck could surprise and delight me with stories.  Back in the mid-1980s when he was at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, getting doctorate, Chuck would attend the Sunday evening services at the Vineyard Church in Yorba Linda, where John Wimber was the pastor.  Chuck said here he was a Presbyterian minister and yet he found himself attending the services at the mother ship of this new Charismatic church movement called the Vineyard. He smiled as he told me the story, saying the services were “crazy, wild, absolutely wonderful.”

Mostly Chuck is a really good pastor.  He is a good listener. He is compassionate.  He is intelligent.  He is calm.  He always tries his best to build up, not tear down.

As he preached this last Sunday, Chuck reflected on his life in the ministry.  He said we never get it right.  “And yet, we press on, attending to the way of Jesus and the cross. The cross is our constant corrective and our goal.  … The cross is Jesus’ way. He invites us into the crucible of following his ways.  …  In the end, it is no longer we who live but Christ lives in us. We do not ever rely on our human abilities.”

Near the end of his sermon Chuck said he had spent time wondering what it is that he actually accomplished in his more than 4 decades of ministry.  “Maybe the better question is ‘What if it is not about me? Perhaps the better question is: What have I allowed the crucified Christ to do through me?'”

Looking out over the congregation Pastor Chuck said, “Betty and I will carry you in our hearts.  Now you must pick up your cross and do what it is God has called you to do.  The peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.”

And with that, Pastor Chuck closed notebook holding his notes and said, “Amen.”

Well done, Chuck!