Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Stumbling Souls: Is Love Enough?

I recently read a compelling new book that will challenge every believer about what it really means to radically live out your faith. Staying in our safe little bubble of Christian activities done with Christian friends at Christian places may be comfortable, but it doesn't reach a world for Christ.


Stumbling Souls: Is Love Enough?
Chris Plekenpol
(Biblica, May 2010)
ISBN: 978-1-93406-821-2/240 pages/$14.99
www.stumblingsouls.com
Become a fan of Chris Plekenpol on Facebook.

Imagine inviting a homeless, jobless, HIV positive stranger off the street into your inner circle of friends, your closest community, your home? For most, if not for all of us, that would be way outside of our comfort zone, and yet that is exactly what former Army captain and seminary student Chris Plekenpol did. In Stumbling Souls: Is Love Enough?, Plekenpol shares his unexpected journey from “learning Christ to living Christ” as he reaches out to a homeless man who happened on a newcomers’ meeting at the author’s home church.

What follows his introduction to James is an adventure of twists and turns as Plekenpol tries to minister and change this man’s life, only to find that, through it all, he too is changed. With authenticity Plekenpol tells of his inner struggle over whether to invite this man to live with him, learning to serve with no thanks, discovering what it means to really help another person and how to give a hand up to those who need it, and, above all, the scary messiness of living by faith.

“I went from a Christian ideologue to a person who has an understanding of life on the streets and an understanding of how Christ makes believers righteous on the basis of grace, by means of faith,” writes Plekenpol. “I have a deeper love for the lost. I have a better grasp at how rotten I can be in my own sufficiency. There wasn’t just one stumbling soul in this book; my sins were pretty apparent, and God is still working on my selfishness and pride. I know that with God all things are possible.”

From a surprise trip to a theme park and timely help from a stranger to a late night search when James goes missing, the adventure is a roller coaster ride with an unexpected twist. In the end, Plekenpol challenges readers and leaves them with practical ideas that everyone can use to begin to live by faith in service to others.

Plekenpol is a 1999 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. After completing seven years with the U.S. Army, he attended Dallas Theological Seminary, where he graduated in 2010 with a Th.M. with an emphasis in media. An irresistible communicator, Plekenpol has a dynamic speaking ministry. After his experience retold in Stumbling Souls: Is Love Enough?, the author was led to join the movement and ministry I Am Second, where he serves as the conference director and community organizer. He intends to use the rest of his days on earth to reach as many people as possible with the gospel of Christ, hopefully by pastoring a dynamic, culturally engaged church.

MY THOUGHTS:
This is indeed a compelling story. How easy it is to spout off the verse "present your body a living sacrifice" (Romans 12:1) But as the author puts it, "If I were going to live a sacrificial life for Christ, an actual sacrifice would have to be made." (p. 95) This is not a book that solves a problem and minimizes the darker challenge of ministering "to the least of these." Rather, Chris Plekenpol shares authentically that we are not called to a convenient lifestyle. I appreciated the approach of his book. This was no idealistic sermon wrapped up in three points and a prayer. Chris shares his discomfort, his hesitancy, and even his failings as he attempts to be "Jesus with skin on" to one who is in desperate need of His grace, as well as his frustration when he felt unappreciated and over used. But as the author's seminary professor says, "You'll know when you have a servant's heart when you start to get treated by one." (p. 78) You will be challenged as you read this book.

Q&A with Chris Plekepnol (provided by the publicist)

Q: Stumbling Souls tells of the lessons you learned about faith after having met James, a homeless man off the street who attended the newcomers’ meeting at your church one day. Why did you reach out to him? When you saw him walking away from church that day, why did you call after him?

A: For any disciple, there comes a time when learning Christ must become living Christ. As much as I was enjoying learning and being at seminary, the greatness of my seminary experience was complete only when the miraculous intangibles of God’s character became real in me. That day something awakened deep inside of me—maybe in the place where a small filling of the Holy Spirit resides. I couldn’t take my eyes off the figure walking away, and something inside me stirred. I tried to quell the desire to stop him and find out about his life. And before I knew it, my legs started walking after this stranger who had no idea of the welling up of something in my soul.

Q: How did you know God was leading you to reach out to James and serve him in the radical manner that you did?

A: One of the ways God really revealed his leading to me was through the encouragement of others, both friends and strangers. I began blogging about James and one reader contacted me and said he would like to help financially. He literally tracked me down to tell me in order to give something to help James. Not only did he give something for James. He personally encouraged me. There were moments like those when God intervened and let me know he was watching. No, they don’t come every day, but they serve as reminders that he wants me to live by faith.

Q: As readers make their way through Stumbling Souls, they will find themselves rooting for James, wanting him to change and turn his life around, and impatient when it doesn’t happen quickly and he seems to take some wrong turns. Why did you not give up on him?

A: I knew, as I said, that God was calling me to live by faith, but of course that was, at times, so difficult because I wanted to see results. I wanted to see life change, and when that didn’t happen, I got frustrated. But in one of those moments of discouragement this thought hit me. I don’t serve James because of James; I serve James because of God. So James’ actions don’t matter. If James never gets on his feet and I do an exercise in futility, it doesn’t matter, because my God told me to always remember the poor. So here I am doing it. Here I am living this thing called faith.

Q: “Is Love Enough?” is the subtitle of Stumbling Souls. But isn’t that exactly what we’re called by God to do, to love others?

A: Yes, we are. We are called to love and to serve. But I’ve found that our human love isn’t perfect. Selfishness and pride leave much to be desired, and, therefore, our love is never enough. I don’t have the ability to love unconditionally outside of Christ. That is why the only love that will ever be enough is the love of God. He gave his only Son to die on a cross for the sins of the world, and then he gets involved in the mess of ministry, of our working out our salvation with fear and trembling, by using flawed people to piece together another person’s redemption so that only he gets the glory.

Q: How do you believe God changed you through this experience?

A: I went from a Christian ideologue to a person who has an understanding of life on the streets and an understanding of how Christ makes believers righteous on the basis of grace, by means of faith. Through this process I really saw my own growth and I hope that those who read this story will see that too, the way that God used James to change me. I can’t help but notice the difference. I have more compassion. I have a deeper love for the lost. I have a better grasp at how rotten I can be in my own sufficiency. There wasn’t just one stumbling soul in this book; my sins were pretty apparent, and God is still working on my selfishness and pride. I know that with God all things are possible.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from The B&B Media Group as part of their Blogger Review 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.”


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3 comments:

quilly said...

This sounds like a painful yet uplifting read.

Robin @ Be Still and Know said...

Woa! Sound like a challenging read and an even more of a challenge to our daily lives!

Blessings
R

Cathy said...

Sounds like something I need to check into reading. Thanks for your honest review.