18 December 2014

Book Review: NASB Note-Taker's Bible

Not only do I like the Bible--the Word of God--but I like Bibles. I like to look at the different translations, construction, and features of the Bible. Recently, I have been looking for a new Bible with wide margins that allows ample space for taking notes. Zondervan's NASB Note-Taker's Bible seems to foot the bill nicely.

 when I do reviews of Bibles, I like to discuss the operating system.  This particular Bible is in the New American Standard Bible (NASB), which is considered to be one of the more literal, word for word translations of the Bible. If you are trying to get a feel for exactly what the Greek and Hebrew say without mastering these languages, this version is a good bet. However, with the rather more literal approach, it can at times feel wooden when you are reading it. Regardless, it remains a wonderful translation of the Bible. I would add, however, that Zondervan has also released the Note-Taker's Bible in the following versions: NIV, NKJV, KJV, and Amplified.

The Bible itself contains all 66 books, both Old and New Testaments. The Bible also includes a concordance, promises from the Bible, perspectives from the Bible, ministry of Jesus, teachings of Jesus, miracles of Jesus, and parables of Jesus. On the other hand, it does not contain study notes, chapter introductions, or cross references.

 At just over a thousand pages, this Bible is smaller than I expected it to be. It is certainly of a size that one could easily transport it to church or in a backpack. The print is a bit smaller than I would like, it appears to be about an 8-point font, but the lettering stands out on the page. The words of Jesus are in red, a feature that I personally do not like because the entire Bible is the word of God, not just those red ones.It is presented in a double column format, a common feature that I wish would become less common, yet seems to be the established standard for most Bibles. In my opinion, a single column format improves readability. As to the primary selling point, the outside columns are generous, by my measure nearly 1.5 inches. The bottoms of the page leave more than 1.5 inches. If you wisely purchase good archival pens like Pigma Microns, you will be able to write plenty. The gutter (interior margin) is a bit cramped, though you should still be able to read the words. The pages are bright white and there is minimal ghosting.

One of the features I look for in a Bible is will it lay flat when opened. As you can see from one of the pictures, I opened the Bible to Genesis 1 and it lays flat open without support. Initially it closed on its own after a few moments, though I was able to open it wide and have it stay open on its own. To me, this is an essential feature and one to look for in purchasing. After removing the dust jacket (because let's be honest, if you are in the Bible, your Bible shouldn't be collecting dust), I was presented with a dark, rather unadorned Bible. Rightly so. The overall construction seems quite good.

On the whole, this is a very good Bible that I would happily recommend. The availability of multiple versions is a beneficial feature. I did not see an ESV version, but this Bible is in some ways reminiscent of Crossway's Legacy Bible, which is my go to Bible. The list price is $34.99, though I have seen it for less. As a side note, Bible readers place many demands on publishers. We want our Bibles to be small, yet with large print. We like study notes, but want ample space to write our notes. We want them durable, but inexpensive. This Bible is a good balance.

A complimentary copy of of this book was provided to me free of charge in exchange for a review through Zondervan and the Book Look Bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review of this book. The review represents my own viewpoint.

17 December 2014

As Straw From Fire

As we wait in anticipation to celebrate the coming Christ in the flesh, I thought it a good time to ponder the words of St Athanasius (296-373) in his incomparable book On the Incarnation. I was struck by this section early in the book. As you get ready to celebrate Christmas, ponder these words--slowly and often.

For this purpose, then, the incorporeal and incorruptible and immaterial Word of God entered our world. In one sense, indeed, He was not far from it before, for no part of creation had ever been without Him Who, while ever abiding in union with the Father, yet fills all things that are. But now He entered the world in a new way, stooping to our level in His love and Self-revealing to us. He saw the reasonable race, the race of men that, like Himself, expressed the Father's Mind, wasting out of existence, and death reigning over all in corruption. He saw that corruption held us all the closer, because it was the penalty for the Transgression; He saw, too, how unthinkable it would be for the law to be repealed before it was fulfilled. He saw how unseemly it was that the very things of which He Himself was the Artificer should be disappearing. He saw how the surpassing wickedness of men was mounting up against them; He saw also their universal liability to death. All this He saw and, pitying our race, moved with compassion for our limitation, unable to endure that death should have the mastery, rather than that His creatures should perish and the work of His Father for us men come to nought, He took to Himself a body, a human body even as our own. Nor did He will merely to become embodied or merely to appear; had that been so, He could have revealed His divine majesty in some other and better way. No, He took our body, and not only so, but He took it directly from a spotless, stainless virgin, without the agency of human father—a pure body, untainted by intercourse with man. He, the Mighty One, the Artificer of all, Himself prepared this body in the virgin as a temple for Himself, and took it for His very own, as the instrument through which He was known and in which He dwelt. Thus, taking a body like our own, because all our bodies were liable to the corruption of death, He surrendered His body to death instead of all, and offered it to the Father. This He did out of sheer love for us, so that in His death all might die, and the law of death thereby be abolished because, having fulfilled in His body that for which it was appointed, it was thereafter voided of its power for men. This He did that He might turn again to incorruption men who had turned back to corruption, and make them alive through death by the appropriation of His body and by the grace of His resurrection. Thus He would make death to disappear from them as utterly as straw from fire.

10 December 2014

Book Review: Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

I had not heard of Peter Scazzero's Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (2006) until a few months ago when a pastor friend of mine mentioned it in passing. Since then, when I have shared that I was reading this book, many friends and acquaintances told me how excellent it was. I am not sure why they left me in the dark so long. 

As a pastor of a church, Scazzero was trying to lead through pure effort with no attention to his emotional life. Only when his relational life began to fray at the edges did he begin to take a closer look at emotion. At the outset of the book, he identified 10 symptoms of emotionally unhealthy spirituality that serve as a useful diagnostic tool.

Once we understand our emotional feebleness, Scazzero spends the later half of the book talking about what to do about. He encourages a deeper look inside, acknowledging the reality of emotions as a normal part of the Christian life. I particularly appreciated chapter 6, which dealt with the concept of a dark night of the soul, an issue too frequently ignored in the Christian life. For Scazzero, I think rightly, the dark night is a normative part of the Christian life, though too often, people run from it, rather than toward it, much to their detriment.

Near the end of the book, he encourages the practice of two specific disciplines--the daily office and the Sabbath--to grow in our understanding of God and understanding of self.  Attention to God and delighting in his creation are essential practices that we too often hurry past. 

On the whole, I think this is very beneficial book. It is a relatively easy read, but if you read it, take your time and ponder what the author has to say. He writes with lists and bullet points, which many people will find desirable, though don't believe that represents naive ideas that can be cast aside quickly. 

07 December 2014

Finding Blessings in the Dry Parts

The Holy Bible contains 66 books, 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. If you're like me, you prefer certain books to others. Almost everyone likes John and Romans. For me, Ephesians is also a favorite. In the same way, there are other books that you may avoid if you can help it. For many people Numbers, the fourth book of the Bible, tops that list. It's often repetitive and unclear. But there is beauty.  

In Numbers 6:24-26, we read Moses's benediction:

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

I have been soaking in these words for the last few days. If you are a believer, God is for you and God is with you. He will not let you go.  The look upon his face is not stern, it shines with grace. The word countenance can imply a smiling look of approval. Imagine God looking upon you, smile upon his face, saying, "rest child, you are mine."

03 December 2014

Book Review: Eat this Book

Eugene Peterson, the author of the Message paraphrase of the Bible is a prolific author. He has also authored several other books, including a 5 volume spiritual theology series. Eat This Book (2006) is the second book in the series. Peterson informs the reader about the importance of how we read the Bible and not just that we read it. Too often, evangelicals come to the Bible with a desire to parse and master the word rather than have the word master them. In the first section, he makes a strong case for the transformative nature of scripture. In the second, he presents the Lectio Divina, a method of sacred reading. Well, to be fair, he is careful not to provide a prescriptive method, but rather talks about what spiritual reading looks like. I particularly benefited from his description of the contemplatio as this has never been entirely clear to me before.  In the third section, he addresses how Bibles are translated including his own approach to translating the Message. This section did not flow from the other two, but was interesting nonetheless. I think this is a beneficial read for those wanting to grow in godliness through interacting with the word.

02 December 2014

Practicing Settledness

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the Next Step School of Spiritual Direction in Colorado Springs. Weeks like this are a constant flood of thoughts, feelings, and ideas to be processed. No normal person can process them all; anyway, I can't. Rather, I have learned that it is better to sit with open hands in the flood, eventually grasping onto an idea or two that I can examine more closely once the deluge passes.

One idea that has remained in these last few days is that of "settledness." I do not recall if it was over dinner with Larry or if it was during a group meeting where the term arose. Probably both. Good ideas tend to swirl back around. What really has stirred me is the connection between settledness and masculinity.

As Larry and I have come to know each other a little bit, one of the things that he is helping me to see about myself is my desire to please others. I like to be liked. Unfortunately, because of that desire, I tend to live out of a relational persona that masks my true self. One of his encouragements to me is to live more authentically out of the masculine identity that already resides in me. As a Christian man, my identity is found fully in Christ and the Holy Spirit lives through me. Knowing who, and whose, I am leads to settledness regarding how I relate to others.

I do not need others to appreciate me for my intellect nor my humor. 
I do not need to live to impress.
I do not need to soften my answers to make people happy.

Because my identity is bound up with Christ, I am free to be who God has created me to be.

18 November 2014

Book Review: The Prodigal

Brennan Manning died last year. Writer extraordinaire and grace addict. For those who love the message of grace, his books have been a rich source of sustenance. The Prodigal: A Ragamuffin Story (2013) co-authored by Greg Garrett was the last book of Brennan's before he died.

The authors tell the story of Jack, a megachurch pastor, who has built a church and a huge following on a message of door more, try harder. At the beginning of the book, we discover that he has been caught in a moral failure. The rest of the book tells the story of his ailing father bringing him back home to small town Texas. 

Although I suspect the text itself was largely constructed by Garrett, the story has the unmistakable fingerprints of Brennan, particularly in the character of Father Frank, the aging Catholic priest. If you have enjoyed Brennan's works, this book is for you. If you have lost hope in the church, this book is for you. 

16 November 2014

Book Review: Jesus Continued

In Jesus Continued: Why the Spirit Inside You is Better Than Jesus Beside You (2014), JD Greear tackles an important issue: the neglect of the Holy Spirit in the modern, presumably American, church. Although we are often sincere, we weary because we rely not upon the promised Spirit, but upon our own efforts.

Early in the book, Greear draws out an important distinction between the two extremes (p. 22) that Christians tend to gravitate towards. On the one hand, there are Christians who seem to regard experiences of the Spirit, apart from the Word of God as the normal Christian life. On the other hand, there are those who operate as though there is no current involvement of the Holy Spirit (i.e., hard cessationism). Greear argues that neither extreme represents biblical Christianity. As someone who probably tends toward the second extreme, I appreciated his view of the ongoing work of the Spirit. I want to hope in His continued work on a bigger scale than I do. In chapter 15, Greear quotes AW Tozer, who wrote, "if the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95 percent of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference. If the Holy Spirit had been withdrawn from the New Testament church, 95 percent of what they did would stop, and everybody would know the difference." Is the Spirit still active as he was with the New Testament church? Greear says yes and I am inclined to agree with him.

Jesus Continued is divided into three sections. The first section is entitled "The Missing Spirit" and deals with our feeble pneumatology in the church today. In many regards, this book is good companion piece to Francis Chan's excellent Forgotten God, another book about the Holy Spirit. Part two is "Experiencing the Holy Spirit." Here, Greear demonstrates the different ways in which the Spirit manifests, not only through the Gospel and through his word, but through our giftings, in the church, in our circumstances, and in our Spirits. Too often, we tend to limit the movement of the Spirit. Part three is "Seeking the Holy Spirit," which deals with prayer, revival, and the Spirit's ongoing movement.

I really appreciated this book.  I share Greear's concern that too many Christians have a anemic view of the Spirit. May He use this book to stir people to be sensitive to the movement of the Spirit. 

I was provided a complementary copy of this book from Zondervan through the Book Look Bloggers Program.  I was not required to write a positive review of this book. 

08 November 2014

Flying kites in a whirlwind

Adoption is not for the faint of heart. Rather, you are called to it. It is no mere weekend adventure. Instead, it is flying a kite in a whirlwind. You throw your sail into the air and hang on for dear life.

Yesterday, my wife and I were talking about our first adoption five years ago when our Tessa came home to us. I was reminding her of how out of control things felt near the end of the process. Heather was going through chemotherapy and we were hoping Tessa would be home by Christmas. In fact, we were specifically praying that she would get a December 17th embassy date, but even a week before she came home, we were told by our social worker that she just didn't see how it could happen. But God...I love those two words...but God moved mountains and we received a December 16th date, almost as if He were saying, "I'll do you one better." As whirlwinds go, that one felt like a subtle breeze compared to this time around.

Adopting from Haiti has brought with it every emotion--fear, joy, anger, sadness, bitterness--the list goes on. This has been a much longer process too, years versus months. Each trip to Haiti makes it harder to leave. Heather, Grace, and Tessa have now been living down there with Jasmine and Calvin for about 3 weeks in the home of a dear friend. Even in that brief period of time, our emotions have blown in a thousand directions, though yesterday was hardest.

We had been searching for the children's birth mother, following whatever leads we could and eventually, they just seemed to dry up. We had no clue where to find her and in a country of millions of people, where do you go next when your leads have led nowhere? Friday morning, Heather purchased plane tickets to come home on Saturday and began packing while trying attend to a sobbing Jasmine and a Grace refusing to come home. I wished I was there with her to help pick up the pieces. After crying for hours, Jasmine went out on the porch to pray. Fifteen minutes later, Heather received a call that the kid's birth mother had heard on the radio that we were looking for her and had come to the orphanage, the one thing we needed to happen. Our mourning turned to dancing in a very literal sense.

Heather and I made the decision to cancel the Saturday return trip, eating the $1600 tickets if need be. It was more important to stay and see this through. Amazingly, I was able to cancel the tickets with only a $75.00 service charge.

So, what does that mean over the next few weeks? God only knows. For us, it means hanging tight to the kite string, knowing that our God lives in the whirlwind.

Postscript: If you want to read more stuff about our adoptions, you can click here.

01 November 2014

Book Review: Vanishing Grace

According to the dustjacket, Philip Yancey is a successful Christian author. He has written 13 Gold Medallion Awards, won the ECPAs book of the year twice, and 4 of his books have sold over 1 million copies. I've had the pleasure of reading several of his books and his reputation is well earned. Vanishing Grace: What Ever Happened to the Good News (2014, Zondervan) is his latest offering.

In the introduction, Yancey pointed out that this is actually a volume of 4 mini-books around a central theme: a world athirst, grace dispensers, is it really good news?, and Faith and culture. In the first section, he explores questions about why evangelicals have increasingly been viewed with derision in society. It seems to me he rightly points out that too often Christians want to propose answers before listening for questions. He writes, "to communicate to post-Christians, I must first listen to their stories for clues to how they view the world and how they view people like me" (p. 21). He showed that Christians are viewed as judgmental, confusing, guilt dispensers and he calls us back to love, grace, and humility. People are thirsty. We must dispense living water.

In the second section he explores three specific groups whom he identifies as grace dispensers--pilgrims, activists, and artists--those he appears to identify as having the most potential impact upon secular culture. He calls us to walk with others on their journeys, to be agents of change in our culture, and to show the world the beauty of Christ through creative, artistic means.

In the third section, perhaps my favorite, Yancey explores the influences that Christians have had on human flourishing and the culture at large. As he notes, "the way of life set out in the Bible is intended for our own good" (p. 163). Christian missionaries have had a greater influence upon societies than anything. I appreciated Yancey's insight into the common rebuttal about European countries like Denmark where Christian commitment is low but society seems to work well. He writes, "to be fair, let's admit that the region was populated by warring and pillaging Vikings until the Christian gospel came along. The gospel transforms culture by permeating it like yeast, and long after the people abandon belief, the tend to live by habits of the soul. Once salted and yeasted, society is difficult to un-salt and un-yeast" (p. 169).

In the final section, Faith and Culture, he dives more deeply into how Christians may be involved in the surrounding culture. He offers suggestions about how Christians may engage with politics and other cultural influences. In the final chapter, Holy Subversion, he revisits the concepts of pilgrim, activist, and artist.

I really liked this book. As a certified Centurion, I frequently enjoy books about how we can influence the culture around us and this book is no different. As I read, there were whispers of Abraham Kuyper, Francis Schaeffer, and Chuck Colson and reflections of books from the Centurion program including Glenn Sunshine's Why You Think the Way You Do, Neal Plantinga's Not the Way Things Are Supposed to Be, Rodney Stark's The Victory of Reason, and most notably Colson's How Now Shall We Live? Yet, for those familiar with these authors, Yancey approaches these issues from a different vantage. It is as though he is looking at the same issues, twenty degrees to the left.

In sum, I would happily recommend this book. Yancey is an engaging, thoughtful writer and consistent with his typical style, he winsomely takes on issues that matter.

I received a complementary copy of this book free from the Book Look Bloggers program and Zondervan publishers. I was not required to write a positive review of this book.