The Hits Just Keep On Coming

Yosemite-El-Capitan-Peter-LaurensonThe governor of my state recently announced that public schools would be out for the rest of the year. While the specific game plan for how things will proceed virtually has yet to be determined, there were a lot of stunned people trying to make sense of this announcement.

For some kids, this might have been a dream come true. For many, they are struggling. They love their teachers. They love their friends. They love their schools. Some of them are graduating and just had cut short a season of “lasts” and monumental moments that they’ll never have the chance to relive again. It’s devastating.

It’s hard as a parent to comfort your child when you don’t really have any precedent to fall back on. While I lived through the months after 9/11 living right outside New York City, it was different. There was a face to our enemy. There was a tangible target of our wrath, anger, sadness, fear, and other emotions.

But this enemy is different. It’s microscopic. We can’t see it but through a microscope. But that doesn’t stop us from still trying to find a more tangible target. We get mad at those people who are venturing out when they are told to stay in. We get mad at those who don’t seem to be taking directions as seriously as we are. We get angry that obeying the “rules” hasn’t brought us any closer to a resolution, to a more positive and final outcome.

Instead, we wait. We hope. We trust. We listen. We pray. Somehow or another, we’ve got to come out on the other side, right?

When I was younger, there was a game that we played called “I have never.” I feel like we are all living through a real life rendition of that game, experiencing moments that have never been experienced before. We’ve not been here before and we would love nothing more than to never come back here again. We’d like to take that COVID-19 virus and dispose of it properly, if there is a proper way to dispose of it.

The world has been turned upside down. We are all scratching our heads. For a country that’s used to getting everything they want, we’re in unfamiliar territory here.

I find myself giving out words of hope, peace, and comfort as much for myself as I do for the people who are hearing them. I’m trying to convince myself as much as I’m trying to convince everyone else. Like the father of the demon possessed boy in Mark 9, I believe, but help my unbelief. That dichotomous statement means so much more to me the older I get.

Thinking back to the many times that I had hard stuff to go through, it always felt like it was the biggest thing in the world. In my 20s, it seemed like it was break-ups. In my 30s, it was life transitions and losing my parents. In my 40s, it’s the fact that I’m getting older. But there’s no way around it, only through it. No way to bypass it. No way to skip ahead. No time-traveling DeLorean will help get us to the other side. We’ve just got to go through it.

So we press on. We can claim resiliency all we want until it’s finally put to the test and we’ve actually got to show that we’ve got all the mettle that we claim we do. Life’s not a sprint, right? Sometimes it feels like we’re on a marathon that’s about 126 miles long though.

And I think about all those who have gone before, those whose stories we can read in the pages of the Bible, who had to just go through it. Abraham and Sarah had no children even though God promised that their descendants would be more numerous than the stars. They just had to go through it.

God asked Abraham to give up the very son that was promised to him. The son he had waited and prayed for. The son who was to be the key to God’s promise. Yes, God would eventually provide a way out, but he still just had to go through it.

Joseph was sold as a slave by his brothers. He was brought to a foreign land where he knew no one. He was put in prison for crimes he didn’t commit. God would eventually provide a way out, but he still just had to go through it.

Jesus came to earth and fulfilled the mission that the Father had for him. The night he was betrayed, he prayed and asked the Father to take away from him the task that was before him. But the only way to go was through it, there was no other way for you and for me but for him to go through it.

When we come to the other side, we will be stronger. When we come to the other side, we’ll realize that there was no way around it, just through it.

Until then, we’ll keep pushing through it. We don’t know when we’re finally through until we come out the other side. It will feel like forever, but we will get through it. In the meantime, remember we’ve got each other. Show grace. Give love. Speak peace.

 

Unprecedented

It seems as though every generation has a specific event that they remember. Pearl Harbor. The moon landing. JFKs assassination. The Challenger explosion. 9/11. Events happen within the course of time and history that many may describe as unprecedented. Unprecedented for the good or for the bad, either one. It’s something we’ve never experienced before.

Well, if there was ever a day and an instance to use that term, it seems like today is that day. What we are experiencing in our nation and in our world is unprecedented. Globalization has been advantageous in many ways, but now we are seeing the downside, the dark side, the shadow side, or whichever side you want to call it.

Driving to my usual coffee shop the other morning, it was eerie to see cars parked in front of one of the apartment complexes I pass, cars that I had never seen before as everyone had hunkered down and just stayed at home. In the hour and a half that I was in the coffee shop, there were maybe two other people who came in.

Had the term “social distancing” ever even entered our vocabulary before all of this? Had we even considered what this might look like?

Sunday night, as I prepared to bring a message to my church congregation, I kept thinking about all the places in the Bible that I had gone to for comfort and peace in all of my years. Do not be afraid. Be strong and courageous. The Lord your God is with you. The Lord is my strength and my song. It’s funny how it all comes flooding back into your brain when you need to be reminded of it the most.

My daughter seems to sense that things aren’t right. It’s not every day that kids are told that schools are closed for two weeks (at least) when there isn’t a flake of snow on the ground or predicted and when the only thing on the horizon is an unseen germ that’s wreaking havoc upon the world. Kids are intuitive, they can always sense when something isn’t the way that it’s supposed to be.

I’ve watched people who are used to not only having the essentials of life but all the added benefits as well go into a pure panic when they can’t buy toilet paper, tissues, and hand sanitizer. Not that it shouldn’t be a moment for panic of some kind, but people have just gone crazy. A pastor I used to work with once upon a time used to say, “People are crazier than anything.”

Unprecedented.

We’ve not been here before, but there are plenty of people who have gone before us who sat on the precipice of the unknown, not knowing what was to come, what was next, how they would maneuver through it all. It’s unnerving and scary. It strikes fear at the heart of us and we go into panic mode.

I shared Colossians 3:15 on social media a few days ago as well, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” In the midst of unprecedented times, we need to have an unprecedented peace that rules our hearts and our minds. We can’t fall victim to chaos and fear, but need to practice wisdom and peaceful trust in God.

So we press on in faith rather than fear. We step in wisdom, seeking to be informed. We seek the peace that passes all understanding, knowing that only God provides that level of peace and comfort.

In an unprecedented time, I am praying for unprecedented faith to endure. Trusting in God that he will walk with us through these dark times and give us peace.

Stay well, my friends.

Grace and peace!

 

A Different Kind of Love Story – Book Review

different kind of love storyGrowing up as a pastor’s kid can be tough. It can be even tougher if your dad is famous. Couple those things with the usual every day trials of being a teenager and all that entails, you can have quite a recipe for an emotional, stressful, and anxiety-ridden experience.

Just ask Landra Young Hughes. Her father, Ed Young, Jr., is pastor of a mega church in Houston, Texas and the author of a number of books. She is a twin who has felt she doesn’t always measure up to her twin sister.

In “A Different Kind of Love Story,” Hughes chronicles her struggles with an eating disorder and all the anxiety she faced when her parents came under public scrutiny. She shares the lies that she told herself. She shares her inability to be honest with the people she loves about the struggles that she was facing. She shares about coming face to face with an enemy who only seeks to steal, kill, and destroy.

“A Different Kind of Love Story” is an honest confession of the struggles that Hughes faced. She doesn’t candycoat it or pretend that the struggles don’t continue after the outward signs of the disease she conquered were no longer evident. Her struggles continue to this day.

While this book was written for a specific audience that wasn’t me, I appreciate the candor with which Hughes recounts her story. She bravely shares and confesses the lies she told herself, the lies she told others, and the steps she took to get to a place where she is healthier than she was before.

If you know someone, particularly an adolescent female, who is struggling with identity, image, and fitting in, Hughes’ book could be a helpful resource. If for no other reason than to let them know that they are not alone, nor are they unlovable or unredeemable. Hughes writes in such a way that she can help her reader, especially those in the midst of the struggle she describes, know that they are not alone.

With courage, grace, and love, Hughes has recounted her story so that others may hopefully avoid some of the same mistakes she made and avoid believing the lies that she herself believed. And if they’ve already started down the wrong road, Hughes offers a welcome companion for the way back home.

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

 

Pulling Back the Curtain – Part III

Curtain-Pulled-Back-300x204Transparency.

It’s a word that people seem to love to throw around and yet one that seems to be exhibited much less frequently than we might like to admit.

As I continued on my church planting journey, I keep trying to admit to myself and those whom I lead that most of the time, I probably don’t really know what I’m doing. I’m running on instinct more often than not, exploring the places that seem natural and, sometimes, unnatural to me.

The other day, I had just finished up a meeting at a local elementary school. I was excited to see more partnerships developing. As I was leaving the meeting, I was marveling at what was being accomplished. In my opinion, partnerships are the quintessential means by which to achieve goals. Keep your self-righteous and pompous views that you can accomplish anything you want if you put your mind to it, I’ll gladly join with others to see how much more we can accomplish together.

I’ve been to conferences and seminars. I’ve listened to podcasts and read books. When it comes down to it, I feel like a lot of what I do comes out of the things that make the most sense to me. I’m not modeling it any one thing that I’ve seen, I’m just going with what I know.

For years in ministry, I’ve heard people say, “People just want to be lead.” It was uttered so many times that it began to grate on me. But the truth of the statement and its simplicity may be just why it seems to grate. We sometimes look for solutions that are much more complicated than they need to be. We assume that somehow, if we figure out a complex solution to a somewhat complex problem, we’ve somehow earned our money and justified our own existence.

But solutions are rarely as complicated as the people who solicit them. Simple is better and I’ve more often than not found that simple solutions are not only among the most effective, but also the most easily explained and embraced when trying to lead others.

I sat in another meeting this past week and heard someone thank me for modeling what I am asking of my team. I scratched my head and said, “I couldn’t do anything else.” To ask others for something that I am unwilling to give myself is hypocrisy of the greatest sort, management rather than leadership.

I’ve often said that my greatest sermons come out of the deepest sense of preaching to myself. The moment that I have someone else in mind as a target for a sermon is the moment that I take the transparency out of it. But when I’m preaching to myself, it usually translates to some ounce of truth that could be helpful for others. Preaching out of what God is teaching me is the only way that I really know how to do it. So if I can’t do that, it either means God’s not teaching me anything, or more realistically, I’m not listening.

Church planting can be a lonely journey. That’s why it’s so important to surround yourself with a team of people whose commitment to the mission and vision is beyond lip service. There is no room in church planting for people who simply want to put on a good show and cast a pretty picture to those around them that they’re getting it done. It’s far too important a calling to simply put on accoutrements that make us look as if we’re accomplishing something that we’re not.

Over and over again, I marvel at the place to where God has brought me. While I might arrogantly attempt to take much of the credit, if I’m honest, I just can’t. Too much of what has happened and is happening is not my own doing. There are Divine fingerprints on so much, I feel that I’m simply following the trail to make sure I’m heading in the right direction.

During this season of Advent when there is anticipation, expectation, and excitement for what is to come, it’s a reminder to me of just how important it is to hold these things beyond just this season. If I am not constantly anticipating, expecting, and excited about what is to come, I had better check myself. If I think I’ve got it figured out and I’m leaning on my own understanding, I had better check myself.

The roller coaster ride of ministry may just be a more magnified version of life, having more pronounced and dramatic peaks and valleys. I’ve been in that valley in recent days and finally had to just step away. There’s nothing wrong with that, and if anyone tells you that there is, you might want to distance yourself from them, especially if they’re your boss or supervisor.

I’ll continue to pull back the curtain to reveal what’s going on back here. It’s not always as magical as it might seem, but that’s the beauty of it and part of the Divine mystery and miracle: God accomplishes the extraordinary through the ordinary. I’m not anything special and somehow God chooses to use me to be a part of the unfolding of his plan. That’s reason to boast, but not about myself, about the One whose plan I get to be a part of. If that doesn’t give me reason to anticipate, expect, and be excited, I had better check my pulse.

‘Tis The Season to be Hopeful

I used to be the guy who started listening to Christmas music in July. I would roll out the Christmas CDs and park them right by the stereo. I would load them in a case to bring into my car. I would pull out the ones that I would listen to regularly and make sure that I got through every single one of them.

That’s kind of what happens when music is your thing and your job. You get caught up in the season and planning takes priority.

Of course, I always used to be the one who was cuckoo for Christmas. But life can sometimes have a way of changing you, of stealing your joy a little.

I’ve had some great Christmas seasons in my past but I’ve also had some pretty crappy ones. The Christmas after my mom died, my dad was in the hospital and acting like he’d lost his mind. It was one of the most surreal and depressing Christmases on record for me.

At the same time, watching my kids grow up and seeing their faces on Christmas morning has been one of the greatest joys that I’ve experienced. If there’s anything that can make me feel like a kid again, it’s Christmas Eve and the experience that comes from having young kids experience the wonder and joy of Christmas.

But as much as I still love Christmas, I think that I’ve grown up a little bit. I’m not talking about growing up like the kid in The Polar Express. I think. I can still hear the bells, but the “why” of Christmas has become so much more important to me and, frankly, I’ve begun to look at Christmas in context with why I celebrate it as well as why it’s important in the grand scheme of things.

Last week was the first Sunday of Advent and it passed me by. I don’t think that I forgot it, maybe I just ignored it, but it hit me on the second Sunday of Advent just how important it was. I was speaking on the second Advent of Jesus and recalling the first Advent of Jesus. It all seemed to be that much more weighty and important to me.

During Advent, each Sunday has a theme: Hope, Joy, Peace, Love. I can’t help but think about those and this pas Sunday, I was thinking about hope. Hope is the thing that propels us along when it seems like there’s nothing left. Hope is what keeps us going when everything inside and outside of us is telling us to just give up. Hope is the thing that keeps us looking around the corner, checking the mailbox, waiting for that phone call. Hope is what keeps us going when everything seems impossible.

Hope is one of the only reasons why I’m still here. In the midst of pain, in the midst of loss, in the midst of uncertainty, I have hung on to hope. When it seemed that darkness would overcome, hope remained a candle that penetrated the darkness.

That’s what this season is to me. It’s a reminder that although God seemed silent, something happened to keep hope alive, to breathe new life into all those places that seemed dead and lifeless. God seemed silent until he came to dwell among us, and even as he lived and eventually died, hope still hung in there, albeit by a thread.

And then he rose. Death had not won. Hope was alive.

Christmas time is always a reminder to me that when it seems that things are the darkest, there is still hope. It may not be realized in my time, it may not even be realized on this side of eternity, but hope is there, waiting patiently for us to believe and trust. We may not understand. We may not be happy about waiting. But hope remains.

We’re coming to the two week mark to Christmas. As I look at all that those two weeks hold, it’s a little overwhelming to me. I’m afraid that I’m going to blink and those two weeks will have passed without me fully understanding the significance of these moments.

Narrative Apologetics – A Book Review

narrative apologeticsIs there a way to talk speak convincingly about Christianity without using theology? Can the stories we read in the Bible and stories where we see the work of God be used to compel people towards a faith in Jesus Christ?

Alister McGrath says that stories of the Christian faith, “can open up important ways of communicating and commending the gospel, enabling it to be understood, connecting it with the realities of human experience, and challenging other stories that are told about the world and ourselves.” We are a storied people who continually attempt to find meaning through stories, analogies, and allegories.

In “Narrative Apologetics” Alister McGrath refers to stories within the Bible where a narratival approach is used to break down defenses and reveal truth. Nathan’s confrontation with David stands as one example, as Nathan stealthily shares a story that helps David see the error of his ways. Jesus used parables in the gospels to illustrate deeper points to his audience. Sometimes, removing the specific emotional attachments that people might have to a particular account allows them to see more clearly and objectively to the meaning which is being conveyed within a story.

McGrath mentions many of the great Christian writers who have used allegory and story to illustrate the finer points of the gospel. Among them are C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Both Lewis and Tolkien came to understand Christianity  not as a myth alongside other myths, but rather as the “fulfillment of all myths” to which all other myths point. In other words, in the search for meaning found in mythology, all the stories which make up those mythologies can be completed when resting upon Christianity.

McGrath goes on to share certain aspects of Christianity’s story and how meaning can be derived from it. The exodus. The exile of God’s people. The story of Jesus Christ. When looking at these stories, one can find connection. Rather than couching reality in abstract terms, narrative allows us to “taste” reality.

Meaning can be found through the use of narratives. Even when we begin to tell our own stories, we can begin to find meaning when we see it not as a story unto itself but as connected to the bigger story of God and Christianity. We tell our stories to connect us to the bigger story in which we are living, the story of the gospel, God’s rescuing of us.

Although this is a relatively short book, this wasn’t the easiest book to get into. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why that was the case. Perhaps it was the dry approach used by McGrath. Maybe it felt like some of the treatments of the material were exhaustive within the book itself. Regardless, this wasn’t a book that I would recommend to just anyone. If you are interested in exploring this idea of narrative apologetics and using story to give meaning to life, this may be a good start to move towards that.

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

 

Walking By Faith

There have been a number of times in my life when it seems my faith is stretched more so than  others. Times when it seems I have to reach a little further, take a little bit longer of a stride, and that where my feet land is solid ground. These times in life are a bit unnerving and kind of scary. But a life of faith was never promised to be easy or without incident.

I’ve lost a lot of sleep in these seasons, wondering whether I’m making the right decision, wondering whether I’ll be regretting the leap of faith that I’m making. My prayers become prayers for signs and glimpses of evidence that will make me more confident. I want it all spelled out for me and I pray and wait, almost expecting the sky to light up with letters from some kind of divine skywriting plane, telling me exactly what to do.

But that’s not faith. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things that aren’t seen. Faith isn’t simply following a paint by numbers painting and filling in all the pieces. It’s not following some kind of treasure map and making sure that we get all the clues right. Faith is stepping out of ourselves and our strength and relying on the One who created us, the One who sees beyond all time and space.

And yes, it’s unnerving. For those of us who are more analytical, even more so. We want evidence. We want clarity. We want 99% certainty, things we can put our eyes on, our hands on. Things we can wrap our heads around and make sense of rather than things we need to trust and hope for.

Faith is a little bit scary. All right, it may be very scary. But in those moments of leap, those moments where it seems impossible, there is peace. It’s the biblical concept of shalom, more than just our concept of peace being a state of being without conflict. It’s peace and security, a holistic peace that is transcendent. It’s a diving peace that can only be realized and experienced through God.

In these moments of faith, these leaps that seem irrational and impossible, there’s a difference between a nagging sense that it’s the wrong decision and a fear of the unknown that you are stepping into. I’ve stopped to try to determine which one it is during those times. Am I uncomfortable because my “faith muscle” is being stretched beyond what it’s used to or am I uncomfortable because it’s the wrong decision?

For those of us who like to exude confidence and rely on our own strengths and abilities, these faith moments are exactly what we need to be knocked into humility and trust, relying not on ourselves but on God. If we can figure it out and accomplish it within our own abilities and strengths, it’s probably not requiring as much faith of us. Faith isn’t praying and then leaning on our own understanding, it’s leaning on our understanding that God’s ways are higher than our ways and that he knows more than us and is capable of more than we can ask or think.

Faith is a leap into the unknown. Scary? Yes. Worthwhile? Yes. Because afterwards, we find that we’ve got even more confidence for what’s next, the next ask of us.

I’m not sure if faith ever gets easier. Probably not if we are doing it right. But the more we exercise it and see how much we can grow in it, the more likely we will be to want to leap a little further the next time around, knowing what the outcome was the last time.

I’m learning to leap. It’s kind of a scary business, but as I look at my history in walking with God, I can see that the leaps have extended a little further every time. I’m not talking additional feet every time. It’s more like inches, if not smaller. But we can’t look at our growth and progress from event to event, we need to see it as a progression over time. A long obedience in the same direction. Then, when we look back, we can see just how far we’ve come in faith and not in our own strength and power.

Little Miracles

It’s been an interesting week for me, which seems like something that I’ve been saying a lot lately. I had my second board meeting for the little league (second one I attended because the last one I missed for my son’s birthday). I subbed at a middle school in the town where our church is being planted. I met with my leadership team for our church. I took my oldest son with me to see Bob Dylan. I met with a friend who leads an incredible ministry which includes a food pantry and weekend feedings of the homeless. I participated in a book discussion group where I was only one of two men in attendance.

In the midst of all that, I have had an interesting opportunity dropped in my lap for our church. It was one that was completely unexpected but one that has God’s fingerprints all over it. In some ways, it feels like the perfect situation because it provides for the long-term. The decision wouldn’t be made out of urgency or imminent need, but made out of a vision that God has given me for what lies ahead.

As I survey the events of the week, it’s hard to point to just one thing that seemed more significant than any of the others. They have all combined to fuel the fire of the week, a good fire, a fire that acts as fuel to propel the engine of who I am forward into whatever it is that God has in store. But as has been a common theme for me over the past years, community stands out significantly.

I serve a little league board in my community. I am getting to know the community of the middle school and elementary school in the community where I am serving. I am grateful and humbled by the community that God has surrounded me with to plant our church. We are partnered with and partnering with some incredible community organizations who are seeking the peace and prosperity of the place where God has us. I entered into a new community to have a civil discussion about topics which are usually accompanied by anger, frustration, and hurt.

Sitting down with my friend who runs the local ministry to the homeless and hurting, I was glad to hear some of his stories face to face. While I’ve had the chance to read some of them on social media, there’s nothing like hearing them for yourself, face to face, from the person who has experienced them.

There’s a verse in Hebrews in the Bible that talks of spurring one another on towards love and good deeds. The verse right after it is a verse that I point to over and over again to people who are constantly asking and wondering what the point is of being part of a church community. Don’t give up meeting together. Don’t take yourself out of community. Community is essential to spur you on to love and good deeds.

I can attest to this. That was my experience this week. Community made me better. Community changed me. Community helped me. Community helped me see things that I would normally miss.

In my conversation with my friend at lunch, we were both reminded of the ways that God has worked and is working all around us. My friend said, “If we don’t see it, it’s because we aren’t looking or paying attention.” Those words resonate so deeply with me.

I have felt a strong sense of my own need to celebrate the little things in the season of life where God has me. My frustrations and anxieties can be overwhelming to me, but I have to counteract them with a celebration of the little miracles that I see in my life. They are little enough that if I’m not looking, I will miss them. They are little enough that they might just underwhelm me when I’m looking at them…….if I forget what they truly are: miracles.

Little miracles happen every day, in the chance meetings of two people, in the opportunities that seemingly come out of nowhere, in the provisions that God brings, in all of the little things that I will rush right past if I don’t take time to slow down, pay attention, take notice, and tell about them.

Maybe it’s just a fuller realization for me of the old adage to stop and smell the roses, but it feels more significant than that to me. It feels more like touching the divine, the realization that God is here, not far away somewhere. The realization that the incarnation of Christ in Advent wasn’t completed in his death and resurrection, but was just the beginning.

At the end of this week, I am tired and weary, but not from bad or hard things, thankfully, from the overwhelming way that God meets me in my messy life. I’m hitting the weekend at just the right time, but I want to anticipate more of what this past week held for me. Because in experiencing more of what I did this week, I find the little miracles that God has for me. Nothing extravagant or ornate, but just enough that it keeps me coming back for more. Just enough that I can allay my fears and anxieties for a little bit longer. Just enough that it keeps hope alive and spurs me on to see whatever is next, lying just around the corner.

Fearful

home aloneAs the day approaches when we will publicly launch out our new church, it’s been a journey of faith for me, my family, and the team of people who have joined us to embark on this new adventure.

I met with a friend yesterday, thinking, dreaming, planning for the future as we look at how we can collectively, with our two churches, press into the place where God has planted us. 1 John 4:18 came up in our conversation, a verse that I’ve quoted many times in years past. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

I told my friend that the opposite of faith is not doubt, it’s fear.

There have been many days along the way that I could easily have been gripped by fear. There will be many days ahead where I could be gripped by fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the inability to provide for my family. Fear of failure.

But there are also many times along the way that I have seen my faith multiplied and enlarged. In those moments when fear begins to creep in, slowly threatening to overtake me, God has allowed these small glimpses of what could be, propelling me forward with just enough hope to get me over the next hill, kind of like the little engine that could.

Fear tells us that we can’t. Faith tells us that God can.

Fear tells us that we aren’t enough. Faith tells us that God is everything.

Fear tells us that it’s impossible. Faith tells us that all things are possible with God.

I have refused to be gripped by fear in all of this, and every single time that I am ready to give up, to throw in the towel, to pack it all up and walk away, I am reminded that the driving force behind what I am doing has nothing to do with trying to be good or look good or succeed, it has everything to do with feeling called to do what we are doing.

There is no fear in love. Perfect love casts out fear.

I believe that I am loved by the One who created me. I believe that he has given me the talents and strengths to do what he has called me to do. I believe that he can sustain me and that just as the author of the Book of Hebrews says, he can equip me with everything I need to accomplish his will.

Is it easy? No. Is it comfortable? No. Do I wish that I didn’t have to walk in faith? Sometimes. But the whole reason why I am at this place in my life, fifteen years away from a successful engineering career, is because I didn’t feel like I could make the same difference in the world around me as an engineer as I can as a pastor. That’s not to say that engineers can’t make a difference, just that as an engineer, I didn’t feel like I could be as effective as I can doing what I am doing now.

And so, we press forward in faith, not fear.

Many people tell me that this is what I was made for, to do this, to launch out. I can echo those sentiments and I see this as the culmination of years of being shaped and formed.

Only time will tell whether or not we are “successful” in the eyes of the world. But in the eyes of God, I would much rather be faithful and faith-filled than successful, because I think in his eyes, faithful and faith-filled actually amounts to success.

 

Confronting Old Testament Controversies – A Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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