Tuesday, December 11, 2012
Book Review: The Silent Years

"The Silent Years" is a misnomer. The majority of the pages discuss the life of Jesus within the timeline of the New Testament gospels. Green does, however, attempt to fill in some gaps around the origins of Jesus' relationships with his disciples (including the women who supported His ministry). While Green does an adequate job of addressing the humanity of Christ, he takes it to an extreme that I believe to be theologically inaccurate. Scripture specifically states that Jesus was without sin; Green tells of Jesus repenting of sinful thoughts. Additionally, Green takes liberties with Jesus’ time of temptation in the desert, playing out the scenario in a different way than the gospel of John does. Overall, I would say Green tells an interesting, although fictional, account of the life of Jesus. The book is worthwhile only if read as fiction rather than fact, much like a reading of Dan Brown’s "The DaVinci Code". Facts and fiction are so intertwined that they often seem one in the same. Readers beware. Both books are great discussion starters, but not fully historically accurate.

Posted at 04:03 pm by bayski

Monday, August 20, 2012
Book Review: Hometown Prophet

I have to admit I began the book with some skepticism about Fulmer's background with more "charismatic" churches than I attend. The skepticism was unfounded. I also began the book with a general apprehension toward Christian fiction in general. Jeff Fulmer's book was a pleasant surprise. While I would not consider it "literature" in the truest sense of the word (a la Faulkner or Steinbeck), it was a story that kept me turning pages long after I should have turned off the light and fallen asleep.

Other reviewers have called the book controversial, but (with the exception about our theological positions regarding certain spiritual gifts) I found myself nodding in agreement in regards to the issues Fulmer addressed, especially in light of the recent Pat Robertson statements about international abortion.

At times the book felt more like a primetime drama, with each chapter taking on a similar format to the preceding chapter with only minimal plot connection. But it was a primetime drama I would watch, one that kept me in suspense at the right times and made it difficult to close the book at the end of a chapter.

While I agree with the stand Fulmer makes and the message he presents, I am curious to hear about the conversations the book elicits. I would definitely recommend the book to a friend, with a small disclaimer regarding the slight Pentecostal flavor.

Posted at 07:55 pm by bayski
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Friday, July 27, 2012
Book Review: Confessions of a Bible Thumper

Confessions of a Bible Thumper is the story of Michael Camp’s faith journey. Part memoir and part espousal of his theological “doctrines” (I seriously doubt he would call his beliefs doctrines, but for the sake of simplicity I use the word.) the book reminded me of the format Brian McLaren used in A New Kind of Christian. That being said, McLaren did a better job of telling a story seamlessly. Camp’s narrative was split between pub conversations and flashback memories, with an emphasis on the flashbacks that were so foundational to the development of his belief system.

Camp asks McLaren (or Rob Bell) type questions and then provides his own answers in a “post modern theology meets Mark Driscoll” kind of way (open-minded condescension). Active participants of the Emergent movement will find the book to be a re-run, and educated conservative evangelicals will have heard all these arguments before (but without Billy Graham being used as support for said arguments). There was a time evangelicals heard these beliefs from those outside the Christian faith; now they are the tenets of fellow believers. This book brings no new controversy to any conversations. Rather it perpetuates the same controversies under a new title.

On a scale of grimace to happy dance, I give it a firm “meh.”

Posted at 04:54 pm by bayski
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Wednesday, February 02, 2011
rescue and refuge

"The waters fall.  The wind blows.  The sky rumbles, lightning strikes.  But the refuge is calm.  The storm surrounds but doesn't breach the barrier.  Its presence is know but it can't touch the sheltered.  If You are big enough to move mountains, You are big enough to keep me safe, to protect, to hold, to change.  I'm drowning and I need You to rescue me.  Asking for rescue seems a more accurate analogy than running to You for shelter.  I'm helpless... too weary to run to You.  I need You to run to me.  I've struggled long enough on my own, and it's been nothing but failure.  I'm going under again."

I've been  pondering the idea of God as Rescuer versus God being Refuge.  Neither eliminates the storm or the danger.  Both require waiting for it to pass or for help to arrive.  To call God our Rescuer or our refuge is not to ask Him to still the wind and the waves-- although we would love for that to happen.  The Rescuer endangers His own life for the sake of the one in peril.  The goal is not to eliminate the danger, but to move the victim to safety.  I'm glad my Savior is both.  I need Him to be both.

In this world you will have trouble, but take heart.  [He has] overcome the world.

Posted at 06:28 pm by bayski
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Sunday, January 30, 2011
Defining Moments Countdown -- Part 4

#4 Winter Retreat 2009
This defining moment requires some back story.

I had lost my mojo years prior when a middle school student asked if I was the mother of a 19 year old guy.  I was 33 at the time.  If I was viewed in the genre of "parent" by students, what credibility could I possibly have in youth ministry?  I mean I'd heard them complain about adults for years, so I knew what it meant if their suspicions were that I was a parent... even more so the parent of a college student.

I was willing to try again with some Colorado middle schoolers 4 years later, so I chaperoned what I now consider the worst retreat ever.  I couldn't be relational and fun because I was too busy being a Gestapo.  I had to stop 8th graders from making inappropriate videos and sexting, explained why it was not okay to use someone else's mattress to surf down concrete stairs, and slept in front of the door to prevent the planned sneak out.  I was getting too old for this.

A month or so later I got a FB message asking me to speak at the Winter Retreat for the high school group with which I had previously worked.  Their original speaker had backed out and they were in a pinch.  I agreed and immediately began to wonder what I would talk about.  Then I got nervous.  I was out of practice.  I hadn't spoken to high schoolers in years... not since the mojo left.  And I was now in the "parent" genre.  I'd lost the automatic cool factor that accompanies people in their twenties.

I continued to struggle with what I would say right up until the week before the event.  I skipped a community group meeting to wrestle through the last talk.  I'd spent the weeks before praying for wisdom about what to teach and how to present it.  But the last talk of the three just wasn't coming together like I'd hoped.  I prayed and wrestled and brainstormed and then I had it.  It was simple.  It had the potential to be a re-run for the students.  But it was the plan and I had a peace about it.... until I got up to Winter Park.

I was sick, barely had a voice the week of the Retreat.  It was bad enough that I packed Thera-flu and a bag of cough drops.  Introducing myself was difficult, singing impossible, and speaking a challenge.  Add to that a new phenomenon:  I was nervous.  I hadn't been nervous to talk to high schoolers in years.  But after all the prayer and struggle with the topic, I was still unsure about it.  The weight of being God's messenger was especially heavy, as was the insecurity about how I would be received by the students.  (Teenagers don't know this, but sometimes they intimidate adults.  It's dumb, but it happens.)

Night one: 
I sat with the student ministries secretary and learned names, cautiously observing before entering "their" turf.  They'd just finished their long bus ride and most were sleep deprived.  So the "lesson" consisted of a series of youtube videos depicting the way some people see Jesus.  We laughed, critiqued, discussed in small groups, read the passage in which Jesus asks His disciples "Who do you say that I am?" and adjourned.  Nobody threw rotten tomatoes or rolled their eyes. Sometime during the evening my hands had stopped shaking.  So far, so good.

Night two:
We talked about John the Baptist, who went from declaring Jesus "the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" to questioning whether or not He was actually the Messiah.  John's faith seemed contingent on circumstances.  So I asked the question, "Who do you say Jesus is, not just in the good times, but in the hard times, too?"  That evening on the tubing hill a student approached me and said, "Good talk tonight.  Convicting."  It began our conversation about her temptations and doubt.  I was encouraged by both her honesty and her willingness to approach me.  I prayed with her and for her and went to bed with a contented smile on my face.

Night three:
With the exception of the previous night's conversation, most of my interaction with students had been on the surface level in the cabin, on the slopes, or while "checking" them during broomball.  We could joke and smile and chat, but only one conversation had gone much below the surface.  And I was okay with that.  I had no idea what was about to transpire.  Night three was the night I was nervous about.  I'd spent time alone in the cabin rehashing it, second guessing it, and finally seeing no way around it.  I'd prayed. This was God's answer. I had to trust that.  So I cut cardboard (well, someone else cut cardboard on my behalf), made a playlist, found some volunteers to set the example, and prayed some more.

If you've never seen cardboard testimonies, do a youtube search and be encouraged.  After a brief discussion about how people who encountered Jesus were changed (i.e. Peter and Paul specifically), I challenged them to write their cardboard testimonies and describe how Jesus had changed them.  So some of them did.  And it was pretty cool.  Somehow along the way we transitioned into a time when students just ministered to each other.  I was long done talking.  Cardboard testimonies were complete.  And God just got hold of some people.  There were tears and then there were people loving and praying for the tears.  And it just kept going.  I said folks could leave if they wanted but nobody left.  I asked the people in tears if they wanted an "out"; nobody did.  They sat there letting God work on their hearts and their peers encourage and pray for them beyond the time for them to play broomball.  They didn't care.  They didn't budge.  I just sat and watched the Spirit do His thing, amazed that I got a front row seat to it all.

We finally disbanded and I was mingling with various tear-streaked faces.  One girl I asked more than once if she wanted to talk.  She declined each time.  The next thing I know she and another girl wanted to chat.  I invited an intern to join us, knowing I would be leaving later that night (or the next morning as it turned out).  The girls and I sat on a couch and the intern pulled up a chair.  That's where the story began.  She wanted a cardboard testimony too.  She had the first part down:  drug addict, but the other side was blank.  We talked for hours.  She shared her heart, her hurts, her tears, her fears, and her new faith with us.  She met Jesus that night and became a new creation.  God let me be there when she was "born again."

There were more conversations that night.  More hearts shared.  More prayers offered.  More ministry opportunities.  More relationships established.  I fell into bed at 1:30am exhausted in the best possible way.

Typically students that you meet for one weekend on a retreat will only stay in touch for a couple of weeks after the retreat.  I never want to believe that will happen, but it always does... well, did.... until this retreat.  The relationships intensified in this case.  I flew back to TX for a wedding in January and spent time with them.  I flew back in April and spent time with them.  For weeks on end there were three girls I heard from DAILY.  My Colorado friends knew that if I jumped up and left the room during game night, a TX student was on the phone.  They knew that if I threw my phone across the room, a TX student had been dumb.  It was obvious that the TX students had my heart.  So when the opportunity to move back to TX and go to grad school presented itself, the TX students definitely played a roll in the decision... and were some of the first people I wanted to tell.

I still reference that Winter Retreat.  I'm still thankful for it, amazed by it, humbled to have been a part of it.  It is one of only a handful of "tangible" God moments in my life.  I saw Him work.  Looking back, I know He wasn't just working on the students; He was working on me.  Love outweighs mojo AND cool.

So now I live in TX, within walking distance (a long walk, but still...) from the girl who met Jesus that weekend.  I spent Christmas with her family this year.  She has slept on my couch more than once.  There is snack food in my pantry simply because it's what she likes.  I have learned about unconditional love, gained a greater appreciation for parenthood, and watched God transform her.  Others I met that weekend have joined me at my apartment for movie nights or to work a puzzle or to eat breakfast for dinner.

I volunteer with that youth ministry now because leadership isn't dependent on a job or a title, and God's ability to use me (despite myself) in student ministry is not limited by my age.  "Mom" isn't the insult it used to be.

Posted at 07:32 pm by bayski
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Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Defining Moments Countdown -- Part 3

#6 Burnout
When you love what you do, you do it a lot.  Even if it's emotionally and spiritually draining.  When you care so much that you just can't let go, refuse to delegate, forget to care for yourself and don't rest, it will eventually catch up to you.  Once upon a time, I believed that burnout only happened to people who were in the wrong profession or who didn't care enough.  I know the opposite to be true because it happened to me.

As I sat in the therapist's office in tears, she put words to my overwhelmed emotions:  "You're upset because you are physically, spiritually, and emotionally unable to do what you most love to do right now, aren't you?"  I could only nod.

It had been a long time coming and therapy was only one of the stipulations given to me when I asked for a leave of absence.  Another stipulation meant that I would be forced to process this alone.  I went to the lake house belonging to a friend of a friend with a puzzle, a book or two, my journal, the bible, some Andrew Petersen CD's and a large container of Whoppers.  God and I would hack away at this until I was healed.  We had four weeks.

Because I had (practically) nobody to talk to but God, I started talking to Him out loud throughout the day's events.  We went on a walk, sat on the porch, rode the four wheeler, worked the puzzle, argued (well, that was one-sided, but...), and just sat quietly.  Imagine all the benefits of an imaginary friend but with the bonus factor of being real and divinely sovereign!!  It was the closest I ever felt to the Lord.  In my mind's eye we were sitting on the couch.  I'd put my head on His shoulder and He'd draw me close and just hold me there.  That is peace.  That is comfort.  That is love.  I still go back to that mental image when I feel like He's abandoned me, because He's promised to never leave us or forsake us.

#5 Watermark
The church preached community that fights for the best in each others' lives, that can be counted on in time of need, that would challenge and rebuke you when necessary and then walk beside you until you found your way again.  I longed for that kind of community. 

There were no secrets.  Our lives were open books into which the others could speak.  They prayed, played, served, encouraged, confessed, rebuked, and asked the hard questions with me.  They fought for God's best in my life and I did the same for them.  Together we learned what it meant to live out of the freedom of the gospel, the freedom of knowing that I CAN'T do it on my own and that grace doesn't just apply to the moment of salvation but to every day of my life.

#4 Winter Retreat 2009
(This one will probably be long enough to require a post of its own, so for my readers with a short attention span, I'll stop here.)

Posted at 04:07 pm by bayski
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Monday, January 24, 2011
prayer for the Burmasters

Okay Jesus,
I'm just gonna say it, since You already know I'm thinking it.  This sucks.  The situation.  The timing.  The weight of it all.  A crisis per month for three months now in one youth group is a bit excessive from my perspective.  I mean, I know You told us we'd have trouble in this world, but this is a lot for one group of teenagers and their parents, ministers and volunteers to handle.  We know You've overcome the world, but we're just plain tired.

So I'm gonna choose to trust that You are good.  I know You know where Mrs. Burmaster is and HOW she is and why she's there.  In Your parables You talked about finding lost sheep and lost coins and lost sons.  Would You please help this lost mom be found and be safe?  Give peace to her family while they wait for a phone call.  Be her refuge and her rescuer, their comforter and guide.

If we've ever needed You, Lord it's now.  We're scared.  We feel helpless.  We're emotionally drained.  Be our Shepherd, our strength.

We found her.  Thank You! :)

Posted at 10:10 pm by bayski
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Sunday, January 23, 2011
strike 3

I'm gonna mix sports metaphors.  Proceed with caution.

Last night I went to bed (not so much to sleep) feeling like I'd struck out.  Three fast balls.  Three complete whiffs.  After a cloud nine week, it had become a McDonald's weekend. (That's youth ministry lingo for going from really good to crappy.)  I wondered why I continued to find myself in and pursue youth ministry when I keep blowing it so bad.  I tossed and turned and wondered what difference it made.

Today was like football's version of the "official review" in the replay booth.  Turns out it wasn't three strikes after all.  It was a hit (the metaphor fails, but just go with it), a checked swing, and a foul ball.  The hit involved a student doing what I'd very firmly (forcefully) told her to do despite her multiple arguments against it.  She did it, was pleasantly surprised, and saw God's fingerprints all over the situation. 

The checked swing could have been ugly.  A potential trust breech was avoided because level heads and honesty prevailed.  I wasn't sure that would be the case, but texts first thing in the morning provided much relief. 

The foul ball was miscommunication that was the direct result of a lack of communication.  It's been hashed out now, but the past cannot be erased... only learned from.

A new day's perspective moved me from an out to a runner on first and a 1-1 count.  That's progress.  I'll take it.

Posted at 08:48 pm by bayski
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Banging your head on the keyboard just isn't the same as punching a wall, but my deductible is too high and income too low to deal with a broken hand.  Gonna be late to church tomorrow.  I already know it.

Sometimes I don't like me.  This weekend has surpassed its quota of those times.

Posted at 12:01 am by bayski
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Saturday, January 22, 2011
even the wind and waves...

I prefer the lake to be "glass".  You know, the early morning mirror look that can only happen when there is not even a breath of air to create the tiniest ripples on the surface of the water.  I'm a waterskier, so it make sense I would prefer the water smooth.  I want to the be the one to make the ripples, to disturb the peace, to slice through the surface, and I'd just as soon the wind not interfere.  My adrenaline wants to surge just thinking about it.

It's still winter, but the sun made a glorious appearance in a bright blue sky today.  The warmth of a Saturday afternoon drew me to the lake.  The same south wind that brought a warm day blew the water into a frenzy.  The whitecaps pounding the shore rivaled the beach at low tide.  Even if it had been warm enough to ski and I had access to a boat, I wouldn't have attempted it today.  Water like that is a beating on a ski.  It's only pretty to watch from a distance.  I'm a smooth water snob.

The same holds true of my life.  I prefer to not deal with wind and waves.  They hurt. They knock me down.  They're a beating.

The smoothest bodies of water on the planet rarely look like water.  Stagnant surfaces collect and grow a variety of scum that wouldn't be there if the surface were to be stirred every so often.  That's not exactly the fruit I want to produce with my life.

Interesting to note in John 5 that healing occurred when the waters of the pool of Bethesda were stirred, not when they were calm.

The waves can be beneficial.  I've always wanted to learn to surf.

Posted at 04:44 pm by bayski
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I am pondering the deep things of life as well as the taken-for-granted mundane. Writing helps me to formulate complete thoughts and record milestones of faith. This journey can be a bumpy ride; tag along at your own risk.

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