26 November 2015

Book Review: We Cannot Be Silent

In his most recent book, Al Mohler, tackles a culture redefining sex.  We Cannot Be Silent (2015) is a thorough, readable book addressing many of the current issues faced by the church in light of the "sexual revolution."  Mohler masterfully traces the history of changes in sexual mores over the past 100 plus years. Today, it often seems that Christians are inordinately focused on homosexuality, a focus that in my opinion is more driven by the media Christianity itself. But Mohler explores the many changes that have occurred leading up to our current cultural climate including the birth control pill and no fault divorce to name a few.  He also addresses some of the most current issues facing the church including how to respond to transgenderism.

The first thing that I like about this book are the extensive question an answer section at the end of the book, that answer questions like "should I attend a gay wedding?" The second was that Mohler rightly reminds the reader that it isn't about homosexuality, or sexual sin, but about believing the gospel.

We Cannot Be Silent is a beneficial read for those wanting to understand the worldview behind the sexual revolution and where it stands today.

I received a free copy of this book from the Book Look Bloggers program in exchange for my review. The viewpoints presented here are my own.

25 November 2015

Book Review: More Than Conquerors

William Hendriksen was a minister, professor, and New Testament scholar, but he was perhaps best known for his excellent commentaries on several New Testament books. More than conquerors: An interpretation of the book of Revelation was first published in 1940 and has been re-released by Baker Books in a 75th anniversary edition.

The first six chapters of the book provide a general overview of the book of Revelation looking at issues like symbolism, unity, and purpose. One thing I appreciated about Hendriksen was his insight that whatever we make of Revelation, we have to understand that it needed to mean something to John's readers at that time.  So many of the esoteric approaches to interpreting Revelation seem to ignore that reality.

In the last eight chapters, he begins to look into the meaning of each of the chapters of Revelation with their rich symbolism and meaning. His insights here are deep, yet accessible.

Above all, Hendriksen argues that the apostle John and this letter are for the church. No doubt, Hendricksen too was a man for the church, a characteristic I deeply appreciated.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a review. The views presented here are my own.

20 November 2015

The One Page

I seem to remember a blog post, though I cannot recall where, in which authors were asked to share the one page in a book that transformed their thinking. Readers are shaped by what they read, but some pages carry much more punch than others.

The following section comes from page 15 of Larry Crabb's book Connecting (2005 edition). I savor these words.

We need to hear the Father laugh. Change depends on experiencing the character of God.

Until we thrill in the Father's embrace after admitting we've been prostitutes, until we watch him jump up and down with delight every time he sees us, until we hear him ask, "How can I help?" when we expected him to say "I'm sick and tired of putting up with you!" we will not change, not really, not consistently, not deeply.

Do we see the good in people, the good heart buried beneath all the pettiness and resentments and empire-building ambitions that irritate us so badly? Do we accept fellow Christians the way Christ accepts us, forgiving each other for the wrongs we do and believing there is something better?

Do we jump up and down with excitement over what someone else could become? How much time do we spend envisioning what that might be? Could we write a verbal portrait of what our rebellious son or estranged spouse or critical friend might look like in twenty years if God's Spirit has his way?

Without this foundational element of offering others a taste of Christ's delight in them, all of our skillful techniques, our wise counsel, our insightful interpretations, even our warm encouragement, will add up to nothing. If there is no love, no supernatural delighting in who we are and who we one day will be, every effort to help people change will fall short of its potential.

14 November 2015

#PrayforParis and Pray also for us

(Trigger warning: before proceeding, I want you to know that in the post that follows, I share some very difficult things).

The tragic events yesterday in Paris are another reminder that things are not like they are supposed to be. People attending a show aren't supposed to die at the hand of terrorists. Contrary to Charlie Hebdo cartoonist Joann Sfar's recent suggestion to the contrary, Paris does need our prayer.

We also need your prayer. Our kids in Haiti need your prayer. Our friends in Haiti need your prayer. Though the French Blue, White, and Red dominate social media, much less attention has been directed to what has been happening in Haiti. Because not one of the dozen or so people I spoke with this weekend had any idea what was happening in Haiti, let me catch you up. The small country is in the middle of a presidential election. From the initial field of 54 candidates, the field is narrowed to two candidates for a December 27 run off election. On the heels of the primary election, there are widespread allegations of fraud. With these allegations comes unrest.

In his opening to a November 12 article, David Ariosto wrote, "Demonstrators wielding machetes and handguns gathered early Thursday morning in Port-au-Prince amid increased tensions surrounding Haiti's recent presidential elections." The article continues on to tell of gunfire in the capital, a charred and mutilated body found in one of the city's richest neighborhoods, and constant fears of gangs breaking into people's homes and gang raping women. My kids live there. Did you hear me?

Jasmine and Calvin
     my children

Right in the middle of this mess. Gunshots. Gangs. Violence. My kids and my friends fearing for their safety everyday and now more than ever.

Please don't brush by these words. Enter the story with us. Imagine that you do not allow your precious little ones--blond haired, blue eyed beauties--to go to the playground a block away because if you do, there is a chance that a gang of thugs will chase them down, back them up to a chain link fence and cut them to pieces with their machetes because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Imagine that your daycare provider, the one who teaches, consoles and loves your child fears for her life every day on the way to work. Because she loves your family, she makes the journey, always looking over her shoulder, knowing that one of these days she could be raped.

Imagine that you are at home, tucking your little ones into bed with a story, a prayer, and a kiss on the head when you hear a loud bang from downstairs. Peace has given way to chaos when you realize that men have entered the house with every intention of brutally raping and killing your family.

Please don't whitewash these scenes. Let the emotion of them move you to act. This is Jasmine's and Calvin's and many more Haitians reality.

People often ask us "what's the hold up?" I don't have a good answer. We have been working on this for nearly five years. We have done everything that has been asked of us. We obtained the requested genetic testing to prove that their mother was indeed their mother. We have provided document after document after document. The children have been legally ours--legally Kanzes--for years. And yet they remain in Haiti, awaiting approval from the USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) for their visas to come to the United States, to come home. To their beds and their place around our table.

I read another article today that 10,000 Syrian refugees have just arrived in New Orleans. Perhaps it would be better if my children were treated as refugees. Then at least they would be allowed across our borders.

So what's the hold up? I sincerely do not know. Can't someone help us? Senators Baldwin or Johnson? Congressman Kind? Director Rodriguez (USCIS)? President Obama? Ben Carson?

Can someone from the media draw attention to our story? ABC? CBS? CNN? FOX? NBC? The New York Times? The Washington Post? The Blaze? The Huffington Post?

If you are reading this, what can you do?

First, pray.

Second, share this post so that others may join us in prayer and protest. Tweet it. Facebook it. Pin it. Email it.  Please just get it out there.

Third, feel free to contact your senators, representatives, local newscasters, or national reporters. Let's get the word out.

Fourth, if you want to help pay for security and keep our Haitian loved ones safe, please consider donating here.

Fifth, pray again--for Paris and for us.

09 November 2015

Isaiah 41:13- A Reflection

For I, the LORD your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you.”
-Isaiah 41:13

In the darkness I sit, chained and afraid;
shackled by shame over choices I've made.

Pushing away the One I need most,
the Father, the Son, and the heavenly Ghost.

He continues approaching, relentlessly;
always pursuing, beckoning me.

"For I the Lord God hold your right hand,
I kneel next to you when you cannot stand.

"I whisper to you, don't be afraid
You are my child, the one that I made.

"I am your Helper, I won't leave you alone;
we'll walk hand in hand to your heavenly home."

04 November 2015

A morning greeting

Black birds in black trees
     wings and branches
     stretched heavenward in morning praise
     silhouetted against the pastel Southeastern sky
A world awakening
     coming alive

Venus looks down from her heavenly seat
     the last nocturne light to retreat

Leaves fall
     crows caw
          squirrels having a ball
greeting the morning with glee
chattering aloud, "Come see! Come see!" 

03 November 2015

Book Review: The Wisdom of Ourselves

The Wisdom of Each Other: A Conversation Between Spiritual Friends (1998) by Eugene Peterson is a unique, though beneficial, book. It is unique because it contains a series of letters addressed to Gunnar Thorkildsson, whom Peterson described as "not an actual person with an existence documented by birth certificate and social security number", though Peterson insists that the details were grounded in actual encounters he had over the years.

In each of the several dozen letters Peterson penned, he responded to some actual circumstance of Gunnar's life--return to the faith, the poor quality of too much Christian literature, church politics, and the tranquility of canoeing. The unifying theme, as far as I am concerned, is a spirituality that does not exist above everyday life but rather enters into it and moves around in it. Peterson wisely showed us that. Although not my favorite book by Peterson, it is a welcome addition to my collection.

01 November 2015

Book Review: On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness

I have been a fan of Andrew Peterson's music for a number of years, but I was admittedly doubtful that his skill could translate to prose. I was wrong.

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness (2008) is the first book in the Wingfeather Saga, which tells the story of three young children: Janner, Tink, and Leeli. The children live with their eccentric grandfather Podo and their kind mother Nia on the outskirts of Glipwood. Unfortunately, the town is overrun by Fangs of Dang, disgusting lizard-like creatures, who control the townspeople with fear.

It is not faint praise to say that I liked this book as well as I like Peterson's music. He developed his characters well, writing personality into even secondary characters. The book was humorous at times, suspenseful at others. Still, the unpredictability was my favorite part.

I cannot wait to read the rest of these books. And I cannot wait to read this one aloud to my children. If you are a fan of the Chronicles of Narnia or the Harry Potter series, you will not be disappointed with this book.

Book Review: Unapologetic

I heard about Unapologetic: Why, despite everything, Christianity can still make surprising emotional sense by (2013) by Francis Spufford from a few authors whom I respect. The few snippets in combination with the premise was intriguing to me and is probably why I wrestled through it longer than I typically would.

The book is titled Unapologetic for two reasons. First, Spufford is clear that the book was not written as an apologia, or intellectual defense of Christian ideas, but rather "for a defense of Christian emotions." The second reason is that he is not sorry for the book. Certainly, this is a well-written book.

One of the themes that finds its way throughout the book is the HCtFtU, or Human Capacity to F--- Things Up. I think that Spufford rightly points out that any honest person recognizes that things don't work as they should. Any honest person recognizes their own tendency to mess things up. Without unnecessarily theologizing, the author recognizes the truth of human depravity. He continues moving forward through a discussion of religion, landing eventually upon Yeshua, or Jesus. Indeed, the chapter dedicated titled Yeshua is the strongest in the book, in my opinion.

I wanted to like this book, but in the end I didn't. Spufford makes generous use of swear words throughout the book, perhaps to be edgy, though I did not get that sense. Regardless, in my opinion, his crassness detracted from the rest of the book. I am certain some people will think that my offense at his language colored the rest of my impression the book. Let me try to assure you it does not. It did nothing to add to the book.

He admitted early on that he tends toward the left end of the political spectrum, which is fine. However, he suggested certain topics (e.g., sexuality) appeared to be unimportant to Jesus. This suggests poor exegesis and frank ignorance of the Bible as a whole story. At one point, he appears to suggest that heaven is simply an unimportant consideration to his view of Christianity; whether it is or it isn't is of little relevance, what matters is life before death. Unfortunately, he may be prematurely cutting himself, and others by means of this book, off from a full-orbed Christianity.

On the whole, Unapologetic presents a view of Christianity in the image of Spufford and not as God Himself presents it through His word.

28 October 2015

Praying your Thought Stream

"Okay. It's time to pray. 'Dear Holy Father in Heaven above. Thank you for this day and all of the good gifts that come from Your hand. 

[I could really use another cup of coffee]. 

Wait, where was I? Oh yeah. I am so grateful for every...

[I wonder what my work schedule is like today] 

Shoot. Sorry God. Please be with my pastor... 

[I wonder how Bob is doing. He seemed kind of down last week. I really like sleep. And coffee. I should really check my Facebook status. Oh, and I need to order that book. Wait...no...I'm praying]. 

Where was I? Dear God...wait I already said that....

[sigh, forget it.]

Have you ever had a prayer time like this?  You sit down to pray with the best of intentions. Perhaps you plan to use the ACTS model (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication) or some other approach. But then you get going and your mind is in 10,000 places. You become angry with yourself because you cannot focus on "praying right." Paul's words from 1 Thessalonians 5 come to mind--"pray without ceasing"--and you cannot even imagine praying for 10 minutes. What does it even mean to pray without ceasing?  You begin to think, if there is a right way to pray, I am surely doing it wrong. Then the guilt comes.

But, what if in our pressure to pray right we are completely missing the point? We become so focused on following the right model, or saying the right words that we forget that prayer really is conversation with God. It's about relating with the Trinity, not manipulating God with our words.

So, how might this look different? First, drop the guilt over your anemic prayer life. Even when you don't know how or what to pray (which for me is much of the time) the Holy Spirit prays for you (Romans 8:26). He is way better at it than we are anyway.

Second, learn to enjoy talking with God about everything. When you are praying and you think about another cup of coffee, thank God for coffee or just let him know your desire. When you are praying and you think about your work schedule, offer it up to God.  I think when Paul talked about praying without ceasing, I think this is partly what he meant a life lived in ongoing conversation with God, learning to present whatever comes to mind.

Third, learn to listen. Sometimes, when those seeming interruptions come to mind, we should attend to them. God speaks to us through His word, but also through His people, and His world. Give ear to him. Pray conversationally and relationally--speak and listen.