Passing Hope

Monday 12.04James Taylor famously quipped, “The secret of life is enjoying the passing of time.” Much better to enjoy the passing of time than regretting it, I guess.

I go through seasons of reflection and introspection, sometimes it’s dependent on circumstances, other times it’s dependent on the literal seasons of the year. It seems that the approach of the Christmas season makes me notoriously reflective. It hasn’t hurt that I’ve experienced some loss recently as well as observed the losses of others all around me.

Entering into the Advent season, I’ve never been a traditionalist in the sense that the four themes of Advent always seem to get jumbled in my mind. Part of that might be my aversion to be told what to do while the bigger part of it may very well be my own affinity for falling into repetitive traps that suck the significance and meaning out of seemingly poignant experiences and traditions.

Hope. Joy. Peace. Love.

While I’ve avoided the prescriptive approach to these themes, my preparation this year has me second-guessing that approach, or anti-approach. It seems to me that hope is the logical and, dare I say, perfectly appropriate theme to begin Advent.

It’s easy to lose hope. It’s easy to lean on false hope. Finding hope with staying power is more elusive and difficult. Where the people of God were at the time of the birth of Christ was a place of desperation, where hope had become elusive, maybe even completely lost and abandoned. The silence of God has a way of doing that to us, removing our hope.

But I learned a new word last week, a word coined by J.R.R. Tolkien years ago called eucatastrophe. It’s defined as a sudden and favorable resolution of events in a story; a happy ending. I wonder if the significance and poignancy of a eucatastrophe is made greater based on the length of time that has built up before it finally arrives.

If the eucatastrophe Jesus’ first arrival on Earth was significant after God’s centuries of silence, I can’t help but wonder how much more significant Jesus’ return will be after God’s millennia of silence.

But hope is found before the eucatastrophe ever comes. In fact, hope builds in the anticipation and the waiting for the resolution and the happy ending. Without that building anticipation, hope can’t exist. Without the tension of conflict and the longing for anticipation, hope cannot exist.

Ironically, Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.” The why of our lives gives us hope we need to endure the how of our lives. Hope propels us, it sustains us, but it’s not just any hope, it needs to be permanent hope, long-lasting hope, everlasting hope.

So, that’s the question that I pose as I enter into this season of Advent. Where do I find hope? Where am I looking for hope?

I know that I need hope but I fear that my impatience for it can drive me to settle for cheap alternatives and substitutes. Hope can sustain us through our impatience but it can also be diminished if our impatience gets the better of us.

Advent is a season of waiting and anticipating, of hope, joy, peace, and love. As I enter into it, my prayer is that my desire for resolution will not be too quickly quenched by cheap alternatives of hope but that instead, I find hope in the one place that this season is really all about.

 

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Killing Spiders

kill the spiderWhat happens when we know that something is wrong in our life, something that needs change? We see the evidence of it throughout our lives, in our habits, in our relationships, in the nuances of how we go about living day to day. We begin to clean up the evidence of what’s wrong and never really go to find the source of it. It’s like a spider, we see the spider webs throughout the house, we clean the webs in order to make the house look tidy again, but that doesn’t remedy the problem. If we really want to get rid of the spider webs for good, we’ve got to kill the spider; otherwise, we’re just doing cursory work.

In his book, “Kill the Spider,” Carlos Whittaker tells his own story of getting to the heart of the issues that he faced in his life. His marriage was falling apart, he was losing his family, and he realized that he wasn’t fully convinced of the convictions upon which he had staked his life. He needed to find, identify, and kill the spider that was wreaking havoc on his life.

“Kill the Spider” is an autobiographical wisdom book. Whittaker shares his story with raw and deep details. He holds back on revealing everything, but it’s hard to read this book without feeling his feelings, thinking his thoughts, and perhaps even finding yourself identifying similar experiences in your own life. What Whittaker doesn’t capture with literary eloquence or powerful prose he makes up for with intense and reflective sharing of what he went through.

Whittaker journals his experience of losing his faith and finding it again in a week-long intense counseling retreat. He offers his insights into how he was able to push past the cobwebs and do the hard work of identifying the spider that was ruining his life. He never claims that answers are simple, easy, or quick. The old adage that “Rome wasn’t built in a day” proves true here when considering the amount of time it took Whittaker to get to the place from which he couldn’t escape on his own. In fact, he points out, although he was able to come to grips with the reality of identifying his spider, he wasn’t able to kill it on his own. The only one who could was Jesus.

Whittaker is no theologian, just a simple storyteller. This book is just the chronicle of someone who hits rock bottom and discovers an approach to getting back to the top again. Whittaker shares helpful insights from the Bible and even shares prayers that have been helpful for him. Whittaker was not able to come to grips with the heart of his problem until he was willing to get real and honest with himself. He shares the steps that brought him to that place.

“Kill the Spider” was a fast read. I finished it in just a few days. Whittaker’s ability to tell a story drew me back to the book and I found myself wanting to know just how he came out of the pit in which he found himself. Some might not appreciate the rawness with which Whittaker shares in the book. His cursing was most likely used to emphasize just how low he found himself and how raw he had become, and although they did not deter me, there are some who will close the book when they read those words.

If you’ve been struggling in your life to get to the heart of the things that have been bringing you down, “Kill the Spider” may be a helpful book for you. The way that Whittaker crafts and tells his story alone is a compelling enough reason to pick up this book and read it.

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

The Comeback – A Book Review

The ComebackComeback stories seem to draw a lot of attention. Some might call them “Cinderella Stories” and others might talk about the underdog, but when it comes to comeback stories, most people seem drawn to them. Maybe it’s the unlikelihood of the stories or the cast of characters that seem to litter the landscape of such stories. Maybe it’s the fact that we’ve all probably experienced a moment or a time in our lives when we’ve needed our own comeback and we’ve been the underdog or the “Cinderella” in the story.

Louie Giglio writes of our own need to experience this and be part of these stories in his book “The Comeback.” We all have come to a place when we’ve needed a comeback. Perhaps we’ve gotten our lives off track by ourselves. Perhaps we’ve just had a number of unfortunate events happen to us. Regardless of the cause of the turmoil in our lives, many of us have come to a place where it’s the bottom of the ninth and we are seemingly down by an impossible number of runs. When we come to that place, we need a comeback.

With his balance of wit, wisdom, and Biblical truth, Louie Giglio shares stories of others who have experienced comebacks in their lives. Some of the people of whom he shares are in the Bible and others are people he’s met along the way. All of them have experienced some kind of comeback in their lives, a second chance, an opportunity to get their heads above the water and begin swimming again. That comeback that we need to experience can only be experienced in Jesus Christ.

It can be easy for those of us who are in need of a comeback to get to a place where we don’t think we deserve another chance. We think, and sometimes the church tells us, that we need to have it all together. Giglio writes, “See, we don’t need to shine ourselves up and sit in a beautiful church sanctuary. We don’t need to gather our children and spouse together and figure out how to become the world’s most functional family. We don’t need to get well before we meet Jesus. That’s what he does for us.” Jesus is the one who provides the comeback for us, we don’t do it ourselves.

Giglio shares a lot of stories in this book. Some of them seem almost as if they came straight from a Hollywood script. In fact, it was hard for me to read a good portion of the first half of this book as there were so many stories of success and comeback that it was difficult to take considering some of the experiences that I’ve had myself. I began to ask myself, “What happens when there is no comeback?”

At just the right time, Giglio gets into that, talking about how comebacks don’t always look like we’d like them to look. Sometimes there is just no cure. Sometimes there is no repairing the relationship. Sometimes the child just doesn’t come home. When we come to that place in our lives when the comebacks don’t match what we had envisioned in our heads, we need to remember that Jesus experienced the ultimate comeback in order that we might experience the same.

There is a life beyond the temporary comeback, a salvation that is eternal, and we can’t lose sight of that. As difficult as it is to accept, the answer doesn’t always match up to our expectation. But just like Lazarus was raised from the dead and would still eventually experience death again, there was something beyond that physical death and we need to remember God’s faithfulness and love in the midst of those times. We need to remember that because of the ultimate comeback of Jesus, we too can experience the same.

“The Comeback” was full of inspiring stories. Louie Giglio is engaging as a storyteller. At times, he can seem to ramble on and maybe overshoot his point, maybe even to the point of ramming it into the ground rather than gently sticking the landing. He never comes across preachy so much as he might come across as wordy. “The Comeback” probably could have been at least twenty to thirty pages shorter.

At times, when it felt like Giglio was edging out into a prosperity gospel, he reeled it back in again and brought in biblical truths that showed just where he stood.

If you have been experiencing frustration and difficulty in your life and you need encouragement, “The Comeback” is for you. This book is geared towards those who are looking for answers and encouragement and Giglio provides both. They might not always be the answers you’re looking for, but they’re the ones you probably need to hear.

(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.)

5Q – A Book Review

5QIn the early days of the Christian church, the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus laying out the various roles of those in the church. He wrote in Ephesians 4:11-13, “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors (shepherds) and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” This description has come to be known as the fivefold ministry of the church.

In the introduction of his new book “5Q” Alan Hirsch writes, “It is sobering to consider that, as far as we can tell, Christianity is on the decline in every Western setting…” This decline of which Hirsch speaks of is due, in his opinion, to the abandonment of the bulk of this fivefold ministry of which Paul wrote. He says, “As for the church’s ministry, the historical church has largely opted to exclude apostolic, prophetic, and evangelistic frameworks and has viewed ministry through the now severely reduced categories of the pastor (shepherd) and the teacher (theologian).” Using the acronym APEST to describe this fivefold ministry, Hirsch claims that the Western church has done a good job of eliminating the APE ministries and accentuating and even overemphasizing the ST ministries.

Hirsch asks his readers to read through this book with soft eyes, doing their best to let go of the ways that they’ve looked at things in the past in order to see more clearly what we’re missing by excluding these crucial elements of ministry for the body of Christ. Hirsch goes so far as to say that, “the fivefold ministry is the way, or mode, by which Jesus is actually present in the church, and by which he extends his own ministry through us.”

Hirsch proceeds to support the idea of fivefold ministry with a biblical foundation. As we live into our own gifting and encourage others into their gifting as well, we begin to fulfill the purpose for which Christ left the church on the earth as his ambassadors and representatives. We move towards the fullness of Christ as we live into this ministry. The church has been sorely lacking by not living into this paradigm and ideology. This lack has led to a “fatal and degenerative dis-ease into the body of Christ.”

Jesus epitomized this fivefold ministry in his own life and the church has been called to carry out and continue to use this paradigm to accomplish his work on the earth. The cultural mandate to which the Church has been called should fulfill this purpose through these ministries. This fivefold ministry of the church Hirsch terms 5Q. As Hirsch writes, “Once we have identified 5Q as perfectly exemplified in the life and ministry of Jesus, we can then see how he grafts these into the foundation of the church.”

Hirsch lays out the five ministries: Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Shepherd, and Teacher. He gives descriptions of the various characteristics of each, also giving examples of how these gifts may manifest themselves in both sacred and secular environments. Hirsch says that these fivefold archetypes can actually be found throughout creation and history, giving them ontological weight.

Hirsch then moves from Christ to the church, describing just what it would look like if the church should embrace 5Q and live into this fivefold ministry and archetypes. He also describes just what happens when there is a deficit in these areas, giving examples of just what that would look like within the church. To live into this paradigm is to move towards a much more functional means of doing things. The apostle Paul described the church as a body and Hirsch agrees. Just as the parts of the body work together with their strengths and functions, so should the church follow suit. To neglect an area is to be deficient. “To remove one is to undermine all the others. We need all five to mature.”

Over and over again while reading “5Q” I found myself nodding my head in agreement with all that Hirsch lays out. The APEST model is something that he has spoken of in his other works as well, but not to this same depth. It makes sense. It’s logical. It’s biblical. In theory, it seems like it should be successful, in a biblical and spiritual sense, not necessarily in a worldly sense.

In order for the 5Q approach to really work, there needs to be a paradigm shift within the Western church. That shift may be easier for some local communities and harder for others. That shift may be easier for some congregations and harder for some pastors. Egos can’t get in the way because they will surely short circuit this approach in a heartbeat. The purpose of a body is shared ministry and experience, if personalities who can’t handle being the center of attention or the primary focus can’t step aside to embrace a fivefold ministry, we can expect that the Western church will continue the decline that we have already been experiencing.

5Q is not a new idea. It’s as old as Christianity itself, but the focus and shift within the church has moved away from a more balanced approach towards ministry and placed the emphasis and weight on a select few. Should we then be surprised when we see some of those crumble beneath the weight and when we see so many longing for something so much more significant than they have experienced? I think not.

I’ve been a fan of Alan Hirsch for years. I had the pleasure of sitting down with him in a little Irish pub in Long Beach, California a few years back. There was no pretense about him in person and his writing reflects the genuine personality that he possesses. He writes not with a pretentious confidence but with a loving desire to share the knowledge and wisdom that he has gained through his own experience, seen both personally and second hand.

If the Western church were to shift back towards this fivefold ministry which Hirsch is encouraging, I think we would see a significant change in effectiveness and in staying power. Of course, if we instead choose to embrace the things that we have always done, we shouldn’t be surprised if we see history repeating itself.

There are plenty of resources in this book for local communities to use to help more towards 5Q. I look forward to exploring them myself to see just how the community of which I am a part can move back towards ministry the way that Christ intended.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from 100 Movements. 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.)

What’s so “good” about Good Friday?

Today is Good Friday, at least for those of us who consider ourselves followers of Christ. It’s the day when we remember Jesus’ death on the cross, his suffering and beating, the injustices done against him, his abandonment by those who called themselves his followers. As I think about all that happened on Good Friday, none of it seems to add up to giving it the moniker “good.”

But we can’t look at Good Friday on its’ own. The only way that Good Friday can really be called “good” is if we look at it in light of what happens just three days later. Good Friday becomes good when we realize just what it led to, the celebration of Easter Sunday.

As I think about Good Friday and all that Jesus did, I realize that his work is nothing that can be duplicated by any of us. He alone was able to live a perfect life. He alone was able to be a sacrifice for our sins. He alone was able to rise again after three days in the tomb. But I think we can learn lessons from what Jesus did, at least one lesson for every day that he was in the grave (give me a break, good things come in threes, right?).

1) The will of the Father was more important than his own

Jesus knew his purpose and mission from the beginning. From the moment when he began his public ministry and was baptized by John the Baptist, Jesus exhibited submission to the Father. The Father’s voice rang out from the heavens, “This is my beloved son in him I am well pleased.”

While most of us may have gone the selfish route, Jesus did not waiver in deed from his mission. He submitted to the Father’s plan and accomplished the perfect work. Jesus’ agenda was the agenda of his Father, not his own.

How many of us can say the same thing? Do we really allow the will of our Father to take priority to our own?

2) He knew there was a bigger plan at work

Not only was Jesus submissive to the Father, but he also kept the bigger plan in mind. Jesus knew what the end result needed to be and he did not waver from it. Jesus had every reason to get caught up in who he was, the Messiah, and what he was able to do, but he didn’t. Jesus, in fact, continued to try to conceal who he was until the moment was right. He knew the bigger plan and did not want to derail that plan or for anything to happen before the appointed time.

How often do we remember that God has a bigger plan in mind? Do we get hijacked in thinking that our plan is more important than the master plan?

3) He didn’t open his mouth

In fulfilling the prophecies that had been spoken of him, when Jesus was arrested and tried, he did not say much at all. He did not defend himself. He did not use his divine powers. He simply kept his mouth shut.

I don’t know about you, but this has to be one of the most difficult things for me to do in following the example of Jesus, especially when I feel that I am under attack. It’s hard not to be defensive, let alone not opening my mouth. My reflex and automatic response is always self=preservation, yet Jesus was less concerned about himself and more concerned about what we saw in lessons 1 and 2 above. The will of the Father was more important than his own and the bigger plan was more important than his own plan.

As I reflect on Jesus’ work over the course of these days leading up to Easter as well as the lessons we learn from him, it’s a little overwhelming to think about. No matter how hard I could try, I could never measure up to Jesus and all that he did. While that may seem deflating, it’s actually freeing to understand that Jesus’ work was enough and there is nothing that I can add to it. While I can follow his example, even when I don’t, he offers me forgiveness and grace.

Good Friday is indeed good. What happened on Easter was great. May we constantly pursue the example of Jesus as we are constantly transformed into the image in which we were created, the imago dei, the image of God.

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.)

Just A Thought

I’ve been delving into a new world lately, finding pieces that I write needing to rely more on research and experience rather than simply thoughts and feelings. Unfortunately, my time does not always afford me to get done the things that I want to get done in an effort to get done the things that I need to get done. Therefore, I’ve gone on a hiatus of sorts here, not offering anything since I haven’t been able to offer what I want.

For that, I apologize. I’m working on the constant balance between life and work and continually struggle with it.

But for this Tuesday morning (the first day of school for my older children), my mind is buzzing with all kinds of thoughts, both relating to school and life, but also having to do with many conversations (both digital and face to face) that I have been having lately.

There will be fuller posts, but for now, in the absence of something fuller, I offer some simple thoughts.

I have had conversations of late on art and faith. It’s a topic for which I get too passionate. My criticism rises to new levels and I am misunderstood more often than not.

Based on my conversations, I am realizing that we feel very personally when we talk of what matters to us. Now, most readers are saying, “Duh! Tell me something I don’t know” to response to that. But we feel deeply to the point that criticism heaped at the things for which we are passionate is taken personally. In fact, it’s almost as if the criticism was lobbed at us rather than an inanimate and lifeless piece of art.

I am learning to wade more gingerly into engagements of this nature as we all feel so deeply and personally. I’ve got a long way to go, but I am grateful for those who have offered insights and direction in this area.

I am also realizing just how much I have to do more research and study in the area of faith and art. Once upon a time, sacred music was considered excellent. It may have been the “Contemporary Christian” music of the time, but it was influencing culture and having a deep impact on the world. Many of the sacred pieces of music written once upon a time remain timeless and excellent today.

C.S. Lewis had much to say about faith and art, as did Madeline L’engle, who I am currently reading. I expect that I will have much to say after spending some time with the two of them.

Until then, I offer this thought. What is art that is Christian? Is it art that specifically presents a message to unbelieving souls in order that they might know the Christ who has transformed our lives? If so, that greatly limits the possibilities.

One of the greatest and most powerful books that I have read is John Irving’s “A Prayer for Owen Meany.” I believe that it was Rich Mullins who pointed me towards the book. Regardless of the recommendation, I picked up the book and read it and had the desire to put it down on more than one occasion.

The book was crude and profane and yet beautiful. Within its pages was a message of calling, of gifting, of purpose. Underneath the crudity and profanity, there was a message of beauty that spoke loudly. The problem was that that message was tainted and covered over, unable to be seen by some who were still hung up on the fact that there was crudity and profanity. It’s not a book that I would recommend to everyone. In fact, there are probably some who would distance themselves from me just for the mere fact that I’ve read the book.

Years later, I have yet to open up the pages of the book again, but I know that I need to do it. I know that I need to be reminded of the message that it offers within its pages. I know that there is something within those pages that speaks to me out of the crudity and profanity that surround it.

In many ways, that book is a metaphor for so many of us and how God sees us. Beneath the crudity and profanity, there is beauty, there is hope, there is substance. Many will simply take a look at the crudity and profanity and walk away. In so doing, they will walk away from potential, from transformation, from all that could be. In failing to see past our faults and imperfections, we throw out the baby with the bathwater.

While there are limits here and the analogy can be taken to an extreme, I’m not pushing to that end. It’s not a call for those who follow Christ to embrace all things crude and profane. It’s simply an effort to ask some soul-searching questions about the things that we disregard before we’ve allowed God to speak through them.

At my worst, I am crude and profane, yet many have given me the opportunity to speak, and I am grateful for that. More importantly, God has seen through my crudity and profanity to see who he created me to be, and the image in which he created me. Thankfully, he did not abandon me, he did not walk away, he chose to engage and in that engagement is transformation and life change for me.

How grateful I am in that God sees through my imperfections. May I look with those same eyes on the world around me.

Life Is _____ – A Book Review

Life IsAugustine said that our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God. I think Judah Smith would agree with his statement. The tagline for his latest book, “Life Is ______” is, “God’s illogical love will change your existence.” We will not find satisfaction and completeness until we find that in God. We may search in all kinds of places, things, and people, but they will always fall short of what God offers us.

Judah Smith explains that the premise of his book is “that Jesus shows us how to live life to the fullest.” He then proceeds to explain this throughout his book as he breaks it into four sections which complete the “Life Is ______” statement: life is to be loved and to love, life is to trust God in every moment, life is to be at peace with God and yourself, and life is to enjoy God.

With self-deprecating humor, fascinating and personal stories, and simple expositions of Bible passages, Smith explains the Gospel to his reader. He continually points to the things in this world which may claim to offer us satisfaction but explains how these things will always come up short in comparison to what God offers us. He presents the Gospel message, clearly stating that we don’t earn our salvation, it is freely given to us through Jesus Christ. We will always fall short when we try to earn righteousness, which is why we need Jesus.

Life change doesn’t happen through rules and regulations, they don’t create inner motivation. Only Jesus and a relationship with him can accomplish that.

This book isn’t written for someone who wants to dive into something theologically deep. Smith presents things in a simple and easily understood way for those who may be just setting out on a faith journey or who haven’t even begun the journey yet. His clear communication of some essential principles of Christianity are helpful for anyone who always feels as if they are being spoken down to by pastors and teachers of the Bible.

“Life Is _____” was a helpful reminder of our need for a savior and our inability to produce salvation on our own. I would highly recommend it for someone who has not yet met Jesus yet who is experiencing all of the storms that life inevitably throws at them. If you don’t know someone who can benefit from this book, then you’re hanging out with the wrong people!

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