Jesus Journey – A 40 day journey

Jesus journeyThroughout the history of Christianity, there have been two ways that people have looked at Jesus. Jesus was God in flesh, incarnate, revealing who the Father is by the things that he said and did. He was seen as more superhuman than human and much more divine than just a man. This is a view of God from above.

The other way people have looked at Jesus was simply as a man, someone that we could relate to who happened also to be God in the flesh. His pain was experienced so that we could know we were not alone. The oppression he faced was faced so that those who are oppressed can relate to him and find comfort in who he is and what he has to offer. This is a view of God from below.

No one has ever existed before or since Jesus who was fully human and fully divine. Trying to find the balance between Jesus’ humanity and divinity can be problematic. Trent Sheppard sees the emphasis having been much more on Jesus’ divinity, which is why he wrote “Jesus Journey.”

In “Jesus Journey,” Trent Sheppard looks more at the humanity of Jesus. He doesn’t deny or diminish his divinity, but he draws from the stories of the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, to paint a picture of Jesus that helps the reader to see him more human than maybe they have in the past.

Jesus was hungry, Jesus got angry. Jesus was stressed. Jesus needed sleep and rest. It might be easy to gloss over the humanity of Jesus in a reading of the gospels, but Sheppard tries to accentuate the accounts that help the reader see Jesus more realistically. He also does a good job of reminding the reader that the way that we see Jesus, two thousand years later, is not necessarily the way that the disciples and others of his time saw Jesus. It was a stretch for them, a process of belief that they entered into, to come to the place where they saw him as the Messiah.

Sheppard also breaks up the book in sections to look at the relationships that Jesus had with his parents, his Father, his friends, his death and suffering, and his resurrection. Through personal stories and anecdotes as well as the accounts found in the gospel, Sheppard weaves his way through the life of Jesus helping the reader to see the humanity of Jesus.

While I didn’t find anything outstanding here, I appreciated what Sheppard wrote. Having grown up in the church, it’s too easy to look at Jesus as the superhero and forget about his humanity. Sheppard does a good job of not deemphasizing Jesus’ divinity while reminding his reader that Jesus went through all of the things that ordinary humans have to go through as well.

“Jesus Journey” was a worthwhile read and could be useful as a devotion. Sheppard lays out his book in such a way that the reader can go through it in 40 days. The chapters aren’t too long and this could easily be a book that someone could read through during the 40 days of Lent in preparation for Easter.

(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 Book Review of “One” by Deidra Riggs

one deidra riggsThe back cover of “One” reads, “Our world needs fewer walls and more bridges. Be a bridge builder.”

It seems that’s exactly what Deidra Riggs is promoting in her book. she makes a case for Christians not necessarily having missed the boat on the gospel as much as we have missed the boat on our understanding of love in the kingdom of God. We are divided within the church and our example and witness hardly seems consistent when we talk about a God who accomplishes the impossible.

Riggs writes, “As members of the body of Christ, our language and cultural differences and our music and sermon length preferences seem like weak and empty reasons for separating ourselves from one another and thinking it’s okay to do so.” We have separated and segregated ourselves, sequestering ourselves in homogenous communities, churches, and other places. Riggs indicts Christians as having chosen, “churches and faith communities that envelop us in the comfort of people who look like us, think like us, vote like us, and dream like us.”

We’ve chosen to divide ourselves by our issues rather than looking past them to our commonalities. Our differences seem to be the one thing that our God can’t seem to conquer, at least in our own minds. We don’t work to move past these things because of the potential mess and discomfort that would be involved. Instead of looking to understand differences in ideas, opinions, and viewpoints, we choose instead to turn them into lines in the sand. Riggs writes, “…distilling a moment in a person’s journey to categories – pro-life or pro-choice, criminal or upstanding citizen, sinner or saint – limits out ability to let God be God in the life of that person.” She adds later, “When the people on the other side of our argument become our enemies, and we identify them as such, we have let our argument become our idol.”

“A faith that uses Jesus to justify any type of division, prejudice, injustice, or superiority needs to be examined and brought back into alignment with the truth of Christ’s message of good news.” We can’t remove our call to love our neighbors from the message of Jesus Christ. While that may feel uncomfortable, justifying our division, as Riggs says, needs to be evaluated in light of that message.

Riggs is incredibly honest about her own part in this. She admits her struggle and candidly shares of her own story. She is not perfect and never comes across as such. She admits, “When I mistake my position on an issue as being critical to my identity, I’ve let these differences stand between me and others in the body of Christ.”

We often struggle when we don’t fully understand from where someone is coming. Our lack of understanding, or ignorance, should be no excuse for downplaying how someone experiences something that is completely foreign to us. Instead, we need to lean into the relationship to try our best to understand where the other person is coming from. We cannot dictate how a person should or should not respond to a situation, especially when they’re coming to it from a completely different perspective or viewpoint than us.

When it comes to racial divides, It’s inappropriate for white people to be telling black people to “get over it” or “move on from the past” when the past continues to rear its ugly head and prove that it’s not as far back in the past as we’ve made it seem. Love and understanding need to be our primary goal when we encounter these situations that divide us. In fact, downplaying and diminishing the experiences of others in the midst of this will actually increase the divisions that already exist.

So much of what Riggs shares speaks to my heart. I’ve spent a significant amount of time in the past months exploring the issue of division and race. There is a tension that I feel though as I read “One” and I keep trying to put my finger on just what it is. Is it my own discomfort in having to change my ways or is it a discomfort in something that just feels wrong or different?

Riggs writes, “If we let our convictions take the place of Jesus in our lives, we could very well be standing in the way of the same Holy Spirit with whom we profess to be filled.” As I read this, I’m trying to understand just what Riggs wants us to do with our convictions. Isn’t it the Holy Spirit who gives us those convictions? How can the convictions that we have received from the Holy Spirit stand in the way of the Holy Spirit himself?

Of course, we can easily be reminded of the story of Peter in Acts having a vision of animals that had been called “unclean” to him coming down from heaven while he heard a voice telling him to eat. His own convictions ended up being wrong because God had expanded the menu. As Riggs writes, hiding behind spiritual convictions to justify our own prejudices is unacceptable.

I read Riggs’ arguments as being specifically pertaining to the racial divide that we see within the church, but there are times when I wonder if she’s moving past that to other areas that are seemingly dividers within the church. While she never explicitly mentions it, it’s hard not to think about the current state of the church in America and some of the other divisions that we see over convictions and the interpretation of those convictions. While I don’t condone unloving or ungodly prejudices, there is a tension that we will feel as followers of Christ when we hold to conviction of sin while still loving our neighbors, regardless of where they stand.

I may be reading too deeply into what Riggs has written and my own bias may be expanding her arguments past what her intentions were. Despite my discomfort with my interpretation of what Riggs is saying, I applaud her for speaking into this topic of division and race with such conviction and raw honesty. What she offers in “One” is an opportunity to engage a difficult subject by someone who has been far more impacted by it than I have and whose understanding can help me with my own.

“One” is an opportunity to begin to understand, especially if you are like me and are coming at the issue of racial division within the church from one who is not the minority. I would encourage you to hear what Deidra Riggs has to say. Let it challenge you, but more importantly, let it move you.

(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.)

Hope for the Same-Sex Attracted

hope for the ssaOne of the most compelling aspects of Ron Citlau’s book “Hope for the Same-Sex Attracted” is that he writes from his own personal experience. CItlau is someone who has struggled with same-sex attraction and allows that to be the lens through which he sees things.

Citlau divides his book into three parts: obstacles, gifts, and final thoughts.

In the obstacles section of the book, Citlau looks at same-sex identity, claiming that for Christians who struggle with same-sex attraction, this can’t be a viable option. He says that embracing that identity does not leave room for the possibility of transformation that can be done through Jesus Christ.

Another obstacle that Citlau identifies is the obstacle of gay marriage. One of his main points in this section is that coming together in marriage is based on differences rather than sameness. One of the main purposes of marriage, Citlau claims, is procreation and creating a family through children. He also claims that gay marriage tells a fundamentally different story and creates a different narrative than traditional marriage.

His final chapter in the obstacles section is on the spiritual friendship movement. There has been a push among those who struggle with same-sex attraction to push this movement forward. Citlau claims that the men and women who are behind this movement are people who have been suspicious of evangelical methods of dealing with same-sex desires. But Citlau is critical of this approach of finding spiritual friendships because it seems like a compromise of the biblical principle of dying to one’s self rather than embracing your struggles. While Citlau applauds those who are pushing this movement forward for some things, his tone indicates a concern for the dismissal of the possibility of transformation.

In the second part of the book, Citlau moves to a more productive focus by looking at things that can act as gifts to those who are struggling with same-sex attraction. Within this section, he looks at the gift of the church, the gift of healing communities and Christian therapy, the gift of singleness, the gift of marriage, and the gift of prayerful lament. Citlau points towards positive things that can be beneficial and helpful to those who find themselves struggling with same-sex attraction and who still see it as contrary to the teachings of the Bible.

Relationships are key and Citlau suggests that it is within the church and the community there that relationships can be formed. Citlau puts major responsibilities on the church to function as the type of community that loves, supports, and encourages those who are struggling with their attractions and desires. He has strong words for the church, challenging the church to be a place where testimonies of transformation are constantly told. If testimonies are not shared, it will not be a place where hope will be found. He is critical of the lack of depth in relationships formed in general, not just the church. In order for deep change and transformation to occur in all of us, we need to be willing to move past the superficial and allow ourselves to know others and be known by them.

Citlau pulls no punches when it comes to same-sex attraction, writing that it “is caused by sin and finds its roots in a fractured sexual identity.” He points to healing communities and Christian therapy as a means to become whole in our sexual identity as males and females. He explains what healing communities are and gives examples of some that may be helpful for those who are struggling. While healing may not be the end of the struggles, he points towards it as a means to achieve wholeness.

The next sections under the gifts section have to do with singleness and marriage. Citlau quotes from the Bible and points to the fact that singleness is a calling, either temporary or long-term. He lays out the advantages of it and gives multiple examples of some who have found benefit in this gift. Citlau also talks about marriage and how he himself has experienced the benefit of heterosexual marriage despite his struggle with same-sex attraction. He is quick to say that marriage will not “fix a person’s same-sex attraction.” He is not calling it a fix all solution but says that it may be an option for some who struggle with same-sex attraction.

The gifts section of the book concludes on prayerful lament. Citlau points to the Psalms as a means for raw honesty with God. God promises to be with his children and to hear them and the Psalms are a shining example of how we can share our struggles with God while still acknowledging that he is Lord over all. Citlau does not make light of the struggle nor does he try to explain or pray it away, but he does say that admission of the struggle to God can go a long way in moving towards wholeness.

In the final section, Citlau challenges church leaders in the midst of the culture in which she finds herself. There were two things that stood out to me in this section. First of all, Citlau reminds leaders to stand “what is right and true” while at the same time not couching hatred and disgust in religious terms. Second of all, he challenges the church to constantly remember that the God that we serve is a God of the extraordinary who changes and transforms his people. Citlau holds to his convictions while at the same time challenging the church to move forward in a different way than they have in the past.

It is evident throughout this book that Citlau is passionate about that which he writes. His own struggle with same-sex attraction makes a compelling case for his writing. While his convictions are strong and he is honest and true in what he says, he never comes across as condescending or simplistic. He admits the struggle over and over again and never diminishes that at all. At the same time, he has pointed out what he sees as errors in judgment of the church, bending to the ways of the culture or running from them to hide and surrounding herself with sameness and couching hateful language in biblical rhetoric.

Transformation and wholeness are common themes within this book. Ron Citlau seems to allow for the struggle while at the same time seeking to allow for the transformative work of God to take place. He never claims that it is easy, but he offers hope for those who continue to see their own same-sex attraction and the following out of their desires as contrary to the Bible and following Christ. As with many books, there are things to take and things to leave. It’s unlikely that someone who has not faith in Jesus Christ would find this book helpful, not because of Citlau’s tone or even his convictions but simply because of a difference of ideologies and beliefs.

While not necessarily a convincing read for those who hold no spiritual convictions, I think that Citlau shares some insights in this book that are at least worth a glance for those who struggle with same-sex attraction and who find themselves wondering how to still follow after Jesus Christ.

(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.)

How Do I Hold This?

On my way to an appointment yesterday, I got a text message from my wife with an update on the father of one of my son’s friend’s dad. Any time I hear the words, “It’s not good,” I always feel like a boulder gets firmly planted in my gut. My shoulders sag, my heart aches, and I do my best to keep the waterworks from starting. Tears seem inevitable, yet I still try to contain them.

There’s so much hurt, pain, and brokenness. I get so frustrated with those false prophets who say that God never gives you more than you can handle. That’s a load of garbage. I can’t find one place in the Bible where it even remotely says that. In fact, I think it says the opposite, that in this world you will find trouble and that if you choose to follow after Jesus, pain will be part of the journey.

As I sit here feeling the weight of all the stuff swirling around me, I keep asking myself, “How do I hold this?” How do I hold onto hope while standing in the face of turmoil?

I’ve always struggled with those who consider themselves Christians and who talk about an absolute assurance with no doubt. My speculation and cynicism makes me think that they’ve never really experienced anything significantly difficult in their lives to be able to hold to that. I’m not saying that I doubt God, but I certainly wonder about his ways at times.

When you’ve seen a godly man like my father who served God for years as a pastor come to a place of brokenness and defeat in his final years and months, it’s hard to have such bulletproof assurance. Again, hear what I am saying, I still believe, but like the man in Mark 9, I continue to ask God to help my unbelief.

I honestly don’t know how people do it without hope and without faith. I recently read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book “Between the World and Me.” It’s a heartbreaking read of a father’s letter to his son. But that father has no hope and without hope, it’s hard to just know what to do about the future. What are we sailing towards if we lack hope? How do we step with one foot in front of the other without hope?

In the words of the old hymn, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” The problem is, sometimes I wish that my hope could be founded in something that I could see and even touch. Sometimes I wish that I could get a little glimpse of that hope for myself rather than having to hold onto God’s promises. It’s not that I don’t think that they’re true, it’s just that sometimes you want something a little bit more tangible.

After hearing of some more difficult news this morning, I almost told my friends that I think it’s time for a prayer meeting. What else is there to do?

While it might seem that I am in despair, I’m not. There’s a difference between discouragement and despair. Despair happens when we lose hope, and I haven’t lost it.

I’m reminded of the words of the prophet Habakkuk in the Bible. Despite the difficulty of the circumstances surrounding him, he still maintained his hope in the Lord when he wrote the following:

Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.

The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights.

My circumstances and the circumstances of the people around me don’t need to dictate my response to them. If those things bring me to my knees, then they draw me closer to the One who holds all these things in his hand…..so that I don’t have to.

How’s Your Soul? – A Book Review

hows-your-soul“You can have millions in the bank, a Maserati in the driveway, and more Instagram followers than the pope, but unless your soul is healthy, you won’t be happy.” So Judah Smith writes within the first pages of “How’s Your Soul?” and then he spends the whole book talking through just what it means to take care of your soul.

As I dove into this book, I entered skeptically. I knew that Judah Smith had risen through the ranks to become one of the most popular hipster pastors of late. But was he for real? While I’ve read his book “Life Is…” the jury was still out in my mind as to where he stood. I’m fine with people writing encouraging and inspirational books, but I was wondering whether or not there was any depth to Smith. After all, there’s already one Joel Osteen in the world, I’d rather not see any more like him.

Judah Smith is the real deal. He’s funny. He’s quirky. He’s self-deprecating. He’s grounded. As much as he is all these things, he brings gospel truth, not compromising the message of the cross or the gospel and clearly laying out the essentials of the Christian faith. Smith writes with a winsomeness that allows for those who aren’t quite there yet in discovering who Jesus is. He’s not pushy or arrogant, but neither does he pull punches when it comes to the truth of the gospel. That won me over.

As Smith talks about the soul, he’s honest about the beginnings of our problems. He doesn’t shy away from the word “sin” and says, “…if we try to apply these…elements to our souls without dealing with the sin issue, it won’t work.” He’s also honest about the work that we do for ourselves and the work that God has done for us when he says, “Self-effort is noble and admirable, and it will carry you through some things; but a love birthed in self will never be strong enough for all things. We need a love that transcends human ability and experience.”

His words are reminiscent of Augustine’s words when he writes, “As our souls find themselves in God, our lives will find their purpose, place, and value in him as well.” We will not find rest in our souls until we find that rest in God alone. He speaks of living lives that are surrendered and surrounded. We surrender to God and surround ourselves with others with whom we can walk. Even if we don’t fully get it or fully believe, it’s important to belong as we enter the process.

I appreciated what Smith said about belonging before believing. Too often Christians can be guilty of asking people to clean themselves up and then coming to Jesus. Smith encourages us to seek ways to allow for people to belong first rather than getting all the behavior right. It is a journey, we belong, then we believe, and then we behave. To try to behave first without belonging and believing is not only counterintuitive, it’s contrary to what Jesus taught us.

“How’s Your Soul?” was a pleasant surprise to me. There is no deep theology here, but that’s not what Judah Smith is going for, he’s just reminding his reader of the importance of soul care for living. It’s a fast read with some worthwhile truth. Check it out!

(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.)

Who’s In Control Anyway?

Clinton, Trump pick up big winsLast night, as I sat in my chair listening to the news on the television in the other room, I opened my Bible to 1 Kings. The kingship of Israel was a tumultuous position. David was a man after God’s own heart despite his flaws. Solomon was the wisest man to live despite his affinity for foreign women. Rehoboam exploited his people and threatened to be more harsh than his father had been.

And on and on the story goes. While there were some bright spots here and there for Israel, there were far more duds.

And you know what? God was still in control. Just because the kings weren’t obedient didn’t change the fact that God was still there.

When he was writing to the church in Rome, the Apostle Paul told them, “…for there is no authority except that which God established.” Eugene Peterson’s The Message paraphrases it by saying, “All governments are under God.”

The thing is, I don’t think that the Church has been doing a really good job in the past days of really believing this and living as if it was true. I think we’ve been driven by fear. I think we’ve believed that the president of a democracy has the power to somehow seize control of that democracy and make it a dictatorship.

It’s hard to think about evil rulers without considering King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. When the Hebrew young men who were in exile refused to worship the image of gold that the king had set up, Nebuchadnezzar was furious and threatened to cast them in the fiery furnace.

I love the way that the young men responded to the king. They said, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

I think that their response is such a foreign one to the ears of so many of us who consider ourselves western evangelicals. God is for us, right? Who could possibly be against us? The United States is a Christian nation, right? God has shed his grace on us, right?

Jesus spoke often about how those of us who follow him would experience persecution. As many times as I’ve read the Bible, I’ve still failed to find the section that talks about how following Jesus sets me up for health, wealth, power, and comfortable living. Maybe I’ve been looking in the wrong place, but I don’t think so.

I’ve not been thrilled coming into yesterday’s election. To be honest, I didn’t vote for either of the party nominations. In good conscience, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. But I’ve got friends who voted for both candidates, and I still consider them my friends today. I’m not judging them, I’m not angry with them, I still love them.

Yesterday was an election, and going into that election, I don’t think that the Church has done a very good job of exhibiting our confidence in a sovereign God. I think some of us have been led by fear. I think some of us have been led by anger. I think some of us have let our imaginations get the best of us after having read too many apocalypse novels.

I truly believe that this is just the beginning of a season of opportunity for all of those who believe in the sovereignty of God, all of those who consider ourselves to be faithful followers of Christ. People will be looking at us to see how we respond, not so much when we agree with the powers and authorities over us, but more when we don’t agree. We’ve not always done a good job in the last eight years of modeling a Christ-like attitude in following our president, will we continue in that vein for the next four years?

If I could have gone back and lived yesterday again, I think I might have made a pin or sticker for myself that said, “I’m with Paul” because Paul’s words still ring true today, “…for there is no authority except that which God established.” They were true back then and they still hold true today.

So, I’m going to do my best to let this be an opportunity for me to shine Christ in the midst of it all. I want my children to see that when I say that I believe in the sovereignty of God, that I mean it. I want my children to see that when their dad gets up and preaches about trusting in God, that he means it. I want my children to see that authority is still authority, regardless of whether I agree with that authority. While I won’t go against anything that God speaks against, I see this upcoming season ahead as a crucial time for the Church to be an example of what it really means to believe in the sovereignty of God.

#ImwithPaul

Home – A Book Review

home - fitzpatrickOver the past few years, there has been an overabundance of books and movies published and produced about heaven. If you walk into any Christian book store, you will see the shelves lined with these books and movies. Some of them have even gone on to garner more expansive attention. While I haven’t seen the movies and I’ve only read or perused a handful of the books, I’ve gotten the basic idea of the premise behind them, and that idea is rarely about meeting Jesus face to face. Instead, it seems that these books have focused instead on the fact that a) death isn’t the end and b) we’ll get to see our loved ones in heaven.

 

Those may not be the worst conclusions, but they certainly aren’t the best conclusions either. If heaven is simply about escaping hell and seeing the people we love, I think we’ve missed the point. Couple that with the fact that many of the conclusions in these books are based not upon the Bible but on a person’s own dreams or near-death experiences. There may be a place for fiction and dreaming, but we still need to rely on what God has given us in order to determine, to know what is to come. If our only basis of what we know about heaven comes from these books on movies, we may have the tendency to be driven by an emotionalism rather than something more concrete and reliable.

 

Into this landscape comes Elyse Pitzpatrick’s book “Home.”

 

There is a sense in all of us, writes Fitzpatrick, an unfulfilled desire and unmet need for home that cannot be fulfilled. No matter what we try to do to fill those desires, Fitzpatrick suggests that this desire in us is meant to create in believers a dissatisfaction that can only be filled by our real home, which is not the earth. She writes, “Perhaps one of the reasons why God chooses to leave us in this terribly broken world with its various disappointments is to create in our souls a certain dissatisfaction, an insatiable hunger for home.”

 

As Fitzpatrick weaves her way through “Home,” she continually relies on the Bible and the writings of theologians and others. She continually points back to the Bible to frame what we know and what we can expect. She acknowledges the discomfort of living in a world ravaged by sin but reminds the reader that God’s intention for creation was something so much more than that.

 

Fitzpatrick shares her own experiences as well as the experiences of others. As I read some of the accounts of her friends, my heart ached for them. There is no question that this world is not as it should be. But in the midst of it all, Fitzpatrick points to the hope that we should have as followers of Christ. While things are bleak, disheartening, and somewhat depressing at times, the ache we feel inside is for what is to come. She suggests that the more we let the thought of our true Home slip away, the more difficult it will be for us to hold on to hope.

 

The humility with which Fitzpatrick writes is a winsome quality of this book. She honestly confesses that her life has not been filled with many of the struggles of others. While she hasn’t been without difficulties, she acknowledges that things have been fairly good. She writes with a sense of comfort to point those whose experiences haven’t been quite as joyous and carefree to the hope of which she writes. Even when she’s done, she humbly concludes with these words, “All that we have been through in these pages filled with black lines, all the drawing, erasing, and redrawing I’ve done for you are at best pencil sketches by a woman in a dungeon, trying to sketch a world I’ve never seen, seeking to employ words I’m not skilled enough to arrange, trying to create for you something more than a child’s stick-figure drawing.”

 

For me, “Home” was a refreshing read. It was evident that Fitzpatrick had done her homework in scouring the Bible as well as the writings of those who have studied the idea of heaven in the past. While there were moments when I felt like she was lost in the prose, the material which she was writing is so necessary to remind us all of what is to come.

 

There are much more scholarly works written about heaven, some of which Fitzpatrick makes reference to within her book. “Home” is an easily accessible book that is helpful to point people towards what is to come, not based on emotions, feelings, dreams, and other things, but based on what God has given to us as a revelation of himself and what he is bringing to us. This book is worth the read, especially for those who might be struggling most with finding hope in the midst of the brokenness that they are experiencing in this world.

 

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

You’re Going the Wrong Way

who can heal americaThere’s a scene in the movie “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” when John Candy and Steve Martin are driving in the wrong direction down the highway. They see a car across the way who is trying to signal to them and the driver yells to them, “You’re going the wrong way.” Candy and Martin think that the guy is drunk and don’t even consider that they actually might be driving down the highway in the wrong direction. Eventually, they crash and their car burns up, leaving them stranded with a shell of a car. I wonder what would have happened if they had simply heeded the advice of the man yelling at them to turn around.

As funny of a movie as “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” is, this scene replayed in my mind as I’ve thought about the events of the last week, month, and even year. As more and more horrible things play out in the United States, I can’t help but wonder whether or not someone is yelling, “You’re going the wrong way” to us, and in our foolishness and pride, we dig our heels in a little deeper, we clench our fists a little tighter, and we keep pressing on, thinking that we’re not the ones who are wrong.

The other day, a news headline on CNN.com read, “Who can heal America?” I thought that it was a perfect question to which many will struggle to come up with an answer. I think plenty of people will have an answer, but I don’t think that any of the answers that they’ll provide will be right. After all, politicians have been “coming up with answers” for years and it’s not gotten us any further away from the dismay that we’ve experienced. In fact, one might argue that we’re worse off than we were before, but we continue to drive in the wrong direction, thinking that it surely can’t be us that’s wrong, it’s got to be someone else. There’s no way that we could be driving in the wrong direction, right?

There’s a very powerful passage in 1 Samuel 8 in the Old Testament. Samuel, the prophet and priest, has gotten old and his sons are wayward, and the people want an answer to their problems. So, they ask for a king. Why? They say, “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.” As Samuel talks with God, God tells him all of the things that a king will do to the people, a king will enslave the people, he will steal from them and oppress them, he will take their possessions and their children from them, and when they cry out to God, God will not answer them.

It seems that America has wanted to be just like everybody else. We want a king to lead us, we want a president who can fix this mess, but if we’re looking to find someone who can save us, who can fix this, who can heal America, we’re going the wrong way, we’re heading in the wrong direction. A president will only do what we’ve seen presidents do countless times in the past, but presidents will come and go, political leaders will rise and fall, but there is only One who will remain forever.

We’re going the wrong way and we’ve got to turn around, but I don’t think that finding the right president is the way to fix the problem. The problems need to be fixed in our hearts before we can try to fix them externally, after all, you can make things look nice and pretty on the outside all you want, but if you don’t fix what’s broken on the inside, then it’s just window dressing.

America doesn’t need the right president, America needs a change of heart. We need to stop the car and turn it around, but we’ve got to humble ourselves and first realize that we’re going in the wrong direction.

Grace

I’m two weeks into my sabbatical and I feel like so much has happened in that short amount of time. Some of my days have felt like two or three days combined into one. I’ve had some great conversations, some great experiences, some great rest.

My wife and I spent nearly four years in a place not too long after we got married. My wife had married an engineer and then I was called to be a pastor. It was a big shift for both of us. That call involved a move far away from our family and all that was familiar to us. I was green and inexperienced in the new world in which I found myself. I made mistakes, I spoke too quickly, I offended, I probably thought that I knew way more than I really did.

When things ended in that place, there was hurt, there was anger, there was confusion, there was uncertainty. We didn’t know for sure where we would end up, but God did. He opened the door for us to a new place. We left behind many great friends and I felt like I was leaving a bit of my heart there as well. We had made an investment and to leave it all behind was hard for me to do.

This past week, I spent some time with some of the people who were part of our experience there in that place. I’m not even sure what words to use to best describe the meaningfulness of that time. Healing. Growing. Learning. Moving on. Grace.

Grace.

It’s a word that came up in our conversations and a word that I continue to go back to. If we are truly growing in our faith journey and in our spiritual depth, grace should be something that naturally pours from us. We shouldn’t tout that we have grown up in the church and been Christians for 40 years and then fail to exhibit grace. We shouldn’t expect grace to be given to us and then refuse to extend it to others. Grace has been given to us and to whom much has been given, much is expected.

Grace.

I feel like I experienced an immersion of grace over the last week. As conversations took place and we shared, I felt that grace and I was so grateful for it.

I still have many weeks to go as I move through this sabbatical. It’s always hard to come hard out of the gates, it can easily set your expectations high for what else is to come. But I don’t think I should worry. Much of what I have experienced over the last week was not planned, at least by me, but I know that God orchestrated it, he made it happen, he gave me the privilege of experiencing it.

This is going to be a fun ride!

Core Christianity – A Book Review

core christianityWords matter. So does what you believe. When you can express in words what you believe, you’re doing very well. Beliefs that help you connect your story to the bigger story are important as well. Michael Horton believes that this is essential and the key element to living our lives. He writes, “The plot with Christ as the central character ties it all together. Every story in the Bible points not to us and how we can have our best life now, but first to Christ and how everything God orchestrates leads to redemption in him.”

 

Horton’s “Core Christianity” is a primer of sorts on theology and the basics of the Christian faith. He brings the reader through some key and essential beliefs and teachings in Christianity. He covers Jesus, who he is and how he fits into the bigger God picture of the Trinity. He talks of God’s goodness and greatness and the problem with evil. He addresses God’s Word, both the written word and the incarnation, the Son in flesh and blood. Horton also writes of sin, death, and everything after.

 

Horton addresses these topics with a conversational approach that adequately gets his point across without getting bogged down in hefty language. When there are topics or terms that he feels may need a more focused approach, he sets them off to the side in the column to specifically address certain terms and topics. It’s a helpful approach that leaves the reader feeling more informed and better able to continue on through the book.

 

The lens through which Horton is addressing these topics is important to understand for the reader. Horton has a Reformed and covenantal approach towards the theological topics which he addresses. That’s not to say that he does it poorly, he does not, but those who may approach these theological topics from a different camp would be best served understanding this at the outset.

 

Ultimately, Horton addresses these topics with the reader in order that the reader can best approach their life. In fact, Horton writes, “What I mean is that, ironically, it is only when we know how to die properly that we finally have some inkling about how to truly live here and now.” In order for us to truly live, we need to have a better understanding of how to die. It’s a topic which may seem a bit out of place amidst the subject matter until one realizes that Horton’s goal is to connect the reader to a story that exists outside of themselves.

 

As Horton wraps up the material in the book, he address the topic of God’s will in our lives. It seems that Christians have become very good at obsessing on this subject. Horton speaks of the “calling” which is a common term among Christians. Many may seek to find God’s explicit will for their lives, wanting the details of just what it is that they are called to do with their lives. Horton writes, “Don’t worry about the other callings – especially those that may lie in the future. Just be who God has called you to be right where you are, with the people he has called you to serve.” Glory to God becomes the primary calling that Horton emphasizes.

 

I’ve read other books my Michael Horton and have appreciated them. This book does not share anything earth shattering or new, but Horton does condense some hefty material into one hundred and seventy pages. This isn’t a book which needs an advanced degree or seminary degree to appreciate and understand. Horton has a way of approaching these topics with sensitivity, class, and intelligence without losing the reader along the way. As I read the book, I thought about people who I could possibly share this with to give some explanation of these topics.

 

As I said, the information that Horton shares in this book is not new, but he shares it in such a way that it can easily be understood by the average person seeking to dig deeper in their understanding of Christianity. Loftier and thicker works may exist which cover these same topics, but Horton’s book is a simple and easy way to give someone an overview. It may serve as an appetizer for some and a main course for others, either way, Horton does his job well and “Core Christianity” is a worthwhile resource for anyone who wants simple and easily explained methods of talking about theology.

 

(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.)