Book Review: ‘You Are a Theologian: Thinking Right About the Bible’

In 2016, Ben Giselbach released his first book in what appears to be a series titled ‘You Are a Theologian.‘ In the first book he notes that his purpose of this series is a response to the decline of faithfulness over the past few years within the Churches of Christ. There is often a cry for teaching fundamentals, but as Giselbach rightly points out this is usually a call for to teach on more controversial issues. While these issues aren’t wrong to study, I agree with Giselbach who writes “it is impossible to adequately teach these issues in a productive way without first teaching the truly fundamental matters underlying these issues” (v). What are the underlying issues? The understanding of what the Bible is, how it came to be, and how to properly read and interpret the text. In this book, Giselbach writes to help solve just that issue.

I don’t want to make this review long and complicated because the book isn’t either, and you don’t want to read a long boring book review, so let’s talk about what I liked about the book. First, the book itself has good design and really great quality. I’ve been very impressed by the quality of the books put out by many of younger preachers who are mostly doing it on their own (it’s reminiscent of the work done by Michael Whitworth of Start2Finish books). Second, I really like that Giselbach emphasizes the idea of all everyone being a theologian. While it can be a “smart and churchy” word, it simply means  “how we view God” (1), and since everyone has a view of God, or talks about Him in some way, it is important to understand how to rightly talk about Him. Third, the book is just easy to read while tackling what can be pretty big issues. From how we got the Bible as it is today, to what it means when we say that the text is inspired, and how we can rightly interpret the text to understand what God desires His people to do. While these topics can be difficult, Giselbach presents them in a way that is easy to understand whether you’ve known these things for decades, or if you’ve never even picked up the Bible.

So while there was a lot I liked about the book, there were also some things I didn’t like. I knew that Ben and I stand on some different pages theologically going into this, so I don’t want to be picky and spend a lot of time on some of our differences in how we may interpret passages, or pick apart doctrinal conclusions that I disagree with. Instead I want to make note of some things that I believe take away from the book having a bigger impact. This section might seem a bit longer, but that will mostly be because it includes more quotes from the book. The main concerns I had with the book seemed to fall under the category of contradictions from Ben, mischaracterization of those who disagree with him, or what seems to be a misinterpretation of quotes he uses from those he disagrees with. Again, I won’t spend a lot of time on these as I don’t want to bash the book, but they might be something to be aware of.

There are a few times Ben seems to contradict himself, such as on page 81 when he talks about praying before studying. While addressing “Holy Spirit illumination” which he discusses earlier, he notes that this prayer isn’t the same as that where “it is falsely believed that the Holy Spirit will miraculously reveal knowledge to you that you were supposedly unable to read for yourself,” only to turn and write “in reality, by asking god to guide your study, you are asking for His divine providence to help you as you seek to apply His word to your life.” From my experience, most who claim that the Spirit helps with their understanding don’t mean it the way Giselbach presents it. Certainly there are those who believe that, but I don’t believe that it is the majority that do. At the same time, to suggest that we pray for God to act providentially is to call God to intervene in someway to provide us with knowledge that we don’t yet have. I don’t see his position as really being different from what most people believe as he presents it here. While there are other instances of this, this might be the most obvious one.

There are also times where Giselbach mischaracterizes those who disagree with his conclusions. Lines such as “If you believe one interpretation is as good as another” (80), or saying “but more often then (sic) not, critics of this method of interpretation are simply seeking license for what God has not authorized” (104). I believe this type of language takes away from the effectiveness of the book. First, most people don’t believe one interpretation is as good as another. If someone said that Jesus wept in John 11:35 because He was thinking about a commercial for abused animals on TV, no one would say, “Well if that’s your interpretation, then that’s fine!” Unfortunately many have taken the idea that while the text has one meaning we might not always interpret it right and there are multiple ideas that do make sense into some foreign idea that we can just make the Bible say what we want and everyone is cool with that. I’ve yet to read anyone, even the most liberal theologians, who would actually suggest that. Along with that comes the idea that people just wrongly interpret things so they can keep sinning with a clean conscience. This is a judgement of motives that Giselbach doesn’t have the ability to make unless someone explicitly states that’s why they’re doing it.

Finally, there are a few instances where Ben appears to misinterpret authors he uses to show flaws in their positions. On page 5 he writes about those who would read the scripture and build doctrines from it in the same way  as a brain surgeon who doesn’t care about the actual proven way of doing it, but just does whatever he feels once he’s in your skull, or a contractor who builds a house on a whim, rather than by a plan. This is coming from an earlier quotation of liberal theologians Brian McLaren and Leonard Sweet. While I’m sure I disagree with these authors on many things, the quotes Giselbach used don’t appear to be suggesting what he claims they do, that they just believe what they believe about God and the scripture based on a whim. Rather they seem to be criticizing, in the given quotes at least, the notion that just because a highly educated theologian (or a group of them even) once wrote a book that said “this is the truth and the only truth” doesn’t make it so. I think that is a fair statement to make. Another instance pops up on page 102 with a quote from Hal Hougey, which Ben says promotes an idea that loving God “somehow excludes obligation” to obedience. Hougey notes how “our service to God is our response in love to him who first loved us, not the obeying of commands simply because they are there to obey.” Well, isn’t that what God wants us to do? The scripture as a whole talks about obeying God because He has loved us and pulled us out of darkness. We see this in Exodus 19 before God even gives any of the Ten Commandments to Israel. Ben notes John 14:15 as proof that Hougey is wrong, but I only see that as strengthening Hougey’s argument. We obey God because we love Him, but why do we love God? Because He first loved us. While I don’t want to judge motives, it sometimes seemed as if Giselbach was willing to ignore what these verses actually say (though their larger context may prove his assessment right), though I don’t want to speculate on how or why this happened.

So we’ve gotten through the good and the bad, so the most important question is if I would recommend this book? The answer is yes, that I would. Ben’s writing style and use of quotes when it comes to addressing those he disagrees with is a bit troubling (and I know I struggle with the same issue quite often), but fortunately it doesn’t show up too often. While some may disagree on some of the finer points of the hermeneutics chapter, it does do very well at presenting some much needed topics in a way that is easy to understand and present to others. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the series to see where he takes it.

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The Writing on the Wall

In his book on prayer, Richard Foster includes a chapter on praying the ordinary. He wants his readers to be better equipped to see how God is at work in even the most mundane aspects of life, and learn to pray the prayer of action. Jean-Nicolas Grou wrote, “Every action performed in the sight of God because it is the will of God, and in the manner that God wills, is a prayer and indeed a better prayer than could be made in words at such time.”

Foster continues by listing a number of things that this might include that can be easy to overlook like sharing our car with others, leaving early to get to work on time, and even staying up late to listen to a friend in need, but then he says this. “Then, too, we are Praying the Ordinary when we see God in the ordinary experiences of life. Can we find meaning in the crayon marks on the wall made by kids? Are they somehow the finger of God writing on the wall of our hearts?” At first this seemed a bit strange, a bit out there to me, but then I remembered something that I’d like to share.

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It took me a bit of time to find a picture, but I finally did. A picture that included the wall scribble in my old office. You can barely see it, but it’s just a thin blue line up under my dry-erase board. The writing on the wall, the scribbles of a child. Not even my child actually. We had some friends visit a few years back. We only knew each other over Facebook, and they were in the area so we invited them to stop by and spend some time with us. While visiting their young son ended up scribbling on my office walls. They were embarrassed and I didn’t care.

Then I moved to a different office when it opened up, but the mark stayed there. My kids liked to play in that room with other kids at church, so I still saw it often and remembered their visit. Almost a month ago some ladies at the church decided to turn the room into a counseling room for me. We would finally put that room to use and that was a good thing. They rearranged furniture, decorated the room nicely…and gave it a fresh coat of paint. The mark was gone, and then this last Monday I read back over Foster’s chapter on praying the ordinary including the quote from it that’s above. I remembered the mark, and I remembered that it’s gone now.

While I would sometimes use the mark to tease our friends a bit, reflecting on it now reminds me of how much God spoke through the ordinary things. The things we “just get used to being there.” The everyday things that are so common we barely even think of them. The mark wasn’t really just a mark on the wall. It was a reminder that the world we live in today has allowed us to easily connect with people from all over the world. It was a constant reminder of another young couple about the same age as my wife and me, working to serve God, His people, raise children, survive, learn, grow. It was a reminder that though we might not ever see our friends face to face again in this life (maybe we can change that sometime in the future) that the time we did spend with them was a blessing and how I look forward to their eternal fellowship.

The scribble of a child was God writing on the wall of my heart.

What mundane and ordinary things surround you? What is in your life that you overlook day after day simply because you’ve gotten used to it being there? What is God saying to you through all of these things?

A F.R.E.S.H. Look at Gluttony (Part 4)

       In looking at gluttony we have found that it may not be as easy to identify in others as we have thought, but at the same time, we come to realize that it may affect us in more ways than we knew. So what do we do about it? What ways are there to combat the vice of gluttony? Before we jump into some conclusions, we will go ahead and note that balance must be part of the solution. While we don’t want to be gluttonous in our approach to food and drink, we also don’t want to approach it with a lack of appreciation, denying ourselves what we need. As we look for this balance, we can find three different ways to fight against this habit in the writings of Augustine.

       First, he calls us to eat in a way that contributes to and tries to maintain our overall health and well-being. This still does not give us the ability to stereotype gluttons, as we tend to do. Someone who is pregnant might eat more “for two,” or an athlete might need a lot more food as they obtain the proper number of calories. Some diets may have heavy restrictions on sugars, while others may need more. Some might be celebrating and may sometimes eat more than they typically would. There is no hard and fast rule about what or how much someone can eat. We need to eat well enough for our body to function well, which both gluttony and deficiency fail to do.

       Second, Augustine calls us to remember that eating is a social act. How and what we eat should be approached in a way that is conscientious about, not only the needs of our family, but about the needs of our community as well. This goes back to greedy eating, in which we might deprive others to seek our own pleasure. It could also condemn acts such as keeping foods in your house that others are forbidden to eat for health or personal reason, or failing to keep your children’s diets healthy because you don’t want to restrain your own. In her book, DeYoung describes the cultural practice of a Nigerian student she had. In this practice, the eldest child would get the first and largest serving of food, but he had to eat slowly enough so that if the youngest child was still hungry after he ate, the youngest could then get seconds from the plate of the eldest. This may seem strange to us, but the family learns to see eating for the social act that it is. Sometimes, for those of us that never miss a meal, it would be good to withhold on seconds so we don’t risk taking from those that may be lacking in food.

       Third, Augustine calls us to remember that God made us for a spiritual purpose. We all have gifts that God has given us, and roles that we play in as we fulfill God’s calling. These different gifts and roles might determine to some extent how we approach eating and drinking. We might consider the difference between the roles of John the Baptizer who did not come eating and drinking, and Jesus who did. As DeYoung illustrates “perhaps being a parent or teacher of children means that we have to curb our own desires beyond what we might otherwise choose, in order to set a good example and encourage good habit formation in them.” She also suggests that as Christians living in a culture of heavy consumption we might need to be very careful about our eating and drinking in order to be a good witness to a better way of life. Our eating habits and daily disciplines have social consequences, and can cause others to have a skewed perception of our identity in Christ as well as our mission in Him.

       One final tool to fight against this vice could be fasting. While Christians should certainly find joy in feasting and celebration, for one struggling with gluttony, abstaining from food could be a necessary means to “reset” their view of eating and drinking. Fasting can be something that quickly shows the things that control us. Whether we are giving up specific types of food and drinks for a season, or giving up food and drink entirely for a few days, we can find at least two benefits in this in combating gluttony.

       First, fasting helps us to be content with simple foods. Concerning this, author Kallistos Ware wrote, “It would be misleading to speak only of this element of weariness and hunger. Abstinence leads, not merely to this, but also to a sense of lightness, wakefulness, freedom, and joy… While involving self-denial, fasting does not seek to do violence to the body but rather to restore it to health and equilibrium. Most of us in the Western world habitually eat more than we need.” While we might often associate fasting with discomfort and hunger pangs, it instead frees us from the power of pleasure so that we might be able to better appreciate the simple foods and drinks.

       Second, fasting helps us be more aware of our dependence on God. Again, Ware writes, “If we always take our fill of food and drink, we easily grow confident in our own abilities, acquiring a false sense of autonomy and self-sufficiency. The observance of a physical fast undermines this sinful complacency.” He touches on the fact that, like all of the other deadly vices, gluttony grows out of pride. Gluttony continually leads us to act in a way that tries to provide our own pleasure and fulfillment. Rather than recognizing food and drink as the good gift from God that it is, the glutton turns it into a means to feel self-confident and secure in what he can provide for himself. As DeYoung writes, “gluttons want to be in charge of defining their own happiness in pleasure, with its attainment firmly under their own control.” This is why we must not only seek to properly understand and identify gluttony in our own lives, but also seek to stamp it out through proper discipline.

       Especially in our Western culture, gluttony is much more rampant than we might recognize. While we might not have made gluttony a habit in our lives, many of us could be dangerously close and not even realize it. Why? Because as the demon Screwtape noted to his nephew Wormwood, Satan wants us to see gluttony in a very limited way, and only in the lives of others. Because of this we not only often misdiagnose gluttony, but fail to evaluate our own lives and eating habits. Yet there is hope. There are a number of things we can do, and mindsets we can adopt in order to fight this vice. Most of all we must remember that true and lasting joy doesn’t come out of a perfectly cooked steak, the most filling meal, or eating until you can’t eat anymore, but instead from God through His Son.

A F.R.E.S.H. Look at Gluttony (Part 3)

       In the last post, we looked at the problems that can stem from why we eat, and how our motivations can leads us to gluttony even if we eat small amounts and have perfect manners. The other three aspects of our gluttony acronym provide a look into how we eat, which may fall in line more with our typical understanding of gluttony, but may also still give us a few surprises. This post will look at eating ravenously, excessively, and hastily in terms of gluttony.

       Ravenous eating is greedy eating. This type of eater wants to make sure that he gets enough, especially when there may be competition for some of the foods. Especially as a preacher, I often think of the many fellowship meals that churches often have, and often how I can find myself guilty of this way of eating. You are going through the line of foods, and you are not sure that everything you want will be there the second time through the line, so you pile your plate up high, and arrange all of your foods so that you are able to perfectly fit everything you want, and a bit more. If you go back and the food you want is gone, do you feel unreasonably disappointed? Maybe to prevent this (if we don’t pile our plate too high the first time) we’re back in the line for more before everyone has been able to go through the first time. This more or less makes eating an act of fearful competition. We become afraid that someone else is going to take away our ability to fully satiate our desires, and will keep us from experiencing the full amount of pleasure we could have had if we were only able to get one more spoonful of our favorite dish. It is a dangerous way of eating not only because it leads us to only look at food as a way to bring us pleasure, but because it also pits us against other people and leads us to viewing them as a threat to what we want.

       Excessive eating is typically more in line with how we view gluttony. One might think of the disgusting Mr. Creosate from ‘Monty Python and the Meaning of Life’ (don’t look this up if you just ate or have a weak stomach…), and yet still one can be underweight and eat excessively as I did when I was a teenager at a height of 6’7, and only 155 lbs. in weight. The excessive eater is one who eats past the point of being full. “I’m so full, but I can’t resist one more bite!” they might say. Or even after proclaiming fullness they can’t resist that dessert they’ve had their eye on. This has been embraced culturally as almost all fast food restaurants have added medium and large sizes to their combos for the person who just can’t survive on the already plentiful amount of food offered in these meals. This person might be scrawny due to a fast metabolism or excessive workout regimen, and they might not mean to harm their body by continually stuffing it past the point of fullness, yet they are still willing to overlook the consequences if it means they can obtain just a bit more pleasure from their eating.

       Finally, we might describe hasty eating as “shoveling it in.” Maybe we put another spoonful of something in our mouths before we’ve finished chewing the previous bite. We can’t be patient and enjoy what we’re already chewing on, but rather feel the need to shovel more in so that there isn’t a break between bites where we’re  left without that taste we desire. This form of gluttony could also call out the person who is constantly snacking. Again, I know I can relate to this one when I go and pick through the fellowship meal food just to “get a taste” because I can’t wait five minutes until the meal officially begins, or when we know a meal is coming up, but we need a snack because we just can’t wait that long to satiate our desires. This glutton just can’t stand to wait until the appropriate time to receive the pleasure that food and drink can give.

       I love DeYoung’s comment on these three forms of gluttony. She writes, “There is something sad and a little pathetic about these last three forms of gluttony. It’s a bit undignified to find the type of creature God created as the crown of creation—able to perform piano concertos, invent spacecraft that take us to the moon and back, and have spiritual fellowship with God himself—sitting hunched over a plate of food, mouth overstuffed, shoveling more in as if he can never get enough.” How true this is! God has given us food and drink to for us to enjoy and find pleasure in, but what an insult it must be when we forsake food and drink as a way to help us love God more deeply for all that he has given us, and instead make it into a means to try and supply all of our own needs and wants as we seek pleasure. They fit into a category Paul described to the Philippians when he wrote, “Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things” (3:19).

       Gluttony is a much bigger issue than we may have ever really imagined, especially given that we Americans live in such a huge consumer culture. We are taught to believe through advertisements and other venues that bigger is always better, that the more you have the better your life will be, that there is always something else that can make our lives just a bit more satisfying. The food economy is no different. Just start paying attention to the food advertisements you see, whether it’s the “Endless _____________” at a restaurant, promising you that you can fill your stomach and then some for a low price! Maybe it’s the picture of a perfectly pulled slice of pizza, or the divine looking hamburger, literally created by a food artist to make you feel like you need that food at that moment and won’t be satisfied until you get it. Perhaps those snack foods that promise you that you can eat them whenever you want and feel full without worrying about calories. Perhaps it’s the motto of “have it your way” or “we love to see you smile,” that promises that every meal will be exactly how you want it to be. Many of us are probably on the verge of gluttony without even realizing, if we haven’t already given in. The question is then, “What is the solution?” This will be what we explore in the final post.

A F.R.E.S.H. Look at Gluttony (Part 2)

       In the last post, we looked at a basic understanding of what gluttony is and how it may not be as easy to identify as possible. We also mentioned five different ways to eat food that could be a sign of or lead to the vice in question. In this post we’re going to look at the concept of eating fastidiously, as well as sumptuously. These are both of which are forms of gluttony that revolve around what we eat instead of how we eat. Certainly God wants eating and drinking to be a pleasurable thing, and we should enjoy the food before us, but when the vice of gluttony begins to rule our lives, eating becomes less about being able to enjoy that which God has blessed us with to nourish our bodies, and more about allowing ourselves to become pleasure seekers for our own sake and glory.

       In his book ‘The Screwtape Letters,’ C.S. Lewis pens a discussion between two demons. It revolves around how the younger one can better tempt his “patient” away from God, and part of this is through gluttony, though perhaps not as we typically understand it. Lewis writes about fastidious eating like this:

“She is a positive terror to hostesses and servants. She is always turning from what has been offered to her to say with a demure little sigh and a smile, ‘Oh please, please… all I want is a cup of tea, weak but not too weak, and the teeniest weeniest bit of really crisp toast.’ You see? Because what she wants is smaller and less costly than what has been set before her, she never recognizes as gluttony her determination to get what she wants, however troublesome it may be to others… The real value of the quiet, unobtrusive work which [the devil] has been doing for years on this old woman can be gauged by the way in which her belly now dominates her whole life. The woman is what may be called the ‘All-I-want’ state of mind.”

       In her book, DeYoung describes a guest for whom nothing you make is ever right. These people send food back to the kitchen until it is perfect. They may have good manners, and may not eat too much, but in the end, their pleasure is the whole focus of their experience. Fastidious eating is eating only with your pleasure in mind. If your eating experiences are constant let downs because your food isn’t exactly what you wanted or expected it to be, you might be struggling with this form of gluttony.

       Along with fastidious eating comes the problem of sumptuous eating. This habitual diet revolves around feeling full. DeYoung notes that the American diet, “heavy on beef, butter, and cream sauces—is built on the same pleasure principle. These foods taste rich and are filling.” Now that doesn’t mean that it is inherently sinful to enjoy a filling meal, but when our purpose of eating revolves around the pleasure of feeling stuffed, and continually pick what we eat based off it being food that gives maximal satisfaction, there could be a problem.

       To show these two forms of gluttony at once, DeYoung provides a quote from Gwen Shamblin who founded Weigh Down Workshop, a program for “Christian dieting.” Though one may avoid overeating, the description of eating that Shamblin provides unfortunately reveals a picture of these two forms of gluttony. She wrote:

“After inviting God into this wonderful eating occasion, I survey all the food choices available at the buffet. I carefully make my selections based on what flavors and foods I am craving at the time. I take very small amounts of the items I most want to try, and once I sit down, I begin to rate the items. That means that I taste a tiny bit of each item and decide which are my favorites. Then I take only the best, most sumptuous bites of each item, making sure I am filling up with only the tastiest parts, since I already know it won’t take much to fill me up! (No more saving the best for last—you know you will fill up soon, and it is much easier to leave the drier, less attractive bites on the plate!)… Sometimes I like to enjoy a good old-fashioned cheeseburger, French fries, and a milk shake from a local fast food restaurant. I make sure the burger is fixed just the way I like it, and then before I begin, I cut it in half, or even fourths. This way, I can get to the best, juiciest bites. I add the perfect amount of salt to my fries, and I pick through them to find the ones that look best.”

       While this type of eating may not produce a larger waistline, it still produces a habit of gluttonous eating. In the end, the meal centers on one’s own pleasure. There is no desire to eat unless the food is just the way you like it, and then there is the seeking only the food or the bites that will give you that feeling of maximum fullness. It’s in this that we lose the ability to look at someone’s physical appearance, their table manners, or how much food is on their plate, and recognize that even the underweight individual who keeps only minimal food on his plate can be just as guilty of gluttony. Why we eat matters just as much as how we eat, but it is the “how” that we will explore in the next post.

A F.R.E.S.H. Look at Gluttony (Part 1)

       What do we consider gluttony? Many people base whether an individual is gluttonous based on their waistline. I have been guilty of that myself. We figure that one is gluttonous because their weight is higher than we think it should be, or because they don’t have the diet we think they should have, or they eat more than we think they should eat. In her book “Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies,” Andrea DeYoung explores the historical understanding of gluttony, and how these things mentioned above might not have as much to do with gluttony as we think.

       Gluttony is in the list of the seven deadly vices which are sinful habits, a way of life. We typically recognize that gluttony has something to do with eating and drinking, but we should be careful in applying too much certainty outside of this in regards to whether or not someone is a glutton. It’s just not something as simple as looking at numbers on a scale.

       Gluttony is a vice that focuses on one’s own excessive and immediate pleasure. Eating is meant to be pleasurable. We can understand this simply because of the fact that we have taste buds and such a wide variety of tastes in food and drink. Rather than how much one eats, the bigger question in regards to gluttony is about why we are eating. What is our goal in eating? While in our eating and drinking we might rightfully find pleasure in the food and the sense of fullness, the habit of gluttony is one where seeking pleasure dominates everything else. In our gluttony, we forsake food and drink as a means to enjoy and find pleasure in God’s good creation, and rather use it as a means to feel as though we are able to supply ourselves with our needs all on our own. Gluttony turns us into pleasure seekers, and that is the true danger with this vice. As DeYoung notes, “the main question we should be asking is not, ‘How much is too much?’ but rather, ‘How dominated by the desire for this pleasure am I? How difficult would it be to have to give it up or do without it?’ The trouble with gluttony is that it reduces eating to an exercise in gratifying my own desires for physical pleasures, consuming whatever I think will make me full and satisfied.”

       Historically there have been five different ways that we can participate in gluttony. DeYoung presents the acronym F.R.E.S.H. as a means to help us remember these ways. It represents eating fastidiously, ravenously, excessively, sumptuously, and hastily. Each of these represent a way that we can be mastered by food, rather than keeping food in its proper place. This falls into the categories of why we eat food and how we eat food. Over the next three posts, we will look deeper into what gluttony is and how we can combat it.

Taking the Long Way Around (Thoughts on 8 Years of Marriage)

       So today is my anniversary. I’ve been married to my wife for eight years. I’ll go ahead and say that not all been good days or years, and I’m guessing that my wife might say the same. Sometimes marriage is a blast, and you simply have the best time of your life, other times you may wonder why you were so foolish to buy into such a long term thing, such a permanent thing. I don’t say this as some sort of commentary on my marriage, or as a means to vent about any issues in my own marriage because personally speaking, as far as I’m concerned, everything is going really well at the moment. Rather I simply speak of the ups and downs of marriage, and the good and the bad that comes with it.

       Yesterday in two different Bible studies I came across the same theme that fits within the brief thoughts on marriage above. In a weekly online study with a few other ministers we’ve been going through 1 Corinthians, and discussed some things from chapter 10 concerning the Israelites in the desert. That ended up being coupled with a class I teach every other week as we finished up the story of Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers only to rise to power in Egypt and end up saving them in the middle of a famine. The idea here is about taking the long way around.

       In Exodus 13:17, the Israeli people leave Egypt and we read, “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, ‘Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.’” Of course this turned into a bit of a longer route once the people lost confidence in God to take them into the Promised Land, but the point is that God led them on a much longer route for the purpose of protecting them and their faith. In the story of Joseph, once he’s in Egypt and begins to “settle into” his life there, I get the feeling that Joseph began to build a wall around his heart to shut out his old life. When his brothers arrive we see him testing them in some ways that may be less than kind. It seems he was still angry and took that anger out on him. Yet the more he interacts with them, we see that barrier being to fall bit by bit until something finally clicks! Certainly they did wrong to him, but he finally comes to realize that “God sent [him] before [them] to preserve for [them] a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for [them] many survivors” (Gen. 45:7). Joseph’s journey was a long path that had many ups and downs. Much good and much bad. Blessings as well as heartbreak. A life of must loyalty, but also much betrayal, but as he looks back on it, it finally all clicks and he sees how God has been at work for these past few decades. Like the Israelites coming out of Egypt, Joseph just had to take the long way around.

       We live in a culture based on speed. We want instant results. Our cell phones get us answers as soon as we want them, and if the connection is slow, or we’re out of the range of our service the frustrations quickly come. Sometimes even having to put something in the oven instead of being able to quickly microwave it can frustrate us! We don’t have time for this! And yet this attitude can easily slip into all aspects of our lives, including our marriages. We want quick fixes to our problems. Want proof? Even in the marriage books based on religion you can find tons of books that promise quick fixes. We want to be able to read a book and quickly “spice up our marriage” or get through whatever issue we’re dealing with. We want to go to counseling for a few sessions and become disappointed if that doesn’t fix things. We go through a rough patch that lasts maybe more than a year or two and figure that if it’s going on this long then perhaps the marriage isn’t for me.

       We’re a culture that has forgotten to appreciate what comes with taking “the long way around.” No, marriage isn’t always fun. It doesn’t always feel like a blessing. You have two people with their own faults and flaws that try to live with one another in the most intimate relationship you can have and have to figure out how to do that. This is what is in my mind as I think about the last 8 years of marriage. It hasn’t always been easy. It hasn’t always been fun. Kristen and I have both been through a lot. A lot of rejoicing. A lot of fun. A lot of struggles. I’m beyond blessed to have someone committed to “taking the long way around” with me, and as I look back and I can see some many things that finally click as a testimony of what God has done in our lives and who we’ve been able to become because of it, and I’d gladly choose to take the long way around with her again, and again, and again.

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‘Go Set A Watchman’ – The Tale of Two Atticus’s

       I’m not sure if my punctuation in the title of this post is correct, but I suppose that that’s okay. I recently finished Harper Lee’s newest book, ‘Go Set A Watchman,’ which is publicized as a sequel to her first and only other book, ‘To Kill A Mockingbird.’ This post will be discussing the book so if you aren’t interested in spoilers, you might want to come back after you’ve read it. If you’ve read it and are still having a hard time loving Atticus, or just want to read it because you’ve seen the news, well do what you want to do.

In the time before it was officially released, this book created quite a stir. The reason being is that because in this book Atticus is portrayed as someone who is highly in favor of maintaining segregation, making him seem to be a racist character. This of course seems to be in pure opposition to the moral beacon that was Atticus Finch in “Mockingbird’ who defends the black man Tom Robinson and gets the trial acquitted. How is it that a man such as Atticus, a man who stood for equal justice between all people, a man who stood up against the accepted culture of that time to do what was right regardless of how it might affect his reputation in small town Maycomb suddenly be a man who willingly sits in and supports a meeting in which the “n-word” is repeatedly dropped in the midst of highly racist statements and stereotypes? How can Atticus be one to support the idea that blacks and whites shouldn’t mix culturally, and that the black community is “inferior” and “in their childhood as a race?” When Jean Louise (our beloved Scout) learns this about her father, her reaction is about the same as the modern day public. “The only human being she had ever fully and wholeheartedly trusted had failed her…” (113).

The more I’ve thought about this issue though, I think it’s a perfect need for a follow-up to ‘Mockingbird.’ Atticus Finch in ‘Watchman’ is not the Atticus we want, but the Atticus we need. Yes, Atticus is a fantastic man, but we as readers have done the same thing through ‘Mockingbird’ that Scout did. She made her father into a man with no flaws. She put him a pedestal that no man could ever actually stand on. ‘Mockingbird’ is told through the eyes of a young girl looking up to her father, while ‘Watchman’ is a story told from a young woman who now sees eye to eye, and the changing view doesn’t always reveal what we thought we’d seen before. If we’re honest though, we’ve probably all been there before. As you continue reading you hope and you pray that Jean Louise has misinterpreted something. You wait for the twist that this is not really how things are…but it never comes. This hero has a dark side, and though, in typical Atticus fashion it might be well thought out by him, it still makes you cringe knowing that it’s coming out of the mouth of THE Atticus Finch.

This is true for all of us. We think about that moment when we realized our parents (or someone we looked up to) were actual human, with flaws, and with a side to them that we just couldn’t comprehend given what we thought we knew. It hurt. It ripped us to shreds. This person that had been such an inspiration to us is suddenly not that person anymore, and so what does that mean about myself? You see, for those of us who have loved ‘Mockingbird’ so dearly, have, like Scout, lived our lives thinking, “What Would Atticus Do?” Like Scout, we’ve all made Atticus into a god. We now though,  like Jean Louise, find ourselves in the midst of it all, and it rightfully makes us feel sick, but the sickness isn’t as much because of the fault of Atticus, but simply because of how innocently we’ve been looking at things. It’s as Uncle Jack explains at the end. Scout had made Atticus’ conscience her own, but she can’t do that. Each person is their own, and sooner or later, Jean Louise and Atticus would clash on something.

Why are people uncomfortable with this book? The same reason Scout was uncomfortable with learning some unsettling truths about her father. Everything she saw, and thus everything we’ve made out original thoughts concerning Atticus, are only based on how she looked up to her father when she was a child, knowing him as the man who could do no wrong. Because of this, we are forced to live out this shocking revelation just as Jean Louise must. But there truly is a lesson here, and it is the same one Jean Louise must learn. While she just wants to run away from it all and not face the realities of life, her Uncle Jack reminds her that “the time your friends need you is when they’re wrong…They don’t need you when they’re right.” Certainly we’re going to be faced with many “Atticus Situations” in our life, and the reaction just might be to abandon ship. Yet Uncle Jack is willing to admit that Atticus is wrong in the position he holds, yet he understands that if simply refuse to be around, and live in a way to influence those that are wrong, what will ever change? Just as much as ‘Mockingbird’ remains a much needed book for even this society, so does ‘Watchman’ prove to have the same power. As we grow more and more separated, refusing to deal with those who are different from us, leaving them to their own devices, will we remain rigid bigots who will have nothing to do with those we disagree with, or will we choose to serve and help them despite our wrong we believe them to be?

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A Review of “Ruth From Start2Finish”

       Since I was a guest blogger on the Start2Finish network today for a post about reading (Here ya go), I figured I’d read a book, and it just so happened to be one from Start2Finish. I guess technically it isn’t a book like you might immediately think of, but rather one of their new products, a guide for a Bible class. As you can probably guess from the title of this post, it is their new class book for Ruth (here).

       This class book is only six chapters long, not that the book of Ruth is much longer, but it certainly packs a punch. Quite often when I hear people talk about Ruth they talk about the love story that is in there between Ruth and Boaz. This guide certainly focuses on a love story, but not the typical one. Rather the focus is on God’s love for and involvement with Naomi through what was probably the hardest part of her life. Not only does Naomi have to endure the loss of her husband, but also the loss of her two sons, and is forced to travel back to her homeland destitute with only one of her daughter-in-laws. It is in this tragedy though that God’s working truly begins to shine, and this guide does a fantastic job of not only leading you through Naomi’s suffering, but also in bringing you along to “weep with those that weep” as well as finding hope in the tragedies of life.

       Each chapter ends with questions for reflection, but also questions for discussion, and should this study be used in a community setting as it is intended, the questions will do a great job at helping the congregation to not only find solace in God during their toughest times, but also in one another. The questions do a great job at prompting others to open up in a way that allows the church to do what it was intended to do, support others so they don’t have to endure hardships alone.

      So should you get this study for a group? I say yes. It might do better in a small group outside of the Sunday morning or Wednesday night class simply because it would allow more comfort in opening up about somethings, and would give more time for discussion that is not limited by the end of the service. That being said, I still think it could be great for a typical Bible class as well.

Note: I was not paid for this review or even asked to do it. I did it completely of my freewill. I received a “free” copy of the book as part of my membership in the books4life club (here) which is currently accepting new members at the time this post was written.

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Earth Day as a Christian Celebration

       Today is Earth Day. I’ve thought about Earth Day over the last few years, and how I should approach it as a Christian. I’ve seen some embrace it as a holiday that reflects important parts of Christianity, as well as it being rejected as worship of the Earth, or close enough to it anyway. Usually along with the later is the belief that the Earth is going to be burnt up and destroyed along with the second coming of Jesus, and so while we should be good stewards, we need to be careful about becoming too attached to this world. In the last few years, I’ve leaned more towards the former though, and do think that Earth Day is something that Christians can and should be using as a means to reflect some very important scriptures.

       Usually when I hear “The Great Commission,” I think of the end of the book of Matthew where Jesus sends out his disciples into the world to carry on with the task that he began. In this context, the word “commission” would mean “a process or service provided to validate the completeness and accuracy of a project or venture.” I’d say that’s a perfect description of what the disciples were doing. The Kingdom of God had arrived, the strong man had been bound, Jesus was victorious over death, and now God was reconciling all things to himself through Jesus. They were to take out the message that validated this claim, to show that it was complete.

        Recently I read an interesting thought though. One author suggested that the Great Commission is actually the second great commission, with the first being within Genesis 1:28-30 where we read:

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so.”

    This fits well within the context of a “commission.” In response to the fact that creation was complete, and accurate (described as “good” within the creation account), Adam and Eve were to provide a service of filling the earth, subduing it, and having dominion over it. The word “subdue” is a military term meaning “to bring into bondage.” This would give the understanding that even before the Fall, the Earth was something that needed to be taken care of and controlled in both the plant and animal kingdom. Man was to be responsible for creation. Why? Because doing so would validate the fact that God had created it, and that he created it with a purpose.

       Our stewardship of the Earth is not something we are called to do simply because the Earth is a gift from God. Our stewardship of the Earth is important because of the consequences of not doing so. As we mentioned, the word “subdue” was a military word. It’s only translated as “subdue” when there is an actual danger or death that threatens the life of those called to subdue. God called them to subdue the creation, because life was at risk if they chose not to. If they refused to subdue, death was sure to come. Isn’t this what we see in Genesis 3? They chose to step outside of the realm of their call to subdue the Earth as a means to validate what God had done, and chose to serve their own purposes and desires, manifested in eating the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. The result? Death. Not only on them as they were separated from the tree of life, but also for creation that was from hence forth under bondage (Romans 8:21).

       God and his people are called to be people who bring life back to places where death has been ruling. Adam and Eve failed to subdue the Earth, to hold back and fight against the evil forces and temptations that sought to steal and kill that which God has created, but where they failed, Jesus succeeded as seen in his wilderness temptation in overcoming Satan, and in the crucifixion and resurrection in overcoming and subduing death.

       So what does all of this have to do with Earth Day? Certainly our call to stewardship and subduing of this creation should be something we are mindful of and do every day, yet we also have a special opportunity to focus more on this call. Through the Christ, the creation will ultimately be liberated from the bondage it is under it, and Jesus calls us back to the first Great Commission through his giving of the second Great Commission. Because Jesus has come, and because through him God is taking back the world and liberating it from the evil forces that have invaded it, we carry the task to be mindful of the world in which we live in, and to join Christ in the task of moving towards freeing creation from the bondage it is in.

       So take some time today to appreciate the creation around you. Go outside and enjoy what God has given to us. But also on this Earth Day, take some time outside to reflect on the fact that  this creation we have now is under bondage. That because of The Fall, this creation is still not what it was intended to be, that this glorious and beautiful creation is destined to return to being something much greater than we can imagine. Reflect on the fact that God calls us through Christ help his kingdom invade this world, not only through telling people about the freedom from sin we personally experience through the victory of Christ, but also in how we care for, and prepare this world for the liberation it will on day experience. Because of sin, our purpose as humans to subdue this world and have dominion over it becomes more important than ever!

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