Inspired – A Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ain’t Going Out Like That

abandoned-churchI’ve been asked before whether I hate Christians, which is kind of a funny question to be asked when you’re a pastor. Digging deeper down, I think the genesis of the question was because I have a tendency to speak my mind with a combination of my New York and New England roots.

Growing up in the church, I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of the local church. I’ve seen people who claim the love of Christ but rarely show it. I’ve seen people who have been forgiven for much be stingy in offering forgiveness to others. I’ve seen the hypocrisy that flows freely behind closed doors, a stark contrast from the public face that some wear. And, if I’m totally honest, I’ve probably seen all of these and more in the mirror as much as I’ve seen it in other people.

The place of the local church in society has changed dramatically over the last fifty or sixty years. Once upon a time, the local church, regardless of denomination, was afforded a place of respect within our culture, but things have changed. People have run from God. They generally want him to care when their lives are a mess, even criticizing him and asking where he is in the midst of trials and difficulties. At the same time, when things are going well, they have no issue taking credit for how they’ve made themselves who they are and how far they’ve advance their own causes, giving no credit to God for the blessings they’ve received.

Within the church, it seems that many of us have been licking our wounds and lamenting this fall from grace for the church. How did we get here? Why did we get here? Why can’t things be the way that they used to be? Instead of adapting to this new normal, we’ve allowed panic and fear to drive us to find ways to regain the church’s place in society, mostly by thinking (like Israel) that politics is the way to make that happen, especially if we can just get the “king” (or president) to lead us to glory.

But the place of Christians in our society is not much different than the place of Christians in many of the societies where Paul planted churches in the first century. Corinth. Ephesus. Rome. Colossae. The Roman empire was not a “Christian” culture. Regardless of Constantine’s move centuries later (which I believe instilled a false sense of security into the Church universal), Roman culture was pagan.

Fifty years ago, the place that the church occupied within culture and society in America fostered an “if you build it, they will come” mentality. I call it the “Field of Dreams” mentality. People respected the church and pastors enough that just being there and offering opportunities was enough. You could draw people in with your programs if you made them attractive enough. Even if you made no concerted efforts to reach out to your community, people would inevitably find their way back to the church, right?

But those days are gone, and I can’t say that I lament them at all. As difficult as life can become without certain things at times, using crutches can give us a false sense of security that also removes our reliance on the muscles that we were supposed to be leaning on. But now that the crutches of false security have been removed, we need some major physical therapy in the church to begin to strengthen those muscles that we haven’t been using for so long.

Primarily, those are the muscles of outreach and evangelism. Because those things were so programmatic back in the day, we are dumbfounded in the church to realize that there is no magic formula or secret sauce that allows us to bring people into the church in droves.

Instead, it takes one conversation at a time, one relationship at a time, over a long period of time. It take intentional investment, not a one-time event that we can throw money at in hopes that it will somehow translate into a growth boom in the local church.

But, we just ain’t going out like that. Churches continue to struggle to do this.

I think there are a lot of reasons for this, not the least of which is our diminished ability to connect and relate well to other people. Our culture will generally respond to crisis, but when the crisis is gone, where do we go? Where do the relationships go?

I’ve seen some messy situations both inside and outside of the church. I’ve only seen few of those engaged by some very brave people who understand the messiness into which they are venturing. It’s not easy. There will be hurt. There will be pain. There will be joy. There will be celebration. There will be life.

Somehow, the Church needs to figure out a way to relate well to the world once again. It’s not done with picket signs and boycotts, it’s done through relationships, especially relationships with those we would consider to be the “other,” people who don’t look like us, act like us, or even think like us. Jesus’ instructions about the greatest commandment were twofold: love God, love your neighbor.

Unfortunately, we’ve diminished our definition of the word “neighbor.” Instead of defining the word from Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan, anyone who comes across our path, those who are like us or not, we’ve limited it to those who we enjoy spending time with or who we can tolerate. I can tell you, Samaritans and Jews weren’t particularly chummy back in the day, yet that was the definition that Jesus gave of showing love to a neighbor.

This is a big ship to turn, one that takes time and patience. I’m running out of both. I’ve never been a patient person and when I feel urgency, my patience becomes even more limited.

Ultimately, reaching out to a world in need of hope and in need of a Savior can’t be about building a Christian empire or nation, it needs to be about building a kingdom. But this kingdom isn’t of this world and it certainly doesn’t have values that look like the values of this world either. When we lose sight of what we’re building, we become like those inhabitants of Babel, building a tower for our own glory rather than the glory of God.

I’m on this journey, learning more every day, becoming a little bit more willing to take risks every day. I want to see the Church succeed in her mission, but it’s going to take some momentum and synergy to move things forward. I’m hoping I find some others who are willing to take this ride with me, not for our sake or even the sake of our local church, but for the sake of a King and Kingdom that will reign forever.

Be Who You Are

I was listening to a podcast a few weeks ago by the organization from whom I received my StrengthsFinders training. The main topic of discussion was team values.

As the hosts talked, I felt myself nodding my head over and over again like a bobblehead doll as they talked about looking at their organization and having this sneaky suspicion deep inside that what they said were and what they really were did not agree. The head of the organization said that as they looked at their values, at least their stated values, they began to realize that that was all that they were, stated values. They weren’t bad or wrong, but they weren’t who they really were. Deep inside he could tell that there was a discrepancy and the stated values did not necessarily represent reality.

In other words, the things that they said they valued were not necessarily the things that they really valued. What they said they valued may have represented the best of intentions, what they wished that they were, but they were not reality and it was that which had caused the unsettled feeling within the head of the organization. It evoked a discussion about what the organization valued based on observation rather than desire or intentions.

It resonated with me because I can relate. There are times that I may claim one thing or another about myself, but those claims are false, not representing reality. Instead of claiming what is real, I sometimes claim what I WISH to be real. For instance, someone may say that they are charitable, giving when not asked, being generous always, and rarely being selfish in what they have, but the reality may be that they are patronizing at best, reluctantly giving when asked, self-serving at worst.

I don’t suspect that I am the only one who deals with this. If we are all honest, I wonder how many of us would say that the values we claim are actual reality. Is there good alignment between what we say we are and what we wish we were?

Within the church, I feel like this is a major point to ponder. Churches may put forth their vision and mission statements, they may tote values that align with the teachings of Jesus, but how many times are the values that are trumpeted the actual values that are exhibited? Are we being consistent in our language or are we simply saying that we are something that we are not?

It lends itself to a thorough questioning and soul searching if we truly want to get to the heart of this issue. The church aligns itself with the teachings of Jesus, in theory, but I think that there are times when we are selective about to which teachings of Jesus we adhere, often casting out the difficult or problematic ones. If we lack consistency between what we say we are and how we actually behave, then we are really guilty of false advertising, saying we hold to the teachings of Jesus but only embracing them in theory rather than in practice.

I fully understand that a vision is something to which we aspire. We set up visions in order that we would progress towards them, promoting forward movement towards something. A vision is something that gives us a picture of the future, of what could be. But what happens when our pursuit of vision seems endless? Is that the purpose?

As followers of Christ, we are constantly being reformed and transformed, at least we should be. We will not reach full perfection or Christlikeness (to use a recurrent term) until we meet Jesus face to face. So where do we set our vision? Should vision be constantly changing?

I am growing weary of the self-realization that what I say I am ends up being more like what I wish I were than what I really am. The journey of self-awareness will lead us to this reality if things are off. My hope and prayer is that I will constantly be asking myself how aligned I am with what I say I am and what I really am. If I can’t get this right myself, I certainly can’t expect those whom I lead to follow suit.

 

A Call To Action

a call for courageIn the introduction of “A Call For Courage” George Barna writes, “We have become a nation of self-sufficient individuals who dismiss the idea that God will judge us. His statement sets the tone for Michael Anthony’s book. It is our apathy and complacency, specifically the apathy and complacency of those who follow Jesus that Anthony speaks to throughout his book.

Anthony raises concern over the state of the United States. Things have been happening, legislation has been passed, laws have been changed, all of which should be concerning for those who consider themselves to be followers of Christ. There is a reverse intolerance that has taken place, an ideology where it is no longer acceptable to disagree or see things differently. Instead, disagreement becomes intolerance or hate or prejudice.

Christians, Anthony writes, are partly to blame for the current state of affairs. The lives of believers look suspiciously similar to the lives of those who don’t consider themselves to be Christ followers. Various attitudes among Christians have been embraced to avoid engagement with some of the issues at hand. The focus of Christian churches and their leaders has been skewed, with an emphasis on speed, size, and numbers rather than life change and transformation. As Anthony writes, “If we keep doing what we’ve been doing, we’ll keep getting what we’ve been getting.”

Despite the overwhelming opinion to the contrary among evangelicals, Anthony does not believe that change happens based on who is elected as president. In fact, he believes that the change happens within the church as Christians begin to engage the issues, stand up and fight for their rights, and stop longing for the day that Jesus returns to make everything better. While that longing is important, an overemphasis on Jesus’ return has the potential for Christians to disengage from culture and society and simply sit and wait for Jesus’ return. Yes, hope and wait, but in the meantime, take action and stand up.

Anthony points his readers back to the Bible, encouraging them to see the Bible as the story of God rather than the story of us. The Bible is full of stories, he writes, and people who were ordinary and unlikely yet who were used by God to make a difference in the difficult places where he planted them. Christians need to begin to see themselves as part of God’s story and ask how they might be involved in change to which he is calling them.

Anthony takes time in the book to correct misunderstandings of certain laws and legislation that has been grossly misunderstood. He explains his perspective on the separation of church and state and reminds his readers that our inalienable rights are ours not because they have been given to us by a government or a Constitution, but by God himself. He encourages an embrace of the First Amendment in not only the prohibition of the establishment of a religion by the government but also a protection of the practice and exercise of one’s religion without infringement or attack.

Speaking the truth in love is important. Anthony shares from his own experience with those with whom he disagrees, pointing out that it is still possible to disagree and yet still love and care for people deeply. While I’m not a fan of the cliché phrase of “love the sin, hate the sinner” that he embraces, his point is not lost on me. We can love someone and still not agree or condone their behavior or viewpoint.

“A Call For Courage” is really a call for action by Anthony. He implores readers to be involved and be informed. He shares his concerns with examples of various actions by our government that should raise concern among Christians. Anthony by no means is encouraging militaristic rebellion against the government, he is simply calling Christians to not be lulled to sleep by the culture, but instead to take a stand for the rights that they may not have unless that stand is taken. We can make a difference by simply changing some simple things that are right in front of us. We need to focus on our own sin before loudly pointing out the sins of others. We need to get our house in order before thinking that we can conquer the world through politics and presidents.

Overall, “A Call For Courage” was a good read. While I am not in 100% agreement with everything Anthony writes, I appreciate his call to action and his emphasis on the love that Christians need to share with those around them, especially those with whom they don’t agree. Anthony’s emphasis for change is focused more on what the church can do within herself. While there is still a call to be active and involved in politics and society, Anthony is reminding followers of Christ about the importance of consistency in their own lives while fighting this battle.

(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.)

 

Christian Leadership and the Cross

cross and christian ministryThe subtitle of D.A. Carson’s book, “The Cross and Christian Ministry” is “Leadership Lessons From 1 Corinthians.” Carson takes a substantial amount of time in the beginning of the book to emphasize (maybe even overemphasize) the difference between the wisdom of God and the wisdom of the world.  Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians are, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.”

Carson’s emphasis on God’s wisdom and the cross of Christ sets the tone for the entire book, especially as it relates to leadership. After all, when leaders within the church overemphasize their own wisdom versus the wisdom of God, the situation within the church can increasingly look like the world.

This book should not be seen as an exhaustive commentary on Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Instead, Carson focuses on a good portion of chapters 1 and 2 as well as chapter 3, 4, and a portion of chapter 9 as well. Remembering the focus here is on Christian ministry and leadership, herein is where Caron’s emphasis lies.

Although there is a great distance both temporally and culturally between the Western church and the context to which Paul was writing, the lessons are no less applicable to us. The church is not a place for celebrities, Carson says, especially not in the pulpit. We are constantly looking back to the cross, remembering that worldly wisdom pales in comparison to the wisdom of God. Relying on our own wisdom will surely lead to our own lauding and may even lead to us forgetting just where any of our wisdom comes from to begin with.

Carson gets his point across regarding the centrality of the cross and the wisdom of God. How he gets that point across may not necessarily be as engaging for some as they would like. At a little over one hundred and fifty pages, this book was not lengthy, but it was not a quick and fast read. There were multiple times that I felt as if Carson was belaboring his points, beating a dead horse even, not trusting that he had gotten his point across the first time around.

If you choose to dive into this book, be patient with yourself and with Carson. There are choice morsels within here that you can find, it just may require more patience and digging than you may be accustomed to.

(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.)

The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus – A Book Review

farewell discourse carsonJohn’s Gospel has long stood as the destination for those seeking to better understand the deity of Jesus Christ. Between the “I am” statements that Jesus makes throughout the book, the miracles that Jesus performs, and the ways that Jesus directs people to trust him in the same way that they trust God, we see in the Gospel of John a picture of the Son of God incarnate during his time on the earth.

Canadian theologian, author, and professor D.A. Carson focuses on what has been known as the Farewell Discourse in “The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus.” Through his exposition, Carson looks at how Jesus shares the same glory as the Father. He focuses, as these passages do, on the three persons of God, looking at the Holy Spirit and his work as Jesus describes the paraclete who would come once Jesus had ascended to the Father. Carson writes, “A God who has always lived in solitary seclusion cannot realistically be described as a loving God; but a God who exists as one God in three persons may indeed be exercising profound love.”

Carson looks at the final prayer of Jesus and describes not only what that prayer meant for the followers who were there with Jesus but also what it means for those of us who are followers of Jesus Christ today. The reader is reminded of the many times throughout the Gospels when we see Jesus’ focus on prayer. He was known to have gotten away to commune with the Father, not necessarily for long periods of time, but for consistent times throughout his ministry. Jesus knew the importance of this communion with the Father as he was about the Father’s business.

This exposition is not a traditional commentary, although at times it follows a similar layout to a commentary. The Bible passages are included to give context to his writing and Carson shares helpful information, but there are times when it seems to drag on. More than once, I found myself disengaged, having to go back and reread what I had just read to get back on track again. The writing was not always the most engaging. If you are looking for something more than a devotional book but something that’s not quite as in depth as an academic commentary, Carson’s work may suit you well.

(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.)

Breaking the Cycle of Fear – A Book Review

breaking the cycle of fearWhat do we do when we come face to face with our greatest fears? What do we do when those greatest fears actually come true? How do we move past the fears that grip us to a place of trust in the One who we believe holds all things together?

Maria Furlough shares her personal story in her latest book “Breaking the Cycle of Fear.” Furlough shares and gives her readers an intimate portrait of her own fear and loss when, during pregnancy, she was told that her fourth child did not have kidneys or a bladder. She was told by her doctor that her little boy would live through her entire pregnancy and once he was born would only live for a few minutes or hours.

Furlough describes her feelings, “Through my sobbing, I never felt mad at God. I never questioned his goodness or blamed him. But the fear that had gripped me for so long turned into terror, and I literally felt like I was going to die from the burden of sadness, pain, and anxiety.” Then she goes on to name her fears as she realized that if she didn’t kill them, they were going to kill her.

This book is an honest testimony of how God brought Furlough through the fears that she had experienced into a place of peace and trust. She shares so many of the Scripture verses that ministered to her. She shares prayers that she prayed. She shares the difference between pleading and praying, giving examples of both in order to distinguish the difference.

Furlough writes, “we do a vast disservice to God’s Word when we pluck out verses and have them stand alone.” Having been through my own difficulties and had people cherry pick verses to share as encouragement, I resonated with her statement. I know that she experienced the same thing in the loss of her son, which makes the comment that much more poignant to me. She points to the importance of looking at context which is such a vital part of digging into God’s Word.

The material that Furlough shares in this book has come out of her own teaching at her church. She is real. She is raw. She shares from the depths of her heart, not pulling any punches. I love the way that she ends this book, sharing the stories of those who have been impacted by her teaching to move from fear to faith, trust, and peace. She even shares her husband’s story about his own anxiety and fear.

Out of our deepest heartaches and pains can come our greatest insights and lessons if we allow God to use them. Maria Furlough has shared out of her deep heartaches and pains and has shared how God used those to change her and transform her. Every reader can benefit from those insights in order to move from fear to peace.

(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.)

I Can Only Imagine – The Story Behind the Song

i can only imagineYou may be familiar with the hit song “I Can Only Imagine,” but you probably don’t know the history and background of the song and the story behind it. In “I Can Only Imagine” Bart Millard tells his story along with the story behind the song. Really, his story IS the story behind the song as Millard tells of the difficulties that he had growing up.

Throughout Millard’s recounting of his story, he describes some of the details of his early life and just how MercyMe became a band. Millard tells of his dual ankle injury while playing football that led to him quitting football and joining the choir. Eventually, he even starred as Curly in “Oklahoma.”

Much of Millard’s story focuses on his relationship with his father and the pain and abuse that he suffered at his father’s hand. After being hit by a car while directing traffic on a construction site led to a frontal lobe injury in his father’s brain, his father was never the same. His parents eventually divorced and Bart was left to live with his father. Even though Millard had an older brother, his father somehow seemed to have targeted him with the verbal and physical abuse that he doled out.

While in the 9th grade, Millard’s father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Knowing that it was terminal resulted in a dramatic change in his attitude and behavior. As his father faced his own mortality, he began to become more like the man that had existed before his accident. The abuse stopped and he began to really embrace the faith that he had only outwardly professed. This began a relationship and friendship between Bart and his father that had not existed before.

As his father’s health continued to deteriorate, their relationship grew deeper and stronger. When his father finally passed away, Millard talks of just how much God had done to restore the relationship that had been so frail and volatile.

Along the way, as Millard describes everything that happened between him and his father, he also tells of how he and his wife, who he’d known since they were young, kept coming back to each other. Eventually, they realized that there was a reason for that and they broke off the relationships that they had with other people to embrace what had been right in front of them all along.

Millard also tells of how he wrote “I Can Only Imagine” in a matter of minutes and how the music came to be at the end of a recording session which had all but been wrapped up. And in the miracle of this short span of time came about a song whose span and influence exceeded any other song before it.

The story of the song, the band, and this father-son relationship engrossed me. Having lost my own mother to pancreatic cancer, I was gripped from the very beginning. I could relate to Millard’s story in some ways and not in others, but his telling of the story was powerful and moving, drawing me in and keeping me reading page after page as the story unfolded.

“I Can Only Imagine” had always been such a powerful song to me, now having read the story behind the song and the songwriter, an already powerful song somehow became more so. Regardless of where you stand in terms of faith, it would be hard to read this account without being moved in some way. I urge you to pick up a copy of this book and dive into this story. You won’t be disappointed and it may just be an encouragement and a jolt to your faith to read of how God’s hand worked in the life of Bart Millard.

(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.)

More Than Just A Prayer to Recite…

“Our Father, who is in heaven, hallowed be your name….”

If you grew up in the church, the Lord’s Prayer has probably become familiar to you. You may have grown up reciting it to the point that it’s imbedded in your brain and you can recite it without much thought or contemplation.

The Prayer That Turns the World

In his latest book “The Prayer That Turns the World Upside Down,” Albert Mohler even says that, “many evangelicals can identify with…what it is to pray without really praying.” Although we may have memorized the words of this prayer that Jesus taught his disciples, we may have not given it much thought. But Mohlers suggests that this prayer and what is contained within it is actually revolutionary if we really take to heart what Jesus said.

Before venturing into an exposition of Jesus’ prayer, Mohler expounds on the idea that evangelicals have gotten good at praying without really praying. He challenges the reader saying that a lot can be told about our relationship with God based on how we pray and how we worship. Mohler defines what prayer is and what prayer isn’t.

Mohler walks through each of the key phrases in Jesus’ prayer, expositing each and pointing towards Jesus’ prayer not as something to simply recite, but as a guide and primer on just how we approach God in prayer. We pray not so that we can simply list off all of the things that we want or need, but to commune with God, to relate to God, and ultimately to be changed by him. As Mohler says, “There is no true intimacy with God without prayer.” Mohler points out that the intentional phrasing in the prayer points us away from our individualism and reminds us that we are part of a greater whole, the body of Christ.

The Lord’s Prayer is also a reminder to us that we are part of a kingdom that is not of this world and a king who far exceeds the political powers which make headlines on a daily basis. Our commission as followers of Christ is to make disciples of this king and citizens of his kingdom. As we pray that the Lord’s will be done, we are asking God to align our will with his, not asking that he make our heart’s desires come true. Our hearts desires in prayer should slowly begin to align to the heart’s desire of God.

We are reminded, through this book, that our prayer for our daily needs may not always be answered in the ways that we might think or even hope. God will provide for our needs but perhaps not the way that we might have imagined. We are taught to forgive as we are forgiven, not because we are forgiven. We receive forgiveness through Christ and because of what we receive, we extend forgiveness to others.

Mohler reminds the reader that Christians are not somehow immune to temptation. No temptation is brought on by God, but it is allowed and with that temptation, we are given the tools by which to triumph over it. The power to resist temptation isn’t something we muster up with enough gumption and energy, it is only something that we can accomplish through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The reader is reminded at the conclusion of the book that the last phrase that has been tacked on to the Lord’s Prayer was not found in the original manuscripts of the Bible. While that doesn’t make it wrong, it doesn’t make it God’s Word, Mohler writes. It may have been added in the decades and centuries following Jesus to act as a doxology.

Mohler concludes his discussion of the Lord’s Prayer by reminding his reader that, “This prayer is dangerous…This prayer is hopeful…This prayer is compassionate…This prayer is reverent…This prayer is good news.” Through the Lord’s Prayer, we not only understand what God asks of us when we come to him but also we begin to understand more of who he is as we unpack this prayer.

If, as Mohler says, you have ever felt like you, “can go through the motions, say all the right words, and even lead a congregation or group in prayer without remembering a single word…or even understanding what (was) prayer for,” you might consider reading “The Prayer That Turns the World Upside Down.” It’s a short enough read that you won’t feel like you are getting bogged down but it packs enough into those few pages that you will feel challenged in how you approach this important prayer the next time you recite 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.)

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.