21 July 2014

A Day of Lament

Have you ever had one of those days? A day where it seems that nothing goes right, where bad news piles on top of bad news? Today has been one of those days. A day of lament.

For those unfamiliar with the language of lament, the Bible is full of cries of pain and sorrow. Too often, it seems that the "Christian" message we hear is one of happiness, comfort, and ease. That's not the Bible. Many of the Psalms speak of pain, yet worship in its midst. Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, penned the book, Lamentations.  May we learn from these authors that we can worship in the midst of pain.  CS Lewis once wrote, "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world."

May you read this psalm of lament and worship.

O Lord, I cannot catch my breath
Sorrow crashes like waves upon me
I draw a ragged breath, and I am pulled back under
I cannot find the surface

O Lord, where are you? 
I seek you in my distress
and yet all I hear is silence
I do not know where you are

I look around me and what do I see?
Pain upon pain,
Sorrow upon sorrow,
Hurt people hurting people

Yet, O Lord, in you I will place my trust
Let me not weary of recalling your steadfast love and faithfulness
You are a God full of mercy and compassion
who promises to wipe every tear

See Psalm 13, Psalm 22, and Psalm 88 for a few more examples. If you want to know more about lament, I would also recommend Michael Card's excellent book A Sacred Sorrow.

19 July 2014

Relationship Monday: Men and Women

Last Monday, Mark Halvorsen and I discussed the first chapter from Larry Crabb's book Men and Women: Enjoying the Difference.  We focused primarily on the following ideas:
  • People are wonded, and people are self-centered. We must decide which is the greater problem.
  • Self-centeredness is the killer. In every bad relationship, it is the deadliest culprit. Poor communication, temper problems, unhealthy responses to dysfunctional family backgrounds, co-dependent relationships, and personal incompatibility--everything (unless medically caused) flows out of the cesspool of self-centeredness.
  • "Original sin" means we all originate out of a sinful world which taints us from the word go. We all tend to make ourselves the center of the universe.-Frederic Buechner
  • We are too quick to resent and feel what we suffer from others, but fail to consider how much others suffer from us. Whoever considers his own defects fully and honestly will find no reason to judge others harshly.-Thomas a Kempis.
These ideas provided wonderful fodder for a fruitful discussion. We will continue talking about the book on Front Page on WWIB at 10:00 on Monday July 21. We pre-recorded the session and I think there is much to think about!

You can listen to last week's podcast here.

Twelve Thirty

May I love the Lord
     with my whole heart,
          from the heights of joy, to the depths of sorrow
          from the calm peaceful days, to the anger filled storms
     may worship issue forth from my whole range of emotions.

May I love the Lord
     with my whole mind,
          submitting all of my thinking to the Lordship of Christ
          taking every thought captive in service to Him alone
     may reason, which issues from God, be offered back to Him.

May I love the Lord
     with all my strength,
          my will bent in obedience to the One who saved me
          my hands busied in service to my King
      may my love for God be one of action and intention.

May I love the Lord
     with all my soul,
          from the core of who I am
          from the absolute center of my being
     may my whole life be given in service to my King.

-a reflection on Mark 12:30

10 July 2014

Another relationship Monday

Next Monday, July 14th I again have the privilege of being on Front Page with Mark Halvorsen at 10:00AM.  Listen in as Mark and I discuss Larry Crabb's book Men and Women: Enjoying the Difference. If you want to learn more about marriage or how to be other focused, listen in.

If you want to hear last month's discussion on fatherhood, you can listen to the podcast here

09 July 2014

Book Review: The NIV Journey Bible

I've been reviewing quite a few Bibles recently and they have held various appeal. Though the text itself is invariable, the accompanying notes for each Bible show considerable differences in quality and usefulness. The NIV Journey Bible: Revealing God and How You Fit Into His Plan (2014, Zondervan) may be the best of the bunch so far. It is evident that the editors were seeking a specific market with this offering.

The Bible itself is no goatskin Cambridge Pitt Minion (if you are unfamiliar with Bibles, search for it. It is a thing of beauty); it is a rugged, trade paperback with no fancy coloring and a simple sketch on the front. Everything about its construction suggests utility rather than beauty, which is part of its appeal. Weighing it at about 2 pounds and 1700 pages, its maybe a little larger than I would have expected for the entry market, but not so much that it detracts from the overall product.

In terms of what's inside, I really like this book. It makes use of the always popular NIV translation, a perennial favorite and one that is easily grasped, yet the editors attempted to remain faithful to the text.  The real selling point for me, however, was the notes. Unlike most new Bibles, all of the boring, academic stuff was moved to the back of the Bible, which was a wise move. In fact, right on page one, there is a single page letter from the editors that is deeply inviting to readers. From that point forward, everything in the Bible is geared toward the person who is hoping to learn more about God. In the introduction is a section on "how to seek God" that includes basic questions (e.g., What limitations are you putting on what God can ask from you?) and then seeks to answer them. Practical helps abound.

Several different guides are offered for the person who wants an exposure to the Bible. In addition to including all 66 books, they offer a 4 page "summary of the Bible--in its own words", which was quite unique and beneficial. This was followed by a short section on "Who is Jesus?" that answers basic apologetic questions in plain language. What I really appreciated was the "Five Alive" reading plan, which gives a sweeping overview of the Bible by having the reader cover Genesis, Deuteronomy, John, Acts, and Romans in 30 days.  I will actually recommend this plan now to those new to the word.

Throughout each book, there are interspersed notes, testimonies, answers to common questions and how we can know ourselves.  Each of these contributes to the overall sense of this being a useful Bible for the one who is new to the faith or wondering what Christianity is about.

I would happily recommend this Bible to anyone who wants to get to know Jesus better. Everything about this Bible seems to be wisely designed with that singular purpose in mind.  At a list price of about 23 bucks, I would like to see it about half that, but I guess we can't have it all. 

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers 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.”

Book Review: Real Church: Does It Exist? Can I Find It?

Sometimes, after we have made it through the first few pages or chapters of a book, the only thing that keeps us going is the reputation of the author. For me, Real Church: Does It Exist? Can I Find It? (2009, Thomas Nelson) by Larry Crabb was just such a book. I have read nearly all of Dr Crabb's books and had  the honor of receiving spiritual direction from him. It would not be too much to say that he has been one of the most important influences upon my thinking about church, relationships, and life. But when I began Real Church, I found myself uncomfortable. In the early pages of the book, he boldly claims that he has essentially grown tired of church and really doesn't want to go church. When I read his words, several different things stirred in me. I still like going to church. Every week, so I have a hard time relating when he says he doesn't want to be there. I also found myself pondering the more general question, "is he allowed to say that and still call himself a Christian? I mean, is it okay?"  (Dr Crabb has a way of writing things honestly that most people are reluctant to voice). I have to admit, if this book was written by a different author, I don't know that I would have continued beyond the first few chapters. But this was Larry, a man whose wisdom I have come to value. I am glad I persisted.

After writing about what makes him uncomfortable with the modern church, he sets out to explore what church could be, a community of honest believers, sharing in one another's struggles over the long haul, all while giving glory to God. The picture he paints would be radical to most churchgoers; for example, he proposes spending ten minutes at the opening of church with everyone journaling about where they are at in the moment (their red dot) and then inviting people to share. Radical, but refreshing.

I suspect if you are accustomed to the American status quo, this book may unsettle you, but give it a chance. What Dr Crabb is envisioning could be transformative.


04 July 2014

Book Review: The God of the Mundane

Be Radical. Show Crazy Love. Sell everything you have and move to Malawi. Christians today hear the message that if you are not awesome for Jesus, you may not be a real Christian. In response, Matthew Redmond's The God of the Mundane (2012) addresses the God of the ordinary, the God for the man who faithfully goes to work day in and day out, the God for the mom who is tired of chasing kids all day.

Redmond suggests that for normal Christianity for most of us is not becoming a pastor, a missionary, or a celebrity Christian, but that we live faithful Christian lives a bankers, factory workers, and moms. Unfortunately, books like Crazy Love and Radical, which are good and important books, often create what are perhaps unrealistic expectations and lead to discouragement and hopelessness, in the same way that Pinterest creates feelings of inadequacy for ordinary moms.

The God of the Mundane is a unique and important contribution. Redmond is a generally engaging writer (though initially he was unduly repetitive).  Consider for example, "We are not saved from mediocrity and obscurity, the ordinary and the mundane. We are saved in the midst of it. We are not redeemed from the mundane. We are redeemed from the slavery of thinking our mundane life is not enough" (p. 26).

I would commend this book to you if you are afraid that your life somehow doesn't quite measure up. 

Book Review: Opening to God

If you're idea of prayer is that you bring a list of petitions to God during your morning devotions, Opening to God: Lectio Divina and Life as Prayer (2010) by David Benner may challenge your understanding of prayer.  Benner, a psychologist and spiritual guide, certainly acknowledges the necessity of petitionary prayer, but in this book, he presents an extended reflection on why prayer is not just that. 

Building upon the ancient practice of lectio divina (sacred reading), Benner suggests several different ways in which the Christian's prayer life may be transformed.  For those unfamiliar with lectio divina, it traditionally consists of 4 movements--lectio (reading), meditatio (meditation), oratio (prayer), and contemplatio (contemplation). It was developed as a way to engage holy scripture.  Benner has expanded this idea into the world of prayer. The pray-er may engage in several different practices including: prayer as attending, prayer as pondering, prayer as responding, and prayer as being.  As he describes how each of these approaches may be practiced, he shatters the notion of prayer simply as supplication. 

There is much to commend about this book.  I think many Christians, like me, have a stunted concept of prayer. Opening to God will assuredly push your boundaries of understanding what a life of prayer can look like. On the other hand, Benner's apparent full acceptance of the contemplative tradition including "emptying ourselves" seems at times to have more connection with Eastern spirituality than with orthodox Christianity.

On the whole, I would happily commend this book for those who feel stagnant in their prayer lives and hope to grow in relationship with God.

On this 4th of July, read The Declaration of Independence

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

02 July 2014

Book Review: The Atheist's Fatal Flaw

The Atheist's Fatal Flaw: Exposing Conflicting Beliefs (2014, Baker Books) by the patriarchal Norman Geisler and newcomer Daniel McCoy is an important contribution to the existing apologetic literature. In classic Geisler style, this book moves forth in a relentlessly logical fashion. In essence, they spend the book examining two inconsistencies: "in the first case, though initially indicting God for not fixing the problem of moral evil, the atheist then indicts God for his attempts to fix it" (p. 131) and second, "although denouncing as evil the interventions that God proposes in order to fix moral evil, the atheist then reverses himself by absolving those same types of interventions at a societal level" (p. 132). In essence, certain actions are okay, so long as we do not attribute them to God.

What I found to be the primary strength of this book was the painstaking effort Geisler and McCoy went to accurately represent the atheist's viewpoints and inconsistencies. The first half of the book is full of numerous examples from atheists such as Hitchens, Dawkins, Dennett, Barker, and others.  In fact, I suspect the naive reader may read the first half of the book and wonder if it is Christian.  Keep reading.

The Atheist's Fatal Flaw is a useful, unique book, but it is not for the faint of heart. Gaining some basic grounding in apologetics, philosophy, and logic prior to tackling this book may be of benefit. Regardless, I think this book will benefit many in the years to come.

I received this book free from the publisher through the Bethany Baker House 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.”