A Craning of the Neck

The last few days have been kind of rough. It hasn’t had anything to do with my immediate family, but rather my church family. Deaths, both expected and unexpected. Sickness. Diagnoses. In a season of the church where hope is among the four major values focused upon (along with peace, love, and joy), it has seemed somewhat elusive.

When my mom was sick and eventually succumbed to cancer, the words of Romans 8 were powerfully meaningful to me. In the original Greek language of the text, the word translated in English as “eager expectation” had a particular meaning that stood out to me. It literally means to crane the neck and look around a corner.

I love word pictures and the picture that emerged in my mind was one of hope and expectation, something that marks the Advent season of the church. It’s a season of waiting. We sing songs of waiting like “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus.”

Multiple times in the last few days, I have reminded myself and others that what we are experiencing is not the way things were intended to be. Having to break hard news to someone and watch as a family experiences one blow after another of tragedy is just not the way it’s supposed to be.

Still, there is hope. God’s promises are true. I believe it, but like the father in Mark 9 who desperately hopes that Jesus will heal his son, I need to be helped in my unbelief. Knowing and believing without seeing is where faith comes in.

Fielding the questions of my ten year old son about belief, and heaven, and the difficulty of believing has been sobering as well. I refuse to give him pat answers to questions that plagued me for years because the church was never willing to be honest with them.

As I feel like I’ve said so many times, there is nothing wrong with doubt, it’s what you do with it that matters most. My doubt leads me back to God’s promises. There were periods of the silence of God, hundreds of years. And now, it seems, we are faced with thousands of years of the silence of God. Does that mean he has abandoned us? No, I don’t think so.

Instead, we wait in anticipation, craning our necks around the corner to see if we can just catch a glimpse of what is ahead, what wonder might be waiting around that corner. Any little glimpse will reignite that hope in our hearts.

Surprisingly, in a cramped hospital family waiting room, stuffed with people who had only known each other for a short period of time, I sensed that hope and expectation. In the midst of tragedy, I heard stories of hope. I saw images of hope. I could almost feel the sense of hope palpably.

Don’t get me wrong, tragedy, grief, hurt and pain still suck. I’m not going to sugarcoat that, but I see in the darkness that there is a light, no matter how small. In the Apostle Paul’s words, “Hope that is seen is no hope at all.”

As far away as God might seem, I am comforted by the words that end Romans chapter 8. These words are the words that I choose to propel me forward during times like this.

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

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Hope in the Dark

The Golden ThreadIn his note at the beginning of his wife’s book, Mark Zschech mentions the Japanese art of Kintsugi, a repair method that takes broken pieces of pottery and puts them back together with threads of real gold. This repair method and art form not only restores a piece of pottery that might have otherwise been rendered useless, but it also brings more value to the piece with these threads of gold. Just like this golden thread in a piece of pottery, so is God’s redemptive work in our lives through the various things that break us down and seek to destroy us.

Once upon a time, I was a worship leader in Asheville, North Carolina. Through various connections, I had the privilege of being part of a musical team that supported many of the conferences that came through the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. Among the conferences that came through which I was privileged to be a part was a Hillsong worship conference back in the days when Darlene Zschech was still the main worship pastor there.

Spending a week with her and her team was a memorable experience. Many of the songs that I and my church had been singing for years had been written by Darlene and this team. To spend time with them and see their heart for Jesus and for worship gave me the opportunity to see that these songs were not just simply ways to earn a buck, but they were from the heart and lives of people who were earnestly seeking Jesus.

I say all this because I think that slight glimpse into Zschech’s world has shaped my perspective on this book. In that brief time spent with Zschech and her team, I could see how genuine and authentic she was, there was nothing contrived in her at all. She came across as so real and it made such an impact in me and my wife who also attended the conference.

So, as I read “The Golden Thread,” I could hear her speaking the words on the page to me. I could feel the emotion that she felt and I was inspired by the faith that I had seen up close and personal.

“The Golden Thread” is more than just Zschech’s story of being diagnosed with cancer and going through treatments to become cancer free. It is a story of faith and inspiration and while she shares personally in the book, she continually points back to Jesus throughout. What does it mean to want Jesus more than anything? How do you walk through the valley of the shadow of death and maintain your faith? What happens when God’s will and yours don’t seem to match and you are left with disappointment?

Above all, “The Golden Thread” is Zschech’s emphasis on worship through all the seasons of life, no matter how difficult. As she writes, the goal of worship, “should always be to see Jesus and to experience His presence.” While we often might try to make it about us, Zschech reminds us that we shouldn’t be the focus. Worship isn’t about what we do with our lips, she says, but what we do with our lives.

Zschech writes that her cancer treatment, “actually gave me a pass into some people’s worlds where I had previously had no authority.” The shared experience of facing the disease allowed her in relationships, but also in this book, to be invited into the lives of others who were struggling through the “Why” of a diagnosis or other crisis that had somehow arrived completely uninvited into what had been a fairly pleasant life journey.

As I read “The Golden Thread,” I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if one of Job’s friends in the Bible had actually been through difficulties themselves. Would they have come across more compassionately? Would they have sounded more like Zschech sounded in this book?

The message that runs through this book much like the golden thread for which it is named is about hope and the fact that while the world and everything (and everyone?) in it may seemingly abandon you, you are never alone or pushed away by God and you will never be abandoned. Hope in Jesus is the only thing that is sustainable throughout the difficulties of life that we face.

There are insights throughout this book that apply to so much more than simply cancer diagnoses and difficulties in life. Zschech speaks of forgiveness and the need to embrace it in order to be healthy and move on. She speaks of the holy discontent that boils up within us that we need to follow, always remembering that those around us are people to be loved, not problems to be fixed.

Having finished a book by another worship leader not long before diving into this one, I was skeptical of just how I would respond to it. I was pleasantly surprised and encouraged when I found myself wanting to keep reading rather than putting it down.

If you are seeking encouragement during dark times and difficulties, Zschech’s words may encourage and uplift you. While she shares out of her own experience, her insights and the application of them can be beneficial to far more experiences as well. “The Golden Thread” is a book filled with hope that points the reader to the only hope that is real and long-lasting, the hope of Jesus Christ.

(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.)

Holy Roar – A Book

In the introduction to “Holy Roar,” Chris Tomlin explains why he recommended that his friend Darren Whitehead write the book. After hearing him give a message called “The Seven Words of Praise,” Tomlin approached Whitehead to let him know that the content of the message needed to be shared beyond those who had heard the message at the local church, it needed to become a book.

The premise of the book is fairly simple: there are seven words in Hebrew that are translated “praise” in English. Whitehead gives each word a chapter and speaks of the specific linguistic nuances of these words, explaining the deeper definition, and sharing his insights and particular experience around those specifics. Whitehead’s section in each chapter is followed by Chris Tomlin sharing about a song that he has written or recorded and connecting it to the specific Hebrew word and meaning.

Each chapter also contains a section for reflection and discussion for those who may want to go through the book with their music teams or small groups. There is a quote from a historical Christian figure, a set of verses relating to the chapter, and questions for reflection and discussion.

There was nothing with which I disagreed theologically in this book. It wasn’t boring. I read it in a day, so it was a quick read. As I read through the book, I asked myself whether it seemed necessary to me. What was unique about this book that I couldn’t find anywhere else? If I didn’t read this book, would I feel as if I had missed out on something?

My conclusion was that while the book was fine, it wasn’t great. There were some helpful insights but none that I felt like I couldn’t have come to had I done my own research into these seven words using a Hebrew lexicon and investing a little bit of time. To be honest, I think it could have been marketed as a devotional book or even a Bible plan on the YouVersion Bible app rather than set aside an entire book for this content.

If you are interested in the subject matter and would rather not do the research on your own, by all means, pick up a copy of this book. But if you want to invest some time and study into learning more about these seven Hebrew words, what they mean, and how you can deepen your own personal worship, you may be better off investing in a good Hebrew lexicon and going from there.

(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.)

Faith For This Moment – A Book Review

faith for this momentThe subtitle for Rick McKinley’s book “Faith For This Moment” is, “Navigating a polarized world as the people of God.” That sums up this book in less than ten words and McKinley spends the entire book not only explaining this but also giving five practical ways for Christians to live as the people of God in this polarized world.

Living and pastoring in a place like Portland, Oregon gives McKinley a great perspective of our culture. Regardless of what the statistics show about evangelical Christians in the 2016 election, I think that there are far more who can relate to McKinley when he writes, “Where does someone go who doesn’t fit into the given political and social boxes? What do you do if you are serious about your faith in Jesus but feel more and more that the speech and actions being used by certain Christians don’t accurately reflect what you believe?”

McKinley starts the book off describing his own experience of hearing about the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. He asks himself and his readers just how the people who follow Jesus respond in moments like this. Then he lays out a different way than what most of us have seen, a way of conviction and love.

A lot of McKinley’s focus in this book is on the people of God as exiles. It’s not a new concept, but a concept that many followers of Christ seem to have forgotten. The Church either seems to assimilate to the culture or avoid it like the plague. Sadly, it doesn’t seem that there are many who are trying to engage the culture. It’s awkward, hard, and is ripe with conflict, so why take that hard way when the easy way of assimilation or avoidance could be so much easier?

Being exiles is hard, but we in the 21st century are not the first Christ followers to have been exiled. The people of God have always been a people who have been exiled. Egypt. The wilderness. Babylon. As McKinley writes, “exile is an important way for Christians to understand what it means to be the people of God now.”

Readers are taken through a brief history lesson where McKinley outlines how Christendom was formed when Constantine was converted and Christianity became the national religion. Rather than faith being shaped by Jesus, faith was shaped by an empire, and we have seen our misplaced trust in manmade regimes lead to dismay, disappointment, and just plain disobedience.

So, how do we maintain our faithfulness to God while living in exile? McKinley urges his readers to develop the disciplines of repentance and discernment. He points to Daniel in the Bible as an example of an exile who flourished while not assimilating or completely avoiding the culture. Then McKinley walks his readers through five spiritual practices to help as we journey through exile: centering practice, hospitality, generosity, sabbath, and vocation. Throughout the five chapters outlining these spiritual practices, McKinley gives great, practical resources to live in exile without straying too far to the right or left.

I wasn’t sure how I was going to appreciate this book when I first started it. While I was familiar with Rick McKinley, I was not sure how aligned I would be with his approach. I’ve learned that I rarely find myself in 100% alignment with the views of the authors I read, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But as I read “Faith For This Moment,” I found myself echoing “Amen” over and over again. I felt a camaraderie with McKinley I breathed a deep sigh of relief in knowing that there are other fellow sojourners out there who have grown tired of the current trend within the church, who have strong convictions that have been informed by the Bible, and yet who want to live in “Babylon” without setting up some kind of Christian ghetto and praying for Jesus’ speedy return.

If you have found yourself struggling with walking the line between assimilation and avoidance in the current culture, this is a book that you might want to read. McKinley writes in a humble and loving manner, never coming across as a know it all and never becoming too preachy either. I could see myself reading this book again in six months to a year just to remind myself what living in “Babylon” looks like and just how to continue to do so without falling to one side or the other.

(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.)

Pressing On, Pressing In

So, I’m learning a ton about myself, a ton about faith, and just a ton in general. There have been multiple times in my life when I’ve felt like I’m drinking from the firehose, this season is certainly one of them.

For anyone who has been following my story, my family and I are launching out and planting a church in the next year. It’s something that’s been on our heart since we left Asheville, North Carolina almost eleven years ago.

There are a number of reasons why it’s taken us this long to do it. To be honest, I think that God had a lot of work that he needed to do in me before I was ready to launch out. And honestly, I still don’t know how ready I am, which is probably a good thing. If I felt completely ready and capable, I would probably be relying on my own strength rather than the strength that God gives me.

Since we made our announcement about the plant, I’ve gone through all kinds of waves of emotion. There have been moments of joy, moments of sorrow, moments of doubt, moments of confidence. One thing that is consistent is my daily realization that I cannot do this alone. Not only as an individual, but also not without God’s help in all of this.

I was educated as an engineer. Two degrees. Some people are tired of hearing me say that, but I bring it up because engineers pride themselves in having the answers. In fact, I always prided myself on having the answers to questions that still hadn’t been asked. But where we are right now, this reliance on things that we can’t see, it’s totally out of my norm, I just don’t usually operate this way. I want answers. I want control. I’m not finding a lot of either right now, and I think I’m okay with that.

But this is a different season. I’m trying my best to press on and to press in. I am doing my best to trust and to have faith. I don’t have all the money that I need for the upcoming year. I don’t have all the particulars of what this church that we are starting will look like. I don’t even know for sure where it is that we will be meeting. And you know what? I’m actually okay with all that, and I think that it’s perfectly acceptable.

It’s actually a big step for me to be where I am and I didn’t get here on my own. Some may think I am being reckless. Some may think I’m hanging on to outdated beliefs. I have seen too much in my life, both good and bad, to not believe.

So, we’re pushing on and I am excited to see what God will do. While I may have some unique strengths and gifts, I know that none of this can happen without God. Like Moses in the wilderness, I stand where I am saying, “If you do not go with us, we will not go from this place.” That’s my sentiment. Exactly.

I’ll keep updating here. I’ll keep hanging on to the faith that I have. After all, faith is the assurance of the things that we hope for, the things that we can’t see. Here’s hoping and here’s faithing!!

Here we go!

ashlandFor those people who know me, being in full-time vocational ministry is a second career for me. Prior to becoming a pastor, I was an engineer, moving up the ranks within the company, getting licensed, getting trained, becoming a project manager. I kept doing what I was supposed to do and found that it was very unfulfilling for me.

It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy the work. It wasn’t that engineering was a bad field. It was really that it wasn’t what I was made to do. I’ve met lots of people who find fulfillment in the career that they were led to right out of college. I was not one of them.

Since my wife and I stepped away from all that was familiar to us back in the Spring of 2004, God has continued to do a work in me. Every few years, I can feel God stirring within me again. I ask myself a similar question repeatedly about whether I have begun to coast along, check the box, or phone it in. I’ve come to realize that life is far too short to do any of those things.

Losing both of your parents before you turn forty has a way of making you rethink things. I had two wonderful parents who were far from perfect but who taught me a ton about what it means to have faith and to live your life allowing that faith to inform who you are and how you live. While my father may have become a little more comfortable than he should have in some ways, he continued to be an example to me of living out his faith in a real and meaningful way.

Over the last year or so, my wife and I have felt the stirring again. It hasn’t been because of a frustration so much as just a stirring within us for something different.

I had gone to a conference which focused on racial reconciliation a little more than a year ago. As I sat and drank from the firehose, I realized just what a privileged life I had lived. I committed to knowing and learning more to see what I could do to be a part of seeing God’s diverse and multi-cultural kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

I connected with a pastor’s racial reconciliation group. I entered into conversations with others about my own complicity in the racial tensions that swirl around our country. I read book after book to try to gain a better understanding of where we are and just how I can get “woke” and help others get there as well.

I realized early on as a pastor that I could not be the guy who got up on a Sunday to preach a sermon that I hadn’t begun to live out myself. Every time that I stood in front of a congregation to preach, God had already been working me over to begin to embrace and try to live out what I was saying. As hard as I tried to avoid it, God continued to pull me back and stir my heart.

Not too long into our time in Virginia, I was introduced to a place called Ashland. It had hit the national media years ago when the D.C. sniper had ventured all the way down there to claim one of his victims in the parking lot of a Ponderosa located within Ashland.

Ashland is a different kind of town. Part Mayberry and yet also feeling like a small city, the down town area has a quaint and winsome feel to it. You take a stroll through the streets looking in the shop windows as the trains run right through the center of town. There’s no protection from the train, no fences to keep you away. In some ways, it feels like Cheers, it could easily be a place where everyone knows your name.

Randolph-Macon College is located towards the center of town, a small liberal arts college with more than 1400 students. Interstate 95 runs through Ashland, drawing travelers and drifters. The population is more mixed than some of its neighbors with approximately 70% of the population being white, 17% being African-American, 4% being Hispanic, and the rest being a mix of other nationalities. Ashland is a town that truly contains both those who have a lot and those who have next to nothing.

As the church that I have been a part of has made efforts to reach out in the Ashland community over the years, we gained little traction. As God continued to break my heart for the people of Ashland, I prayed and pondered over why our efforts seemed to remain mostly fruitless. I spoke with other pastors and people who had reach out to glean from their learnings and even from their mistakes.

The word that rang in my head through all my ponderings and prayers was, “incarnation.”

We usually hear the word at Christmastime as we speak of God putting on flesh and blood and stepping into time and space to become one of us. God didn’t do that because he was lonely or bored, he did it because this was his perfect plan. The way that God would achieve his perfect plan of redemption was to come and live among us, to move into the neighborhood and show God to the world.

I couldn’t help but think that God’s perfect plan was not only for his redemptive purposes but also to model to us just how we are to live. Just as Christ showed the Father to the world, so the Church is to show Christ to the world by living incarnationally. The Church is the bride of Christ and God’s plan to reach the world involves a tainted and imperfect bride who is daily being redeemed.

After months of wondering and worrying about next steps for my family, God was leading me to a place where he was calling me to step out in faith. The circumstances surrounding it all seemed to have made it nearly impossible to deny and impossible to walk away from what God had been setting up and doing. God was calling us to step out of the boat to do something different. He was calling us to live incarnationally by focusing on a community.

That’s where we are, at a place of faith and trust. While I’ve watched and encouraged others who have planted churches before, I’ve never done it myself. I am generally a quick study, but I’m also not afraid to make mistakes along the way. We’re stepping out to see what God will do.

Some have asked whether our church is splitting. That’s not the case at all. My lead pastor and I have spent countless hours praying and crying and talking about what God is doing. We are multiplying for the sake of God’s kingdom work. We are allowing God to do something different in us and through us.

For a recovering engineer, answers are important to have, but they aren’t coming as fast as I would like them. We are slowly moving to the place where they come into view. We don’t know where we will meet. We don’t know exactly when we will start to meet. We don’t know exactly how this will all be funded. But we trust that God has truly called us to this work and in trusting him, we trust that he will provide all that we need to accomplish what he has called us to do.

It will be different, like nothing I have done before. This needs to be a place that is for Ashland because God loves Ashland. I am terrifyingly excited about what lies ahead. I’ve said before that we need to dream dreams that are big enough that only God can accomplish them, I’m pretty sure that this is just the kind of dream that I’ve been talking about.

Something’s Coming

It’s been quite some time since I’ve really been able to dream. I’m not talking about while I’m asleep, but while I’m awake. I haven’t had dreams of what could be as I’ve found myself so encumbered by what is and how to manage all that’s going on around me.

Maybe you’ve been there before. Maybe you used to dream, you used to think big thoughts and grand ideas. Maybe somehow, some way, those dream, big thoughts, and grand ideas slowly dissolved away.

Well, there has to be a way to get them back again.

When I’ve found myself in that state of emptiness in the area of dreams, it seems that somehow I’ve taken my eyes off of God and placed them firmly onto myself. Kind of like Peter when he walked on water, instead of focusing on Jesus, I look at the storm raging around me and begin to question how I’m going to do it. Instead, I need to remember that it’s not me but Christ in me.

When I cast off the things that encumber me, I find myself anticipating with excitement what could be. It’s like that song from West Side Story, “Something’s Coming.”

It’s only just out of reach

Down the block, on the beach

Under a tree.

I got a feeling there’s a miracle due

Gonna come true, comin’ to me!

I’ve been saying to the people around me for a number of years that we need to dream dreams that are so big that only God can accomplish them. I’ve also told people over and over again that I’ve never preached a sermon that wasn’t written to myself first and foremost. A friend reminded me the other day that I’ve also said that criticism is autobiographical but he added that sermons are autobiographical as well, at least they are for me.

I don’t like to stay still. I like to move. I’m an activator. I’m a challenger. I’m a change agent. I’ve come to grips with those things and I am learning to embrace them. Sometimes it’s disruptive to other people and sometimes it’s disruptive to me, but status quo is rarely something that I can allow myself to grow comfortable with.

Something’s coming. I can feel it in the air. I can sense it in my very being. The best part of it is that there’s no way that I can do it on my own, it’s a dream so big that only God can accomplish it. Honestly, that’s the only way that I would want it to be.

 

Inspired – A Book Review

inspiredRachel Held Evans, in my opinion, is a good writer. She is engaging and has a way to express ideas in compelling fashion. She can tell a story, crafting the details in a forward fashion as she draws her reader in. All that being said, I find myself, often, in mostly disagreement with her opinions and ideas.

“Inspired” is a book about the Bible. Evans has grown tired of Christians who have held to the old adage, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it for me.” This book is an exploration of the different genres contained in the Bible, how they might be considered in light of their genre. Evans bucks up against the various descriptors that people have put on the Bible, particularly those in the evangelical camp when they have called the Bible “inerrant” and “infallible.”

Evans writes, “What business do I have describing as “inerrant” and “infallible” a text that presumes a flat and stationary earth, takes slavery for granted, and presupposes patriarchal norms like polygamy?” To me, there is so much to say in this statement alone, far more than this review has word space for. It’s an ironic statement to me, coming from Evans considering her constant pushback against the variable interpretation of the various genres.

There were times when I felt myself nodding along with her. She writes, “When you stop trying to force the Bible to be something it’s not – static, perspicacious, certain, absolute – then you’re free to revel in what it is: living, breathing, confounding, surprising, and yes, perhaps even magic.” Having read the Bible through on multiple occasions, I can embrace this statement, and there is nothing more frustrating, to me, than to find people trying to use the Bible as a science textbook when it was never written as such.

Evans explores the various genres of the Bible within “Inspired.” Before each chapter, she writes a shorter prelude to the genre, in narrative form. This, to me, is where Evans shines. She is creative, witty, and engaging when she writes stories, As I have seen with other writers who have gone beyond their gifts of prose and story to fancy themselves theologians, when they stick with their strengths, they flourish. But I get it, Evans has an axe to grind and her writing is the greatest gift and tool she feels she has to grind that axe.

She is honest as she deals with the Bible, chronicling her own struggles and upbringing. She describes the Bible as, “smudged with human fingerprints” and goes on to describe the Psalms, among my personal favorites, as the “blotchiest pages of all.”

I appreciate Evans writing of her journey with the Bible. I can empathize with the struggles that I have had with this ancient book that believers call “the Word of God.” My struggle with the approach that Evans takes is that it just doesn’t seem to allow for any consistency. It feels to me as if the Bible can be read like a Choose Your Own Theology book, coming to a particular section in which the reader can determine which course of action or theology to embrace.

As seen in the quote above, Evans uses the word “magic” to describe how the Bible may be seen. My chosen word would probably be “mystery,” and I’m pretty sure Evans even uses that word in her book. As humans, we always seek concrete answers, answers that we can taste and touch and feel. But life rarely affords us the luxury of such answers and the Bible, in my opinion, is similar.

Evans and I can both agree that the Bible isn’t the place to go to find out whether or not to date the love of your life, whether to switch jobs, whether to move, or the place to go to answer countless other questions that we humans can so often become entangled within. Instead, I see the Bible as the written Word of God, revealing himself to us, and the story of the Incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ, who mysteriously provided a way back to God and a means to redeem and restore us.

Evans holds off her most controversial chapter, and the chapter about which she is most likely most passionate, until the end. In the chapter entitled “Church Stories,” Evans fires off about her stance on same-sex relationships and how she interprets Paul’s letters. She fully admits that Paul is the biblical writer who confounds her the most.

Context is key in reading the Bible, but part of that context is to see how God has revealed himself to us through this written word that we call the Bible. When we take into account the context in which a particular section of the Bible was written, we also have to take into account how God has revealed himself, his will, and his intention in the entirety of the Bible. When we fail to do that, we can easily find ourselves in a Choose Your Own Theology book.

“Inspired” is the third book that I have read by Rachel Held Evans. It may be the one that I have found myself with more takeaways that either of the other two, but that doesn’t mean that the conclusions to which we both arrive are the same. As a book exploring the genres of the Bible, “Inspired” was worthwhile. If exploration of the Bible and its genres is your desire, I would recommend more scholarly resources to explore the genres deeper. If an opinion piece that chronicles personal struggles and viewpoints is your goal, this may be just the book for you.

(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.)

Laying Down My Isaac

220px-Rembrandt_Abraham_en_Isaac,_1634Abraham, the Father of the Jewish people, had been promised by God that, although his wife was barren, he would have more offspring than stars in the sky. It was through that offspring that God would save his people. God promised. Abraham believed.

Eventually, Abraham’s wife, Sarah, would conceive and have a son whose name was Isaac. The promised one had come and Abraham and Isaac were overjoyed at God’s provision for them, just as he had promised.

But the story took a turn when God asked Abraham to go and sacrifice his son as an offering. In our day, this is astounding, but in a day when child sacrifices were prevalent, it wasn’t the concept that was strange, it was the thought of sacrificing a child of promise, one who was to be the first of many offspring who would eventually result in the saving of a nation, a people, and the world.

The heading in the Bible for this passage simply reads, “Abraham Tested.” It lasts a total of nineteen verses, which hardly seems adequate to convey the depth and gravity of the situation. There is little hesitation on the part of Abraham. His language communicates his hope that he and his son will come out on the other side, unscathed.

No matter how many times that I read the passage, I struggle to put myself in the place of Abraham. To be honest, I struggle to put myself in the place of Isaac either. But what happens when God calls someone to lay down their dreams, their hopes, their future? What happens when the very thing that God promised is the very thing that God asks us to lay down at his feet?

I am very willing to give up certain things in my life, things that seem expendable, things to which I am holding loosely. But what are the things to which I am holding more tightly? What are the “Isaacs” in my life that I am reluctant to let go of?

When we think about all that we must give up in our pursuit of God, it can sometimes feel as if he is a cosmic killjoy, calling people to give up everything. But if we find that mindset dominant within us, we probably need to look towards the end of Abraham’s account. Not only did God spare and preserve Isaac, but he kept his promise.

Did Abraham realize as he trudged up that hill with anxiety weighing heavily on his heart that God had a plan? Was he concocting an escape route in his plan, waiting for the right time to make a break for it and try to outrun God, something Jonah would do hundreds of years later?

I’m looking at the “Isaacs” in my life. I’m trying to figure out just what it is that I’m holding onto so tightly. I’m asking myself, “If I’m holding onto these things so tightly, is it possible that they’ve become idols to me?”

Soul searching is never an easy thing and we rarely get the pat answers for which we sometimes wish. But at the end of the day, I’d rather much rather be self-aware and in a bit of discomfort than to be like the emperor with his new clothes, blissful in ignorance and unable to see what was perfectly evident to the rest of the world.

Seeing With Your Heart

I am a visual person. I like to be able to see things. I have a white board in my office where I can write out the things that I have to do and even work out ideas. It gives me the opportunity to sit at my desk and stare at the thoughts and ideas written on it. I can work them out in my head but right there in front of me as well. My thoughts come to life in a visible way, allowing me to see where I am going and order my thoughts better.

When I can’t see things, I panic. My anxiety rises up. I flip and flail like a fish dropped on dry land, struggling for breath and wondering when I will get a glimpse and see what I have determined in my head is necessary for me to see in order to move forward.

It’s funny how the things that we can so often think are necessary for our survival are far more expendable than we actually think. We obsess over things that seem crucial to us, viscerally reacting or even overreacting. Then we realize that we can live without the very thing that seemed to crucial and integral to our own plan.

Do I need to see, or do I just WANT to see? When I can see all of the pieces laid out in front of me, it’s really easy for me to wallow in my own self-sufficiency, elevating myself to a plain far above where I belong. Seeing all of the pieces may seem comfortable to me, but it mostly eliminates my need for trust and faith in God. If I can figure it all out myself, if I can seem to be self-sufficient, if there is no mystery, what’s the use of faith anymore?

A friend of mine describes the Christian life as being a combination of the two simple yet difficult tasks of trusting and obeying. It’s one step after another. Left foot. Right foot. Left foot. Right foot. Onward. The mundane yet laborious task of putting one foot in front of the other, not always knowing where your footfall will be three steps or ten steps or twenty steps from now. Only knowing where the next step will be. Like the psalmist’s words, a light to our path doesn’t shine for miles in front of us, it simply lights the way for the few steps that lie immediately ahead.

I’m beginning to see that what I think I need to see may be just an extension of my need to control things. Maybe trusting is less about seeing with our eyes and more about seeing with our hearts. Maybe all I really need to see is what’s immediately before me so that I abstain from self-sufficiency and I lean more on God, who has promised to guide me and provide for every step.

I’ll continue to resist, I can be assured of that. I’ll continue to search for ways that I can see what I was never meant to see. But in my search and in my resistance, perhaps I will find that the same vision that I have prided myself in with my eyes may transfer over to my heart and I will begin to see things not as I want to see them, but as I need to see them. Perhaps I will find that as difficult of a task as it is to see with my heart, it will serve me so much better in the long run.