God Is Not A Prop

As I watch the national and international news play out on my computer screen day after day, I think it’s important to stay connected to God’s Word. I believe that it is God’s revelation of himself and that as the written word, it also affirms the Living Word, Jesus Christ, as the way, the truth, the life.

I consider myself to be an evangelical Christian. I believe that that term has been severely distorted by some who have been trying to use it for personal gain, advancement, and political manipulation. The word “evangelical” derives from the Greek word euangelion which simply means “good news.” By definition, evangelical Christians are ones who should be proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ to those around them. Although this term has been hijacked, I personally believe that it’s better to try to redeem the term than continue to allow others to distort it.

Days ago, I wrote about my growth and understanding of the protests in our country. You can read that here. Regardless of my growth and understanding in regards to these protests, I still believe that it’s a tragedy what is happening amidst the looting, destruction, and violence in our country. While I understand the outrage being expressed by many over the senseless murder of George Floyd and far too many African Americans, there are many businesses that have been built by innocent people that are being destroyed as some of the crowds move beyond protest to destruction.

St. John’s Church, an historic Episcopal church attended by presidents for hundreds of years, was damaged by fire and graffiti. The fact that a church would be damaged during all this was tragic and disheartening. While some may consider it to be collateral damage for the greater good of these protests and the awareness of the deeper pandemic of racism in our country, it’s still disappointing.

Recently, there was news that the President of the United States cleared a crowd during protests to make his way in front of St. John’s Church to have his photo taken with a Bible. The news headlines have been plentiful with reports and opinions of many people’s thoughts about not only the photo op but the means used to attain that photo op.

I’ve been going through the Book of Acts with a few men from my church. Although I’ve read it many times before, I am constantly amazed at how the Bible speaks to me in a clear and fresh way every time that I read it. Regardless of the number of times I may have read a certain passage, God’s Word continues to be what it says, “living and active.”

When I saw this recent story develop in the media, I was reminded of an account in Acts 8 of a sorcerer who wanted to use the power of the Holy Spirit for personal gain.

18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money 19 and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”

20 Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! 21 You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. 23 For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”

24 Then Simon answered, “Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.”

Simon the sorcerer had seen the impact when Peter and the other apostles had laid their hands on people. Great signs and miracles were the result and having been a man who had used this sort of thing to his benefit in the past, he saw the potential for personal gain from what Peter and the apostles had to offer.

Acts 8:18-24

But Peter would have none of that. As Peter says in verse 21, “…your heart is not right before God.” There was nothing wrong with Simon’s desire for this power, it’s just that he didn’t want that power for the right reason. He didn’t want to bring glory to God, he wanted it for his own selfish gain, which was why Peter chastised him.

I don’t believe that God is a prop. We don’t conveniently pull him out when it suits our own personal gain or benefit. We don’t stick him in our back pocket or shove him back in a lamp like a genie, waiting again to rub that lamp until the time comes for us to seek for our next wish to be granted.

We are all imperfect people, we fall short, that’s why we need a savior. The Bible tells us that we all fall short of the glory of God. We make mistakes. At what point do our repeated mistakes move from forgivable miscues to inexcusable and blatant disobedience. While God forgives, repentance is a turning away from our wrongdoing, not a constant repeat of the things we’ve confessed. Grace is free, but in the words of the Apostle Paul, we don’t continue our disobedient acts just so that grace may abound.

My heart is heavy with the tragedy of what has happened in our country. I am grieved over the racism that is continually denied by so many. To me, it’s hard to deny the pandemic of racism based on what we are seeing with the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and others. I am angered and saddened by those who also seem to be seeking to inflame and divide rather than unite and seek healing.

I believe that the only way we can experience true peace is through Jesus Christ. I get that not everyone believes that, but that’s my conviction and I hold unswervingly to that. I also expect that anyone who claims that will follow through with their actions and their lives, moving beyond simple and cheap gimmicks that suit them for the moment. God is not a prop and I think that it’s time that those of us who claim that he is who he says he is stop using him as such and begin to demonstrate that the Good News we claim and proclaim goes beyond photo ops to real life change and peace that passes all understanding.

Confronting Old Testament Controversies – A Book Review

Confronting OT ControversiesFor anyone who considers themself to be a Christian, they have most likely encountered a verse, a passage, a story, or even a book of the Bible that has had them scratching their head, wondering whether or not it’s true or just how they should be interpreting it. For centuries, people have come to these passages from a variety of different viewpoints.

How do we approach the Bible? What do we do with the sections that seem fairly controversial to us? What happens when parts of it seem to be out of date or irrelevant? What happens when the dominant culture pulls away from what had become the societal norms conveyed in the pages of Scripture?

With his latest book, “Confronting Old Testament Controversies – Pressing Questions about Evolution, Sexuality, History, and Violence,” Tremper Longman addresses some of the questions most frequently asked about the Bible and all that is found within its pages.

To start, Longman states in his introduction that, “this book is written for the church and not the broader culture.” This is a helpful statement knowing that he would be writing with a very different approach had his book been targeted at those who did not necessarily subscribe to the Bible’s teachings.

Longman tells his readers what he will be addressing within the book. Creation and evolution. Historicity. Divine Violence. Sexuality.

Longman spends some necessary time addressing the notion of inerrancy.  He writes of interpretation and intended meaning of authors. Basically, he gives a high level overview of hermeneutics. He does a good job of giving this overview as he also addresses context and seeing Scripture through the eyes of those for whom it was originally intended.

God speaks, Longman writes, through nature and through the Bible. While those things are inerrant, our interpretations of both of those may not always be true.

From here, Longman goes on to dig into Genesis. He addresses various teachings that have occurred over the years on the first chapters of the Bible. How should we be interpreting it based upon other writings similar in style to it? Is there figurative language used that is trying to be read more literally than it was intended?

As he lays this all out, Longman writes that Genesis 1 is not giving the reader, “a blow-by-blow account of how God created everything but is using the standard workweek…as a literary device…” He reminds the reader that genre triggers reading strategy. So, we are in error to be reading poetry or analogy as history.

He compares the creation account found in the Bible to other creation accounts found in the ancient near East. He concludes the section saying that there is no reason, in his scholarly opinion, to think that what is found in the pages of Genesis gives a factual report of the specific process of creation. Considering evolution or other secondary causes, Longman suggests, does not undermine God’s role as the divine Creator. He goes on to address the fall of humanity, Adam and Eve, and other ramifications that his interpretation may reveal.

After creation and evolution, Longman addresses the historicity of various sections of the Bible. Did they really happen? If they didn’t happen, does that undermine the validity of Scripture? What do we do when Scripture makes reference to these elsewhere or when Jesus himself makes reference to them?

In this section, Longman, who considers himself a part of the evangelical camp, is critical of evangelicals saying that, “evangelicals have a tendency to treat the Bible as if it were all one genre.” While he addresses a story like Job and says that it did not actually happen historically, he also addresses the exodus and says that the historicity of that story is crucial to establishing a track record for the God of Israel.

Longman gets fairly technical, addressing some of the historic finds that have brought into question the validity and historicity of the Bible. His bottom line is that not all of the sections of the Bible need to be interpreted as having literally and historically taken place in order for the message that is conveyed to be true and important.

He then moves to the section on divine violence. As he enters into this section, he gives his reader the bottom line thesis saying that both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible give a consistent, coherent, and unified picture of God. He addresses the concern that many have had in trying to reconcile the wrath of God shown in the Old Testament with the love of God identified within the New Testament.

He does a good job of conveying his viewpoint as well as contrary viewpoints. He gives reasons for his difference and supports his argument. As he speaks of death, pain, suffering, and violence, Longman reminds his reader that death and suffering were not the purpose or goal of Jesus’ mission but instead that his mission was accomplished through death and suffering.

While there are certainly uncomfortable sections and events in the pages of the Bible which describe the wrath and violence of God, Longman says that we need to interpret God based on his revelation of himself in those pages rather than trying to soften the sections that make us uncomfortable or with which we disagree.

The final section of Longman’s book may very well be the most anticipated and controversial. It seems that the traditional Christian stance on sexuality has become outdated and flies in sharp contrast and opposition to where culture and society are today.

Longman addresses the controversy and argument that many have made regarding the publicness of sex. He writes, “Sex and marriage are public, social acts, not private acts, even if the sexual acts are done behind closed doors.” He also addresses gender and sexuality dysfunction, saying that everyone is sexually dysfunctional at some level.

While Longman addresses the standard laws that have been used in the argument against homosexuality, he also brings focus back to creation and speaks of God’s original intent for things. He reminds them that creation, as we are experiencing it, is not as God originally intended it to be. Therefore, we need to be cautious about not considering that as we look at everything.

He addresses the standard argument of the three types of laws found within the Old Testament: ceremonial, moral, and civil laws. He makes his case that ceremonial and even some civil laws may have been fulfilled but that there is no indication in the Bible that the moral laws that were originally given to the people of God were ever made null and void anywhere in Scripture.

He hits on arguments and questions that have been made by some who support an affirming lifestyle. He writes, “Our problem is that we, as modern Westerners, believe that love should allow us all as individuals to find our own personal happiness in the here and now. But personal happiness is not the greatest good in the Bible.” Ultimately, Longman lands on the traditional side of this argument.

Longman addresses each of these topics in its own chapter, making the chapters fairly long. Each chapter has discussion questions for use by the reader to spend time mulling over these various sections. Some sections get a little heady and he may lose some of his readers in these technical sections. Of course, I could imagine him simply suggesting that readers skip to the sections of which they are most interested.

I was so curious coming to this book as to where he would stand on these four important topics. As I read through the first section on creation and evolution, I was somewhat surprised at where he came down with his conclusion. Then, after reading the first three sections of the book, I was rather surprised to come to Longman’s section on sexuality and read his stance. I had expected, based on what I had encountered in those first three sections, that Longman would be vying for a non-traditional approach towards sexuality and marriage.

Longman treated these topics with academic care, as would be suggested by someone of his educational and professional background. While there were times when he seemed to be belabor the point (in my opinion), I think he did a sufficient job of covering his bases, laying out arguments for and against his case, and clearly giving his final analysis on these topics.

Readers may not hang on for all the depth that Longman gives them in this book. While he comes from the academic world and, at times, he dives fully into that in his writing and explanations, he does a good job not getting too overly academic and is still understandable by the average person.

Longman did not seem to have treated all four of these topics consistently. While there were some sections where he would bring in viewpoints of others, he did not always do that. While I would not say that this impacted his treatment of any of these topics, it would have been nice to have been given some names and viewpoints together rather than going through the bibliography and looking up books and authors individually.

“Confronting Old Testament Controversies” is worth the read. While it may not be for everyone, those who do read through it from front to back, regardless of whether they agree or not, should find themselves walking away having learned something along the way.

(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.)

Between Belief and Unbelief

When Faith FailsIf you’ve spent any time in the church, you may have grown uncomfortable with certain things that you see there. Aside from certain social issues that have emerged to the forefront in the recent past, there are other things that have irked people who find themselves struggling to make sense of what they know of God, what they read in the Bible, and what they experience in their daily lives. The juxtaposition of those three things is rarely as well-fitting as puzzle pieces but might rather feel more like the jagged edges of glass or pottery that were shattered and are now trying to be mended and put back together again.

Dominic Done steps into a difficult and sometimes controversial topic in his book “When Faith Fails.” He addresses doubt, a subject which has been avoided in some camps and embraced in others. Rather than taking the approach that it is bad, wrong, or sinful, Done instead recognizes it for what it is, “an opportunity for authentic and vibrant faith.”

Done divides the book into three sections: Far From Home, Exploring the Terrain, and Coming Home. Far From Home addresses how we got here to this point of doubt, wrestling with our faith. Exploring the Terrain seeks to find hope in life’s hardest questions. Coming Home deals with moving through doubt in pursuit of deep faith.

In the Far From Home section, Done is quick to correct those who may want to live or expect to live with complete and total certainty. He says that in seeking total certainty, we lose the beauty of mystery. As he puts it, “If all we value is explanation, we lose the joy of exploration.” He spends the section vying for a healthy doubt and trying to promote is as normal and an everyday part of life.

Doubt, as Done sees it, is living in the world in between belief and unbelief. It is a moment of tension, living somewhere in between. It is the place that stands in stark contrast to the Lego gospel which says that everything is awesome, because life is hard, tragic, and people sometimes suffer. It is the place you come to when everything you thought was supporting you and holding you up disintegrates.

As “When Faith Fails” unfolds in these pages, Done shares insights and wisdom, but he does it with care, compassion, and sensitivity. There are plenty of helpful phrases that he shares, none of which felt contrived or cliche to me. For instance, “God doesn’t demand that we understand him, but he does ask that we trust him.” And, “You can believe without doubting, but you can’t doubt without believing.”

The Exploring the Terrain section contains an apologetic for the Bible. Can we trust it? As he walks through this section, he helpfully tells the reader that we might need to change our approach and view of the Bible. Rather than looking at it through modern or postmodern eyes, Done suggests we see it for what it is, “an eccentric, weird, difficult, challenging, inspiring, inviting, paradigm-disrupting book that, page by page, story by story, culminates in the person of Jesus.”

Done also asks in this section whether science is the enemy of faith. As he sees it, faith and science are not enemies, but different sides to the same picture. He writes, “Science only tells us part of the story. It reveals and enriches our perception of reality; opening our eyes to the complexity and splendor of the world. But it cannot tell us why it takes our breath away.”

While many in the world of religion see science as the enemy and many in the field of science see religion as incompatible with science, there are others who live in the tension of both, scientists who are theologians and who embrace both sides.

Theodicy, the problem of pain and suffering, and the silence of God are also addressed by Done. He doesn’t throw trite answers at any of the questions he poses. He also doesn’t give packaged responses that fail to address what is at the heart of these questions and issues. If I could describe the approach in one way, it would be embracing the tension of the in between. So, if you are seeking a beautiful resolution like a thirty minute sitcom, you should probably go somewhere else.

As Done moves into the third and final section, one of the most memorable recommendations that he makes to the reader is to, “do the hard work to put yourself in a place where the truth can find you.” He recommends seeking out community because it is in community that we are shaped, formed, and that we learn. Rather than seeing community as a provider of resources to be consumed, we should see it as a family to invest in. Even as we look at Scripture, Done says, we should see it as active participation in the unfolding of a story that tells us we are all in this together. The community of the church is the place where broken people should discover that they are not alone.

Done does a great job of encouraging his readers to embrace doubt with purpose and intent. While some doubt dogmatically challenging anyone to prove those doubts false, Done recommends an approach that seeks to learn and understand, not completely, but adequately.

I have encountered a number of people within the church over the years who have been so adamantly against doubt that you would think they were afraid of the outcome had they embraced it. I wish that I had encountered a book like “When Faith Fails” a long time ago, I would have felt less awkward and much more affirmed when I found myself in that in between world.

The approach that Done recommends with doubt is very much the approach that is modeled by David in the Psalms. He started with his honest doubts, questions, and concerns, but he always came back to God, who he was, what he had done, and what he had promised to do in the future.

If you have wrestled with doubts and questions, this book won’t give you quick and easy answers, but it will help you to know that you are not alone nor is there something wrong with you. Instead, Done brings encouragement to his readers to embrace the tension and continue on the journey with expectation, anticipation, and mystery. If you can live with the tension, then “When Faith Fails” may just be the book to help encourage you through it.

(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.)

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.)

The Most Misused Stories in the Bible – A Book Review

most misused storiesIt’s not uncommon for people who have grown up within the church to have heard many of the stories in the Bible time after time during their days in Sunday school. Some of us who were raised in that vein didn’t fully realize just what some of those stories were about until later on in life when we opened up our Bibles and actually read the stories for ourselves. We realized that some of the stories had only been told in part while others had been somewhat whitewashed and sterilized to take out the more mature elements of them.

There are many stories in the Bible that take on a life of their own depending on who gets a hold of them. These stories are the stories that Eric Bargerhuff focuses on in his book “The Most Misused Stories in the Bible.” Bargerhuff picks a select number of stories from the Bible that seem to have been hijacked for uses other than for what they were intended.

David and Goliath. Jonah and the big fish. Zacchaeus. The wise men. Cain and Abel and more. These stories have been used and abused to make points other than what they were originally intended to make. The main points and lessons that were to be gleaned from them seem to have taken a back seat for secondary lessons that have been elevated as more important.

Bargerhuff does an adequate job going through each of the stories on which he chooses to focus. This is not a book for biblical scholars, but I think that scholars would appreciate Bargerhuff’s focus here. His main intention is for people to be reading the Bible with an intelligent lens, one which thoughtfully approaches the Bible. He encourages the reader to dig deeper into these and other stories to study and determine what they are all about, leaving preconceived notions and prior experience behind.

Context. Biases. The overall big picture of the entire Bible. Bargerhuff does just enough exegetical and hermeneutical work to give a teaser to the reader who may be interested in going further into the study of the Bible. That is the best part of this book to me. Bargerhuff is encouraging people to dig in deeper to the Bible.

While he is promoting the idea of not reading our own agendas into our reading of the Bible, I never got a sense that he was being honest about his own. Each and every one of us bring a certain bias with us when we come the Bible. We will hopefully do our best to make sure that we do our best to remove those, but it is impossible to be completely objective in our readings. With that in mind, Bargerhuff encourages the reader to do all possible to study and bring new light to our readings of the Bible that we cannot arrive at on our own, without the aid of other resources.

It would have been helpful to have had a list of helpful resources at the end of this book in an appendix. Although Bargerhuff includes a Notes section that is extensive and which includes the resource that he used in the writing of this book, a separate section pointing the reader to helpful resources would have been a great addition to this book.

For those who are seeking to dig deeper into the Bible and study more on their own, this might be a good spring board to encourage that. This is a helpful book for those who are just starting out in their journey of studying the Bible. If you are already one who has a fairly well=proven method by which to engage the Bible, this may very well be a book that you can skip.

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

Learning to Repent

It’s been a journey in the making for about eight years, but if I’m really honest, it’s probably been longer than that. It might be closer to forty years. It’s been a journey of enlightenment, a journey of self-discovery, and a journey of humility.

I’ve benefitted from white privilege for the bulk of my life. I was raised into it, though I did nothing to deserve it or earn it. I’ve never fought it or complained that it was given to me. I’ve never done anything to give it away, and I’ve never really done anything to repent of its benefits.

For those of us who have benefited from white privilege, it’s hard to acknowledge it and sometimes harder to come to terms with the fact that it’s something of which we should repent. You see, I think our Christianity in the west has been heavily influenced by our westernized, individualistic culture. We’ve lost the corporate nature of humanity as we’ve all set on our own individual ways. We seek after a personal relationship with Christ, which is important but we miss the point of the corporate language of the Bible. We read so many of the passages in the Bible that say “you” as talking to us as individuals rather than talking to us as a group, one body.

Those of us who fail to see that repentance is necessary are the same ones who fail to see why “All lives matter” is not a legitimate phrase. We also wonder why we need to repent for the things for which we can’t claim personal responsibility. After all, we weren’t the ones pulling the trigger, right? We weren’t there when some of these atrocities took place, right? We never asked for the white privilege that we received, did we?

But asking those questions and making those statements are an indication of us missing the point.

The Book of Nehemiah in the Bible is among my favorite books. It contains thirteen chapters of leadership and life lessons. One of the things that has captivated me about the book is found in the first chapter, specifically, Nehemiah’s prayer, for it’s in that prayer that I think I first began to understand corporate sin and corporate repentance. It’s in that prayer that I realized that there are times when we confess the sins that we might not have personally committed, times when we need to own things that others did, maybe even way before we were even born. It was in that prayer that I began to learn that being responsible for and taking responsibility for are not necessarily the same thing.

As Nehemiah prays to the Lord, he says, Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.”

Why did Nehemiah pray that prayer? He wasn’t personally responsible for Israel’s exile. He didn’t do anything to cause it. Yet, he was willing to own it and to bring it before the Lord.


I think that Nehemiah understood corporate sin. I think he understood that there was something to be said about sins for which he may have not been personally responsible, but for which he was corporately responsible. Nehemiah is an example that we who have benefitted from white privilege should follow.

I’m sure there are plenty of people who will disagree with me, and that’s fine. I feel like I’m just beginning to understand, I feel like I’m beginning to see what I’ve missed before. I may not have personally caused the mess or committed the sin, but I’ve been a recipient of the privilege that resulted from it. And that’s why it makes perfect sense for me to repent. I might not be personally responsible for the sins, but I can take responsibility for them. 

Yes, my journey’s been a long one, and it’s certainly not over. I’m beginning to open my eyes, my ears, and my heart. Opening my eyes to see, opening my ears to hear, and opening my heart to feel.

The journey has involved reading things that I wouldn’t normally read, books that might make me feel uncomfortable. It’s involved going places that I wouldn’t normally go, places that might make me feel uncomfortable. It’s involved talking with people that I might not normally talk with, people that might make me feel uncomfortable. But the only way we grow is to feel that discomfort, to move outside of the safe zone with which we tend to surround ourselves.

I’m not there, but I’m doing what I can do broaden my horizons and look at things from a different perspective. I know that God is doing a work in me and I can only hope that it continues.

It Runs In the Family

When I was a little boy, I was fairly optimistic and positive in my demeanor. I didn’t experience a whole lot of anxiety or worry, but I had an active mind and an active imagination. I also didn’t always have the easiest time sleeping, something that has only worsened as I’ve gotten older. If my mind would get to wandering (which it would do quite frequently) and I couldn’t sleep, I could easily find myself trying to understand things that were far beyond my reach, like eternity.

As I’ve gotten older, I don’t know that I’ve experienced an increased amount of anxiety, but I think that the anxieties have felt bigger. When you’re younger, the problems don’t seem to be quite as insurmountable (although they may look that way) as they are as you get older, at least that’s what we might tell ourselves to justify our own anxieties. But I must have experienced some anxieties because somewhere in my teens, my mom shared her journey through the Psalms with me.

The Book of Psalms, written by David, Asaph, the Sons of Korah, and other early worship leaders is comprised of 150 chapters. The great reformer, John Calvin, in speaking of the Psalms wrote, “there is not an emotion of which anyone can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror…the Holy Spirit has drawn to the life all the griefs and sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, perplexities, in short, all the distracting emotions with which the minds of men are wont to be agitated.”

It seems that somewhere along the way, my mom had discovered the importance of the Psalms in her own struggle with anxiety and depression. Being the wife of a pastor was not always the easiest thing and she found solace and comfort in the Psalms, discovering a monthly reading plan which would take the reader through the entire book in a month.

My mom told me that you could base the reading plan on the day of the month and just add thirty until there were no Psalms left. So, if it was the 3rd of the month, you would read Psalm 3, 33, 63, 93, and 123. If it was the 24th of the month, you would read Psalm 24, 54, 84, 114, and 144. It was a fairly simple approach that I remember to this day.

Pastor and author John Macarthur once quipped to his congregation that any Christian paralyzed by anxiety should be sequestered to a simply furnished room, given food through a slot in the door, and not let out until he or she had read the book of Psalms. He called it “psalm therapy,” claiming that, “anxiety cannot survive in an environment of praise to God.”

It’s interesting, it wasn’t until this week that I began to put it all together, the fact that the Psalms have been to me since my youth, the same solace and place of comfort that they were for my mom for so many years. They have become the default place for me when I find myself restless in the rest of Scripture.

In fact, as I’ve been reading through my Bible plan for the year, I find myself losing some of the things that I experience most when I am in the Psalms. Instead of letting the words breathe life into me, I have had a tendency to speed through them, racing to the finish line for the day so that I can say that I have successfully accomplished my plan for the day.

Reading through the Psalms does not usually give me that option. Within the Psalms, I am struck by the words, the imagery, the artistry, and the honesty. I am struck at the boldness with which the writers approach God with their questions and complaints, with their desires and fears. I find myself reading them through and feeling empowered to be just as bold and just as honest as they have been. After all, God can take our honesty, can’t he?

As I’ve felt myself pushing towards the finish line of my yearly Bible plan, the one that gets you through the entire book in a year, my growing unease is leading me back to the place where I have found such comfort in the past, the Psalms. Not just comfort for me, comfort that has been passed on, comfort that has been shared to me through my mom.

After my journey through the Bible in a year, I’ll find my way back to what’s become familiar, not for the sake of familiarity, but because what all it brings with it. Not going to rush to get to January 1st, but at least when I get there, I’ll know what’s waiting for me…and I’ll embrace it.

Chaotic Reading

open BibleAs someone who grew up in the church, I was always taught the importance of reading my Bible but I wasn’t always given a clear plan as to how to do that. There were some helpful, little “read-alongs” that you could use, you know, “Read these verses” and then read the little warm and fuzzy devotional that went along with it. There were devotional books and devotional monthly magazines like Our Daily Bread, but those remained simply devotional material with kind of “feel good” messages. They never really did anything for me in regards to actually studying the Bible.

As I got older, I found solace and comfort in the Psalms. I could relate to David, he seemed like the kind of guy that I would meet and talk with only to feel as if we had been lifelong friends (I get the irony of that as my name is Jonathan). But I still never had any real precise reading plan. In fact, you might say that my approach towards Bible reading was more like a game of roulette, open up to the Bible index, close your eyes, point somewhere on the page, and go to the appointed book of the Bible. There was really no rhyme or reason to the approach that I took.

While I’ve adopted a Bible reading plan to read through the Bible in a year, I still struggle. Am I reading simply to check off the box? How effective is it for me? Am I getting anything out of it? Should I quit doing it and go back to the roulette approach? I’m sticking it out, but I’ve been known to take tangents in addition to my “required” reading plan.

As a follower of Christ, I believe that the Bible is God’s Word, that it is his revelation of himself to his creation. It’s not a stagnant piece of work or literature, but an actual living document that continues to speak although it’s been years since it was originally penned. I believe that there is a process that takes place beyond a simple reading of words on a page and that reading the Bible is a spiritual act, an act that involves more than just eyes on pages.

At some point, maybe it was during seminary, I discovered something that took a considerable load off of my shoulders in this area. It’s an ancient practice called Lectio Divina, Latin for “sacred reading.” It’s an ancient practice that emphasizes a prayerful reading of Scripture. The practice is broken into four parts: reading, meditating, praying, and contemplating (or living). The practice is far more in depth than what I will describe here, but a brief overview seems appropriate.


It sounds simple, right? We read things all the time: billboards, news tickers, junk mail, bills, emails, and the list goes on and on. But in our fast-paced and information saturated society, we have most likely found ourselves guilty of cursory reading. To be honest, I can’t even count the number of times that I have “read” things only to find out later on that I had missed some key points in my cursory reading. I have mastered the art of skimming. In fact, I have a friend who prides himself on the fact that he hasn’t actually read a book in a long time, he simply skims books.

This isn’t a criticism of my friend (he’s much smarter than I am), but we need to learn to slow down and one way that we can do that is by practicing lectio divina. We read through a passage multiple times, changing our inflections as we read it aloud. We stop and pause on words or phrases. It’s a completely different reading of Scripture than the “Check the Box” approach that I can too often find myself using. It’s slowing down and leading the words wash over us. It’s the difference between approaching our spiritual food like a quick snack versus a gourmet meal. It’s savoring every bite.


It’s one thing to read something and a completely different thing to actually “chew” on what you’ve just read. I can remember back to studying engineering in college and those painful times when I would have to read a section of my textbook over and over again because I had zoned out while I was reading it. Sure, I could say that I had completed the reading, but had I really ingested what I had just read?

When we slow down and take a “gourmet” approach towards Scripture reading, we can emphasize it even more by actually thinking through what it says. Like I said before, Scripture is a different kind of document and the process by which we read it needs to be a different kind of reading. We have been given a helper, an assistant of sorts, in the Holy Spirit. He helps us as we read if we open ourselves up to what God is saying to us through his Word.

When we meditate on Scripture, we add one more step of assurance to our process, one more step that will help us move past a cursory reading of Scripture and move us to a more contemplative reading. We ingest and digest the Word that God has spoken to us.


Ever have a friend that never lets you get a word in edgewise? It’s never fun. In fact, I can almost guarantee that if you have a friend like that, your relationship can’t be too deep. They might think that the relationship is deep because you know a lot about them, but if you turn the tables and ask them whether or not they know you, chances are pretty good that they will be hard-pressed to answer questions about you.

Prayer can easily be misunderstood as just our communication with God, but prayer is dialogue, it’s two-way conversation. If it isn’t, then we aren’t doing it right. We need to engage in a conversation with God. We don’t necessarily expect that he will speak audibly back to us, but within our being, we may sense the gentle nudging of the Holy Spirit as we open ourselves up to hearing. Like Scripture says over and over again, let him who has ears hear what the Lord is saying.


Some might term this aspect of lectio divina “Living” rather than “Contemplation.” It’s a practice of James 1:22-25, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.”

If we have a propensity towards cursory readings, how much more will be have a tendency to forget what we have read and do nothing with it. If we read Scripture to simply check off a box, it won’t do the transformative work in us that it needs to do.

If we are intentional about taking what the Holy Spirit says to us through Scripture, than we will not be like the man or woman that James describes here. We will take what we have seen and do something about it. To look in a mirror and see flaws and then walk away and not address the issue is irresponsible. When we see what needs to change in our lives, when we sense what has to happen, we need to take action and this is what we do here. We take what we have read and we begin to put it into practice.

Like I said, this is merely a scratching of the surface of what this ancient practice is all about, but it’s a practice that I have had to go back to and remind myself of time and time again. While I am not a perfect practitioner of lectio divina, even a derivation of the method can be helpful and freeing.

There are moments of our lives when we need to simply slow down and rest in a particular section of Scripture. In the days and weeks leading up to my mom’s death and in the time afterwards, I spent most of my time in the Psalms and in Romans 8. The day of her funeral, I drove to Williamsburg by myself, reading aloud Romans 8 three times to let the words penetrate my wounded soul.

If you have found yourself simply going through the motions or checking off a box in the area of Bible reading, I would encourage you to find out more about this ancient practice. It’s not a magic bullet, you won’t do it once and think that you have “arrived,” but it may be just the thing that you need to free yourself from cursory readings and skimmings of the Word of God.

Try it out, and if you’re so inclined, let me know what you think. I’m always up to hear a good story about a change that’s taken place in someone’s life.

Answering Your Kids’ Toughest Questions – A Book Review

Answering Your Kids Toughest QuestionsAnyone who has spent significant time with children knows that they can ask a lot of questions. The kids don’t have to be your own, they just need to be kids, and you can be sure that they will let their inquiring minds do some walking in all kinds of different places, searching for answers to questions that have emerged from the confines of their minds. Anyone who has had to field those questions knows that those questions are seldom easy to answer and often require a whole lot of thought.

What is sin? Why do people die? Why do people get divorced? What about sexual sin? Why do people fight and kill? Maybe you have had to field these questions and others just like them. Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson have most likely had their fair share of experience with fielding these kinds of questions and they have come together to create a resource for parents who may have to face these and other such questions themselves.

From the beginning, Thompson and Fitzpatrick let their approach come at the reader humbly, not claiming that they have all the answers but just suggesting that they’re coming from the “I’m in the same boat as you” perspective. They acknowledge that there is no answering the questions posed by children without first having wrestled with the same questions yourself. Children are much smarter than to accept trite answers or answers which have no thought behind them. They seem to have a knack for smelling answers that lack experience or thoughtfulness. In fact, the authors say that admitting to all the answers can actually demonstrate a pride which has the potential for creating a wedge between parents and children.

Thompson and Fitzpatrick provide some typical questions with thoughtful advice in the various chapters. At the end of each chapter, they provide sections based on the age range of children with whom you are dealing. They do a good job of thoroughly answering the questions and bringing biblical content to support those answers. While the ends of the chapters are mostly helpful in fielding age specific questions, they can have a tendency to be overly exhaustive rather than concise.

The authors pull no punches in providing answers to the difficult questions that they expect from children of all ages. They emphasize the need to address the realities of life without entering into dialogue about specific life issues too soon for children. Life is messy, life is tough, there is no hiding it from children, but there are certain subjects that can wait until they absolutely need to be addressed rather than forcing the issue before its time has come. If we fail to provide answers to children, they won’t just remain without answers but they will find the answers on their own.

Throughout the book, the authors emphasize some very important biblical and theological concepts. For one, they emphasize the sovereignty of God. There is no dealing with difficult questions without a firm belief in the fact that God is in control and is not surprised by anything, not death, not tragedy, nothing. They also emphasize the fact that parents are not the end-all-be-all for answering children’s questions. Parents will do their best but they are still only human and incapable of having every answer to every question, acknowledging this is a good first step to relying on the power of the Holy Spirit to work in the lives of our children.

I so appreciate the honesty of the authors. Their humility is refreshing and they admit that allowing children and young people to raise questions allows them to know that Christianity, “can stand up to any challenge.” While this book may not contain every question that a child may ask, it’s a good start and a good resource for parents. It’s a helpful reminder to parents that they have a duty and responsibility to their children but that in the midst of fulfilling that duty and responsibility, they are not alone and powerless but have the power that God alone gives to his children.

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

50 Things You Need to Know About Heaven – A Book Review

50 Things You Need to Know About HeavenAmong the questions that come up for those who consider themselves to be followers of Christ, it seems that questions about Heaven seem to top the list. I have always considered those questions in my own life, ever since I was a young boy. With the growing popularity of books like “90 Minutes in Heaven” and “Heaven Is For Real,” more questions have been raised among the Christian community as to the details about Heaven. Into this environment, Dr. John Hart offers his book titled, “50 Things You Need to Know About Heaven.”

First of all, Hart is writing this book for people who consider themselves followers of Christ. This is not a book to give people who are considering whether or not Jesus or heaven is real. Hart does not try to convince people of this but considers that they are already there if they have picked up this book to read it. That being said, Hart relies heavily on the Bible to support the answers to the 50 questions that he offers as the headings of the 50 chapters within this book.

Hart does a good job sticking with what has explicitly been written in Scripture and offers little speculation. While there may be some speculation there, Hart does his best to base even those speculations upon what’s been written within the Bible rather than offering his own opinions.

Among the questions that Hart addresses are where is Heaven? Who will go to Heaven? Will there be physical bodies in Heaven? Will we know each other in Heaven? Is Jesus in Heaven right now? These questions along with many others are the ones that Hart chooses to address, and he does a good job of dealing with them.

Hart dispels many of the traditional views of Heaven that have been wrongly embraced by the church such as the idea that we will dwell on clouds, float around in robes of white, and strum on harps all day long. Hart even dispels the notion that Heaven is actually otherworldly, enforcing beliefs that have also been espoused by the likes of N.T. Wright that Heaven will actually come down to earth in the form of the New Jerusalem.

One thing that I appreciate about Hart’s book is that he does not try to resolve the tensions of Scripture where Scripture does not specifically speak. While there are many things written in the Bible about Heaven, there are also many things left unsaid and Hart does not try to fill in the blank with anything other than what has been offered within the pages of Scripture.

Another resource that Hart offers is a section called “For Further Study” at the end of each chapter. Hart has listed out various Scripture passages that the reader can go to for further research and study. Instead of simply giving and answer and imploring the reader to simply assent to what he has written, Hart encourages the reader to find out for himself/herself based upon the passages that Hart has found helpful.

If you are looking for a good and simple resource that can help in pointing you in the direction of some answers about Heaven based upon what’s written in the Bible, I would highly recommend Hart’s book. It’s not exhaustive and doesn’t delve into heady theological language, but it’s a worthwhile resource for those who want to gently wade into a topic that has been both controversial and intriguing, especially in recent years.

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