Apr 16, 2012

How to be Secretly Incredible

Most people want to live incredible lives. We want to make an impact and change the world. Bob Goff is one of those people. He wants to make an impact on the world, and, in fact, he is making an impact in the world. In his book Love Does, he wants to show the reader how to be incredible. Even though the subtitle of the book is "Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World," this book does not offer the reader five easy steps or some other formula for success. Instead, Bob shares stories from his life. Some of the stories are humorous, some exciting, and others very moving. Each story relates to one main theme: Love Does. Bob writes this story to motivate his readers to take action. He wants you to go out and do something. So much so that he even includes his phone number at the end so that you can call him and talk about the ideas in the book. Love doesn't just plan things out, love is acted out. He writes, "Secretly incredible people just do things." Bob doesn't plan much. He knows what he wants to do and does it, and he doesn't let any worry or doubt stand in his way.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Bob writes in a very personal way like he wants you to be his friend. In fact, it becomes apparent that he knows no strangers, so much so, I've chosen not to refer to him as "Goff" even though that is proper for authors you don't know. It was certainly a very moving book and different than the typical inspirational Christian books I have read. He doesn't lay out a plan or steps. He just tells stories. He wants us to live. Bob believes that God wants Christians to do something. I suggest that you go and read this book. It's not a complicated read or even a deep read, but it's a good read. It straightforward and has a simple message: Do something. Through stories of his own life, Bob shows us that living an incredible life starts with doing something. In addition, simply by buying the book you will be on your way to doing something since all the proceeds go to Restore International's Leadership Academy in Gulu, Uganda and the Mentoring Project. Go buy the book, read it, and then do something.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Apr 3, 2012

Spiritual Rhythms in Community

Originally published on Englewood Review of Books.

A Review of: Spiritual Rhythms in Community: Being Together in the Presence of God 
Keith Meyer

As a drummer, I understand the importance of a good steady rhythm in music. It isn’t very hard to see how the metaphor can carry over into life. Just as a steady rhythm holds together songs, so a steady rhythm in life can keep us on the right track. Keith Meyer uses dancing to describe life rhythms. In the book’s introduction, he describes spiritual disciplines as similar to dancing, both are a “series of engaging and disengaging rhythms” (13). First we disengage from normal life activities in order to be with God for rest and renewal, and then we engage with life in order to live so that we can love God and others. Meyer suggests that, “we learn to take spiritual disciplines as our means or steps in a Trinitarian two-step dance of disengagement and engagement in order to live as God meant us to live” (14).

Within this two-step dance, there is a three-part rhythm. Meyer, using Jesus as an example, shows how this dance of engagement and disengagement forms a rhythm of formation, community, and mission. Jesus would spend time in prayer, then be in community with his disciples, and then was on mission teaching the crowds. Our practice of the disciplines should also lead to formative time with God, community time with Christians, and time spent living out the mission of God. This rhythm is cultivated by the two-step dance of engagement and disengagement, and Meyer uses these dance steps to structure the rest of the book.

The first part of the book focuses on disengaging. Meyer defines disengaging as disconnecting “from all that keeps us from a life with God and others in order to hear God’s call to become apprentices” (21). The main goal of disengaging, as Meyer describes in chapter 1, is to be alone in order to be with the Father. Jesus, the primary example in each chapter, even though he is one with the Father, was intentional about spending time alone in order to be with his Father. We, too, need to be intentional about disconnecting from the world so that there is nothing to prevent us from being with our heavenly father. The rest of the book’s first part is dedicated to ways of disengaging from the world in order to be with God. Meyer encourages readers to create retreat centers in their hearts, find deserts and other sacred spaces to meet with God, and to go off-line. All of these are ways of getting away and getting with God. Meyer is we have to have a space, in our hearts, in our lives, or somewhere in this world, where it is just God and us. The world does a good job of keeping us busy and distracted and often times we need a getaway in order to have rest and quiet. When we find those places, Meyer challenges us to do nothing besides be in God’s presence and to be silent before God. It may seem weird to some, and difficult to most, but doing nothing and remaining silent are ways for us open ourselves to what God wants us to see, hear, and do. After we encounter God, we must reenter the world and engage it with God.

The second half of the book focuses on engaging. Meyer broadens the focus of his writing to now look at all of life and how to engage the world as a Christian. He opens the second part by discussing friendship. Part of reengaging with the world is building Godly friendships that allow us to encourage one another and sharpen each other. Meyer believes that friendship is important to spiritual formation, but “we don’t often see friendship…as a discipline to cultivate” (112). Meyer also encourages readers to see the rhythms of daily life as “opportunities to fill our lives with God’s presence” (130). The times when we eat, clean, wake, or go to sleep are all times when we can acknowledge God’s presence and build him into our daily lives. In this second part, Meyer also discusses the importance of forgiveness and service. We need to repair broken relationships by asking for forgiveness. Meyer also stresses the importance of engaging the poor, and not just to serve them but to spend time with them and get to know them. Meyer’s final two chapters are good reminders about the Christian life. First, God works through our weaknesses. Meyer reminds us that God uses us, “as cracked clay jars that show off the glory of Christ through flaws and weaknesses” (164). Then, he wraps up the book by encouraging readers to look to those who have gone before. We are not the first to follow God and we should look to those who have gone before as guides for the journey that lies before us.

Keith Meyer has done an incredible job in describing to sides of spiritual formation that rarely get put together. Often people write about the importance of either disengaging from the world or engaging the world. Meyer, however, has done both. He also has done it in a way that challenges Christians to get out and do something about what they read. Meyer has written this book as a group devotional. Each chapter is preceded with a Psalm reflection and is followed by an application for a group to go and do. He has done this so that the book would help to create a rhythm of formation, community, and mission.  Spiritual Rhythms in Community is a challenging read and help to cultivate growth. This book is not intended to be read alone. Although it could be read that way, it will lose much of its value.

The only real weakness of the book is the second half. The first half of the book is easily connected and united around disengaging from the world and connecting with God. This theme is easily understood. The second half, however, since it is discussing engaging the world has more ground to cover. Because of this, each chapter seems at times to stand by itself instead of with the rest of the chapters in the second part. This is understandable, though, each chapter is meant to be read and then followed by the activity at the end of the chapter. Some may find the second half somewhat disconnected, but I believe that Meyer is doing his best to reach into many areas of life.

I would recommend Spiritual Rhythms in Community for any small group trying to stretch themselves. Meyer’s book is encouraging and challenging. The chapters are short and easily engaged.  If you really do commit to follow through on each application, I think that this book will be a great aid in your group’s spiritual and relational health.