Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Book: The Art of Work by @jeffgoins

book

(Click the image to get more information about the book in pre-sale and bonuses available for it.)

In the modern American Christian world, there are two major schools of thought about finding your life’s work. Both views have their proponents and books, and both have positives to commend them to you. The first view is that one needs to absolutely only ever obey God. The other view is that one needs to “find yourself” and go with the flow of the universe. This latter view is often Christianized by attaching random Bible verses.

It’s also so much fluffy nonsense.

The other view, of only obeying God, is a no-brainer. If you are a Christian, then you have made that your life’s goal: obey God in all ways and all things. One is then back to the original question: what do I do with my life? How do we find those things that we best glorify God by doing?

Into that conversation comes The Art of Work by Jeff Goins. Goins acknowledges the need to find personal fulfillment in work, but bases it not in self-satisfaction but in becoming what God meant you to become, doing what you were meant to do.

A note is due here about the idea of “work” for the purposes of this book. It’s not just about where you punch a time clock. It’s about all the things we do—both for profit and for living. Goins presents some ideas here about how to help those two things mesh.

Goins challenges the reader to examine just how they are energized in living life. He presents several ways to work through shifting life to a more fulfilling view. It all starts with the core: determine that what you want in life is not the same as what everyone else wants. Lean into those desires, not into the template of wealth or self-actualization that the world imprints for you.

Is this work perfect? Of course not. For the most part, the imperfections are opportunities for the reader. Goins has chosen examples and testimonies that highlight the extremes that are possible in this world, both depths to rise from and heights to soar to. That many of us may not achieve as much should be balanced by the reality that most of us are not near as low, either. Further, if he spelled out exactly what you should do, you would live his dream and not yours. Seems like that misses the point, doesn’t it?

All told, Goins makes excellent points in The Art of Work. Further, he uses Biblical events and passages without doing violence to their context. It’s not a Sunday School book—this is not a Bible study work, it’s a personal development book. But it is worth your time.

Disclaimer? Not really. I’ve met the author, and he’s a nice guy. Of course, I’ve met other people whose books I don’t like, so meeting me doesn’t guarantee a good review. This is worth your time.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Book: 40 Questions about Creation and Evolution

Book Blitz gets deeply theological.

40 Questions about Creation and Evolutions by Kenneth KeathleyWhen it comes to the debate about the origin of humanity or the origin of the universe, one has two basic options. You can start with a belief in a supernatural possible origin, or you can start without one. If you start with a belief that there is no possible supernatural origin, then that’s where your search ends. The universe is what it is, it happened how it happened, and we’re done here.

If you start with a belief in the possibility of the supernatural, then you have further ideas to examine. For example, one must determine which supernatural accounting should be considered. One must determine how the supernatural interacts with the scientifically observed and tested. These are the questions that feed into Kregel Academic’s 40 Questions about Creation and Evolution.

The first observation on this work is that the authors are theology and Old Testament professors. This demonstrates that the work is aimed at answering questions based in the Bible account of the origin of the universe and humanity. I think the work would benefit from adding an author whose expertise is science, but the authors have well-researched and cited scientific issues where appropriate.

The second observation is that this is not really a book about science at all. It is more appropriately considered a book about whether or not the Biblical account can be interpreted in various ways. Is the “day-age” theory tenable based on the text? What of “intelligent design”? How much is “Darwinism” science and how much is it religious/philosophical? These are the questions treated here.

The third observation is that in the times where this book treats with science, it does attempt to present even-handed evidences. For example, geological examples are presented that defy easy explanation in the typical young-earth viewpoint as well as those that support that viewpoint. Overall, the science conclusion appears to come back to an undecided viewpoint. The authors promote the idea that science cannot give a fully conclusive answer and that one must find it in examining the Biblical account.

Where does this fit into the typical reading program? It’s a pretty serious read. 400 pages of theology, Biblical Studies, and science. Fortunately, it does include footnotes :) but overall, you’re not going to read this for fun on the weekends. (Unless your nerd-level is as high as mine.) However, for those trying to wrestle with how Christian Scripture and the origin of the world work together, this is worth your time. It’s also worth it for anyone preparing an in-depth study on Genesis 1 and 2.

Free book in exchange for the review.

In the Future: Luke 21

In Summary:

Luke 21 opens with what is probably the most famous of all Jesus’ teaching on giving. This is the story of the Widow’s Mite, where a widow gives her small amount at the Temple. She is contrasted with the religiously self-important, who give greater gross amounts, but do it for the publicity. Additionally, she has put a larger percentage of her resources—without divine support, she will be in great need. The important folks? These gave from what they did not need.

After observing the giving at the Temple, Jesus goes on to speak of the end of time. His return will come after a great deal of chaos and destruction. One challenge in using this chapter to foretell a specific date—or even era—is that two major events are intermingled here. The return of Christ and the end of the ages is the major one, but secondarily included is the destruction of Jerusalem, likely at the hands of the Romans. (Or, perhaps, the destruction of Jerusalem at the end of time. You get the challenge.)

As always, the main issue in “end of the age” timing is the imminence of the return of Christ. It’s clear enough that it could be almost any time. Be obedient. Be ready.

In Focus:

Rather than putting a few verses under focus today, let us consider the context of this entire chapter. Many times we have heard sermons about giving based on the Widow’s Mite. I will acknowledge the virtue of giving with regard only for the glory of God. Those who give without regard to the opinions of others or their own comfort are more often blessed than those who focus on logic in giving.

Looking at the context, have you ever considered how the whole section is connected? Jesus begins to teach about the impending doom and transition to eternity after seeing the Widow and her giving. This tells us that, whether we like it or not, the events observed and the teaching given are related. Jesus did not see the Widow and say “Well, changing the subject…”

If these are connected, then what is the connection? The connection is this: why hold on to material wealth in light of eternity? And why give to build buildings, even the Temple, what will be destroyed?

In Practice:

Where is the practical look of this going? You might think it’s heading to “mail a check to your church!” Or even more likely, “Mail a check to your pastor!” (Or pastor-blogger! Address is available…)

That’s not the direction I want to head. If you are a Christian, you have a responsibility to honor God and support the work of the Kingdom through the church you are a part of. That’s not what is in view here—Jewish Law commanded the giving to support daily existence of synagogues and teachers. While that command is subsumed under grace, we still bear that responsibility for the church today. The giving in view was the extra giving, the giving for something greater and extra.

Instead, I would challenge us all to consider this: in light of eternity, what good is any of our spending? This includes how your local church spends its money. Are we spending it on matters that carry through? On growing fruit? On honoring God?

Or is it all going to stuff that will go away? That big, beautiful church building? Guess what? It’s doomed. Fancy car for your pastor? Destroyed. Copies of the Word of God for the multitudes? That carries forward, for the Word of the Lord endures forever. Hungry fed? That’s worth it.

Are there needs for administrative or helpful tools like buildings or employees…sure. But keep it perspective. If the Widow is going to give her Mite, then she shouldn’t be doing it just to build a building that’s destined for destruction. Let it go to something of value.

In Nerdiness: 

Luke 21:24 speaks of “the time of the Gentiles.” When are those? Some would suggest that this was the Roman domination until the modern nation of Israel. Others suggest that the “time of the Gentiles” continues even now, as Jerusalem continues to be ruled not by the Jewish people but in all sorts of chaos.

The reality? We don’t know for certain, but I would suggest that the “time of the Gentiles” continues in Jerusalem to this day. I’m not the perfect interpreter of prophecy, but I think there remains a future restoration of Jerusalem. In the long run, there will be a time when Jerusalem will not have to consider the opinions of Gentiles. But that is not yet.


Could it be soon? It could. Which is why the ultimate eschatological plan is always the same: be ready. The Lord is coming soon.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Book: The Leadership Handbook

Book blitz continues today…just a few more days and it’s all over with.

John Maxwell has been writing on leadership since I was in junior high. He’s been at it awhile now, because I’m getting old. His current work is called The Leadership Handbook. The question for a new Maxwell book on leadership is not whether or not the content is quality. That much is assured.

The real question is: if I already have Maxwell’s other books, do I need this one?

Because if you haven’t read up on leadership, you absolutely need to. This one, by boiling down the principles in most of Maxwell’s writings, is a good introduction. I like it better than his 21 Laws book, though that is a matter of preference.

Why is this a good starting point?

Each chapter presents a summary statement of leadership, then gives three ideas to expand it. After that, the chapter presents application exercises and concludes with a one-paragraph “mentoring moment” that encapsulates the ideas from that chapter.

The 26 ideas presented are excellent. There is the unfortunate inclusion of Perry Noble as a positive example of leadership, but Maxwell is examining leadership. Even the aggravating can demonstrate leadership. Leaving aside whether all of Maxwell’s other examples have used their leadership well—I think Noble, for example, has misapplied the idea of rising above criticism—the principles are still useful.

Now, I think this is definitely useful for new readers of leadership principles. Is it of any use to those who have read Maxwell’s prior books?

Yes, I find it useful. First, there are places within this book that Maxwell provides limiting parameters for his leadership principles. While one could read some of his earlier works and justify a self-absorbed leadership, Maxwell is clear in this work that this is not acceptable.

Second, The Leadership Handbook breaks down into nice group study segments. A six-month internship would couple well with reading through a chapter per week.

With the reservation that not every leader that was doing well when Maxwell did his research is still doing well, I can recommend this book to the student of leadership, whether new to the study or long-traveled.

I did receive a copy of this book in exchange for the review.

Sermon Recap for February 22

Good morning! Here are the sermons from yesterday. For the next several days, I’ll be posting a book review every day as well as normal posting. If you’re subscribed through MailChimp, then you will still only get one email.

Morning Sermon: The Treasure Matthew 6 (audio)

I. Beware of practicing righteousness _____________

II. Do not give __________________

III. Do not pray to be heard _______

IV. Do not fast___________________

V. Store your treasure rightly and your ______ will follow

Evening Sermon: Romans 5:8 (audio)

 

Extended morning notes:

The Treasure 92744.75

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Ever-fixed mark: The Treasure of Life is found in the grace-given relationship we have with God.

If I gave you 1 hour to load up and evacuate, never to return, how would you spend it?

A heart check: Where is your heart? Where does your heart lead you? Not sure?

Let me give you a different way to look at it: what do you treasure? Whatever your treasure is, your heart will follow it. If you treasure this earth, your heart will always lead you back to the things of this world.

I. Beware of practicing righteousness to be noticed

Why do we do what we do?

Jesus comes straight to the point: BEWARE!

Why do we do what we do?

II. Do not give to be rewarded

Giving? Press releases? Name plates on pews? (Mueller story?)

Giving? To earn something? Our salvation? The approval of others?

At times, it is tempting to suggest that one should have to give monetarily to the church to have a say in the business affairs…but if we do that, then what purpose are we asking people to give for?

We have to remember: giving, whether to the poor or to the work of the church, is done in response to the grace of God. Not to earn anything.

It is sometimes appropriate to allow others to make note of your giving—if the purpose is to bring greater glory to God and to inspire others. If you are not the one seeking it.

III. Do not pray to be heard by men

Prayer? Why do we pray? We’ve talked about this some of late, and one reason we pray is because it builds our relationship with God.

We are not building our relationship with God through prayer if we spend our time talking for the benefit of others. Or for their applause.

Prayer involves acknowledging His mastery and our weakness. His glory, our need. His purpose as above our own.

IV. Do not fast to gain attention

Fasting? Do we even do that, us food-loving Baptists?

We do—but we never talk about it. A person who tells you about their fasting is ignoring what Jesus says here.

A few side notes about fasting: the purpose of fasting is to focus the time spent on food on strengthening your relationship with God. It is not simply about skipping meals but about where the time and effort for those meals is spent instead. Further, one may refer to “fasting” from other things—from movies, TV, Internet, and so forth. These ideas are valuable but again: if you plastered your Facebook account with “I’m going off Facebook for Lent to fast” then all those “likes” you got? That’s it. You did it to be noticed.

Further, one CANNOT fast from sinful activity. Fasting is a temporary setting aside of something that is acceptable to focus on something greater. If your eating, social media, TV watching are sinful (destroying your body or your relationships with God and His people) then you are not fasting from these. You should be repenting.

Fast. It benefits us to take our focus off the earthly matters around us, to be dependent on God and reliant on Him.

But don’t moot the point by setting up a fasting support group. Further, consider Isaiah’s words about fasting:

6 “Is this not the fast which I choose,

To loosen the bonds of wickedness,

To undo the bands of the yoke,

And to let the oppressed go free

And break every yoke?

7 “Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry

And bring the homeless poor into the house;

When you see the naked, to cover him;

And not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Is 58:6–7.

V. Store your treasure rightly and your heart will follow

Overall—it must come to this decision: What Treasure do we seek?

Most of us spend so much time on earthly treasure.

Apart from a saving relationship with Jesus, we seek the earthly treasures—and sometimes heavenly ones, but we want to earn them.

We cannot. We must accept the gracious gift of God. Salvation is not found by how well we behave, nor how well we do religious things.

It’s not “attained” by impressing the people around us, either.

Only by the blood of Jesus paying for our sins can we be saved.

As we repent of our sins and follow Him.

And then? It’s our joyous opportunity to follow, trusting God with our treasure.

Where is your heart headed?

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Book: Beneath the Forsaken City

Book blitz ventures into the Fantasy World…

I have not read the first book in the Song of Seare series, a fault I will definitely seek to remedy after reading Beneath the Forsaken City. C.E. Laureano has crafted a fantasy world that fits well into the Christian allegory/fantasy genre. It’s not straight allegory like Pilgrim’s Progress, but still carries some of the ideas of Christian life wrapped in a good narrative.

Having not read the first book, I was a tad bit lost as I started on this book. Fortunately, the adventure stands decently on its own. One is not entirely sure what’s going on in the universe of Seare, but I was able to fill in the gaps.

Laureano’s characters, Conor and Aine, are presented well. Further, the “bad guys” are clearly bad—there are no doubts about good and evil. That is a positive for fantasy literature. I would suggest having a quick thumb to the back pages with the pronunciation guide…

How well does the allegory stand up? I find no fault in the theology presented through the allegorical moments. It is, most certainly, not perfect. But overall, one ought not get your theology from fiction anyway. As an illumination of the ideas of grace and commitment to God, this one hits that just fine.

Is it worth reading? Absolutely. I’ll be adding this to the shelf for my kids as they hit middle-school reading ranges. There is action, there is good versus evil, there is romance. Everything that a good movie would have…but it’s in your imagination instead.

Sounds like a win to me.

Free book from the publisher.

Book: From Plato to Jesus

Book Blitz continues! This book is as far from the last one as I think one can get.

One of the great things about being a book reviewer for Kregel Academic is that they let me have an extra book, of my choice, as a birthday present. I don’t have to hide in a cave with it, I just have to review it. This year, I asked for C. Marvin Pate’s From Plato to Jesus. Dr. Pate is a professor at Ouachita Baptist University’s Pruet School of Christian Studies. (In the dark ages, it was just the Religion Department.) I am an alumnus of OBU, so I try to keep up with all religion publications from the faculty, because it makes me look smart. Dr. Pate’s hard to keep up with—I’m about a dozen behind on his books.

From Plato to Jesus addresses this question: “What does philosophy have to do with theology?” Obviously, Pate feels the answer is more than “Not a blessed thing.” Instead, he develops the extended answer to this question. He traces first the historical development of philosophy. This begins with the Pre-Socratics and carries forward into the contemporary era of philosophy.

He then traces how philosophy underscores our understanding of theology. In this, he highlights areas where poorly-executed philosophy gives us theological problems. I find this section particularly enlightening.

Is this a book for the broad audience? Despite the blessed presence of footnotes instead of endnotes, I must say that it is not, at least not for the casual reader. One is going to need to invest serious intellectual effort into this book.

First, Pate is writing for a more academic discussion. If you’re typically reading at the popular level, be ready to stretch. Second, he assumes some basic familiarity with the principles of philosophy. We should all have some, but many of us may have forgotten them.

Third, Pate assumes a basic understanding of general theology. Again, for his target audience, that’s fine.

To the great credit of the author, as he works through the second section of this book, he follows a fairly standardized format. (Standardized for this book, chapter to chapter.) For each theological issue at hand, Pate provides one potential way to understand it with both theological and philosophical points, then provides the historically contrasting view. Then he provides the view that reads like the better one, with its proponents. By using this format repeatedly, it is easy for the reader to dig into the actual content.

Who should read this book?

This should be on the reading list for most pastor-theologians-teachers and serious students of the Word of God. I am persuaded that we should read at least one heavy-duty book per quarter, one light-duty book per quarter, one biography, and as much else as possible. This fits that heavy-duty need.

Get it. Read it.

Free book for the review from Kregel Academic. Yes, I always like their books.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Book: Food, A Love Story

The Book Blitz Continues, but shifts moods!

I am a typical Baptist pastor. I like food. A lot. I remain thoroughly unconvinced that no major problems in this world should not be solved over a good meal together. In fact, I I think an oft-overlooked historical fact is that the most effective summits between the USA and the USSR were the best catered. Most likely with barbecue. (NOTE: “barbecue” is slow-cooked meat, not anything cooked outdoors. Burgers? These are grilled. You cannot barbecue in a hurry.

It is with this strong affection for food that I come to Jim Gaffigan’s second book, Food: A Love Story. Where do I begin, to tell the story of how fun this book can be? A fun food story that he wrote for you and me? Where do I start?

That was unnecessarily musical in my head. Gaffigan, famed for humor about whales, blubber, Hot Pockets, and childbirth, gives us his second effort at a book length masterpiece. It is certainly piece of something, whether or not it’s masterful is going to come down to your opinion.

First, there is no unification of theme other than “food.” If you were expecting a great tome on world hunger problems, you are in the wrong place. But if you want some wandering thoughts about our strange approach to food as Americans, this is the right place.

Second, there is no heavy attention span investment needed here. Gaffigan has politely fed us this book in reasonable courses, rather than just dropping a whole roast on the table and expecting us to sort it ourselves. The chapters/essays range from a few pages to just a few more pages. Easy to read, easy to digest.

Third, there is no emotional investment necessary here. You might look at the cover picture and wonder if Gaffigan and the hot dog actually get together or not—but you know from the first few pages they do. And the hot dog is still hanging around—both with Gaffigan and with a few dozen of its family members.

Is this a life-changing book?

For the love of bacon, no.

It is a funny book, and one worth letting the stress of today’s world melt a bit off of you to read.

I did receive a copy of this book in exchange for the review. That’s the way book reviewing works.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Book: No Greater Valor

Welcome to the Book Blitz: there will be multiple book posts over the next few days.

Jerome Corsi’s No Greater Valor tells the story of the Siege off Bastogne in World War II. I find the work worthwhile for the personal reflections on the war alone, without delving any further than that into the work. World War II is moving from memory to history, and efforts to secure as much memory into a recorded form are worth commending.

Knowing that I favor the overall effort of getting history in print, I am predisposed to like No Greater Valor. I have not read any of Dr. Corsi’s other books, so I cannot tell you if this fits his typical style. I will first highlight my chagrin that, once again, a nonfiction book has been saddled with endnotes rather than footnotes. I like references, and I like them on the page they are noted.

Overall, the writing here does feel a bit disjointed. Corsi presents the various Allied units involved in the Battle of the Bulge, but of necessity there is a great deal of chronological shifting. Some events are grouped by people involved, requiring a flashback to an earlier time to catch up on what is happening outside of the earlier chapter.

Having read various history books, I have seen some that follow this method and others that follow a strict chronological method. Either works, though strict chronology appeals to me when trying to learn. The harder to trace narrative of No Greater Valor makes for a better casual read.

All in all, Corsi has mixed his analysis with both first-person quotes and information from the official records. There are the accounts of both generals and corporals, observations from those inside Bastogne and those outside.

I like this book. There are a few typos, and a few events could be narrated more clearly. If you have a textbook-type knowledge of the Battle of the Bulge, and specifically of the Bastogne events, this definitely puts more detail into that knowledge.

Various people rotate through the spotlight. Patton takes several turns in it, as does McAuliffe. So do chaplains like Father Sampson and Chaplain O’Neill. There is a photo section in the middle of the book which broadens the understanding, but it is not specifically tied to the writing.

The one concept that causes me hesitance about this book is made clealry in the concluding pages. Corsi broadens the historical lesson from Bastogne to include the need for America to retain strong moral character and Judeo-Christian values. While I agree with the need for these, I am unconvinced that the book strongly supports this as the conclusion. It feels tacked-on as a conclusion.

Is it worth reading? Absolutely.

Free book from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for the review.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Book: Romans 8-16 for You

What do you know? It’s a book!

This book review is sponsored by Cross-Focused Reviews, who persuaded the Good Book Company to send me a free copy in exchange for this review.

I’m torn in reviewing Romans 8-16 for You by Timothy Keller. It’s a good, compact study on the second half of Romans. It’s not at all a bad book, and Keller wisely did not try to address all of Romans in one volume in this series. The “For You” series aims for a 200 page volume, and this one hits that mark.

I have several of the other volumes in this series, and have greatly profited from these, including Keller’s first Romans volume. And I tried to really like this one as much as the previous ones. I just don’t.

I don’t dislike it, mind you, I just don’t find it compelling. There is good exegesis: Keller treats the text as important and the source of his ideas. He does not produce odd or novel ideas, nor does he spring off the wall.

For example, he threads the needle of Romans 13 on submission to the state quite well. It’s not a command to submit to Caesar rather than God, but it is a command to follow God first and not just aggravate the government.

Overall, though, I just couldn’t get into this one. I think that some portions of Scripture do not work with trying to be both simply explained and deeply applied as this book aims for. Romans 8-16 feels like it needs more time spent on it, more effort in the cultural setting and application.

It’s a good add to the series, and a good add alongside other volumes about Romans. But I don’t see this one standing alone as a guide through Romans 8-16 like I had hoped.

Still worth having, a solid base hit. Just not a home run.

My opinion is my own. You can ask Paul if Dr. Keller did him justice later.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

In Answering: Luke 20

In Summary:

Luke 20 sees the chief priests and elders confronting Jesus. Again. This is habit of theirs. It’s an ineffective habit, but a habit nonetheless. Perhaps we can learn something right here from the chief priests and elders: if you find yourself constantly arguing and losing, maybe you’re wrong? It’s worth considering.

They come and confront Jesus with a question about his authority to do what he is doing. The likely inciting incident for this direct question is the cleansing of the Temple—they want to know how Jesus thinks he has the right to say what can and cannot happen in the worship center of the people of Israel. Rather than answer them directly, Jesus gives them a question to deal with. Here we see that Jesus is not only the master of answering trap questions, but also the master of asking questions. He hits them with a choice: speak the truth or be politically expedient. They fail and try to equivocate.

The remainder of Luke 20 sees a continued effort by the religious leaders to stymie Jesus. They toss various questions at him and are dissatisfied with the answers. They’re also undaunted in their efforts by the answers. Here’s a question for most of us: are we more interested in getting answers or asking questions?

In Focus:

As in the last few chapters, Luke gives us one of Jesus’ parables in the midst of the other activities. The parable of the vineyard serves is the hinge for this chapter, and so draws our focus. The action after the parable is driven by the response of the religious leaders to Jesus telling it.

First, though, consider that Jesus tells this parable after silencing his critics, again. He is not out to silence critics: he is out to proclaim the Kingdom of God. We would do well to gather that truth. Be more concerned with proclaiming the Kingdom. We may have to stir up the critics a second time, but we cannot be satisfied with being “right.” We must share God’s loving truth.

Now, the parable of the vineyard runs a familiar story line for Jesus’ parables. There is a metaphor for God’s Kingdom. This time, a vineyard fills that role. There are people who are the initial participants in the Kingdom. These are vine-growers (or tenant farmers.) There is the stand-in for God, in this case the owner (or “lord”) of the vineyard.

The vineyard makes its produce and the owner sends for his share. The tenant farmers decide that they will not give it—so they refuse with violence. The violence escalates alongside their refusals until there are no servants left to mistreat. At this point, they kill the son of the vineyard owner, expecting that this will allow them to claim the inheritance that should be his.

Jesus points out that the result will not be what the vine-growers expect. Instead, their violent refusals to recognize the vineyard owner’s authority will be met with violence, and the vineyard will go others. Jesus was teaching that the religious leaders would not be permitted to hold the Kingdom of God hostage to their personal preferences and profits. Keep in mind, this is told in response to the religious response to cleansing the Temple: Jesus made a direct assault on religion-for-profit. Now he makes a didactic (teaching) follow-up on the principle. Verse 19 tells us that his target audience understood him exactly. And they were not pleased.

In Practice:

When we look at this for practical application, two things jump out. First, the vineyard belongs to God. Whatever our preferences, the Lord God sets the rules. Not us. We are commanded to bear fruit and to bear the fruit that God calls for from our lives. Too often, we spend our time and effort setting our definitions of fruitfulness and living up to those. That’s not our place.

Second, we want to define our reward for our work. But the inheritance is not ours, nor are the fruits of our labors. Instead, we rely on the gracious lord of the vineyard to provide what we need. Our work is constant—like tending a vineyard—but our reward is in pleasing the master, not in claiming our own rewards.

In Nerdiness: 

There are two follow-on questions that Jesus deals with in Luke 20. They are the typical response of the theologically curious when we don’t want to deal with the implications of what we are being taught. The questions on taxes and marriage? They point to obvious answers but ultimately are side-points to the real issue.


Don’t get so bogged down on the nerd side that you miss the main point. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

Sermon Recap for February 15

Good morning! I hope the ice and sleet have not caused you great grief today. Please be in prayer for those who have to be out in it.

Also, do not fail to pray for those whose lives are on the line for their faith nor for the families of those who gave their lives as a testimony of Christ.

Morning Sermon: Mark 9:2-10 (audio link)

 

Evening Sermon: Romans 6:19-23 (audio link)

 

We also had a good discussion on some church history and on the nature of eternity in our question-and-answer time.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

A thought or two about this weekend

This weekend marks one of the three pillars of romantic relationships in mainstream American culture. It’s Valentine’s Day. If you believe the jewelry ads, and the flower ads, and the chocolate ads, February 14 is a critical day to get right. It’s also the easiest of the three, because the other two are your wife/girlfriend’s birthday and your anniversary. Those two are different, and nobody’s screaming on the radio to remind you of them!
(And yes, I just went with wife/girlfriend because that’s where the stereotype is.)
How important is it? Let’s consider how much a dead flower is worth. Any given day, it’s worth next to nothing because it’s dead. However, given as a romantic gesture, it’s worth a bit more. But the cost of those flowers? It will double, nay triple, by the magical date. It’s a bit insane. I am not an unromantic soul, despite what you may have heard from a few select individuals. Here are a few suggestions, though, amidst the madness.
First, remember that a relationship is about multiple days, not one big DAY. True, there are days that are more important than others. Married folks, celebrating the moving of years is important at your anniversary. Noting the grace of another year of life at birthdays, great. Celebrating romance? Not a bad thing.
Make those days elevated towers of celebration, rather than the pillars on which your relationship is built. Putting the pressure of an entire relationship on your Valentine’s Day plans will cause a breakdown. Let it be great if it works, and be a fun memory if it doesn’t.
Second, remember that your relationship is about you two, not everyone else. Seriously: how much debt and stress comes from trying to outdo someone else? Too much. It also leads to doing things that neither of you enjoys just so you can show off what you did.
Focus on what the two of you enjoy, not what will compete in the next day’s discussion.
Third, remember that your attentive time is a precious gift. Give it. If the fancy-schmancy-dinner plan requires you to work right up to it, then watch your phone the whole time, and be distracted, then maybe Pizza Hut was a better idea. This is why even couples who work together need to spend time that is not work-related. Don’t be silly, parents, and claim you are not going to talk about the kids. You just need to not focus on them. Especially those couples who have one at-home/primary caregiver and one not. It’s not the time to catch up on what you should be keeping up with about your parental responsibilities. But a few kid stories shouldn’t kill the evening.
Give your full attention to the time you have.


A word is necessary here about receiving gifts and plans at romantic times. It will take some pre-day communication to establish what you are both after out of the day. And for the love bacon, do not couch this as an attempt to cheap-out, skip the “artificial” holiday, or any other self-serving excuses. Let it be a decision, together, to shift the focus. That may mean you have to remember a few romantic flourishes through the year. That’s not a bad idea, anyway…

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

In Triumphant Arrival: Luke 19

In Summary:

Luke 19 gives us the story of Zaccheus in the opening section. This is a well-known event, so I won’t dwell on it. Two things are worth remembering in this story, though, that occasionally get overlooked. First, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. In Luke, that means on his way to the Cross. Yet he takes the time to interact with Zaccheus. I don’t know where you are going today, but you likely have no more on your mind that Jesus did. Second, Zaccheus does not see Jesus from the tree, but when he comes down from it.

Next, we see the parable of the minas and nobleman. It is similar to the parable of the talents in Matthew 25, and I will not attempt to deal with harmonizing or separating the two. For me, I don’t see a problem with Jesus using two similar parables. I am not persuaded that every parable must be a true story. Some may fall into the fable-type category. This one, I think, falls into an allegory category. It is a story that reflects the work of Jesus as King of Kings. Whether there was an earthly individual who went through a similar event is not the point.

This parable reflects the importance of being faithful with what we have. Further, I think there is something to be seen here about rightly understanding and associating the character of the King. I think further study would be useful in looking at Luke 19:22 and raising the question of how much people will be judged on their false assumptions about God.

In Focus:

Moving forward, let us put the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem in focus. He comes into Jerusalem riding on a colt, as Zechariah’s prophecy indicated (Zechariah 9:9). Further, this echoes the coronation of Solomon in 1 Kings 1:33 where he is placed on a mule rather than a mighty, noble steed. The throng acclaims the blessedness of the coming of Jesus.

Rather than a happy moment, though, this turns into a terribly sad and difficult one. Jesus first weeps over Jerusalem and the coming destruction of the Temple and the city. He is aware of the final destruction that the Romans will bring. From there, Jesus steps forward to address the glaring problem in the Temple at the time: the sales folk. There is some level of debate about who and what Jesus drove out, but the general consensus puts a monopoly in the Temple, selling necessary sacrificial items.

It worked like this: Scripture demanded sacrifices without spot or blemish. In what likely started as a good thing, animals were available for sale in the outer courts of the Temple that were effectively “guaranteed” to meet the qualifications. That grew to a thriving business, where only Temple-sold animals were acceptable. Further, only Temple-certified coinage was acceptable, so you also had money changers who would swap out your drachmae for acceptable Temple coins.

Worship had become big business. In the process, it had ceased to be worship. True, it was clean and pretty, uniform and polished. But the central point of worship is not being polished or shiny. The central point is the Lord God Himself.

In Practice:

In this, Jesus lays out a critical concept for us. Heartfelt worship may not always be pretty and polished. Truthfully, we often snuff the passion and heart of our fellow servants of the Lord in our quest for shininess. Admittedly, there have been times when a little more effort should have been poured out, and some of us should *never* sing solos. However, worship as big business, worship as picture perfect is antithetical to worship as the response of those freed by the grace of God.

Why? Because the worshiper is still human and not God. The One we worship is perfect. We who worship are not.

So let the heart go. Not to the points of disobedience—nowhere does Scripture endorse some of the nonsense done in the name of worship. Yet singing a little flat of voice? Or the messiness of children among the body of believers? These are more than just alright. They are part of gathering the redeemed. Let them be as welcome as you are.


In Nerdiness: 

Just a brief nerd thought about “the stones crying out” in Luke 19:40. First, there is Matthew 27:51 to consider.


Second is this thought: Ebenezer. 1 Samuel 7:12. Sometimes, our remembrance is weak. Let us never fail to have reminders, even stones, to cry out of the deliverance and work of God to remind future generations. Let the stones speak in our absence.

And then there is this question: how should Luke 19:38 be related to Luke 2:14?

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Sermon Recap for February 8

Yes, these usually come on Monday.

Morning Service: Pastor Tecumshia Desmuke brought our morning message. Here’s the video:

 

Evening service: message from Romans 3 (direct audio)

Monday, February 9, 2015

Book: The First Principle

Today’s book is free on Kindle for Monday, and then discounted the rest of the week. So, the book review gets jumped to the front of the week.

 

Dystopian fiction is one of the major players in the “young adult” book space these days. Put shortly, these types of books present a world that has not gone well and has the main characters dealing with that reality. Whether that says good things about our society or not is a discussion for the long-term, but I have my doubts—rather than a hopeful view of the future, we seem to be taking a dim view of the likely outcomes.

Dystopian fiction typically picks up on the specific fears or concerns of the author. Thus, some show an environmental collapse while others show violence and war. The First Principle, today’s book, takes a look at the collapse of religious freedom.

Marissa Shrock’s novel is set in a future world where the United States has collapsed into a consortium of regions. Her main character, Vivica, is the daughter of one region’s governor. The situation of religious freedom and government tyranny moves up close and personal to Vivica—and we see how she responds.

How well does Shrock execute this?

1. Believability of the setting: there is no future projection here that is too far to believe. The idea of a government-approved Bible “version” that is sanitized of all controversy fits some current trends in public religion. The use of public schooling to automatically force-deliver birth control and deal with teen pregnancy is perhaps a stretch, and perhaps not.

2. Believability of the plot: teenage girls and boys get into trouble? People rebel against an oppressive government? One can believe that.

3. Believability of the characters: you have a teenage boy who is struggling with living his faith and having been sexually active. That’s real. The other characters? Skeezy politicians? Yep. Sacrificial and hypocritical people? Indeed.

4. Believability of the events: there’s one event that I think strains credibility, because I have been present at the birth of three children. I think a scene where an individual gives birth but then carries on without much difficulty? Without immediate and present medical care? It doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the setting, where there is an attempt to pamper over and medically control everything, that an individual would have that ability.

Beyond that, the rest seems to fit well.

Appropriateness? This is a “young adult” novel, so it’s aimed into the teenage market. I think that’s a good aim, but I’d watch the low-side of the ages. If they are already reading works like The Hunger Games, then there’s no new innocence lost in thinking through this dystopia. If you haven’t gotten there yet, then waiting another year won’t hurt.

Is it smooth to read? Yes. One can definitely knock back a chapter or two at a sitting and keep up with the plot line. In all, a good book. I am curious to see how the series develops from this starting point.

The First Principle is by Marissa Shrock. Learn more about her here, at her website.

(Free book in exchange for the review. See the dates in the graphic above for when it’s available on sale from Kregel.)

Friday, February 6, 2015

Things that should NOT need saying

This past week, I reached a point of speechlessness. Why?

Because, apparently, there remains a need to address issues in this world that really should not need addressed. I’m going to highlight a handful of them.

First, apparently someone has stirred up a question of whether or not it’s appropriate for Christian women to wear yoga pants. Yep, you read that right. I’ve seen a few links about it on the Net. I, admittedly, have not read the articles. I am terrified that rather than just reading a misplaced, unnecessary tome about modesty I will read some ill-conceived nonsense alleging that the spiritual background of Eastern Meditation that some of yoga derives from is following the pants.

Folks, anyway you slice it: I am less than interested in what kind of pants you are wearing. I believe maturing Christians should ask these questions about their clothing: 1. Does it glorify God for me to spend money on this? (Is this shopping good stewardship?); 2. Does it glorify God or me for me to wear this?

That’s it. Your head-to-toe hyper-modesty dress can draw as much attention to you as walking through the streets in a bikini. If you are making your clothing about you—not just a reflection of who you are, mind you, but about you—then you need to rethink. Same with your nice suit and tie or your muscle man shirt. And don’t get me started on the further question of whether your t-shirts reveal a love for Jesus or a love for: politics, sports, food, beverage, hobbies, or what have you.

If someone who saw you every day would not be surprised to hear you proclaim the name of Jesus based on how you dress, then carry on. I don’t expect anyone in the real world sees yoga pants and thinks “Heathen!”

Second, let’s talk vaccines. Not vaccines that are not about dreaded childhood diseases—leave the Gardasil and that pneumonia one they advertise on Wheel of Fortune out of it—and think about Measles, Mumps, Rubella, and Polio. Throw in Tetanus.

And get your vaccines up-to-date. I do not think the government should compel vaccinations, because the question then becomes “Where does it stop?” Do they get to compel a flu shot that doesn’t work half the time?

But let’s not be foolish. The compelling evidence is that vaccinations are generally safe. There needs to be reasonable study of whether or not they are administered safely, but it’s a need-to-do. Christian folks are nearly the backwards thinkers on this that the media is making us—it’s a lot of health nut types. And there are other issues, like a massive influx of undocumented immigrants. Guess what one of the required documents is that we’re overlooking? Shot records.

People, there’s no need for your kid to get measles, mumps, rubella, typhoid, tetanus, or polio. Get the shots and be done with it. It’s not a spiritual issue. It’s a common sense one, like buckling your seat belt.

Third, let’s talk about items like “swimsuit” issues of magazines. People, if you’re stressed about the cover the latest one of those, you are haggling over inches when you’ve surrendered miles already. The purpose of these magazines is to celebrate an impossible standard of body perfection. If you would look at her in a nearly-not-there bikini if the bottoms were pulled up and not down, I think that you’re making the wrong argument.

Fourth, there is the terrorist organization ISIS in the Middle East. There’s not much to say here: these folks are wicked and evil. They are using, exploiting, their religious beliefs to justify their actions.

Yes, this has happened before. Yes, other religions have done so. At some point, we Christians have to stop getting irritated when someone brings up the Crusades. Let’s point out that, yes, indeed, that was the horrid mess that occurs when you merge church, state, and geopolitical warfare.

In view of that, let’s pull religion out of it all. Stop worrying about who is in or out, religiously, of the situation. If a group is burning prisoners alive, then they need to be dealt with decisively. If HRH King Abdullah II of the Hashemite Kingdom wants to lead that, let him. He said, based on reports, that he’d go after the bad guys until he ran out of bullets and fuel. FedEx delivers overnight. He need not run out.

That is not the call to a religious war. That’s the call to end the threat to life and liberty that exists. If King Abdullah wants to argue religion with me later, I’m available at his leisure. We can debate it peacefully over mansaf and coffee.

But the evil has to stop. And getting distracted over who said what about the Crusades just delays the necessary.

Finally: for the love of bacon, we Baptists especially, and most of us white ones, have to stop papering over racism. Folks, the words that come out of your mouths reveal your hearts. And confession is good for the soul. Cover ups are not. If you are openly repentant and contrite, I would suggest that most of the reasonable world will back you up in asking for time and continuation in your ministry to make amends.

But if your response is that not enough people saw or heard it to really matter, that’s evil.

And it’s evil for many of the other sins we keep overlooking. Let us deal with it head on.

There. Five things that shouldn’t need saying but apparently do: we are not the boss of each other, but we are here to help. And we should be willing and ready to restore and strengthen each other.


(Yes, I see the spiral that is me saying “we’re not the boss of each other” and sounding bossy.)

Thursday, February 5, 2015

CSI Israel: Deuteronomy 21

In Summary:

Remember, Israel is forming into a nation out of whole cloth here. Prior to the Exodus, they were not a nation. Instead, they were a small family group. Family rules are, by nature, quite different from national rules. Within the four walls of your home, you can overlook offenses that cannot be overlooked in large scale—and you can punish those that appear minor but reveal major character issues.

This chapter, then, is part of addressing those types of concerns. We can assume that some of the situations eventually happened, but others may not have occurred. We see regulations for dealing with unsolved murders, captives from conquest, inheritance issues, and rebellious children. The hodgepodge that is Deuteronomy 21 reminds us, first of all, that God’s law roams into all forms of life.

While I find the rules about unsolved murders at the beginning of the chapter quite fascinating, it’s hard to make a direct application of this point. I would suggest the thrust here is this: all lives are important to God. Even if the perpetrator is unknown, society bears guilt for murder and that must be atoned for. Death matters, loss of life matters.

There is also something to be said about the rebellious children segment. It is clear from the infractions mentioned that the “children” in view are not minors. After all, gluttony and drunkenness are adult behaviors—a child cannot participate in those without serious enabling on the part of parents, and the requirement he be taken to the city council of elders would shield against parents shuffling off their responsibilities like that. We need to see from this that parents should raise their children to serve God, which in turn serves the community.

In Focus:

In the middle, though, there are two segments dealing with the treatment of women. They are significant for a couple of reasons. First, we see how a captive woman taken as a wife was to be treated. Second, we see how the offspring of polygamy were to be treated. The latter is easier to address than the former. Polygamy is addressed here as a possible reality but not an approved idea. Further, the assumption is that one wife will be more loved than another, and that the human tendency will be to take it out on the children. (See: Jacob, Leah, Rachel, Bilhah, Zilpah.) God clearly declares this to be unacceptable behavior.

This dovetails into the section on the treatment of women taken as wives from battle captives. It is likely that taking wives from captives resulted in polygamous situations and the resultant problem addressed in 15-17.

More than that, though, is the troubling idea of women being forced into marriage. One can accept that marriage was better than slavery, which itself is better than slaughter, but that hardly salves the conscience. This does not sound right. Likely the best response is to see God’s law here as restraining the Israelites from typical behavior of the time.

The Law (not always the practices) of Israel links sexual activity with marriage. Therefore Israel is here forbidden from taking part in the typical “conquer, pillage, and rape,” of a victorious army. If a man sees a woman in the captives he wants, he has to: provide her a home, new clothes (don’t take ‘remove her captive clothes’ as ‘sit around unclothed’ but as ‘replace her clothing’) and a month for you to think about it. That restrains the impulses—and then, if you’re not happy, she goes free as any other Israelite woman would, not as a slave in your home.

And, with that in view, if she has children and your first wife (most of the warriors would have been old enough to be married, at the least) has children, the children must be treated equally.

In Practice:

Obviously, we can’t quite apply this literally. Please do not read this passage and think that God approves of taking women captive in war and making them be your wife. That may have been acceptable, based on the above, in the old covenant. It is not Christian behavior. In fact, we have made not a few mistakes trying to apply Old Testament warfare concepts to Christian living. I digress.

Practically speaking: overall, this chapter speaks to the humanization of people. It’s easy to forget that the stranger who is murdered, the woman who is captured, the scorned wife and her children, are real people with real needs. It’s easy to judge the importance of a life compared to its value to us.

That’s exactly the opposite of how we should practice. Each life matters. Even those with no direct value to you. All people count.

Treat them as such.

In Nerdiness: 

I like the CSI image of Deuteronomy 21:1-7. You’ve got the forensic analysts trying to sort out just who has to deal with this murder.

And it leads me to wonder…does this develop into the concept of jurisdictional limits and ranges for law enforcement today? Going back into the English Common Law system that ours is adapted out of, did they structure investigative authority similarly to this passage, where the “nearest” municipality had to determine the murderer?


If Mel Starr is right in the Hugh de Singleton series, there is some connection. Would be worth nerding up about.

Service Recap for August 9 2020

Good morning! Here are the service from August 9th: Remember that the Morning Reflection videos are now at The Well Traveled Path