Friday, August 31, 2018

Review: The Return by Lacey Strum

The Return by Lacy Strum is an honest look at the author's journey to learning how to love God in her every day. Overall this book is very good and I appreciated her honesty and how she struggled through her journey to learn what God needed her to learn. The book is broken up into short sections where she tells a part of her story, journal entries, song lyrics or poems she wrote and a daily journal page. I appreciate her transparency and honestly but the format does not appeal to my analytical, linear brain and made it hard for me to follow. For those who are wired in a more artistic and non-linear way (like my wife) this book is sure to be a wonderful encouragement and something to be savored and mulled over.

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Review: Grace Like Scarlett: Grieving with Hope after Miscarriage and Loss

Miscarriage is not a common topic of conversation in many circles and yet it is something that touches many, many lives. If you have not experienced this yourself, you probably know someone who has, even if they've never spoken of it. It is not something that has touched our family directly but has touched a number we care about. Because it is something not often talked about I was encouraged when I saw this book by Adriel Booker because I was hopeful it would provide comfort to many who hurt and ache in silence.

What jumped out at me as a dad and pastor, was the inclusion of a letter to dads in the back written by the author's husband. Though I've never lost a child, we do have a child with Down Syndrome for whom I went through a period of mourning and grief. Though my pain is not the same as that the Bookers, or anyone else who has lost a baby, there is still commonality and I found comfort in another dad sharing his grief.

Two other appendices that are included provide ideas for memorializing your child and helping your other children process their grief. Though mothers certainly carry the heaviest burden in the loss of child and it is for them this book is written, the rest of the family must not be forgotten.

As a man, I cannot honestly discern how much comfort this would be to a woman walking this road of grief but I can say it certainly gives a window into the heart and mind of a woman who is. As a pastor, I would say this book is worth having for the appendices because as you do life with the people in your congregation, you will walk this journey with someone at some point. I would also recommend having a copy on hand ready to give to one who needs it, I do.

I received this book from Baker Books and was not required to write a positive review.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

On submitting to authorities and demanding submission

As a pastor, I am very hesitant to wade into political issues. This is not to say I don’t have political views that are informed by my faith or that I don't try to teach how we take our faith into the public square. I don’t however believe any particular politician or party will always have everything right or be in complete alignment with my faith and values and I recognize that there are brothers and sisters in Christ who fall all across the political spectrum.

I do however, feel compelled to articulate some thoughts when a politician or government official uses scripture to explain or justify a policy or action taken by their government. Regardless of how much one believes any person of faith, be it a pastor or layperson, should speak their faith into the political arena, I should think we can agree that any statement made publicly should be evaluated. I believe that someone such as myself who has read and studied the Bible throughout my life in addition to 7 years of post-secondary, and stands each week to help those I minster to understand and apply scripture, is qualified to evaluate a politician’s use of those very scriptures. What I seek to do here is not evaluate policies or actions from a partisan position, but rather share what I believe was a troubling misuse of scripture to justify actions taken. 

Unless you have been completely disconnected from the world for the past week you likely know the news story that prompted this. There is a great deal of information and mis-information circulating and what is credible or not is hotly debated. I do not wish to wade into the debate, other than to say when the situation on the ground is one where families are being separated there is either an extremely flawed directive going out to those doing the separating or there are families in such dire straights that they see no other options. Either way, anyone who truly takes Jesus and His teaching seriously should be greatly troubled and prompted to action and many other brothers and sisters have spoken to this fact.

What I found particularly troubling this past week was the statement from a top government official that it is biblical to follow the law, citing Romans 13:1. This verse reads “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” (NIV) In fact, if one reads all the way through to verse 6, it is very clear that governments are established by God, they are His instruments to bring order and wrath and therefore we must submit to them. 

Though not cited at the time, his point is further strengthened when we look at 1 Peter 2:13-14 which reads “13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.” (NIV) This is part of a larger block that tells us to properly submit to authority over us in the various areas of our lives. So the bottom line is, yes, we as Christians are to submit to the governing authorities over us. Of course there are limits to that when the government compels us violate our conscience and our faith and living in a democracy we should certainly use our voice and influence in the public square to shape public policy but that’s not my point here today.

My struggle with the statements made by this official and others in the administration is this, it is one thing for us as believers to submit to the authorities over us, it is another thing for the authorities to cite these texts as a justification for their actions. These commands were written to those who were to submit to authority, not to the authorities to give them carte blanche authority to do whatever they see fit. In fact, if one reads the whole Bible they will find many instructions as to how those in authority and leaders should act in a godly way. Here it must be noted that in the case of the two passages cited, the authorities that the Apostles Paul and Peter where under in no way represented “Christian Values” nor did they govern by biblical principles.

The New Testament was written in the time of Roman rule, which we as Christians must remember was rarely favorable to Christians, or anyone else who upset the status quo. The book of Romans was almost certainly written in the first few years of Nero’s reign and fresh in the memory of the church was the expulsion from Rome of all Jews. This was likely the result of the disruption caused when many began turning to Christ, under emperor Claudius. 1 Peter was written later, when Nero had begun his campaign of persecution against Christians which included the kind of brutality the Romans excelled at. It was in these times, with emperors who killed at a whim, who sent armies to crush any uprising, who rounded up people to be enslaved, beaten, thrown the in the area or even used as human torches, that both the Apostle Paul and Apostle Peter said we are to submit to the authorities over us. With that in view I find it deeply troubling when any government official stands up and essentially say obey the law, the Bible says submit to the government, and in so doing putting themselves in same camp as those who ruled in the time of Peter & Paul as well as countless others who have cited the same texts to justify themselves.

What makes matters worse is this is from a government that has courted the support of many prominent church leaders and has at times claimed to champion Christian values. This administration, as with any administration has taken many actions that have faced great outcry and controversy however, what I believe sets this past week apart is when then went scripture to justify their actions, they went straight for submission. Had they pulled a verse (and by some miracle kept it in its context) that directly supported the reason for their actions that would be one thing. Going however straight for “the Bible says to obey,” almost certainly points to something not adding up. It is much like one marriage counselor's take on the command just a few verses later in 1 Peter, that commands wives to submit to their husbands. This counselor has observed that in decades of marriage counselling he had not encountered a single case where a “submission problem” wasn’t really an issue of a demanding husband who was showing a lack of maturity and failure to prioritize of the kind of love he was to have for his wife.

The bottom line is, whenever someone, be it a husband, a boss or even a government chooses to defend their actions from Scripture and the full extent of their argument is “because the Bible tell you to submit to me” take pause, because barring any other biblical argument, they are submitting to no authority but their own. If anyone is going to use the Bible to call for others to submit, they better be ready to have their actions evaluated against the rest of the scripture, otherwise they run the risk of simply being another Nero, and in a liberal democracy where every citizen has to the right to speak up we must.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Review: Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus

We view everything we read, see and hear through our own set of lens and filters. Often the difference between the lens and filters we have and those others have, causes things to be "lost in translation" causing to, at best miss a nuance, and at worse miss the point completely. The greatest such gaps occur when communication is done cross-culturally, especially with very different cultures. In "Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus" Lois Tverberg walks us who were raised in a modern western worldview across the gap between us and the first century Jewish worldview the New Testament was written in.

I have long been aware of the gap between our mindset and that of the Biblical writers and have spent time and study to bridge that gap for myself but I found every chapter to contain new insights or framed things in a new way for me. Tverberg walks us through the key differences between the eastern mindset of the Bible and our western one, including differences in the structure of Hebrew vs. English, the meaning of narrative vs. propositions and arguments, group identity vs. individual identity and viewing ourselves as small and insignificant vs. viewing God as small. 

The final section focusing on seeing the Messiah through Hebrew eyes is very enlightening. Tverberg walks us through the Hebrew ways of remembering and stringing together passages of scripture. I particularly enjoyed her discussion on the regular synagogue readings and how they have changed over the years.

Each chapter also includes a section of Tools & Reflection to point the reader towards a further look at the topic at hand. There is also very interesting appendix of thirty useful Hebrew words for study. Knowing these words and keeping them in mind is very helpful in applying this book to one's personal Bible Study. 

Overall, I would highly recommend this book as it gives valuable insight into how to read and understand the context of scripture.

Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of this book by BakerBooks a division of Baker Publishing Group in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Review: The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus by D. A. Carson

Recently I was looking for something that did a good job at thoroughly and thoughtfully walked through the teaching on the coming of the Holy Spirit and so I asked my former Theology professor who pointed me to this work of Carson’s. Though over 35 years old, he told me it is still one of the best treatments of the topic. I was then pleasantly surprised to see it had been repackaged and reprinted. It an age when new books are released at an alarming rate, one that is in print over 3 decades after being written says something.

Having read much of Carson over the years, I knew that this book would go into great detail and had the potential to be a very heavy read. I found however as I worked through it that it was relatively easy to read and Carson’s points well built and not overly technical. Though not overly heavy and technical, the book is also not a lightweight full of filler or fluff. As anyone who has read much of Carson knows, he is no light weight, however this book certainly strikes a good balance between providing an in-depth scholarly walk through John 14-17 and yet remaining accessible to the serious reader.

In short, if you are looking for something to go deep into this part of the Gospel of John that is not overly technical, this is certainly the book for you. If you are preaching through the Gospel of John, this is a definite read.

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Review: 50 Core Truths of the Christian Faith

I'm sure for many a book with the sub-title of "A Guide to Understanding and Teaching Theology" doesn't get many people excited but for me, anything that helps clearly and concisely communication core doctrine does. The Christian faith has this fascinating nature of being both immensely simple, so that a child can grasp the core of it, and yet also extremely deep and rich in that one can spend their whole life studying it and still be amazed by new insights. When it comes to books that delve into the depths or Christian doctrine, the trouble is many are either cover too little ground, usually by not exploring differing nuances on doctrines not universally agreed upon, or are simply too large and intimidating for the average reader. Alternately, larger volumes are simply broken up into multiple, more manageable volumes. 

In this volume by Gregg Allison, I found a very good middle of the road approach to covering the core doctrines in a clear and concise way. The 50 chapters are grouped into 8 parts and follow an order common in many systematic theology texts. Each chapter beings with a short one or two sentence summary of the doctrine, followed by a short list of the main themes of the doctrine and a list of key scripture references. The bulk of each chapter is made up of the Understanding the Doctrine section which divided into three parts: Major Affirmations, Biblical Support; and Major Errors. I really appreciated this breakdown as the first part explains what the particular doctrine affirms and why it matters, the second part shows how we get to this understanding from scripture and the third where the misunderstanding or misapplying leads to error. The final sections of each chapter provide guidance in how to apply the doctrine to one's life and how to teach (including a less outline) the doctrine to others.

One thing I must commend this Allison for in this book is that he takes the time to acknowledge and explain differing view on some of the doctrines on which there are differences in various traditions. For example, the first chapter I flipped to in order to evaluate how narrow a view would be presented was chapter on "The Gifts of the Holy Spirit." In this chapter both the cessationist and continualist views are discussed. Further, in the Major Errors section he points out the errors of both over-emphasizing as well as under-emphasizing the gifts of the spirit. Even in the guidance for teaching this doctrine, he points out that an individual church's position is what should be emphasized but not without acknowledging and explaining the other side.

Finally each chapter ends with a list of resources for further study. Nearly every chapter this list includes the appropriate chapter from popular evangelical systematic theologies (e.g. Erickson, Grudem & Horton) providing one ample opportunity to dig deeper into any of doctrines discussed.

Overall I would recommend this book to anyone wishing to better understand the doctrines of the Christian faith without having to commit to the thousand plus pages most such works cover but still wanting to get out of the shallow end. This book could also be a good primer or refresher if you need to read or review one of the common systematic theology texts. Finally, it would make a good text for an adult class in a church context as it would provide people with an excellent foundation.

*I was provided a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

A Season for Everything Under the Sun

The following was published on Feb 17 in the PG Citizen in the Clergy Comment column. Two days after publication I fell and broke my knee, kicking off a season of rest and recovery. I definately need to take my own words to heart.

The changing of seasons is something that I often reflect on. Some changes of season are fairly evident, others are subtler and often missed until well after the fact. Our family recently began a new season when we packed up the house we’d called home for over 5 years in Metro Vancouver and drove here to Prince George. This season had a definite start as we arrived here one evening in September, after a day of driving and though we had woken in our “old house” we went to bed in our “new house” and a new adventure had begun.

As the days progressed and we began to find our way around our new home we noticed the change of summer giving way to fall and then fall giving way to winter. We enjoyed watching the subtle changes, the colour of the leaves, the earlier sunset and of course the green of the grass being blanketed in the white of snow. At times it seemed each day brought something new. Perhaps we took more notice of the changes this year because it was the first time our first year in the North, but I am glad we were able to take time to notice the changes.

Life is full of seasons, and every season will have its own joys and sorrows, excitements and challenges. As it says in the opening verse of Ecclesiastes chapter 3 “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens” The words that follow are known to many as the lyrics of that 1965 hit song by The Byrds “Turn! Turn! Turn!” and serve as a great reminder that there will be a season for everything and we must, at times, slow down and recognize the season we are in and that it will pass.

Just this week, as I was about to head out to run the snow-blower over the driveway once again, I saw my father had posted pictures of the first flower popping up in the family garden. I’ve also learned that many folks here leave their snow shovels behind and flee to Mexico or other warm places, to simply escape the chill of our northern winter. Now, it can be tempting to hasten the move from one season of life, or to try and avoid it completely. It can be hard to see others in a place we want to be whether you’re single and wish to be married, childless longing for a child, a parent longing for the empty nest, a student longing to graduate and get a job or shoveling a driveway and longing for Mexico, but we must always ask ourselves, what might God be trying to teach us in this season and what might I miss by avoiding it?.

There is a season for everything and no matter what season you’re in, take time to listen for what God may be telling you in this season before it passes. 

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Review: Talking With Your Kids About God

"Talking With Your Kids About God: 30 Conversations Every Christian Parent Must Have" by Natasha Crain is in my opinion a value resource for parents today. These 30 conversations are grouped into 5 parts including, The Existence of God, Science and God, The Nature of God, Believing in God and The Difference God Makes. Each of the 30 chapters comprise of several pages explaining the topic at hand and how to discuss it with your kids followed by a short bulleted list of Key Points and the a conversation guide. The Key Points and Conversation Guides are very helpful to ensure the reader doesn't get muddled in the details. 

I appreciated Crain's approach, addressing many of the common arguments brought against Christianity particularly in regards to the existence of God and tension often brought into the realm of faith vs. science. I felt the last section was of particular value however as she walks us through conversations about what difference God makes. This final section is so important because it gives the "so what" to the conversation that takes it beyond mere intellectual ascent that these things are true. It is these "so what" questions that we have to address with our kids because simply convincing them there is a God or that science and religion can co-exist are meaningless if we can't help them move beyond convincing them to a place of God making an actual difference in their lives.

I did receive a copy of this book from Baker Books in exchange for an honest review.