Thursday, April 30, 2009

Scripture Memorization

"I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you." - Psalm 119:11 (NIV)

Memorizing Scripture is a powerful way to keep the Word of God in your heart and mind, and to renew that mind. Although it's a practice that many find scary or difficult, there really is a lot of benefit to taking your favorite verses (and/or those that speak to a real need) and making the effort to memorize them. (If you're thinking it's too hard, jump down to the bottom of this point and learn about another way to do this!)

There is no shortage of tips and advice on how to memorize, and what, but I'll give a few basic ideas and point you to the Navigators Topical Memory System for more info - it was one of the first widely available tools for memorizing Scripture and is still popular today. I'll also point out the Memory Verses website with good info, and a blog post on how to use your iPod for Scripture memorization along with the online ESV bible with audio capability.
  • Start slowly, with a few short verses that you like, and work up from there
  • Know what verse means and pray before you begin
  • Re-read the verse several times in a row, along with the reference
  • Stick to your favorite bible translation to read and use the same version
    for all verses you memorize. (Trust me, you'll thank me later)
  • Write them out on cards, or print them out and carry them with you,
    looking at them when you're stuck waiting in line somewhere
  • Practice your verses while exercising or some other rote task
  • Memorize the exact words, don't stop when you "kind of" have it
  • Review is as critical as learning brand new verses, for long term memory
    (Having one verse on one index/note card will help greatly with review)
  • Doing it with a friend or small group is even better, as you can
    encourage and quiz one another
  • What you take in multiple ways you remember better, so say the
    verses out loud, or use an audio bible in the same version
  • Don't give up! You can do it!  :)
As a music lover one of the ways I love to memorize Scripture is with music. There is a great series from Integrity Music called Scripture Memory Songs, with over two dozen albums. What I love about this series is that it's not some song that throws in a verse, it's just the Bible verses, put to music in creative ways. Some songs I first listened to about fifteen years ago still run through my mind - in fact I still sing "Do Not Be Anxious" to my young children when they wake up at 1am with a nightmare (Philippians 4:6-7 "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (NIV, and yes, that was purely from memory!)  Below is another one I remember well, Romans 8:1-2, from the 'Grace' CD in this series.

Follow Me

Tony Morgan had an excellent post today on 'Unlearning Discipleship ' in which he took a closer look at Jesus' call to "Follow Me."
'When Jesus began calling the first disciples into ministry, he used this phrase:
“Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!”
For whatever reason, I started thinking about what Jesus didn’t say to those first disciples.
He didn’t say: “Come, follow me, and I will teach you spiritual insights!”
He didn’t say: “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to worship together!”
He didn’t say: “Come, follow me, and I will gather you together in a home group!”
He didn’t say: “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to pray!”
He didn’t say: “Come, follow me, and I will make you members of the church!”
I think we can all agree that Jesus was a fairly insightful guy, so I think it’s interesting of all the things he could have said, he chose to put the focus on ministry to reach other people."
Very interesting and helpful point. A commenter noted Francis Chan said at West Coast Catalyst, “If people just read the Bible would they get the same conclusions we hold to now?” And so... I thought I would take a closer look at this phrase "Follow Me" used by Jesus. (Not only is this a good thing to do in general, but I'm currently trying to practice spiritual disciplines more faithfully, and both word studies and reading with the Bible in your other hand is another one I'm exploring!)
  • "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." - Mt 4:19, Mk 1:17
  • Jesus told him, "Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead." - Mt 8:22
  • As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector's booth. "Follow me," he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. - Mt 9:9, Mk 2:14
  • He said to another man, "Follow me." But the man replied, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." - Lk 9:59
  • Still another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family." - Lk 9:61
  • "Anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me." - Mt 10:38
  • Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." - Mt 16:24, Mk 8:34
  • Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." - Mt 19:21, Mk 10:21
  • The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, "Follow me." - Jn 1:43
  • When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." - Jn 8:12
  • "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me." - Jn 10:27
  • "Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me." - Jn 12:26
  • Jesus answered, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me." - Jn 21:22
What do we see here about when Jesus says "Follow Me"?
- To those whose life mission was fishing, he said they would fish for men
- To Matthew and Philip He said nothing else, and yet they followed.
- To the person with excuses, he added a comment about the excuse (burying dead)
   saying if something else was more important, they could not follow Him
- To the one not willing to deny himself and take up his cross is also not worthy
- To the one with a hidden top priority in life, he asked him to reject
   that top priority, then come and follow Him (rich young ruler)
- To those who do follow, He gives them the light of life
- To the person asking what about him (following in a different direction)
   Jesus says that your path in following Him will be different than others
- Those who are His sheep listen to His voice and follow
- You can't serve Him without actually following Him

My conclusion from this...

Jesus' call to "Come, Follow Me" is a call for us to put aside our own agenda, to lay down whatever may be taking up the position of first place in our lives, and put Christ in first place. When we do, we hear His voice, we walk in new light, and are called to do the things He did, pursuing the same mission He did but with a specific path unique for each of us. To be like Christ is our top priority, to be a disciple - not service (ministry), not evangelism, not fellowship - but to be a true disciple/follower we cannot ignore any of those. It's not discipleship vs. evangelism, etc., but proper discipleship includes evangelism, and ministry, and fellowship, and worship.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Inductive Bible Study

The single most important activity I would recommend for the Christian who wants to grow spiritually and to learn to feed themselves is inductive Bible study. Prayer is vital in our relationship to God, devotional reading of Scripture makes sure that our focus remains on God and that we apply what we learn, but unless we learn to study and understand the Bible for ourselves we lack wisdom and may be tossed to and fro like a wave on the sea. Hebrews 5:12-14 (NIV) has this to say:

"In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil."

What is inductive Bible study? It is study in which the sole source is the Bible, where we come to the text with no preconceived notions, and use observation, inference and logic to pull meaning out. Induction is different from deduction in that the latter starts with a premise or hypothesis and derives conclusions - the goal of inductive is to start with the particulars and come up with a premise or general principle. In other words, if I wanted to learn about frogs, there are two good ways to do it. I could go down to the library and read several books teaching about frogs, compare different authors and figure out who was right when they conflicted (deductive approach); or I could go down to the pond and study them (inductive approach) - seeing what they ate, what they did, how they laid eggs, and perhaps take it back to the lab for more study. This approach would take longer, and be a bit messier, but I would be a lot more likely to remember what I discovered for myself.

The basics of how to do inductive study are easier to understand than the definition!
  • Observation - what does the passage say?
  • Interpretation - what does the passage mean?
  • Application - what is my response to the meaning of the passage?
Observation involves looking closely at what is in the text. Ask typical reporter questions of who, what, where, when and how. Look for words that are repeated, contrasted. Mark your Bible. Make lists. At this stage, it's strictly "Just the Facts, ma'am!"  The next stage is Interpretation. Here you consider what all these facts mean. Consider the context. Ask 'why is this repeated?', 'why are these things contrasted?', 'how are these people connected?'. Consider Scripture as self-consistent, so avoid conclusions that contradict here or with other portions of Scripture. Look carefully for underlying principles. Finally, Application. Don't stop at just understanding what the text means, but to grow you need to ask what you're going to do with this knowledge. Is there a command to be obeyed? Is there a caution to be followed? If I acted in a way that showed I really believe this to be true, what would that look like?

There are a ton of outstanding resources on inductive Bible study, here's just a few:
- Kay Arthur's "How to Study Your Bible: The Lasting Rewards of the Inductive Method"
- Rick Warren's "Bible Study Methods: Twelve Ways You Can Unlock God's Word"
- "How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth " by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart.
- A two-page overview of the Inductive Method by Precept Ministries International.

One nice feature of Warren's book is that it goes through the details of twelve different methods of studying the Bible, including devotional reading and character studies as well as a number of different inductive Bible study methods. A lengthy excerpt and introduction can be found at Zondervan's site. Inductive study methods covered include: Chapter Summary, Character Quality, Thematic Study, Biographical Study, Topical Study, Word Study, Book Background, Book Survey, Chapter Analysis, Book Synthesis, Verse-by-Verse Analysis. These methods span the range from very basic to fairly advanced, and provide a great variety for serious students of the Bible.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Devotional Reading and Lectio Divina

Devotional reading of the Bible is one of the most important and most common approaches to engaging Scripture, in which our goal is more transformation than information, drawing near to God in relationship through His Word to us. There are a number of ways to read the Bible devotionally. Christians throughout history have sought God and wisdom in the Bible in many different ways. Here I present two approaches, one contemporary way and another ancient.

In “Rick Warren's Bible Study Methods: Twelve Ways You Can Unlock God's Word” the first method described is devotional reading, as the need for prayer and application are vital to understand for any encounter with Scripture. The Devotional Method involves reading a passage of the Bible, small or large, prayerfully meditating on it until the Holy Spirit shows us how to apply its truth to our life in a personal way. Warren describes four steps:
  1. Pray for Insight on How to Apply the Passage
  2. Meditate on the Verse(s) You Have Chosen to Study
  3. Write Out an Application
  4. Memorize a Key Verse from Your Study
A key step in these and one easy to neglect is meditating on Scripture, mulling it over in your mind and really digesting it. Several practical ways to do this include: visualizing the scene in a narrative, emphasizing different words in the passage while re-reading it, paraphrasing it, personalizing the pronouns, or praying the verse back to God. Another aid is the acrostic “SPACEPETS” – is there a Sin to confess, Promise to claim, Attitude to change, Command to obey, Example to follow, Prayer to pray, Error to avoid, Truth to believe, Something to praise God for? When considering an application, actually write it down, and make sure it is personal, practical, possible and provable (measurable). (Contents and sample from Rick’s book may be found at Zondervans.)

A second approach which is similar in form but different in style and emphasis is an ancient practice known as Divine Reading, Sacred Reading, or in Latin, Lectio Divina. Fr. Luke Dysinger gives an excellent summary of “The Ancient Art of Lectio Divina”. He calls it “a slow, contemplative praying of the Scriptures which enables the Bible, the Word of God, to become a means of union with God.” It all begins with praying and quieting yourself in expectation to hear God’s word for you today. A short passage is chosen, typically around six to eight verses. These will be read several time in four movements (first described as such by monks around 1150):
  • Reading (lectio) – read the passage once or twice, slowly and attentively gently listening to hear a word or phrase that is God's word for us this day.
  • Meditation (meditatio) – Once we have found a word or a passage in the Scriptures that speaks to us in a personal way, we must take it in and “ruminate” on it… Through meditatio we allow God's word to become His word for us, a word that touches us and affects us at our deepest levels.
  • Prayer (oratio) is “understood both as dialogue with God, that is, as loving conversation with the One who has invited us into His embrace; and as consecration, prayer as the priestly offering to God of parts of ourselves that we have not previously believed God wants. In this consecration-prayer we allow the word that we have taken in and on which we are pondering to touch and change our deepest selves.”
  • Contemplation (contemplatio) is where we “simply rest in the presence of the One who has used His word as a means of inviting us to accept His transforming embrace. No one who has ever been in love needs to be reminded that there are moments in loving relationships when words are unnecessary… quiet rest in the presence of the One Who loves us.”
Lectio Divina has been described as “Feasting on the Word”, consisting of taking a bite (lectio), chewing on it (meditatio), savoring it (oratio), and digesting it to become part of the body (contemplatio). It is not about contemplation for the sake of contemplation, and is in stark contrast to other Eastern forms of meditation, but it’s a way to quiet ourselves down and actually listen for God’s voice to us today while reading God’s eternal word. Tony Campolo describes his use of this practice in an article “A Cure for Burnouts”. John Ortberg in his book “The Life You’ve Always Wanted” notes “Meditation is not meant to be esoteric or spooky or reserved for gurus… it merely implies sustained attention.”

These two approaches to devotional reading have the same two primary goals – to draw closer to God and to be transformed by application of His word to our lives. The latter takes a more contemplative approach, and is more about ‘being’, while the former stresses discovery and application of truth. Correctly understood and applied, either style can be quite effective and powerful. Dysenger describes the key questions involved in devotional reading as:
• “What caught my attention in this text?” (after reading)
• “What has the Lord shown me in this reading with regard to my life?” (after meditation)
• “How will I respond to what God has revealed to me?” (after prayer)

One caveat – there are many evangelicals who are wary of lectio divina, contemplative prayer and related disciplines due to external similarities to non-Christian/mystic practices. They don’t have a problem with meditating on God’s word, prayer, relying on the Holy Spirit, but do have concerns about some of the specific people and practiced they see proposed. With any approach to Scripture or spiritual formation, it is important to consider what the Bible has to say about it and to be aware of our own motives. I’ll note that I am in no way recommending any kind of mystic approach that is not centered in the triune God of the Bible, and a desire to know Him better through His word and through prayer and the Holy Spirit. 

Monday, April 27, 2009

Bible Intake and the Quiet Time

In any discussion I’ve read of spiritual disciplines there are two types of disciplines which are always mentioned as primary – Bible intake and prayer. Bible intake includes devotional reading, verse-by-verse study and other Bible study methods, meditation on scripture, and memorization. Similarly there are many ways to pray, but for spiritual formation it is vital to hear what God has to say to us, and to talk back to Him. Thus spiritual disciplines foster a dialogue in which the goal is to know God better and to see our lives transformed into the image of his Son. Over the next several posts I’ll be discussing various approaches to Bible intake and prayer.

But to get started, let’s take a look at a basic Christian activity which evokes a wide variety of responses, from joy to guilt, habit to hope… the (daily) quiet time. As a brand new Christian, I was introduced to this and encouraged to have a daily quiet time as it was one of the most important things I could do to grow in my faith. Yet even after twenty years, I still struggle with this discipline! In “Rick Warren's Bible Study Methods: Twelve Ways You Can Unlock” Rick sites Howard Hendricks speaking of three stages of attitude toward Bible study:
• The “castor oil” stage — when we study the Bible because we know it is good for us, but it is not too enjoyable.
• The “cereal” stage — when our Bible study is dry and uninteresting, but we know it is nourishing.
• The “peaches and cream” stage — when we are really feasting on the Word of God.
Below are some key points from Rick's well-written appendix on how to have a meaningful quiet time…

Why have a regular quiet time?
• Because we need fellowship with God
• Because it is our privilege as Christians
• Because we gain tremendous benefits from it

Primarily, it’s about building a relationship, and for a strong relationship, you need to: spend quality time with another person, communicate meaningfully with that person, and observe him or her in a variety of situations. It's the same with a relationship with God. One of the key privileges is that we grow to become more like Christ.

How to Have a Meaningful Time with God
It’s not rocket science, but there are several important elements in a consistent quiet time.
• Start with the proper attitudes – expectancy, reverence, alertness, willingness to obey.
• Choose a special place and a specific time – start slow, five-ten minutes if that’s all the time you have, and see if you can build upon it, but don’t focus on the clock.
• Follow a simple plan. Quiet yourself. Pray for guidance. Read some scripture. Reflect on it. Find a simple application for your life. Respond and Pray (both praise and requests).

It’s good to be systematic, and there are a number of good Bible reading plans available. Donald Whitney in “Simplify Your Spiritual Life: Spiritual Disciplines for the Overwhelmed” has some good ideas. To avoid getting bogged down in some of the tougher books, incorporate a variety –You can read 1-2 chapters each from five different sections, starting in Genesis (Law), Joshua (History), Job (Poetry), Isaiah (Prophets) and Matthew (N.T.)  Or use three sections, Genesis, Job and Matthew. This year to take a fresh approach I'm reading through a chronological study Bible.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Purpose of Spiritual Disciplines

Discipline. Oh that's a fun word. It's almost as fun as 'exercise.' What does it mean to exercise spiritual disciplines? What are they and why would you want to do them?

Dallas Willard in "The Spirit of the Disciplines", defines them as:
“Any activity within our power that we engage to enable us to do what we cannot do by direct effort…They are designed to help us withdraw from total dependence on the merely human or natural…and to depend also on the ultimate reality, which is God and his kingdom.”
I Tim 4:7 says "Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness" (NASB). (Or in the NIV: "Train yourself to be godly.")  The word used for discipline is the same greek word from which we get the word "gymnasium", and there is a clear analogy between spiritual 'exercise' and physical 'exercise'. Verse 8 (NIV) goes on "For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come." (Donald S. Whitney does an excellent job of discussing the purpose of spiritual disciplines in his book "Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.")

Practice of the disciplines themselves, for the sake of discipline or in our own power, do not make us godly. Only God can do that, but when we do these things in an attitude of prayer and humility, asking and expecting God to transforms our lives, a wonderful thing happens... He does! Practice of the disciplines are not an end to themselves, but are an ongoing daily choice, in which we bring ourselves to a place where the grace of God can act within and upon us.

Prayer, fasting. solitude, worship, bible reading - you've heard of many examples of spiritual disciplines. There are many others that we might not think of, yet some have been practiced for centuries. Humility, service, solitude, secrecy, stewardship and others. Over the next few weeks I'll be taking a brief look at a variety of spiritual disciplines - my professors at Rockbridge Seminary recommend that lifelong practice of spiritual disciplines plays a large role in going the distance in ministry. Some other excellent resources on the subject include: Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline, John Ortberg's "The Life You've Always Wanted", the "Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices that Transform Us" by Adele Calhoun, "Sacred Pathways" by Gary Thomas, "What's Your God Language?" by Myra Perrine, and "Sacred Rhythms" by Ruth Haley Barton.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Town Hall for Hope is Coming to West Lafayette

We are going to be hosting the "Town Hall for Hope" at Calvary Baptist Church on Thurs Apr 23rd - a free simulcast event led by Dave Ramsey. Learn how others are gaining the hope to be able to say "I am an American and I am choosing not to participate in this recession."

What is Town Hall for Hope?

  Town Hall for Hope is your opportunity to sit down with people in your community for a nationwide town hall meeting led by Dave Ramsey. We'll be among thousands of venues across the country hosting the event, broadcasting Dave's live presentation. In the opening half hour, Dave will offer straight talk about the economy, recession, foreclosures and more. He'll carefully explain where we've come from, where we are now, and what we should be doing with our money during this time. Then, Dave will spend an hour answering your questions live! They will take questions by phone, email, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and more! Check out our Get Involved page to see all the ways in which you can join in the conversation! And remember, this is a free event!

For more info check out the FAQ or watch this video...

Friday, April 10, 2009

Reflection on Easter

Happy Easter!

Or is it?  The phrase 'Happy Easter' and the tone of season, paint a pleasant innocuous picture of the world, made that much gladder by bright pastels and candy. Likewise Good Friday - ultimately a very good day for us, was the most torturous day in the history of mankind. In a class I'm taking at Rockbridge we're discussing the gospel message, and one point stuck with me as so obvious it's easy to miss. The resurrection is absolutely central to the gospel - without the literal resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, our faith is junk, utterly worthless, and in fact we're false witnesses and fools who should be pitied above all others. Those are not my words, those were spoken by the Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 15.

Ken Schurb, co-author of The Anonymous God, identified several Gospel-aspects of Christ's resurrection:
1. The resurrection confirms that Christ made a full and acceptable sacrifice to God as our Substitute.

2. The resurrection assures us that the devil, sin, and death can have no power over us, since they have no power over Christ, who bore them for us but triumphed.

3. The resurrection constituted God's absolving His Son from our, sins which were imputed to Him, and thus God's absolution on us.

4. The resurrection means that Jesus lives to impute the righteousness of His obedience to us.

5. The resurrection underscores the reality of the forgiveness which Christ won for us in the atonement.

6. The resurrection enables us to have a continuing fellowship with the Christ who made our Peace.

7. The resurrection is God's gift of life resurfacing now that Jesus has paid for the guilt of sin in the atonement.

8. The resurrection assures us that the God-Man, our Mediator, lives as He must. 
As I reflect on the hope of the resurrection, I'm listening to the following song - "Mighty to Save". What a great modern day hymn! Check out the lyrics, or enjoy the video below.

He can move the mountains, My God is mighty to save, He is mighty to save
Forever, Author of salvation, He rose and conquered the grave, Jesus conquered the grave...

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Review - Put Your Dream to the Test

"It's one thing to have a dream. It's another to do the things needed to achieve it" - that's the premise behind John Maxwell's latest book "Put Your Dream to the Test: 10 Questions That Will Help You See It and Seize It" (which I just read as part of Thomas Nelson's blogger review program) Maxwell doesn't try to tell you the right answers, but instead delivers ten great questions that really should be considered by anyone with a dream. The book is full of stories and inspiration that affirm the message - the passion of Bob Taylor for guitars, the tenacity of Elizabeth Keckly rising up from slave to friend of the White House, and the fulfillment of Wilbur Wilberforce's amazing dream.

The ten questions involve: ownership, clarity, reality, passion, pathway, people, cost, tenacity, fulfillment, and significance. In each case Maxwell covers vital issues a leader needs to work through if the dream is going to become realized. For example, in discussing the fulfillment question, he asks "Does Working toward My Dream Bring Satisfaction?"  Maxwell references Seth Godin's book, 'The Dip', that chasm between embarking on a dream and the first sign of significant results. Realizing how tough the obstacles, learning curve, and hard work will be, it's critical to have a strong sense of fulfillment or satisfaction along the way. Each chapter ends with the challenge: "Can you answer 'Yes' to this question?" Fortunately, he also walks through several important follow-up questions if that answer is currently a 'No'.

I didn't know what to expect in this book, as I'm not an entrepreneur or CEO, or someone with a single 'lightning-bolt from the sky' dream. And yet the more I read, the more I saw how the questions discussed are relevant for any leader. And on that subject, John has a lot of great things to say. The chapters on clarity and vision, passion, people, and significance were particularly good. Maxwell concludes it's not good enough to do well in just one or two of these areas. Being able to answer 'Yes' to as many questions as possible will improve the chance of success greatly.

For anyone with a big dream, and wondering if or how it can be done, this is an excellent book. It will change the way you look at your dreams, in a good way.

The book is available at Amazon or other book retailers. By the way, if you have a Kindle device (including the iPhone Kindle app), 'Put Your Dream to the Test' is available for the Kindle as a free download from April 6th through April 9th.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Review (and free Audiobook) - So Beautiful by Len Sweet

Just released is a new book by Leonard Sweet called "So Beautiful: Divine Design for Life and the Church", which looks at the DNA of the church as three essential complementary strands of Christian life - missional, relational, and incarnational. I was delighted to see that Christian Audio is making this available as their free download of the month, an audiobook in MP3 format. Here's my review of this book/audiobook...

Len Sweet, author of The Gospel According to Starbucks, paints a vivid picture of the essence of God's church and our role and lifeblood therein. He weaves together views from the bible, the life of John Newton, the biological wonder of life, along with an engaging writing style that helps us better understand the nature of the church and how we may live more like Christ. The key contrast in the book is between a modern style of church that is becoming an increasingly poor fit with culture, and one he believes is closer to the intent of God. The style he cautions against is APC - Attractional, Propositional, and Colonial, while the one he proposes is MRI - Missional, Relational, and Incarnational, which better reflects God's interaction with the world and His hope to reconcile man back to Himself. He addresses in a considerate way some significant challenges facing the local church today but without calling us to abandon it - he pulls together the needs to serve both within and beyond the church. (An approach I appreciate very much, there's no shortage of books focused on bashing down the church itself.) For example, Sweet notes that in the Gutenberg era the watch phrase was: everyone is called to be a minister, your baptism is your ordination into ministry. In today's Google world, "everyone is dispatched to be a missionary. Your baptism is your commissioning as a missionary. We are both ministers and missionaries. Every disciple has a ministry to the body and a mission in the world. Your baptism is both an ordination certificate and a passport to a missional life, spent in being sent to live and dwell in diaspora, in Babylon not Zion."

The five chapters unpack the missional life (God's going, and calling us to go, or be present as we go), the relational life (and goes beyond typical discussions of the need for community), the incarnational life, and an epilogue that calls us, and calls our church to be MRI - and gives us some ways to know if we are. Another way he pulls these together: "Missional is the mind of God. Mission is where God’s head’s at. Relational is the heart of God. Relationship is where God’s heart is. Incarnational is the hands of God. Incarnation is what God’s hands are up to."

The writing style is unique, quite deep and not avoiding large words, and yet remarkably clear and witty. To say it's thought-provoking is an understatement. Yet this is no dry academic treatise... at the risk of offending, Sweet asserts that "The church needs to rediscover the missionary position, a posture that forces us to look at the world eye to eye and face to face without turning our backs. The missionary position tries to get together with the world in a healing and so beautiful way. It doesn't view the world as a market but a mission." If that makes you upset or angry, this book probably isn't for you. But if you like reading about a fresh perspective on missiology for today's culture (as with books by Reggie McNeal), this is one not to miss. Check out an excerpt by the publisher David Cook, the audiobook (free through April 2009), or buy the book. Or check out the Vimeo preview video below: