Monday’s Influence Online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • Dave E. Cole writes “What the Church Can Learn from Harley-Davidson”: “Evangelism today must be more than an outreach program or big event. It takes place when every Christ follower accepts the personal command of Jesus to develop friendships with the unchurched, by loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. There is hope for the 65 percent of churches that are plateaued, as they reexamine the mission and engage in relationships with the unchurched. I want to challenge every Christ follower to make friends with the unchurched and live an outward-focused life.”
  • Alton Garrison shares “God’s Plan for Your Church”: “On the Day of Pentecost, the Lord Jesus Christ poured out the Holy Spirit on His disciples, empowering them to be witnesses for Him to the ends of the earth. Acts 2, which reports that initial outpouring, is not merely a historical precedent for Christians today but also a spiritual paradigm — a pattern of renewal and revival in every generation of the Church.”
  • Finally, we note a recent Gallup poll about denominational affiliation: “Americans are gravitating away from denominational church labels.”

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House of Spies | Book Review


House of Spies is set four months after the events depicted in The Black Widow. Washington DC is recovering from the worst terror attack on it since 9/11. The terrorist known as Saladin is still on the loose, however, and the intelligence services of the U.S., Britain, France, and Israel are frantically searching for him to prevent his next atrocity.

When Britain uncovers a loose thread in a criminal organization allied with Saladin, its chief of intelligence asks Gabriel Allon to pull it. The unraveling takes Gabriel and his team around the world in a non-stop, nail-biting quest to take out the terrorist. House of Spies is a page-turner whose fictional plot is scarily real.

A book like House of Spies can be read as a stand-alone novel, of course, but the bigger pay-off comes when you read it as part of the entire series. Indeed, the novel makes much more sense when you read it after its immediate predecessor, The Black Widow. I’m a huge fan of Daniel Silva, and I highly recommend this novel. It’s a measure of how good it is that I read the entire thing in two days.

 

Book Reviewed:
Daniel Silva, House of Spies (New York: Harper, 2017).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

The Late Show | Book Review


When it comes to murder mysteries, Michael Connelly is my go-to author. If he writes it, I read it. So when I received notice that he was beginning a new series, starting with The Late Show, I pre-ordered the book months in advance and read it in a day once it arrived.

The Late Show introduces LAPD Detective Renée Ballard. Her star was rising in the Robbery Homicide Division (RHD) until a conflict with a superior officer got her busted down to working the night shift — the eponymous “late show” — in Hollywood. She used to investigate cases from beginning to end. Now, she rolls up on a night crimes and starts the paperwork, turning over the entire case to the day shift.

But when two victims — one a prostitute who (barely) survives a vicious beating and the other a waitress killed in a mass shooting event — cross her path the same night, she decides it’s time to follow the cases all the way through. It’s a high stakes gamble professionally, and it exposes her to grave dangers personally, but it’s a gamble she willingly takes.

Connelly is releasing his twentieth Harry Bosch novel, Two Kinds of Truth, this October. With Harry having reached retirement age, the Bosch Universe needs a fresh face. Renée Ballard is it, and if The Late Show is any indication, her stories are going to be very, very good.

 

Book Reviewed:
Michael Connelly, The Late Show (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2017).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

Friday’s Influence Online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • Chris Railey continues his series, “A Team Approach to Teaching,” by focusing on who should be part of your teaching team. “Prioritize teamwork over talent,” he writes, “and you’ll find a group of people who fit well together.”
  • Jim Bradford encourages ministers to take a vacation in “Unstring the Bow”: “Taking a true vacation is, for some of us, an actual act of humility by which we surrender our sense of indispensability and trust God to take care of things for a while. It also confronts the human tendency to confuse our ‘self’ with our ‘work,’ an identity confusion that seriously depletes us over time.”
  • George O. Wood — aka, “Dad” — encourages us to “Leave Bad Enough Alone.” He offers this insight: “There’s an important difference between being at peace with all people in God’s sight and pleasing them according to their carnal natures. It’s usually the carnal nature that keeps unhappy people unhappy.” Then he concludes with some practical advice: “So stay on the positive, creative edge. Keep doing what God has called you to do. While He hasn’t called you to be insensitive or rude, God also hasn’t called you to pander to malcontents.”
  • Finally, we note a new Gallup report about American marijuana usage. The title of our note gives it away: “Nearly Half of Americans Have Tried Marijuana.” Joseph Batluck, president of Teen Challenge USA, offers this advice to Christians: ““The Christian’s perspective should always be to see God and live in a clear, efficient and impacting way. Distorting reality, through the use of chemicals, is not an option for those who belong to Christ.”

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Benjamin Franklin | Book Review


In 1787, the Constitutional Convention found itself bogged down over the issue of representation. Small states wanted equal representation in the national legislature. Large states wanted proportional representation. The dispute seemed irresolvable, and if it could not be resolved, the young American nation itself might not survive.

Benjamin Franklin — America’s gray eminence, Pennsylvania’s delegate — proposed to solve the impasse by means of daily prayer, reasoning this way:

I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth — that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that “except the Lord build the house they labor in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel. We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded; and we ourselves shall become a reproach and by-word down to future ages.

Franklin’s proposal was defeated handily. “The Convention,” Franklin wrote, “except for three or four persons, thought prayers unnecessary.”

This episode, from near the end of Franklin’s life, reveals several things about Franklin’s mature religious beliefs, not to mention the influence of religion on the American founding. Like other Founding Fathers — George Washington especially comes to mind — Franklin believed that God providentially ordered world events, particularly the formation of the United States of America. His public rhetoric was shot through with biblical imagery. And he believed in the social usefulness of religion for republican government; hence, the call to prayer.

And yet, these mature religious beliefs, though sincere, were neither orthodox nor evangelical, a fact demonstrated in depth by Thomas S. Kidd in his recently published Benjamin Franklin: The Religious Life of a Founding Father. Franklin was born on January 17, 1706, in Boston to devout Puritans who raised him and his siblings in the doctrines of evangelical Calvinism. In his teenage years, under the influence of skeptical writings by Lord Shaftesbury and Anthony Collins, he left that faith and became, in his own words, “a thorough deist.”

Thomas S. Kidd helps us better understand Franklin’s faith, which as much as American evangelicals love Franklin, was not our own.

Unfortunately, the word deist conjures up the image of a clockmaker god who winds up the universe then leaves it alone. That does not accurately describe Franklin’s mature belief, however. Deists of that stripe, to point out the obvious, do not issue the kind of plea for prayers Franklin made at the Constitutional Convention.

“The key to understanding Franklin’s ambivalent religion,” Kidd writes, “is the contrast between the skepticism of his adult life and the indelible imprint of his childhood Calvinism.” To be sure, Franklin was skeptical of orthodox Christology (i.e., the Incarnation) and evangelical soteriology (i.e., justification by faith). He was consistent on these points throughout his adult life, though he expressed the scope and intensity of his skepticism at different times and in various ways. What mattered to him more than what one believed was how one lived.

This moralism was not atheism, however. Five weeks before he died, in a letter dated March 9, 1790, Franklin described his creed to Yale’s Ezra Stiles, an evangelical Christian, this way:

I believe in one God, Creator of the universe. That he governs it by his Providence. That he ought to be worshipped. That the most acceptable service we can render to him, is doing good to his other children. That the soul of man is immortal, and will be treated with justice in another life respecting its conduct in this.

Not nothing, religiously speaking, but not fully Christian either.

Franklin’s Calvinist rearing no doubt influenced his religious beliefs. Most obviously, it gave him a biblical idiom in which to express himself. Less obviously, warm relationships with evangelical Christians such as his sister Jane Mecom, evangelist George Whitefield, and others moderated his skeptical tone and made him appreciative of evangelicals’ good works. Throughout his life, these evangelicals pleaded with him to put his faith in Jesus, but at the end, all he would say is this: “I think the system of morals and his religion as he left them to us, the best the world ever saw, or is likely to see.” Again, not nothing, but not Christianity.

Franklin’s ambivalent religion points to an important truth about the role of religion in America’s founding. Many evangelical Christians think of America as a Christian nation founded on biblical principles. This is not a new belief, and it is not entirely wrong. From the start of the colonies at Jamestown and Plymouth Bay and all the way to the present day, America has been a nation of self-professed Christians. Protestant political theology exercised tremendous influence on the American colonists; the Bible suffused their public rhetoric, and established churches shaped their public piety. In the 19th century, due to waves of revival, evangelical Christianity became the de facto established religion of the new nation.

And yet, alongside this Christianity sits something less than Christian. Neither orthodox nor evangelical, we might call it non-doctrinaire, moralistic theism. It is a peculiarly American faith. Shaped by Christianity, but not Christian. Sounding like the Bible, but not biblical. This was Franklin’s faith, and the faith of other Founders too, such as Thomas Jefferson. When we query the role of religion in the American founding, we must take this non-doctrinaire, moralistic theism into account, for it was present and it was influential. This was the reason why, for example, in drafting the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson described God in generic terms — “Nature’s God”— rather than specifically biblical ones.

This truth about the role of religion in America’s founding generates two points of application for evangelical Christians, in my opinion. First, we must recognize that the American experiment is a joint venture, not a sole proprietorship. Yes, orthodox and evangelical Christians played an important role in the establishment of America. They did not play the only role, however.  Alongside them and sometimes in conflict with them, theists of a non-Christian variety exercised influence on the development of our nation. Benjamin Franklin is proof of that

(In fairness, the same reminder needs to be issued to skeptical Americans today who deny Christians a role in the Founding. Not only were they present and influential, but atheists played no role. Even the radically skeptical Thomas Paine argued for the necessity of belief in God, after all.)

Second, given the foregoing point, it behooves orthodox and evangelical Christians to be more mindful of political rhetoric. Invocations of God — whether in American history or at the present time — are not necessarily invocations of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Too often, we read our Christian convictions into the theological pronouncements of the Founders, which means we misread them. By describing the religious life of Benjamin Franklin in detail over the course of his life, Thomas S. Kidd helps us better understand Franklin’s faith, which as much as American evangelicals love Franklin, was not our own.

 

Book Reviewed:
Thomas S. Kidd, Benjamin Franklin: The Religious Life of a Founding Father (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2017).

P.S. I wrote this review for InfluenceMagazine.com. It appears here by permission.

P.P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

Thursday’s Influence Online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • Chris Colvin helps pastors think more clearly about office hours. His bottom line? “You must give your staff — and yourself — space to be relational and permission to set their own schedules. At the same time, you need to be consistent and available.”
  • Clay Scroggins is my guest for the Influence Podcast. He is lead pastor of North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia, and author of How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge, which Zondervan publishes on August 22nd. It’s an excellent book!
  • I review Thomas S. Kidd’s newest book, Benjamin Franklin: The Religious Life of a Founding Father. Here’s my concluding sentence: “By describing the religious life of Benjamin Franklin in detail over the course of his life, Thomas S. Kidd helps us better understand Franklin’s faith, which as much as American evangelicals love Franklin, was not our own.”

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Tuesday’s Influence Online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • I write about the Lord’s Prayer: “we need to remember G.K. Chesterton’s advice: ‘If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.’ Even if we stumble to our knees and mumble through our requests, even if we talk to God inconsistently or incoherently or inconsiderately, it is better that we pray badly than that we not pray at all. Of course, it would be best if we prayed well, but that takes a lifetime of practice, and all of us must start somewhere. So why not start where we are, wherever that may be?”
  • Joy Qualls offers expert advice to preachers about how to break bad verbal habits when speaking: “The frequent use of filler words or other meaningless language can detract from the message and the credibility of the speaker. As communicators of the gospel, how can we keep our delivery uncluttered and on point so that people will hear the Word, not our filler words?”
  • We note a new report form Gray Matter Research about the discrepancy between how much people give and how much they think they give. “Just 8 percent of American donors give 10 percent or more of their household income to charitable organizations and places of worship, the report found. Yet the average donor believes he or she gives 8.4 percent of household income to charitable organizations, not including places of worship — a figure that far exceeds reality.” I wonder if stewardship sermons don’t accomplish their aims because listeners think they’re already giving generously…even though they’re not.

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Prayer Is Worth Doing Badly | Influence Magazine


Over at InfluenceMagazine.com, I have an article on the Lord’s Prayer entitled, “Prayer Is Worth Doing Badly.” Here’s the introduction:

Several years ago, I went to lunch with friends after church. When our food arrived, all of them turned to me for a blessing on the meal. (Being called upon to pray in restaurants is a hazard of my profession.) Instead of praying myself, however, I looked to the woman on my right and said, “Tricia, will you say grace?”

Then I closed my eyes and bowed my head. Several awkward seconds of silence followed until Tricia let out what I thought was a perfectly adequate blessing. She disagreed — violently. After saying, “Amen!” she hit me on the arm and exclaimed, “Don’t ever do that again! I’ve never prayed in public in my life!”

Now, many Americans fear public speaking. Was that why Tricia was so upset? I doubt it. Her public only consisted of 10 or so friends, after all, and she spoke easily enough with them throughout the remainder of the lunch. No, I think Tricia feared praying in public because she feared saying something to God that was wrong or trite. She feared praying badly, in other words.

Many of us have the same fear. We do not pray as often as we ought to because we do not think our words are eloquent enough or our thoughts elevated enough or our spiritual state pure enough to talk to God.

Consequently, we need to remember G.K. Chesterton’s advice: “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.” Even if we stumble to our knees and mumble through our requests, even if we talk to God inconsistently or incoherently or inconsiderately, it is better that we pray badly than that we not pray at all. Of course, it would be best if we prayed well, but that takes a lifetime of practice, and all of us must start somewhere. So why not start where we are, wherever that may be?

The most liberating truth of the spiritual life, you see, is that God does not want us to be perfect so that we can come to Him. Instead, He wants us to come to Him so that He can make us perfect. We think that God is interested in spiritually finished products: happy, healthy, holy Christians. And He is — but not only in them.

God also is interested in the process, in manufacturing saints out of sinners, believers out of skeptics, good prayers out of bad ones. That is why prayer is worth doing badly. Only by starting where we are can God take us to where He wants us to be.

Read the whole thing!

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