Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Under the Overpass: A Journey of Faith on the Streets of America

 Under the Overpass is the story of two men who intentionally decided to live on the streets of America so they could better relate to and understand the homeless population of our country and see how the church is relating to them. The book was originally published in 2005 and this copy is an updated version of the original with Francis Chan writing a forward. I wanted to read this book mostly because it appeared to be unlike anything I have ever read before. I wanted to hear what they learned on the streets.

I must say, I am a bit skeptical when it comes to the homeless. Mike Yankoski acknowledges towards the end of the book that most people think the homeless are on the streets by choice. I guess I am (was) one of them. I guess I have, somewhat wrongly, attributed their life on the streets as a result of years of bad choices, like drugs and alcohol. Much of his book would do little to reverse that thought in my mind. It seemed like most cities where Mike and Sam traveled, the people they spent time with were high or drunk.

However, I guess what I took from this book is that not ALL of those on the streets are like that. Some are there because of horrible situations. Some are there because their dad had beaten them silly (the story of Nikki on page 167 ripped my heart out). Some have never had a break in their life. And I walk past them as if they do not exist. Or even at the best times, I give money so they can be taken care of. Mike writes of the problem with only giving money: "That helps, of course. But too often money is insulation--it conveniently keeps us from ever having to come face-to-face with a man or woman whose life is in tatters" (37). That so adequately describes the American church. We can give our money, but let's not get our hands dirty.

They left on their journey with the hopes of learning about the homeless, but also to learn what it means to trust and depend on God in all things. I do think this is something that I have not understood. And honestly, in my flesh, I am not sure I want to. In my spirit I do, but my flesh enjoys knowing where my head will rest tonight and where my next meal is coming from.

I went to Moody Bible Institute, living downtown Chicago, for three years. I came in contact with countless homeless people. I bought the occasional meal (probably reluctantly). But I often walked by them as if they did not exist. After reading this book, I hope I never look at someone asking for money the same way. I hope I will be more generous. I hope I can look past the external appearance and be willing to have a conversation with them. I hope I can see them as a man or woman who has been created in the Image of God. Mike writes, "If we as believers choose to forget that everyone--even the shrunken soul lying in the doorway--is made int eh image of God, can we say we know our Creator? If we respond to others based on their outward appearance, haven't we entirely missed the point of the gospel" (103)?

I appreciate at the end of the book, he gives what he thinks we should do when we encounter the homeless. If you want to know, read the book. In fact, if you live in a city context, you should read this book. You should read it because it will soften your hard heart.

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Books: An Introduction

About five months ago, a friend of mine ran a series of blog posts mentioning the 25 books that had most impacted him. He called it 25 books in 25 days (although it took him much longer than 25 days to complete the series of blog posts). While he was writing these, he challenged me for my list. Well, Josh, here it is! During the month of January, I will be doing a series of blog posts I am simply calling The Books!

As he writes in his, I did have a bit of a struggle determining how I would rank the books. In the end, I decided to list the books, in the best order that I could, as to how they have affected me personally. Some of them are theological, some are very practical. Some were read before ministry life, some have been read recently. While I think that everyone should pick a book or two from this list and read them in 2011, I am not saying that this list is my greatest books list. It is a list of the books that have helped shape who I am as a Christian and follower of Jesus.

This list of 31 books contains 26 different authors. There are some that have been written in the past ten years and some that have been around for hundreds. The one obvious point that needs to be made is that these are 31 books other than the Bible. My son, Karsten, thought I should entitle this series: Great Books, but not the Greatest. It took me a while to get it, but what he was saying is that none of these books are equal to the Bible (Thanks bud for that great reminder). These books have changed my thinking. They have molded me into the theologian and pastor that I am today. But they all bow to the Holy Scriptures, as should we. Please don't read any of these books if you are not reading the Bible.

So, I will start on January 1, 2011 with the 31st most impactful book and work my way towards January 31, 2011 when I will share the most impactful book. Throughout the month, I promise that I will give away several books. But I'm not going to be sharing now which days the free giveaway's will come. You will just have to keep checking back to find out.

I thought I would finish this initial blog post with some of the books that just missed the cut.

#35 - Paul, Apostle of the Heart Set Free by F. F. Bruce

I first read this book in seminary and it has forever shaped my thinking of the Apostle Paul. If you know me, you know that I love to study and teach on character studies in the Bible. This book got me started. I learned so much reading how Paul interacted on all his missionary journeys with so many people and places. If you are a student of the New Testament, this is a MUST read!

#34 - Point Man by Steve Farrar

This was a book that I had always heard about, but was finally forced to read it for a doctoral of ministries class about three years ago. It was a class on discipling men in the church for ministry. I have passed this book out & recommended it to several men since that time. I would highly recommend it to any man to read. His introduction is worth the cost of the book itself.

#33 - Surprised by Grace by Tullian Tchividjian

I have said on my blog that this is probably the best book I have read this year. I will not say much about it here now, but you can read my full review HERE! It is a great book and probably will be one that will only climb on my list as the years go by.

#32 - PsychoBabble by Richard Ganz

You know a book is impactful to you if you can remember where you were when you read it. I remember reading this book in preparation for an elective class I was teaching called Psychology, Self-Esteem, & the Bible. I remember sitting in my living room over the Christmas holidays in 2002 with my family all around me. I do not remember what they were doing because I was so consumed by this book. This book really helped shape in my mind a good biblical view of the study of the soul.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

My Favorite Earthly Gift This Year

Christmas is about JESUS! I have said that, preached that, & tweeted that. Everything beyond that is just a bonus. As a family, we just finished unwrapping a few gifts for each other and I wanted to share with you probably my favorite of the year. It actually wasn't a gift, but it was a card.

My son, J.T., had brought a gift from school that he had made. He asked if it could be opened up as the last gift of the morning. As we started to open it up, he said, "But aren't you going to open the card first." This is what it said, no comments after this. Enjoy it:

Dear Family,

I am glad you are part of me. I am glad to have Karsten to play with and to wrestle with of course. I am glad to have Anni because she is funny and is good to laugh at. And mom and dad, you're the best because you take care of me and love me and I love you too.

Merry Christmas,

Love J.T.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Home = Place of Ministry

I announced on Sunday that the Lord is moving us in ministry. We have greatly enjoyed our time in Hutchinson, Kansas and we are certainly looking forward to what the Lord would have for us in Middlefield, Ohio. One of the things that we need to do in this transition is sell our house. We would certainly ask you to pray for this to happen (you can find out information about our house if you want to spread the word and help us sell it: check it out HERE!). We have been busy the past couple weeks getting it ready to sell. My experience has always been that our house is never finished until we get ready to sell it. You know, all those little details are finally taken care of. For instance, we have lived in our house six years and I finally painted our master bedroom. I finally like our room.

Well, as I put that sign in the yard this morning, I was a bit sad. We love our house. Not because of the carpet or the new color in our bedroom. I will miss this house because so much ministry has happened there. This got me thinking as to what has happened at our house over the past six years.

  • We have seen people challenge each other in the faith there.
  • We have seen people develope Christ-centered marriages after first meeting there
  • We have seen people been taught theology and practical living there
  • We have had numerous conversations about Jesus there
  • We have prayed for the hurting there
  • We have met with several couples in pre-marital counseling sessions there
  • We have heard great feedback from new people to our church about our church there
  • We have seen many dear friendships cultivated there
The list can keep going on and on. I love our home because our home has been a place of ministry. From the time my wife and I were married, we have always had a vision of using our home as a place where people can be impacted for the sake of the gospel. We have always wanted to use the resources the Lord has blessed us with to minister to others. I know that sometimes, it wasn't all that serious, maybe just a game on TV or the kids playing with each other. But during those times, the relationships that we have formed with so many of you have become so dear to our heart!

God tells us consistently that we should be hospitable (Rom 12:13; Heb 13:2; 1 Pet 4:9). My prayer is that all of us who have places we call a home, will see it as more than a covering from the wind and rain. I pray that we will see it as a place for ministry to happen. Will you? Do you? Never underestimate the significance that a lunch or dinner can have on someone. And may God give you a love for your house because of the ministry, not because of it's beauty!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

My New Announcement

I can't believe that it has been over a month since I last posted something on my blog. That was never my intention when I started this blog site. I told myself that I was not going to be one of those people that start to blog and then only blog once a month or so. Well, I am one of those people, I guess. But there has been good reason. I announced on Sunday at our church that the Lord is moving us in ministry. Below is the announcement that I made. More will come in future posts, but for now, we would certainly appreciate your prayers for our family and for Grace Bible Church.

I asked Pastor Rick if I could take a minute this morning and share with you some things that have been going on in my life. Over the past year, the Lord has really placed a burden on my heart to be involved in more of a preaching and leading ministry. This burden, when discussed by those closest to me, has been overwhelmingly affirmed.

As I have been praying about this desire, the Lord has opened up a door for ministry where I feel this burden and my giftedness can best be used for the Kingdom of God. This last week, I accepted a position of Senior Pastor at Cornerstone Bible Church in Middlefield, Ohio.

There are many reasons why Monique and I have chosen to take this position, and I would be glad to share them with you at some point. For now, please listen very closely to what I am going to say. My leaving has nothing to do with Grace Bible Church, the people or the leadership of this church. For over six years, I have counted it a privilege to be able to serve with you and for you in the progress of the gospel in Hutchinson and Reno County.

My desire to leave has everything to do with a calling upon my life to lead and preach. And in that, I would certainly covet your prayers. I remember the first day driving into town as Monique and I had no idea what was in store for us. We were moving to Kansas, a place I honestly thought we would never live. Well, because I’m now a Kansan, I guess I can say, it’s been “a wild ride, baby!”

As far as a transition, that has not been decided as of yet. I will meet with the elders tonight to discuss what they would like to see of me in this transition and the timing of it.

So many of you have meant so much to us on a very personal level. We love you and will continue to pray for you as a church. I am confident of this one thing: that those of you who have been closest to us, I know it was God that began the work in your life and it will be God that will perfect it in the end.

We love you!