Unparalleled – A Book Review

unparalleledWe live in a world where anything goes when it comes to beliefs. It’s okay for you to believe in what you believe as long as it works for you and doesn’t negatively impact me. The problem when we embrace this is that we can quickly devolve into people who lack any real conviction, who aren’t quite sure what they believe, and who don’t legitimately think for ourselves when it comes to our beliefs.

In the area of beliefs and faith, Christians have always spoken about the uniqueness of their faith. When confronted with the idea that all paths lead to God, Christians will swiftly respond by saying that Christianity is unique as it stands in the lineup alongside all of the other major world religions. Jared Wilson takes this idea a step further in his book “Unparalleled” by saying that the uniqueness of Christianity is also the thing that makes it so compelling.

Out of the gate, Wilson writes that, “Christianity has never made converts primarily by winning arguments but rather by capturing hearts.” Although this book falls into the category of apologetics, Wilson isn’t out to win arguments, he is convinced that the truths of Christianity will be as compelling for others as they have been for him. He writes with a style that doesn’t beat down, but gently leads along.

Throughout “Unparalleled” Wilson hits on some of the main, unique tenets of Christianity. He writes about the Trinity, the three persons of God, speaking to their uniqueness and how the relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit give us a better understanding of our own human need for connection and intimacy.

Wilson writes of the uniqueness of Jesus, asking the question as to whether the God of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam is the same God. He arrives at the conclusion that, “…to worship God at the exclusion of Jesus is to worship another god altogether.” For those who are seeking to be more inclusive, this conclusion will not be very appealing. Wilson goes on to write, “If one does not affirm that Jesus is God, one does not worship the same God as Christians.” It is through the uniqueness of Christ that we understand the essence of Christianity and the salvation that is offered.

We are all created in the image of God, and that, Wilson says, should impact the way that we look at others. Not only should it impact the way that we look at others, but is should also impact how we treat others as well. He writes, “Human life is sacred because God created it in his own image.” But Wilson is quick to point out, acknowledge, and confess that, “There have been too many prominent examples of professing Christians treating others as less-than-human.” In other words, while this is how we should act and view others, we certainly don’t always get it right. I appreciated this admission and the humility behind it.

Wilson covers the idea of grace, salvation, and the end of all things. He speaks to the impact of sin in this fallen world and the fact that salvation within Christian theology is something that comes from outside of ourselves. This external salvation is a unique concept compared to most other major religions who teach of a salvation through the efforts of the individual.

At one point, as Wilson writes about the brokenness of humanity, he writes, “The worst storms I have faced in my life have not occurred outside of me but rather have been found inside of me.” While I think I understand what Wilson is getting at, I’m not sure that I can completely agree with his statement. Yes, I can attest to the fact that, oftentimes, I am my own worst enemy, but in my own life, there have been significant storms that I have encountered that have occurred outside of me. These storms are a result of living in a fallen and broken world, there was no individual cause for some of them, and I would argue that they didn’t happen inside of me.

There is nothing in “Unparalleled” that is groundbreaking or new to me. Wilson has an engaging writing style and he gets his points across with clarity. While I was reading the book, I kept wondering to whom the book was written. Was it written for believers in Christ, those who are already convinced? Was it written to those who need to be convinced? It seems that it could be beneficial for those who are searching, not yet having come to the conclusion that Christianity is both convincing and compelling.

To those who believe in Christ and accept the claims of Christianity, Jesus is unparalleled, as is the salvation that he offers. If you are in a place of searching, needing to be convinced of Christianity’s claims, this might give you an overview or a snapshot of these claims. There are far deeper and more exhaustive books on the claims of Christianity that may serve you better, but for a basic overview, this might work. It’s not a must read, in my opinion, and anyone who is seeking something more academic may best be served elsewhere.

(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.)

Mormonism 101 – A Book Review

mormonism 101In the past, Mormonism has been labeled a cult and its teachings have been criticized for being contrary to the Bible, a book which Mormons claim to believe. There seemed hardly a doubt that there was a distinction between Christianity and Mormonism.

In recent days, there have been some who have tried to blur the lines between Christianity and Mormonism. One of the most well-known is Glenn Beck, talk show host, author, and political activist. Beck considers himself a born again Christian. In fact, Beck recently gave the commencement address at Liberty University, an evangelical institution whose founder, Jerry Falwell, was the impetus for the Moral Majority movement in the United States.

So, are Mormons Christians? Are the variations in the theologies of these two groups drastic enough to say that there is a wide gap between them? Are those theological variations among what some would consider to be non-essentials or do they redefine some of the key theological ideologies within one group or the other?

Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson have sought to offer answers for those inquiring. With a revised and expanded edition of their book “Mormonism 101,” originally published back in 2000, they painstakingly examine the beliefs of the Mormon Church, the Church of Latter-day Saints (LDS). They outline the theologies and ideas embraced by the Mormon Church alongside those embraced by evangelical Christians.

The book is set up well, similar to a systematic theology book. This setup allows for its easy use as a reference tool so that the reader need not read it from front to back but instead can simply peruse the chapters and sections that are most pertinent to their needs at the moment.

McKeever and Johnson offer an exhaustive analysis of Mormonism. They reference the publications of the LDS with footnotes allowing the reader to do their own research should they desire to do so. In the reference to the LDS publications, the authors also offer biblical references to allow the reader to see the contradictions that exist between the claims of Mormonism and Christianity.

This book is a hard read to go from cover to cover. It is mostly academic in nature and I would not consider it “light reading.” That being said, as a reference, this is a great resource to thumb through when seeking answers to the differences between Mormonism and Christianity. If you are looking for a comprehensive analysis of the beliefs of LDS through a Christian lens, this book is an excellent resource.

(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.)

An Unlikely Read

Unlikely DiscipleI’m not sure when I first heard the name Jerry Falwell. Growing up in a very conservative pastor’s home during the heyday of the Moral Majority, it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to figure that his name may have been up there with Peter, James, John, and some of the other well-known biblical figures of the New Testament.

While my parents never idolized Falwell, I heard his name enough during my childhood for it to have stuck. Christian radio, magazines, music, conferences, and so much more were enough to expose me to the bubble that Mr. Falwell may have actually been responsible for helping to create.

A few years ago, a friend was driving to Lynchburg for work and asked me if I wanted to go along. It was not too long after my mom had died and my dad’s health was moving downward quickly. So, time in the car with a friend for a few hours seemed like a good distraction from everything that was swirling around me. He told me that he had a presentation and meeting but I could take his car and drive around Lynchburg once we got there.

Although I hadn’t planned on going to see the “school that Jerry built,” I found myself driving down the highway where I glanced a sign that said “Liberty University” for the next exit. I thought to myself, “Why not?” I mean, even though I’m in the same state, I didn’t know how often I might find myself out this way again, and besides, I was by myself, I had the perfect opportunity to spend as much (or as little) time as I could want exploring.

I followed signs to the campus and found a parking spot by the bookstore. I made my way over to DeMoss Hall where the visitors center was located. As I walked in, friendly, smiling faces greeted me and wasted no time giving me information about the school. I even received a free copy of Jerry Falwell’s autobiography (I still haven’t read it, but after my recent experiences and readings, it might have moved up my reading pile….a little). They invited me to visit the Jerry Falwell Museum across the hall.

I spent some time in there and talked to the older gentleman who was volunteering at the museum that day. He was friendly, and because I can still be lacking in my own self-confidence, I threw out the fact that I was raised and ordained Baptist…..I did, however, leave out the part that I had transferred my ordination to the Presbyterian church.

It was a beautiful, sunny day, so after I had looked around at the museum for a while, I walked around the campus a little bit more. I walked past the little prayer chapel and eventually made my way over to the place where Jerry Falwell is buried.Liberty-FalwellsGrave

I have to say, it was a little much for my taste. With a huge stone cross and an eternal flame, it had the hint that they had been trying too hard to emulate JFK’s grave in Arlington and yet make it abundantly clear that Falwell’s focus was a little different than Kennedy’s had been and that he had lived his life very differently than Kennedy had.

I couldn’t help but look around from that vantage point at the sprawling campus, the huge “LU” symbol on the side of the mountain, and this slightly overdone memorial/grave and wonder about focus. I knew what Falwell has said that he stood for, but I wondered whether that message was somehow lost in translation. It seemed that I was looking at a kingdom built to a man, honoring and memorializing him, almost to the point of idolatry.

Overall, I left the campus with a sense that I needed to process everything that I had seen. It was a little bit of an overload for my senses and I felt like there was more reading and studying upon Falwell that needed to be done. I had seen a glimpse at this man that I knew little about save for the occasional outcries within the media over some statement or other that he had made.

A while after the visit, the experience had kind of fallen back into the recesses of my mind. There was nothing that would really make it stand out to me. About a year after my initial visit, however, I was back on the campus again for a large Christian men’s gathering. As I soaked in that experience, it did nothing but solidify the thoughts that I had the first time that I had been on campus regarding focus. While it was an impressive campus, I kept wondering what it was all for.

It was some time after both of my visits that I stumbled upon a book while browsing the shelves at Goodwill. I think that I vaguely remembered having heard something about the book, but it didn’t strike my attention in that initial hearing. For whatever reason, when I saw “The Unlikely Disciple” by Kevin Roose at Goodwill, it struck my attention and I decided to pick it up.

Kevin Roose was a sophomore at Brown University when he decided to get some firsthand experience at discovering the decidedly vast gap between the secular and sacred. He transferred to Falwell’s Liberty University for a semester and went incognito to gather information for the book. He disguised himself as a student and a Christian and went to work figuring out what this evangelical Christianity was all about.

The book sat on my shelf for months before I finally cracked it open and began reading it. Once I started though, I couldn’t put it down. It felt almost like a bad accident on the side of the road, the kind that when everyone drives by but cranes their neck to see what happened. It was a painful read for me who has spent the better part of my life within the bubble of the Christian sub-culture. Roose’s insights and observations were spot on, he hit the nail on the head of so much that has come to symbolize fundamentalism in America.

I think that the thing that was so painful about it was the ability of Roose to peel away the layers and find a way to disguise himself within those layers without anyone really knowing the difference. I say that not because I feel as if he were an intruder but because it’s sad to me that the most distinguishing thing about Christians is cosmetic, outward, and seemingly superficial rather than being something that is internal and personal, that translates to something deeper than simply sin management.

Some of Roose’s impressions and observations felt fairly indicting for me. In some ways it felt like someone had infiltrated my family and told everyone secrets that were supposed to be kept within the family. You know, the whole “What happens in Vegas” thing except in regards to family. Roose observed the difference between the beliefs of many of his fellow students and their actual lifestyle and actions. While he saw many of them as kind and loving in some areas, he also saw some major discrepancies which led him to scratch his proverbial head.

As I continued to read, I thought to myself, “What is this saying about this sub-culture if he sees this stuff in a brief period of time?” I mean, one of the things that I have always tried to do is be honest about who I am and what I believe. Apart from that, one of the biggest things that my parents taught me was to be consistent, something that they modeled incredibly well. If people see inconsistencies in Christians, that’s our fault, not theirs, right? Shouldn’t our lives and actions match what we believe and the things that we say?

But it seems that Roose saw something in these Liberty students that was different, He said, “It’s hard to watch Liberty students singing along to worship songs during convocation, raising their hands and smiling beatifically, and not wonder whether they’ve tapped into something that makes their lives happier, more meaningful, more consistently optimistic than mine.” The overused mantra of “Preach the gospel and use words if necessary” seems to resound from this observation. Although he saw this difference and wondered about what was there that he was missing, it wasn’t convincing enough for him to embrace it himself.

But the kind and complimentary statements may end there. Roose saw the discrepancies in the belief system of his fellow students. He saw that there were more similarities between them and his friends who he considered “secular,” maybe even more similarities than differences. It’s just that the differences were pretty glaring.

Roose observed many of the things that have gotten lots of press within the evangelical church. He talked about the fact that there was “Frustration with a religious system that gives issues of personal sexuality higher spiritual priority than helping the poor of living a life of service.” He saw Sunday mornings as being about entertainment that resulted in what he called “Church Lite.” He talked about the general closed mindedness of many educators, particularly at Liberty and how there were no chances taken for exploration because of the culture that had been created, a culture “where academic rigor is sacrificed on the altar of uninterrupted piety, where the skills of exploration, deconstruction, and doubt – all of which should be present at an institution that bills itself as a liberal arts college – are systematically silenced in favor of presenting a clear, unambiguous political and spiritual agenda.”

I sat there reading the book and wondered how I was doing in all of these areas. I don’t think that he was plugging for people to change their beliefs but to at least take a deep look at them and understand them better. Simply saying “That’s what I was taught” or “That’s what my church believes” doesn’t really cut it when talking to people who are diametrically opposed in ideology and worldview.

This book is almost a necessary read for those Christians who can’t quite understand why the world looks at the Church with such disdain. While some might be offended at some of Roose’s language and attitude, I think it’s kind of important to understand how Christians end up coming across to people with whom they don’t agree. I wonder how willing Christians would be to do the same thing that Roose did, to go “cross-culturally” into a secular environment in an attempt to better understand people with whom they disagree or don’t see eye to eye.

Roose did a good job of documenting his own changes as well. While his journey and experience did not necessarily bring him to become a Christian, he was able to see some real value in the experience and I think he came to the realization that there was something different about the people at Liberty, people with whom he had originally thought that there existed a wider gap between him and them.

The danger in any observations about anything is that you are always only getting a small picture window into a world and a perspective. The spectrum is rarely as narrow as one observation shows you. While Roose got a good picture of Liberty’s version of fundamentalism, evangelicalism, and Christianity, it was still just that, Liberty’s version. Roose got a window into some people with whom he connected better, with whom he actually became friends based on commonalities rather than differences. He glimpsed some people who seemed to stand out more than others simply because they had chosen to buck the system, to swim upstream and against the tide that was so predominant and prevalent at Liberty.

Like him or hate him, the one thing that can be said of Falwell is that he was consistent, something that can’t be said of a lot of Bible thumping bigwigs who tout one thing while living something else. Falwell may have been incredibly vocal in his beliefs and disagreements, but he seemed to have lived what he believed, and honestly, that’s one of the most important things.

This whole read was another reminder to me that how I think I am coming across to others and how I really am coming across are not always the same thing. It’s important to do self-assessments to see what’s getting lost in translation and how I am presenting myself. Truth is truth, sure, I believe that, but it’s certainly possible that that truth comes across as anything but when it lacks a presentation of love and concern.

Same Sex- Marriage: A Thoughtful Approach to God’s Design for Marriage – A Book Review

same sex marriageSean McDowell and John Stonestreet tackle a difficult subject in their book, “Same Sex Marriage: A Thoughtful Approach to God’s Design for Marriage.” McDowell, the son of famed Christian apologist, pastor, speaker, and writer, Josh McDowell, is a professor at Biola University. Stonestreet is cohost with Eric Metaxas of the radio program Breakpoint. Their experience has led them to write this book which is targeted at Christians who are seeking a different approach towards responding to same-sex marriage and the continuing battle that rages between culture and the Church. The authors state that the unfortunate fact about Christians is that, “we are far better known for being against gays than being for people.”

McDowell and Stonestreet state that both sides of the raging debate over same-sex marriage continue to use proof-texting to prove their points. The authors instead believe that we need to go back to creation, “the way God made the world in the first place.” They point out that, “Because sexual intercourse is the only biological process that leads to procreation, this implies that marriage requires gender diversity.” Out of all of the biological processes, it is the only one that can’t be accomplished individually but which requires the opposite gender.

The authors also point out that marriage is more than simply being happy. It is rather a covenant between two people and God. They believe that, “Marriage was designed by God to thoroughly join two image bearers in a permanent commitment, enabling them to fulfill their purpose of filling and forming God’s world.” In fact, since they make the connection between procreation and marriage, they believe that, “including same-sex unions as being a type of marriage would change the definition of marriage for everyone.” While there are certain exceptions of procreation being fulfilled within marriage (e.g., those who are infertile), the authors see this as one of the primary purposes God attached to marriage.

McDowell and Stonestreet state that their argument against legalizing same-sex marriage does not mean that they believe that same-sex romantic relationships should be criminalized. In fact, they say, it doesn’t even mean that committed relationships should have no legal protection when it comes to property, inheritance, and care of partners. The argument on which they stand as that by redefining marriage, we take away the purposes for which it was created by God.

So, how should Christians who do not support same-sex marriage approach the issue? McDowell and Overstreet say that as Christians, “…we must spend more energy getting our own houses in order than we do trying to correct those outside the Church. Those in Christ are continually to call each other back to His authority in all areas.” They state that, “There is too great of a difference in the morality that is being demanded by the Church and the morality that is seen in the Church.” Peter writes in one of his epistles that judgment begins with the house of God and if we do not deal with the sin in our own lives than we have no business trying to address that sin in the lives of others. Until Christians begin to take seriously the moral standards to which they hold others, they will never gain a voice in a world that sees them as judgmental hate-mongers.

The authors include some helpful resources such as a to-do list of things that can be done to build inroads into the LGBT community and show them the love that has been so notably absent from Christians in the past. They also provide suggestions for the long haul, reinforcing the need for Christians to take strong stands against sin in general rather than singling out a specific sin that seems more egregious to them. The example given is divorce, a sin that has been largely overlooked within the church and yet which still stands as a sin. They also include guidance for everyday questions, similar to an FAQ with some helpful hints of how to respond to questions or circumstances which readers may confront or be faced with on a regular basis.

I wasn’t sure what to think when I picked up this book. Based on the backgrounds of both authors, I was unsure that this would be as different of an approach as advertised. I was pleasantly surprised that the book lived up to the promises that it made. It was written for Christians but I could see some disagreeing with some of the stances of the authors, but those same people may just be the ones who have been responsible for the wide chasm that lies divides the evangelical church and the LGBT community. The authors do a good job of confessing the shortcomings of Christians in the past, holding fast to the convictions which they hold based upon the Bible, and laying out a more loving approach to an issue that has been not only causing dissension between the Church and the culture but causing divisions within the Church itself.

McDowell and Stonestreet take a loving and gentle approach without compromising their convictions. I would recommend this book to those Christians who have been struggling with their own response to this ongoing debate. Even if you disagree with the approach laid out by the authors, their approach, in my opinion, can’t be labeled as hateful, judgmental, or bigoted. They seek to go back to a more loving and Christ-like approach towards conflict in hopes of regaining a voice within culture and, more importantly, showing those with whom Christians disagree that the love of Christ can rule the day, even when we still disagree in the end.

(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.)

Distorted Religion

extremismThe news has been full of stories about ISIS and the rampage of terror that they are wreaking upon the Middle East. The videos that have been portrayed have been brutal. They have beheaded journalists and others. They have instilled fear in people and had the world scratching their head in wonder, asking how this can happen and who will stop them.

Some have taken to criticizing Islam because of this extreme group. I read the posts and found myself feeling mostly aligned with some of the thoughts and criticism…..until I looked in the mirror. A friend posted this picture on his Facebook page and I was horrified at the thought that, as a Christian, I should be associated with the likes of the Ku Klux Klan, Fred Phelps and his minions, or psychotic megalomaniacs like Jim Jones and David Kuresh. Surely people who know me would know that the Christianity that I espouse does not bear any similarities to these extreme distortions, right?

Over and over again in the past few weeks, I have mulled over in my mind what to do with ISIS and how to address it in my own mind. I have wondered about the process which has become known in the theological world as eisegesis, the isolating of passages of the Bible out of their contexts to be used for less than noble purposes. For hundreds of years, people have taken the Bible and distorted it, twisting the words to fit whatever their preferences would have them. If the Bible is subject to such distortion, why should the Koran be any different or exempt?

Christianity is an embracing of the teachings of Jesus as truth, the embracing of Jesus as the only son of God, fully human and fully God, the embracing of his life and teachings, the embracing him as the only way to the Father, the becoming a disciple and follower of the incarnate God, the embracing of the Bible as the written Word of God. When we fail to fix our eyes on the author and perfecter of our faith, we will find ourselves guilty of eisegesis over and over again. We might like to point our fingers at those who are doing “really bad” things with their distortions of their religious books, but it doesn’t make our distortion any less of a distortion.

I have always hated to be associated with mainline Christianity by friends whose only understanding of Christianity comes from MSNBC, the Washington Post, or worse yet, from an experience that they had with a supposed Christian who hurt them or offended them in some way. While I consider myself evangelical, that word seems to set something off within people that triggers an alarm, signaling for them to stay away……far away. Labels have a way of doing that, polarizing people because we tend to think in extremes, identifying the labeled with the extremes that fall into that particular label.

Unfortunately, imperfect people (like me) have spoken for Jesus and have caused people to think that they (and me), in their (and my) imperfect state are the reason to follow or reject Jesus. It’s not license to live however we want, but it is a request for grace from those who are still not convinced that Jesus is who he says he is or that God is real.

I am sorry for the distorted picture of Jesus that I have sometimes given to others. I am sorry that my representation of him has been less than stellar at times and downright atrocious at other times. I am sorry that I may have caused someone who was searching for answers to have looked the other way because the Jesus that they encountered in me was so far from the real thing.

I am thankful that God’s mercies are new every morning. I am thankful that there is grace extended to those like me who fall short time and again. I am thankful that Jesus came for people like me, people who fall short and are unable to bring salvation to themselves.

I hope and pray that I might learn a little more every day just who Jesus is and how I can best represent him. I pray the prayer of John the Baptist that I might decrease in order that Jesus might increase in me. I pray that the God of second chances might grant me second and third and beyond that number of chances to better represent him to the world and the people around me.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found but now I see. Soli Deo Gloria!

It’s My Prerogative

phil robertsonAnyone who has been spending any amount of time in front of a TV, computer, or radio in the last 48 hours has been unable to avoid hearing about Phil Robertson, the patriarch of the Duck Commander family and star of A&E’s “Duck Dynasty.”  Due to him expressing his conservative Christian beliefs in an interview with GQ magazine, he has been suspended indefinitely from the show.

After the network’s decision, advocates and opponents of Robertson have voiced their opinions regarding their outrage at his comments or their support for him.  Facebook groups have been formed.  Petitions have been signed.  Lines have been drawn in the sand.  And vitriol flows from every side.

Full disclosure: I have been a fan of Duck Dynasty.  The show amuses me.  I’ve read Phil Robertson’s book.  I admire the way that the Robertson family stands strong for their convictions and allow those convictions to impact their lives.  The Robertsons value each other, spending time with one another, working with one another, and doing their best to put family first.

The story as I see it is that Phil Robertson expressed his opinion and his employer was unhappy with that opinion.  So, his employer has put him on a leave of absence.  Somehow, this has surprised those who are supporters of Robertson and the values to which he holds.  But why is this such a surprise?  Isn’t that his employer’s prerogative to make such a decision?

What would happen if there was a Christian employer whose employee made comments with which they disagreed and they, in turn, suspended that employee?  Would that not also be the employer’s prerogative?

I know what people will say here, that the second case would never happen because that Christian employer would be brought up on charges of discrimination and would be forced to reinstate the employee.  Is that correct?  Is that what would happen?

Of course not, there’s no way that could be the case, right?  I mean, if the roles were reversed and a Christian employer were not allowed to suspend an employee for their comments with which he/she disagreed, than we would be looking at some form of inconsistency, right?  Is it possible that those who cry out for tolerance might need to reassess their tolerance when it’s discovered that it breaks down and they become intolerant over those with whom they disagree?

The dictionary definition of tolerance is, “a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward opinions and practices that differ from one’s own.”  According to that definition, it would seem that shutting down the opinions of those with whom you disagree might actually be contradictory to the definition and actually mean the opposite, intolerance.

There is a breakdown somewhere.

I believe that people should hold to their convictions.  I believe that people should be able to express their opinions.  So, what happens when expressing your opinions and holding to convictions on one side is interpreted as tolerant, open-minded, and progressive while expressing your opinions and holding to convictions on the other side is interpreted as intolerant, unloving, bigoted, and deserving of being shut down?

Until we can come up with some adequate answers for these questions, answers with which both sides can agree, I think we are at an impasse.

Real – A Book Review

Real - Jamie SnyderIf someone were to meet you outside of Sunday morning, would they know that you were a follower of Christ?  Is your faith so tied up in what takes place in a church building on Sunday morning that once you move out from there, you’re indistinguishable from everyone else?  Are we living out our faith throughout the week or only on Sundays?

Jamie Snyder dives into this question of a 24/7 faith in his book “Real.”  He says that, “too many of us have settled for something so much less than Jesus intended.”  We like to enjoy our Sunday morning worship experiences but we can often fail to let them have a greater impact on us and our lives.  Are we about being transformed or are we just coming to be performed to?

Sunday mornings can easily be about our best.  We dress our best, we give our best, we act our best, but what happens when we leave church?  Do we still work towards exemplifying our best or does the mask come off?  Snyder believes that many generations of Christians have been largely defined by Sunday mornings and not anything else, least of all Jesus, who we claim to be following and emulating.

Herein lies the problem, Snyder says that if, “our entire faith revolves around a one- or two-hour worship experience on one day of the week, and every detail of it doesn’t match up exactly with your needs and wants, it is all too easy to become critical.”  In other words, when our faith is based solely on our own preferences and those preferences are all to be met in a brief experience on Sunday mornings, we are setting ourselves up for failure.  That’s an awful lot of pressure to put on yourself, and more importantly, those who are actually taking part in leading this experience.

Jesus didn’t relegate his testimony and testifying of who he was to the temple or the Sabbath, he took it with him everywhere that he went.  In fact, the call to follow him is a call to die and to sacrifice, not to sit back and let other people’s faith become ours.  Jesus didn’t preach warm and fuzzy messages either, if we really follow what he tells us, we might find ourselves feeling much more uncomfortable than we have been.  Being a follower of Christ is risky and dangerous, it’s not comfortable and safe.

Snyder does a good job asking questions and challenging the reader to question themselves.  His ending solidifies the point that all of us need to look at our lives through both windows and in mirrors.  By looking through windows, we see others around us, we embrace the journey that we are on and realize that we are not alone.  By looking in the mirror, we maintain a healthy balance of self-reflection and analysis that helps us to realize that the transformation that has begun in our lives has not been complete.  Sanctification is a process.

At times, Snyder seems like he is getting repetitive, hitting on key points throughout the book.  That’s not necessarily a criticism, I do the same thing in sermons.  “Real” is a good book that challenges the reader, if he/she is willing to be challenged.  If you want to ask yourself the hard questions of your faith and the impact that it’s having on you and others, then “Real” is the book for you.  All others can just stick to Joel Osteen and find their best lives now…

(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.)

Broken

“Will your grace run out if I let you down?  ‘Cause all I know is how to run.Broken_glass

I am a sinner if it’s not one thing it’s another, caught up in words, tangled in lies.

You are a Savior and you take brokenness aside and make it beautiful, beautiful.”

(from the song “Brokenness Aside” by All Sons & Daughters, check it out here)

Over and over in the gospels, it seems like the people who are most likely to respond to meeting Jesus and following after him are the ones who find themselves in desperate situations.  They’re caught in sin and ready to be stoned.  They’ve swindled their way through life and find themselves with no friends and lots of enemies.  They’ve been crippled for life and just want to make it into a pool for some supernatural healing.  They’ve experienced internal health issues and all they want to do is touch his garments.  They are broken.

What’s the opposite of broken?  Put together?  The funny thing is, if any one of us actually thinks that we’re put together, we’ve got another thing coming.  We’re all broken, it’s just a question of how well we show it.  We all have hurt and sin and darkness deep down inside, but we hide it, we’re afraid to let anyone see it.  But God sees it, no matter how hard we might try to hide it from him and everyone else.

When we come to the end of our rope and we have no place else to turn, all of a sudden, God looks like a viable option.  It seems we haven’t come very far from Eden, have we?  Up to the point of brokenness and helplessness, we think that we can do it ourselves, we can hold it all together, we can fix everything that comes our way.  The problem is, there are a lot of things that we can seemingly fix on our own which gives us a false sense of superhumanness.  Then one something comes along that is beyond our capacity to handle, we allow our superhumanness to take over and we fall flat.

What I continue to see in the Church is that it’s full of people who have managed on their own for a long, long, long time.  They’ve managed to keep everything at bay and handle all of the crises that have come their way in their own strength.  They can throw verses at the crisis, they can pray prayers against the crisis, they can cast the crisis out in Jesus’ name, and so they fail to see the need for complete surrender.  Only our own brokenness can bring us to the place of surrender, the place where we finally figure out that there’s no use denying it anymore, we really CAN’T do it on our own.

Brokenness is not as bad as we’ve cast it to be.  In fact, in the hands of the right person, brokenness can be turned around and used for good.  In the hands of God, brokenness can be turned into beauty.  After all, he makes beauty from ashes.  We rise, like the phoenix, from the ashes of what once was, what broke us down, and we rise in the power that he gives us, not in our own power.

Are you broken?  Have you handled things on your own?  How is that working for you?  What’s keeping you from surrender?  What are you afraid of?

Identity….revisited

Not too long ago, I did a post on identity.  I actually did it on my other blog, before I made the conversion to WordPress.  You can find it here.  As much as I have tried to move past the idea, it just continues to creep up on me.  The concept of identity seems to be staring me in the face every day in every situation in which I find myself.

The latest confrontation with identity has dealt primarily with faith.  It’s something that I dealt with myself when I was in my early 20s and I have found that there are some within the church who experience it earlier, some later, some not at all, and then some who simply refuse to confront it at all.  We put our faith in people rather than in God.  We don’t necessarily live out a faith that means something to us, we live out a faith that has been adopted by someone else.

Growing up as the son of a pastor (that’s what a PK is, in case you didn’t already know that, a Preacher’s Kid), it’s easy to adopt everything that your parents tell you simply because they told you.  Of course, it’s good to adopt things if they’re true and if you really believe them, but sometimes, oftentimes, it’s necessary to explore those things on your own.  I kind of think that’s what Paul meant when he said to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.  It needs to be a personal faith that makes sense to you.

To be honest, I have encountered some who consider themselves to be followers of Christ who have never really followed up on the doubts that have inevitably crept up in their lives.  Doubt isn’t a bad thing, it’s just a question of what we do with it.  Faith and doubt can coexist.  John Ortberg has a good book about it (you can find it here).  Faith is the substance and assurance of things hoped for and not seen.  Out of our doubts, faith emerges.

What I found in my early 20s was that the faith that I held to wasn’t really mine, it was my parents’ faith.  When I started feeling the doubts creep up, it was hard to combat those doubts with something that I hadn’t really explored myself.  So I set out to understand it for myself.  I went on the journey, the pilgrimage, to find out whether I really believed what I thought that I did, what I said that I did.questionning

In the end, all of the essentials were the same as those of my parents.  There were some divergences here and there, but they weren’t in the majors, they were in the minor things.  Instead of following Christ because I was told to follow him, I followed Christ because I knew it was right and true.

I have encountered people who consider themselves followers of Christ who hang on every word said by pastors and preachers.  They never explore those things for themselves and when those people inevitably disappoint them their faith is shattered.  They lose all confidence in their faith because it wasn’t based on Jesus, it was based on what someone else told them.  When we put our faith in fallible things, we will most likely be disappointed.  When we put our faith in the infallible, we won’t be disappointed.

There are millions of people in the world searching for who they really are.  Many of them find themselves in places that will disappoint, that will fail, that will crumble.  In Christ, we find our identity, who we were created to be.  It’s the one place in the world where we can go to find out who we really are without fear of rejection, without fear of failure, without fear of judgment.  In Christ, we are met where we are, but we are never left there.  Through Christ we experience restoration, regeneration, renewal.

Where do you find your identity?  While some might see Christ and religion as a crutch, I have found it as a crutch that holds me up the way that nothing else can.  In my weakness, he is strong.  In my failure, he succeeds.  In my rejection, he accepts.  In my judgment, he declares me righteous because of who he is and what he has done.  Call it a crutch if you want, I’ve just never found anything else that compares to what I have found in him.