The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus – A Book Review

farewell discourse carsonJohn’s Gospel has long stood as the destination for those seeking to better understand the deity of Jesus Christ. Between the “I am” statements that Jesus makes throughout the book, the miracles that Jesus performs, and the ways that Jesus directs people to trust him in the same way that they trust God, we see in the Gospel of John a picture of the Son of God incarnate during his time on the earth.

Canadian theologian, author, and professor D.A. Carson focuses on what has been known as the Farewell Discourse in “The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus.” Through his exposition, Carson looks at how Jesus shares the same glory as the Father. He focuses, as these passages do, on the three persons of God, looking at the Holy Spirit and his work as Jesus describes the paraclete who would come once Jesus had ascended to the Father. Carson writes, “A God who has always lived in solitary seclusion cannot realistically be described as a loving God; but a God who exists as one God in three persons may indeed be exercising profound love.”

Carson looks at the final prayer of Jesus and describes not only what that prayer meant for the followers who were there with Jesus but also what it means for those of us who are followers of Jesus Christ today. The reader is reminded of the many times throughout the Gospels when we see Jesus’ focus on prayer. He was known to have gotten away to commune with the Father, not necessarily for long periods of time, but for consistent times throughout his ministry. Jesus knew the importance of this communion with the Father as he was about the Father’s business.

This exposition is not a traditional commentary, although at times it follows a similar layout to a commentary. The Bible passages are included to give context to his writing and Carson shares helpful information, but there are times when it seems to drag on. More than once, I found myself disengaged, having to go back and reread what I had just read to get back on track again. The writing was not always the most engaging. If you are looking for something more than a devotional book but something that’s not quite as in depth as an academic commentary, Carson’s work may suit you well.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

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The “Why” and Not Just the “What”

As my children get older, the issues that they are dealing with become weightier and the questions that they ask become more poignant, requiring so much more than a simple “yes” or “no.” When they were much younger, it was not unusual for them to ask “why” in response to a command or an answer that they were given. But giving them the “why” of the answer was not always appropriate because of their lack of understanding and their maturity level.

Now, I find myself analyzing the questions that they ask and the instructions that I give them and realizing that simple commands of “do this” or “don’t do that” don’t suffice. If I’m honest, I know that they were never sufficient for me when I was their age and as I grew older. Prohibition without rationale seems to simply be given for the sake of controlling rather than because we want to see a change in behavior and heart. If we give commands to our children and scatter in prohibitions about what they should or should not do, the majority of children will push for something more, trite answers will not shut down the conversation. Giving the answer “because I said so” or “because I’m the parent” may have worked when the kids were toddlers, but those days are long gone.

Beyond parenting, I’ve thought about this in the church, with children, youth, and adults. Too often, the church has been quick to talk about prohibitions, the “what,” without giving sufficient reasons for them, the “why.” Then when people respond less than favorably, we get surprised or even angry at the response, as if answers that would never suffice for us should somehow be acceptable to those to whom we are giving those answers. But those answers we give are rarely sufficient.

We can all most likely think of some of the controversial topics that the church has dealt with for which clear boundaries have been given. Sexual relationships. Marriage. Abortion. Euthanasia. And many others. Even the Bible verses that we give when defending our position on some of these topics only address the “what” rather than the “why.” We want to give people a compelling reason to embrace the teachings or positions of Christianity and yet we can so often give restrictions without reasons or rationale.

It’s made me think an awful lot as I’ve dealt with my own children but also as I’ve had conversations with the various generations represented within my church. If you’re younger than fifty, chances are that you’re not going to take the “what” answer to a question about restrictions and run with it. You’re going to want something more. You’re going to want to know the “why” of something.

If the church is to remain relevant, she won’t become relevant by dressing up with various accoutrements that make her look like our culture. Instead, the church needs to engage the various topics that come to the forefront by providing rationale and reasons for the worldview we embrace. If we simply hold to clichés like “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it for me” then we will find many abandoning the church.

But if we choose to dig deep and understand for ourselves and teach to others why we’ve come to the conclusions that we have come to and what has shaped and formed our worldview, I believe that more people will see that we’re not simply trying to put restrictions on life for the sake of restriction but rather that those restrictions are given in order that we may have life more abundantly. We may find that we begin to live into the image in which we were created. While not everyone will agree, it’s an approach that seems far more valid to me.

Too often, it seems, the church points backwards in history to places where rules and regulations were given, but we don’t point back far enough. Most of what we point to is just outward rules. We need to point deeper into the heart and soul, into who we are at creation. We need to connect things to the overarching themes of Scripture that point to God’s intent in creation. We need to point at the image in which we were created, the imago dei.

Considering our culture, this becomes problematic as our culture continues to try to divorce and separate our hearts and souls from our bodies. We’ve become a neo-Gnostic culture that embraces the inward and emotional, while abandoning its connection with the physical. We see Francis Schaeffer’s two story imagery playing out every day within our culture and our world.

We are emotional, spiritual beings, but we are also physical, sexual beings, and those things cannot be easily separated, certainly not as easily as our culture wants us to believe. But saying that we cannot separate them is not an answer that will suffice, it’s the “what” rather than the “why.” We are emotional, spiritual, physical, and sexual beings because that’s how we were created by God, in his image, for his purpose. Those aspects of our being did not come about after sin entered the world. They were there before, sin just skewed our perspective of them all.

The gap between the church and the culture seems to be growing larger. That gap seems insurmountable from a human perspective, but the church will not do herself any favors until we begin to have conversations that begin to address the “why” of our beliefs and worldview rather than simply regurgitating the “what” and expecting that everyone will just come along for the ride.

 

A Frank Conversation About Sex

sex and jesus isomHistorically, the church has been fairly good about clearly defining and even broadcasting the things that she is against. Boycotts. Picketing. Writing letters. If you would ask the average person what it is that the church is against, you would most likely get a laundry list of items repeated back to you.

But how about the things that the church is for? Has the church done a good job of framing up the things that are beneficial? Has the church put such an overemphasis on the prohibitions that there hasn’t been any room (or time) to spend on the things that should be encouraged?

Mo Isom believes that the church has dropped the ball in clearly having conversations about the “whys” of sex because the church has been so focused on the “whats” of sex. In her latest book, “Sex, Jesus, and the Conversations the Church Forgot,” Isom shares her own background and experience and talks about the many things that she has learned regarding sex since having gone astray and making choices that altered her journey.

There were multiple times in this book that I wondered how many other readers might blush at the level of candidness with which Isom shares. She pulls no punches at not only describing her experiences but also explaining what she wished that she knew. She describes her struggle with pornography and how the things that we see shape our view of sexuality and sexual expression. She describes how she held her virginity high up as a banner all the while treading as dangerously close as she could to doing everything but giving it up, realizing and admitting her own hypocrisy.

Isom shares of her year of a sexual fast, a year where she focused on her relationship with Christ and her journey towards finding fulfillment in him rather than in the experiences that she was having or the way that she would feel through those experiences. And in that year, she met her husband and began the journey with him. She shares freely even about the struggles that she and her husband experienced and how her tainted past negatively impacted their own sexual encounters even within the boundaries of marriage.

My experience of a lack of good conversations within the church about sex was very similar to Isom’s experience. I was raised with such prohibitions and the simple statement that God wants us to remain virgins until we are married. What was lacking was a deeper conversation about just how God sees marriage and this sacred act that should be reserved for marriage. God’s holiness and desire for our own purity was not emphasized nearly as much as our own need to remain chaste simply because.

“Sex, Jesus, and the Conversations the Church Forgot” is a book that I wish had been written when I was much younger. Isom’s unabashed sharing may be shocking (she is not graphic or explicit in what she shares) to some, but compared to the world in which the youth of today live, it’s a walk in the park. Our society is emphasizing sexual encounters divorced from emotional attachments. Isom explains all the reasons why she believes that is impossible and even shares just how detrimental those encounters will be to the future of everyone who enters into them.

If you have children who are moving towards becoming teenagers or if you work with teenagers or even if you just care about teenagers, this book is worth picking up, if for no other reason than to get a glimpse into the real struggles that exist. Isom’s approach and all that she shares just may encourage someone who has been barraged with prohibitions to understand the rationale and reasoning to view sex much more sacredly than they ever had before.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

A Comprehensive Look at Paul

wright - paul a biographyI’m not sure of the amount of time and effort that N.T. Wright has spent researching Paul, but I know that a considerable amount of his writings has focused on Paul. For those who are familiar with him, N.T. Wright has also written a considerable amount on the controversial topic of justification, his view on it, and Paul’s supposed view on it, a view which diverges from the traditional and reformed views of the subject.

With all of this effort on writing about Paul’s writings and his viewpoints on certain topics, it’s no surprise that the latest offering from N.T. Wright is a biography on the apostle. In “Paul – A Biography,” N.T. Wright writes a comprehensive account of Paul and firmly places his writings in their original context to help the reader have a deeper understanding of Paul’s Jewishness. He argues not that Paul was converted and that he was trying to establish a new religion, but that in his experience on the Damascus Road, he was actually enlightened in such a way as to realize that Jesus of Nazareth had come and was the full and complete fulfillment of the Jewish religion.

Wright starts with what would most likely have been Paul’s upbringing, a Jewish upbringing. He gives background enough for the reader to have a better idea just how Paul was raised and what kinds of things would have informed his worldview, a worldview that saw “religion” woven into all of life as opposed to the Western viewpoint which sees a compartmentalized life. He writes, “Today, “religion” for most Westerners designates a detached area of life, a kind of private hobby for those who like that sort of thing, separated by definition (and in some countries by law) from politics and public life, from science and technology. In Paul’s day, “religion” meant almost exactly the opposite.”

Following Paul’s missionary journeys, Wright walks the reader through his writings to the various churches that he has started. The reader gets a better understanding of the context of these writings and can better understand just what might have been going through Paul’s head as he wrote these letters which have become so familiar to the church.

Throughout this in depth look at the life of Paul, N.T. Wright doesn’t shy away from controversial topics. He shares his view that the Western church’s emphasis on heaven and hell. As he writes, “It never dawned on us that the “heaven and hell” framework we took for granted was a construct of the High Middle Ages, to which the sixteenth-century Reformers were providing important new twists but which was at best a distortion of the first-century perspective.” Paul’s viewpoint was much more focused on the Kingdom of God, God’s Kingdom coming down to earth rather than some earthly departure of all God’s saints to some ethereal destination.

Wright’s viewpoint on justification also comes through here. While he doesn’t expound on it to the depth that he does in some of his other writings, he gives his readers a window into how his view (and in his opinion, Paul’s view) of justification differs from the reformed view.

This is a great companion book to all of Paul’s writings. I could easily see myself going back to it as I read any of Paul’s letters to remind myself of just where Paul was, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, as he wrote. It will act as a resource and guide for anyone, clergy or laity. While it’s a lengthy book, it’s hard to imagine Wright cutting out much of what he has written here. In order to give this material the attention it deserves, he needed as much space as he takes up here.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Cutting Deep

A little more than four years ago, my community was rocked when a local police officer and his wife were out for a run and the wife was hit by a car and killed. The running community reacted. A memorial run was set up. A memorial license plate was created. An organization began. A legacy was left.

Now, a little more than four years later, tragedy has struck my community again. A beloved preschool teacher was walking in her neighborhood and was hit by a car. Although she initially survived the accident, she eventually succumbed to her injuries.

Again, a community reacts and responds.

In the wake of the tragedy, I spoke to countless teachers who talked about the difficulties that have rippled through their school this year. Suicides. Attempted suicides. Sexual assaults. The list goes on. How much more could one community take, they asked?

This is what seems to happen in a tight-knit community, tragedy strikes and the impact runs deep. Part of it is because of how the various neighborhoods in the community are set up. People live there because they want to be connected to each other. People live there because they want to know their neighbors. But there’s risk in that. When we love deeply, we hurt deeply. When tragedy strikes, it cuts deep into our hearts.

This tragedy strikes my family harder than the last one. This woman was my oldest child’s preschool teacher years ago. For nine years, my three children went through that preschool. For nine years, although we didn’t have her more than one year, we were connected. She knew stories about me, from the mouth of my child, that others have probably never heard.

When news hit me about her death, I was numb. In the middle of the night following, I awoke and lay restless in my bed. Her husband. Her children. Her family. My heart ached. What more could I do other than feel their pain and pray?

In a day and age where we all seem connected yet aren’t always, the silver lining of the tragedy is that I see just how connected and tight-knit my community seems to be. I see people rallying around a family in need, a family who is hurting. I know that many people’s interest will wane as the headlines fade from the papers about the incident. Those closest to the family will journey with them for a time. The connections will remain.

My heart hurts today. Many are hurting in the aftermath of this. But I’d be hard-pressed to believe that any who are hurting regretted their connections. Tennyson said that it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. We were made for connection, we were made for relationship, to avoid relationship for the sake of avoiding pain will only result in the deeper pain of loneliness.

I don’t know what more will come from this tragedy. I hope that there is more than the usual tears shed, meals delivered, flowers and cards sent, and then the resumption of normality for everyone not directly connected to the victim.

We’re going through a series during Lent at my church on slowing down. It seems incredibly relevant on so many levels as I sit here and type this. Slowing down physically. Slowing down mentally. Slowing down emotionally. We need to slow down. We move too fast, and we certainly move too fast to really grieve our losses. I know that one from experience.

Yes, pain cuts deep when we’re connected, but maybe we can slow down and ask ourselves just how this tragedy, and every tragedy that we face, experience, witness, or even hear about, will change the way that we live our lives. Will they make a difference or will we just return to the status quo as soon as the memories fade?

I choose change.

Breaking the Cycle of Fear – A Book Review

breaking the cycle of fearWhat do we do when we come face to face with our greatest fears? What do we do when those greatest fears actually come true? How do we move past the fears that grip us to a place of trust in the One who we believe holds all things together?

Maria Furlough shares her personal story in her latest book “Breaking the Cycle of Fear.” Furlough shares and gives her readers an intimate portrait of her own fear and loss when, during pregnancy, she was told that her fourth child did not have kidneys or a bladder. She was told by her doctor that her little boy would live through her entire pregnancy and once he was born would only live for a few minutes or hours.

Furlough describes her feelings, “Through my sobbing, I never felt mad at God. I never questioned his goodness or blamed him. But the fear that had gripped me for so long turned into terror, and I literally felt like I was going to die from the burden of sadness, pain, and anxiety.” Then she goes on to name her fears as she realized that if she didn’t kill them, they were going to kill her.

This book is an honest testimony of how God brought Furlough through the fears that she had experienced into a place of peace and trust. She shares so many of the Scripture verses that ministered to her. She shares prayers that she prayed. She shares the difference between pleading and praying, giving examples of both in order to distinguish the difference.

Furlough writes, “we do a vast disservice to God’s Word when we pluck out verses and have them stand alone.” Having been through my own difficulties and had people cherry pick verses to share as encouragement, I resonated with her statement. I know that she experienced the same thing in the loss of her son, which makes the comment that much more poignant to me. She points to the importance of looking at context which is such a vital part of digging into God’s Word.

The material that Furlough shares in this book has come out of her own teaching at her church. She is real. She is raw. She shares from the depths of her heart, not pulling any punches. I love the way that she ends this book, sharing the stories of those who have been impacted by her teaching to move from fear to faith, trust, and peace. She even shares her husband’s story about his own anxiety and fear.

Out of our deepest heartaches and pains can come our greatest insights and lessons if we allow God to use them. Maria Furlough has shared out of her deep heartaches and pains and has shared how God used those to change her and transform her. Every reader can benefit from those insights in order to move from fear to peace.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)