Muscle and a Shovel

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI recently did a quick read of the book Muscle and a Shovel by Michael Shank. Am I allowed to say that it is what I thought it was? Written in an autobiographical style, it’s intended to be an apologetic for traditional Church of Christ beliefs. As such, it functions pretty well.

I’m not really prepared to write a review. I may do so in the future. John Mark Hicks has written an excellent review which is available in electronic format for the Kindle. He also posted a summary of that review on his personal blog, presenting it in three parts:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
I’d highly recommend John Mark’s review to anyone who has read the book and even to those who haven’t.

In lieu of a review, let me share some thoughts:

    • I’ll start with the biggest issue I have: Jesus is a minor character, at best, in this book. If I want to talk to people about the gospel and don’t center that talk around Jesus, something is seriously wrong. This book isn’t about bringing people to Jesus. It’s about bringing them to a certain church.
    • The most shocking thing I read was the part where Randal rejected the concept of a personal relationship with Jesus. “It’s one of the greatest false teachings of modern-day religion.” (p.108) That’s when I realized that any gospel presented would not be the gospel of Jesus. I recognize that was a way of attacking a commonly held evangelical idea, but Randal’s reasoning was really sad. “A personal relationship implies that Jesus is not in Heaven because He would have to be here, in the flesh, for you to have a personal relationship with Him.” (ibid) Really? So all that “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” was just a ruse? Talk of where two or more are gathered, I am there? Jesus lives in the believer, not just in Heaven. He is inside of us… how much more personal can you get?
      Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3) That’s the part that Randal missed, that he never mentioned. Know God. Know Jesus. Have a personal relationship with them. That’s eternal life.

  • I’m thrilled with the reports of people coming to the Lord after reading this book. I don’t want my opinions of this book to take away from that in any way.
  • I’m glad for Michael that he found the Lord and desires to help others do the same.
  • In the book itself, I love the example of Randal, his willingness to speak about his faith to others. Some of his attitudes seem less than ideal, but I can say that about just about anyone.
  • The book itself is fairly readable. Some disagree, but I think the story flows fairly naturally. Much of what is written is hard to believe, but it’s not easy to argue with someone’s personal story.
  • Those reading the book need to recognize that Shank’s description of believers in Christ outside of the Church of Christ is not typical of such believers. You would be hard pressed to find a trained Baptist minister that asserts that the Baptist church began with John the Baptist, for example.
  • The book is filled with proof texts to support Randal’s arguments and accusations toward other groups that their beliefs are based on proof texts. I agree with many things that Randal says; others just can’t be supported from Scripture.

There’s a lot more to be said. I should point out, though, that we’re seeing an amazing disconnect in our brotherhood. There are many who think Muscle and a Shovel deserves a place on their bookshelf right next to the New Testament. There’s another group that thinks it deserves a place at the county landfill. Interestingly enough, many times those two groups co-exist within a single congregation.

If you read Shank’s book, I hope you’ll read Hicks’ review as well, just to have a better understanding of what you’ve read.

Links to Go (August 29, 2014)

Four evangelical responses to gay rights — they’ve changed a lot since ’69

Evangelicals are often seen as being monolithic on issues of sexuality and LGBT rights. A careful study of responses to homosexuality by evangelical elites, however, shows that this is not the case. Sociologists Jeremy Thomas (Idaho State) and Daniel Olson (Purdue) combed through Christianity Today, evangelicalism’s flagship magazine. They uncovered four approaches that evangelicals have taken since the 1960s

Stop Obsessing About the Proverbs 31 Woman

Whether you’re male or female, you can use Proverbs 31 as a reference point to see not the exact person you should be, but what type of person—someone who takes wisdom and uses it. Women and men can both learn from this chapter. Proverbs 31 is directed towards Solomon’s son, after all.
So if you’ve read this in the past as a standard you would never be able to live up to, you can take a deep breath. This is going to sound really cliché, but Jesus loves you. He made you just the way you are—and no matter what that looks like, it’s enough. Fortunately for all of us, wisdom works for everyone.

5 Dangers of Tribalism

  1. We major on the minors
  2. We hinder the mission
  3. We confuse the world
  4. We compete rather than connect
  5. We demonize those we differ with

Why Does God Let Me Stay So Weak?

To be content with weakness doesn’t mean we give up trying to put sin to death. It doesn’t mean we quit trying to bear fruit for God. But it means that when we fail, when we realize how weak we are, we won’t despair but turn to Christ and ask him to give us HIS power. HIS strength. HIS wisdom. HIS grace.

To Recline or Not To Recline?

My father is 6’3” and says that every time he boards a plane (he rides economy class), he speaks with the person in front of him. He says, “I’m a big guy. I know you will want to recline your seat and you have every right to do so. All I ask is that you please inform me before reclining so that I can adjust my legs and my tray table.”
He says he has never had a problem. Not only that but most times, the passenger in front doesn’t end up reclining.

Giant panda ‘faked pregnancy for extra treats and nicer accommodation’

The six-year-old had shown signs of pregnancy last month, according to staff at the Chengdu Breeding Research Centre, in China’s southwestern province of Sichuana.
But shortly after being moved to a single room with air conditioning and around-the-clock care her “behaviour and physiological indexes returned to normal”.
Experts believe Ai Hin was enjoying the extra attention and additional treats before staff realised she wasn’t actually pregnant.

A Facebook group that I’m part of, called Compadres, is having a blog tour. The general theme is The Glory of The Son and each of us will pick a story, event or teaching of Jesus that reflects His glory. Here are the posts so far:
June 3: Jeremy Schopper: Leaving the Noise Behind
June 5: Danny Holman: Jesus Challenge
June 10: Carl Jenkins: Give A Man A Fish
June 17: Jonathan Dobbs: Why Me, God?
June 19: Scott Elliott:The Beauty of the Gospel
June 24: Chris Hodges: The Glory of the Son
June 26: David Smith: then they can see my glory, which you gave me
July 1: Jeremy Hoover: Matthew and Mission
July 3: Allen Carr: The Glory in the Welcome
July 10: Daniel Burns: Not So With You
July 15: Rex Butts: A Place For Lepers
July 22: Jennifer Rundlett: A Vision of Harmony
July 24: Don Middleton: Come To The Table
July 29: Tim Archer: Do Not Be Afraid
August 5: Paula Harrington: When Doubt Met Divine
August 7: Holly Barrett: He knows me inside and out
August 12: Patrick Barber: Nothing But Leaves
August 14: Wade Tannehill: We Have Seen His Glory
August 19: Peter Horne: Walking the Racial Tightrope for Jesus
August 27: Shelly Kellis: Letting Go

I am tired of the judgmental spirit that has lurked in my heart. I am convicted the moment I think I have it all figured out and impose that on others, it’s judgement. It doesn’t appear that way at first does it? We think our knowledge and wisdom comes to us through life experiences and it’s our responsibility to teach those around us so that they can learn. But is it?

Links to Go (August 28, 2014)

Huckabee and the Heresy of Americanism

Americanism of this type blinds us to America’s very real, human, failures and sins. Historically, we’re tempted to whitewash things like slavery, Jim Crow, redlining, or Manifest Destiny and the brutal, un-Christian treatment of the Native Americans (you know, the Canaanites standing in the way God’s New Israel.) What’s more, it has a tendency to blind us to some of the dark stains on our current foreign policy record such as consorting with tyrants for the sake of American just cause in the world.

Exodus: Gods, Kings, and Evangelical Headcanon

Finally, I would try to challenge the faith-based test audience like this:

  • Are we sure we’re not confusing Scripture for our evangelical “headcanon” of its details?
  • Are we sure we’re not allowing nostalgic affection for The Ten Commandments to skew our views of newer film versions? Haven’t we already given permission for film adaptations to alter significant details of the account even while preserving the Bible’s overall themes?
  • Moreover, didn’t previous generations of Christians also criticize Big Hollywood films such as The Ten Commandments in the way we’re criticizing Exodus today? Does that make us “compromisers”? Or do we simply have the advantage of perspective because we can look back and see that all those changes in The Ten Commandments didn’t ruin our faith forever and actually helped people grow to love His Story?

What Makes a Church a Church of Christ?

What makes a church a Church of Christ…Christ’s church? It is that Jesus, through his steadfast love, unfailing grace and unending patience adds us and keeps us there, in spite of our imperfections, imperfect beliefs and even sins. We strive to please God. We strive to repent where we need to repent and be convicted where we need to be…to be led by God as the body of Christ.

God Doesn’t Give a ______ about Cussing–God Cares about Character Formation

So, what are we to do with cussing as it pertains to character? Let’s be sensitive to those who need us to be sensitive while also being authentically who we are in Christ. Sometimes skubalon is the only word that expresses the depths of our hearts. Paul got that. Jesus gets that. Maybe it’s time we get that. It’s time to change the morality score card from a list of do’s-and-dont’s to the reality of a life being shaped by God from the inside out. Character formation is at the heart of the Christian life–not a culturally conditioned morality checklist.

When It’s Time To Say Goodbye

Dying space is sacred space. When the beauty of life meets the reality of death, all things frivolous fade and what is left is holy. What my mother, brother, and I are experiencing right now is nothing short of Divine. Heaven has stooped down to meet us. One of us will go home, the others will remain. But none of us will ever be the same.

The One Thing My Mother Would Not Let Me Become

Since the late 1600s up to the end of official desegregation, the official local means for enforcing white supremacy was the police. Oh, there were guys in white sheets and pointy hats who made their appearance later. And there were the over-zealous plantation overseers and paddy rollers that hunted down slaves. But even their actions received sanction from the state and police, or at the least a turned head by local authorities. You see, this is the story of men like my grandfather who fought in World War II, only to come back to a segregated America and be publicly harassed and beaten by police officers while in uniform. Not even a battlefield abroad proved their commitment to the country or earned them an equal place in it. There were local uniformed police to make sure of that. More often than we’d like to admit, the ones beating on the door, wearing the hood, burning the cross at night, or falsifying reports by day wore uniforms and badges.

To the Girls In the Pew Ahead of Me

Every one of you was attractive. Every one of you could have advertised that attractiveness with what you wore, drawing attention to the shape of your waist, your curves, or the length of your legs. But you didn’t.
When you worshiped God in front of me and the young man behind you, the most prominent visual of your character was your heart for God. When this young man may have been looking for a distraction, he couldn’t find it with you. Because your heart for God was reflected in your dress, he heard the sermon clearly: a sermon I had been praying he would hear.

5 Phone Charging Myths, Debunked

Myth 1: Using off-brand chargers destroys batteries.
Myth 2: You shouldn’t use your phone while it charges.
Myth 3: Charging your phone overnight kills the battery.
Myth 4: You don’t need to turn your phone off — ever.
Myth 5: Don’t charge your phone until it’s completely dead.

A Yoke Around My Neck

tiesThey say that neckties are making a comeback. Too bad, I say. I’m not a fan.

I especially don’t like the way ties have been used in churches in developing nations. In many countries, the tie is seen as a symbol of Christianity. Schools of preaching require their students to wear ties, some of whom return to their home congregation, trying to impose the fashion there. In countries where neckties are virtually unknown, you see preachers wearing ties (often in garish colors that in no way match the clothes they wear). In Argentina, if you saw someone wearing a tie walking down the street on Sunday, you had almost certainly found an evangelical.

On Islamic websites, posters ask if the tie is meant to be a symbol of the cross, or if the imposition of ties in business settings isn’t an attempt to proselytize. One reporter who was held captive by the Taliban told of being questioned on several occasions as to what magic Christians saw in neckties.

Wear your ties, if you like. Just don’t mix fashions and faith… neither here nor overseas.

Finally, during some Bible study yesterday, I discovered that neckties are criticized in the New Testament! Note this from the book of Acts:

“Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear?” (Acts 15:10)

There you have it. Why put on the necks of the disciples a yoke that others have not been able to bear? That settles it. No neckties.

(OK, maybe I’m not totally serious on that one…)

Photo by Jane M. Sawyer via

Links to Go (August 27, 2014)

From peyote to sex: Religious liberty fight recast

“Things have changed dramatically in the last 20 years,” said Michael Moreland, vice dean and professor at Villanova University Law School. “Back then, the Catholic Church wasn’t very often in the position of needing exemptions.”

Self-Segregation: Why It’s So Hard for Whites to Understand Ferguson

Overall, the social networks of whites are a remarkable 91 percent white.* White American social networks are only one percent black, one percent Hispanic, one percent Asian or Pacific Islander, one percent mixed race, and one percent other race. In fact, fully three-quarters (75 percent) of whites have entirely white social networks without any minority presence. This level of social-network racial homogeneity among whites is significantly higher than among black Americans (65 percent) or Hispanic Americans (46 percent).

The Importance of Perspective

Unless both African-Americans and police officers acknowledge that they both share the blame in the wrong perspectives that has been created, we are destined to have tragic results. It is not the responsibility of law enforcement to change the way African-Americans view police officers. This is a job for the African-American community.
Similarly, the African-American community won’t change the way white police officers view African-American males. Police departments have to do that. Until both are willing to share some of the blame, they won’t be willing to share the necessary responsibility to bring about necessary change.

Social Media and the ‘Spiral of Silence’

An informed citizenry depends on people’s exposure to information on important political issues and on their willingness to discuss these issues with those around them. The rise of social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, has introduced new spaces where political discussion and debate can take place. This report explores the degree to which social media affects a long-established human attribute—that those who think they hold minority opinions often self-censor, failing to speak out for fear of ostracism or ridicule. It is called the “spiral of silence.”

The Holy Spirit, the Word of God, and You

The distance between me and God’s revelation is the distance between me and my Bible. I should prayerfully ask for the Holy Spirit’s guidance in my biblical study, but not ask Him for new revelation independent of it.
Don’t misunderstand. I believe that the Holy Spirit leads me and illuminates me every day. All I am saying is that I must weigh my subjective sense of what the Spirit is saying against the teachings of the Book which He inspired.

The best lesson from Fantasy Football’s success

In neither case is the fan on the field, getting concussed or making the big decisions. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that our feeling of ownership, of us-ness, is shifting. We want celebrities and brands and teams that do more than merely put on a show. In addition to the show, people want to believe that they own part of it.

Those Free AOL CDs Were a Campaign for Web Domination. It Worked.

Jan Brandt is a legend in the world of marketing. She singlehandedly led the famous AOL “carpet-bombing” campaign that put millions of AOL trial discs and CDs in everything from magazines to popcorn boxes to banks. In the most recent episode of the Internet History Podcast, I spoke to Jan about this famous campaign, how the strategy developed and the analytics and data that went into it. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of portions of our conversation.

British diplomats apologize for tweets marking 1814 burning of White House with BBQ, cake

The apologies were prompted after the British Embassy posted a picture Sunday of Patrick Davis, deputy British ambassador to the United States, with a caption saying he was participating in “the anniversary of burning of the White House with a BBQ.”
The picture was followed by another, about an hour later, that showed a White House replica atop a sheet cake, flanked by sparklers. The caption said: “Commemorating the 200th anniversary of burning the White House. Only sparklers this time!”

Ice Bucket Challenge Video on Facebook Leads Police to Wanted Man

In addition to the charge of parole violation, Morris will also face new charges that include resisting arrest, assault of an officer, criminal mischief, and suspicion of criminal impersonation. Morris is currently being held in the Douglas County jail on a $40,000 bond. Of course, if Morris had simply donated $100 to the ALS Association, he may have evaded police custody for a longer period of time.