By Matt Dabbs
Trusting the God of Sorrow and Joy
by Beverly Dowdy
The Wind That Destroys and Heals
Released April 2003, Shaw Books,
imprint of Waterbrook Press.
JoJo Floss (Susan Sarandon) in Moonlight Mile throws a book in the fire. A friend had sent it after the death of her daughter.
Words rarely work well in severe suffering. In The Wind that Destroys and Heals: Trusting the God of Sorrow and Joy, Stephen Broyles reflects on consolation that seemed to trivialize the death of his wife. She died of breast cancer one Christmas day, leaving him with two children to “confront the perplexities of mortality and faith.” Broyles’s The Wind that Destroys and Heals could be on the hearth next to C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed and Sheldon Vanauken’s A Severe Mercy. All three of these writers have been through the fires of grief and doubt.
Indeed, what Broyles brings in this volume, whose size belies its might, is a Psalter of sorts for the man or woman wrestling with inexplicable evil. Broyles’s book enjoins the reader to wrestle with him. He refers to journals recorded in the years following his wife Betty’s death as his “barbaric yawp against the illness and its effect on their lives.” The book itself, far from being a yawp, is a masterful weaving of theology, philosophy, story and heartstrings. In a subtle exposition of Psalms, Job and the resurrection, Broyles effectively uses his rich insight into the biblical text, stories and his eye for the extraordinary in every day life, to blanket his readers with the comfort that he has received.
Broyles grew up in a “world full of psalms” –psalms painted on plaques and recited at school, such as, “Delight thyself in the LORD and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.” As he opens readers to the voice of lament in the Psalms he explains:
I have never seen a decorative ceramic banner that reads, “Thou hast put me in the depths of the Pit, in the regions dark and the deep.” … I have never seen a Sunday-school button with this wish for the wicked: “Let them be like the snail which dissolves into slime.” …The fierce Psalms are in fact easier to find than the gentle ones, because there are so many more of them. They make up a major element in the Psalms for which fierce is exactly the right word.
The Wind That Destroys and Heals walks readers through a turbulent array of questions bereft of clear, simple answers. What can be discerned with clarity is that Job’s seven sons and three daughters die in a windstorm and Job’s hope revives upon meeting God in the whirlwind.
“… the wisdom of God is greater than the irrationality of evil….That is the mystery revealed in the whirlwind. That is what allows the believer to flee into the arms of the God who does nothing. That is what allows the wind that destroys also to heal.”
The powerful understanding from the study of Job for Broyles was “that Job trusted God even when his world fell apart. And God trusted Job to remain faithful and to live without answers.”
Among contemporary writers on the subject of good, evil and doubt, I applaud the eloquence and earnestness of writers like Harold Kushner (When Bad Things Happen to Good People). However, for me something is missing. Broyles’s book speaks appreciatively of the Hebrew belief system’s emphasis on the experience of the here and now. He encourages his readers to embrace the glory of now. But there’s more— “The resurrection of the body on the last day and the eternal enjoyment of the presence of God.”
Broyles leads us to the Garden of Gethsemane and then allows us to see the pattern of descent and ascent in the death and resurrection of Christ.
At certain points this book reads like a novel. We’re acquainted with Stephen, Betty, John and Stephanie Broyles through vignettes of the days surrounding Betty’s death. Other times it is full of theologizing, which can be forgiven, because Broyles is theologian and teacher by profession. However, if you appreciate C.S. Lewis and Sheldon VanAuken, you will not toss this in the fireplace. I shared an early manuscript of The Wind That Destroys and Heals with a widowed friend of mine several years ago. She appreciated the book a great deal then. A few months ago, she experienced one of those days in which grief seemed to overwhelm her. Reading the book through for the second time she said The Wind that Destroys and Heals covered her grief like a blanket on a cold night.If JoJo Floss gets a copy of this one, maybe she’ll leave it on the hearth until she is ready to hope again.
Beverly Choate Dowdy is a native of suburban Detroit, a graduate of Harding University with a degree in Social Science, a teacher and debate coach at Greater Atlanta Christian School. She teaches Bible classes in her church in Marietta, Georgia, and speaks at spiritual retreats. She is married to Ken Dowdy and the mother to Chris, 22, and Trevor, 18.
By Matt Dabbs
by Greg Taylor
June – July, 2004
Leading From Your Strengths: Building Close-Knit Ministry Teams
John Trent, Rodney Cox, Eric Tooker
(Broadman & Holman, 2004). | $12.99 hardback 112 pgs ISBN 0-8054-3061-X
There is scant scientific evidence to prove this, but in my fifteen years of ministry experience, ministry teams break apart more often because of “team shock” – personality conflict and tense team dynamics – than any other cause.
Can teams do anything to lower the chances of blowing apart due to personality conflicts and tensions? Yes. John Trent’s new book and Leading From Your Strengths process is “all about knowing your God-given strengths, understanding and valuing the strengths of others, and blending the differences to reduce frustration, increase closeness, decrease conflict, and dramatically increase caring and commitment on your team.”
Trent and co-authors Cox and Tooker use an analogy of your ministry team rafting a river as a way of describing the process of learning to work together to navigate the torturous white water of life together and ministry. Also, the book comes with an offer for a free online personality assessment. The book has a reference number that you enter on their Leading From Your Strengths Web site. In addition, Trent uses his classic system of dividing personality types into Lion (conductor), Otter (promoter), Beaver (analyzer), and Golden Retriever (supporter). Of course there is much more depth to the system explained both in the book and web site.
The mission team I worked with in Uganda talked about personality both as a way to understand each other and a humorous way to break the ice of tense situations: when a lion roared or an otter embarrassed others, a golden retriever tried to please everyone and made the rest of us look like chumps to the Ugandans, or a beaver would expect everyone else to work the same long hours as he or she did.
I began talking about “team shock” when individuals both on my own mission team in Uganda and on a variety of other teams I have come in contact with over the last decade expressed personality conflict in their ranks. This anxiety missionaries and ministry team members anywhere in the world – not only overseas missions – feel about their work, their environment, very often is a symptom of deeper relational problems with one or more team members.
Before we ever launched into ministry, our mission team spent years together, meeting, getting to know one another’s families, backgrounds, stories. We knew the mess that each of us brought to the table and we eventually came to accept one another as we were as we challenged one another to become what Christ is making us daily.
If you are involved with a ministry team, church staff, supporting a mission team or an elder overseeing a church staff, Trent’s book can be a helpful guide down the white water of “team shock.”
By Matt Dabbs
by Anne-Geri’ Fann
June – July, 2004
Once upon a Tree: Answering the Ten Crucial Questions of Life
(Howard, 2002). | Hardback ISBN: 1582292574
In the world where many questions still pound the brain: What is truth? Why am I alive? Can I be religious and still do what I want? Consider this: Perhaps God is actually less concerned with celebrating Good Friday than he is about how we responded to last week’s Bad Tuesday.
Once upon a Tree stakes out a vast philosophical and theological territory in the warm, informal rhetoric, well-known of Calvin Miller readers and students. He tackles the concept of forgiveness, grace, death, life, depression, confusion, and doubt all by pointing us back to the moment that changed it all – Calvary.
But the prolific author sounds at first as if he is pulling the alarm without fully knowing how to put out the fire; indeed, without seeing much more than smoke. In lesser hands, that would be a problem. In Miller’s, it is not. He takes us right back to the cross every time.
I am discouraged to say, however, that Miller’s pen did not grab me as it once did, and I found myself wading through several over-the-top analogies in order to get to valid points. Though individual paragraphs are often dazzling little gems in their own right, the way they are worked together into a larger mosaic is not as impressive. There are sections of quite fast-moving narrative that are slowed down by random literary or historical mentions that are never explained or their place in the explication made clear. This may be frustrating for someone who has never read Hemingway and definitely for those who are waiting to see how Adolf Eichmann relates to Jesus, except that they were both tried in Jerusalem. It was also difficult to weave passed some “unexpected insights” (Madeleine L’Engle) that weren’t necessarily biblical:
- “…Why was the temple veil shredded? There are probably two reasons. First of all, God was crying. This is how God cries when his Son dies unloved and alone.”
Of course, God was experiencing the universe’s most painful moment, but why use the temple veil as an example? Most of us been taught that there is no longer a priest(man) interceder that goes into the holiest of holies to ask God for repentance of the children of God’s sins, another major point in Once upon a Tree.
- “It has been said that when the cross was jolted in its socket, ten thousand angels drew swords against an unfeeling plant. God spared his precious world their wrath.”
Okay, who said that again? It’s beautiful and breath-taking, granted, but something more likely to be said from the pulpit with a disclaimer attached. I have gotten annoyed at my friend, Donna, a wise elder’s wife, who comes back from any theological discussion with, “Are you making that up? If it doesn’t say that somewhere, then be quiet.” Well, Donna, I hate to say that you’ve been right about that, and if that is your pet peeve, you might not want to pick up this book.
It pains me to have to be sounding somewhat ungrateful when I say that I didn’t find the style of this book to impress me, especially because I will probably still pick up any book that says “Calvin Miller” on it. So on a more positive note, if a careful reader can get past the author’s prolonged prose, allegiance to alliteration (yes, I did that on purpose), and at times insignificant analogies, it does have very significant value.
Miller tackles the main questions everyone asks, answers them well and has a few excellent citations. He discuses death after a clearly difficult time in his own health, but calls it a “temporary inconvenience.” He leaves himself vulnerable by posing complicated issues that he himself has asked: What is truth? Why am I alive? These are crucial, everyman questions. And his answers come in a world where many would prefer simply to leave The Cross, but he points out that the greatest danger comes not from those who march purposefully into hell, but for those who simply fall asleep on the slopes and slide in.
In other words, we ask the questions, but don’t necessarily want the answer, because most of us already know what it is, and we’d rather ignore it. Miller reminded me to believe in the answer, the Jesus of The Cross, as those who sat at the foot of our dying Saviour, instead of absentmindedly watch, like those who were only there for the Passover.
If you are a fan of Calvin Miller, you may like this book, as did his many friends who wrote quotes for him. If you are new to Calvin Miller, read The Singer Trilogy first, and the rest of his writing will make a lot more sense.
By Matt Dabbs
by Greg Taylor
June – July, 2004
Come Away My Beloved
Frances J. Roberts
256 pages, $7.97 ISBN: 1-59310-022-1
This devotional classic is unique in voice, for Frances J. Roberts—a woman born in 1918 who wrote mostly at night the words she felt God was giving her—writes as if God is directly addressing the reader.
Come Away My Beloved is a compilation of five previous short devotional books published in the 60s and 70s. Roberts has also written eighty-eight hymns and was a professional accompanist and teacher in a Spanish mission school. Ten of her hymns are set to be released on a CD this year.
The title devotional is urgently calling the reader to “come away” and walk the path with God.
My beloved, you do not need to make your path, for I go before you…I cannot use a tired body, and you need to take time to renew your energies…I will teach you, as I taught Moses on the back side of the desert, and as I taught Paul in Arabia…There is no virtue in activity in and of itself—nor in inactivity. I minister to you in solitude that you may minister Me to others as a spontaneous overflow of our communion…Learn to say “no” to human demands and to say “yes” to the call of the Spirit…Come away, My beloved; be like the doe on the mountains and we will go down together to the gardens.
The devotions, though we cannot consider them inspired as the canonical words of God, do ring authentically with the themes of Scripture: God’s call to his beloved, faithful obedience to the calling, solitude and prayer, joy, sanctification. Transformation, says the voice, comes “not under pressure and tension like a machine—striving to produce, produce. I only want you to live with Me as a person.”
The problem I see with the devotionals is that Roberts at times mixes her own response to God in Psalm-like verse, and it’s difficult to perceive a consistent voice throughout the book. When voice is mixed, it confuses the reader. This should be more carefully set out by the editors of the book by giving clues, which are only subtle in this volume.
“I feel there’s a tremendous amount of spiritual food there and help for living the Christian life,” says Roberts, who is eighty and still living in California. “What I really wanted most was for people to just fall in love with Jesus…a closer relationship with Jesus and that would take care of everything else.”
By Matt Dabbs
by New Wineskins Staff / Daniel Tomlinson
June – July, 2004
An Hour on Sunday: Creating Moments of Transformation and Wonder
Hardcover 288 pages
Jesus was always relevant to his culture and audience, illustrating his message in ways his listeners could relate to. In An Hour on Sunday (Zondervan, June 2004), author Nancy Beach calls on us to do no less. Her inspiring passion is to help people experience God through the use of the arts and relevant teaching. In this refreshing unique call for action, she provides a foundational directive for everyone from teens to senior citizens, and church staff to volunteers, to discern what is required for Sunday mornings so they can connect with people and personally engage them with God.
“The hour can simply be sixty minutes for attendees to survive, a time for minds to wander aimlessly and hearts to go untouched. Or, just maybe, the hour on Sunday can be a time of wonder, a time of transformation, perhaps even a time of awe,” Beach says. “Sadly, very few churchgoers – and certainly not those who are not (Christians) – would use words like awe to describe the hour in church on Sunday. Few folks expect to be moved or encouraged or transofrmed in significant ways because of that hour on Sunday.”
After the stress of another over-worked, over-scheduled week, many people would rather sleep in, read the paper, watch sports or spend the day at home. Many people just assume that a churche service just won’t be worth their time. And yet, people are lonely, disconnected and longing to fill a void they don’t fully understand.
Beach writes from experience of designing worship experiences that reach seekers of Christ. In “Getting Ready for Sundays,” Beach describes the intentionality, leadership, community, evaluation, and Spirit-led lives needed to enable ministry and arts teams to build effective services in sustainable and life-giving ways.
In part two of this review, Daniel J. Tomlinson looks closer at intentionality, community, and excellence in light of Beach’s book.
by Daniel J. Tomlinson
The title of Nancy Beach’s debut book, An Hour On Sunday, suggests her belief that dynamic spiritual change can happen in a Sunday morning worship hour. Church ministries, she says, depend upon the teaching and enthusiasm the Sunday morning worship hour can create. “When Sunday mornings inspire, envision, and equip those who attend, a buzz of excitement is generated that feeds all the sub-ministries and events,” Beach says.
Artists who read this book will learn about “the wonder of Sundays, intentionality, leadership, community, evaluation, well-ordered hearts and lives, excellence and creativity.” Christian churches have lost the wonder and awe found in passionate worship. Yawns seem to be the more typical response to worship. Believers and seekers alike are bored with the way many churches “do church.” Part of the problem, according to Beach, is that leaders lack intention. Who are we trying to reach, and are we trying to reach them in authentic, appropriate ways? Do we evaluate our work, or do we just do what we have always done? Are we, as leaders and artists, maintaining well-ordered hearts and lives, so that God can work through us to create excellence?
Excellence, however, can be a touchy subject. I recently commented about worship excellence in a Sunday class and left one person thinking I was saying we ought to have an advance degree in religion to lead. I was not saying that at all—rather, my comment was closer to Beach’s idea in that we must not accept mediocrity. God expects us to plan and prepare. There should not be an “obsessive pursuit of perfectionism,” but we cannot expect to prepare and rehearse a worship service right before we lead others in worship. Worship is a serious time of reflection and meditation, and it should not be taken lightly, but it should not rob its leader-participants of experiencing God either.
Beach stresses the importance of community. The artist temperament can contribute to moral challenges that others may not face. Perfectionism can rob an artist in the church of a big picture perspective that can lead to tunnel vision about their own art, rather than focusing on worship. The fallout can worsen and cascade into family and community ruin. For example, long rehearsal hours, intense performance times, and the passionate nature of acting can bring unsuspecting men and women into adulterous affairs. It is vitally important that artist leaders hold their volunteers accountable in small groups that meet, apart from rehearsing their respective art. Beach says there have been several times during her thirty-year ministry that she wishes she had been more observant and willing to lovingly confront her artists. Families might have been saved from divorce, and people might have been saved from leaving the church.
Beach concludes that artists must seek to be transformed first, then offer transformational teaching. Beach preached a Mother’s Day sermon that opened in her mind’s eye the connection between church artists and teaching pastors. “More than ever before, I long for people who attend church to drive away saying, “That message impacted me.” Transformational teaching is the foundation of any powerful hour on Sunday,” Beach wrote.
That One Hour on Sunday becomes perhaps even more significant than a blockbuster movie, and the value of transformational teaching deeply embedded in the mind of a seeker can indeed change a life eternally.
Daniel Tomlinson lives in Nashville, Tennessee with his wife Carey, and they are expecting their first child Chloe Abigail in November.
By Matt Dabbs
By Greg Taylor
What stands out about Ron Clark’s book is that he stands with one foot planted firmly in the world of the text and one foot planted firmly in the world of incarnational ministry. This reminds me of N.T. Wright, who has made it his life’s work to stand in the middle of the academy and the church. Sometimes neither of those worlds truly appreciates what is being done for us, but what Clark does is one notch up the ladder of concrete ministry from N.T. Wright.
Clark’s book is the first in a series of three for ministers, Christians and anyone wanting to participate in an incarnational approach to God’s mission in the world, “the vision Jesus has for all people.” Clark plans books on Luke and Acts as well.
Where Wright is dealing with the text for the academy and the church, Clark is dealing with the text for the church but also doing real incarnational ministry himself on the streets of Portland, Oregon.
In a way, Clark is doing what Charles Campbell calls, “Dislocated Readings.” He is taking texts of the prophets of Israel’s exile and bringing them to bear on the world today, on the streets, to and with people in pain, suffering. For example, he wonders what Obadiah would say to us when we form opinions or “positions” on illegal immigration.
<blockquote>When it comes to the current conversation about “illegal immigrants” in our country God’s people are forced into the discussion. While I understand both sides of the arguments involving the effects of having people come to the United States without the proper documentation, I know that Obadiah calls us to ask the question, what does compassion say to the issue? Are we bringing this question to the table when we work in our community?</blockquote>
What Clark does instead of taking positions is to go to the prophets. What did they say to these same kinds of situations, and he doesn’t do that by standing above the text but by loving the people in the Agape Church, neighbors, and friends. And it seems Clark knows no strangers on the streets of Portland.
<blockquote>I have for years taken homeless people in Portland to lunch and asked if they were safe. I have at times eaten lunch with them on the sides of streets. The homeless are correct when they tell us that people criticize them, ignore them, or look at them with disgust. I have sat by their side when this happened. It is intimidating. It is embarrassing. It sometimes is a reminder of what I have done to them in the past.</blockquote>
After surveying and deeply explicating texts from Jeremiah, Obadiah, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Joel, Ezekiel, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, Clark turns to what these and other prophecies say about the Messiah, and he discusses Jesus Christ (Messiah) and his role as “Lord, Savior, and Messiah” and “The New Moses.”
<blockquote>Jesus came to save people. However, this salvation does not refer to a simple prayer or guarantee that we will one day go to heaven. Salvation involved restoration, reconciliation, and reunion with God. Jesus brought people into relationship with the Creator. Salvation suggests relationship and peace with God. The pouring out, baptism, and covering with the Spirit also symbolized human relationships with God through Jesus. Christians today must embrace Jesus as the God of second chances in both their own lives and the lives of others.</blockquote>
‘The God of Second Chances‘ by Ron Clark’
The crossover book is a difficult one for some people to swallow. Those who like Christian books that tell true stories from the experiences of the disciple writing the book, personal stories that show faith lived out, will find a book full of these challenging, inspiring stories that may even make you cringe, look at yourself and your own life and what the exilic prophets might say to you today. On the other hand, those who expect weighty biblical explications and not lightweight fluffy prooftexts — unfortunately too often found in a lot of popular books these days — will find in Clark’s The God of Second Chances a book that speaks truth through solid exegesis and exposition of the exilic prophets, who still speak to us today.
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