Monday, February 27, 2017

Did Doubting Thomas Go to India?

Sometimes I just want to scream at God and ask him how certain things could be happening, why they have to happen to me or to someone I love, and when I don’t get an immediate answer, sometimes, I just want to turn my back on Him. And turning my back on church is often one of the first things that I want to do.

Because church, well at least religion, is often the cause of my doubts and despairs.  People who have never read the bible act like they’ve never read the Bible; people who don’t profess to be Christian don’t act like Christians should act. I want God to make them behave, and I cry out “Why?”

                And even worse, people who do read the Bible act like they’ve never seen one before; people who call themselves Christians act like the worst of heathens. And it’s especially discouraging when I’m one of those people. So, again I have to wonder where God is hiding. I want Him to prove Himself to me, again. I want to see Him, and I want Him to make Himself known in my world.

                Which takes us to the story of Thomas, you may know him as Doubting Thomas. You remember, he was the disciple that wasn’t there with the rest of the gang when Jesus made His first post-resurrection appearance. (See John 20:19-29) When Thomas came back from shopping, or fishing, or out for a walk to clear his head (we don’t know why he wasn’t locked up with the rest of them) he couldn’t believe the incredible story they had to tell him.  In fact he wouldn’t believe it, until that is, Jesus made a second appearance and Thomas was able to see for himself the nail marks, and put his fingers in the nail holes. Sometimes we need proof. Yes, it’s nice to always be able to step out in faith, but that’s not always the case. But when Jesus appears, then like Thomas, there’s nothing we can say but “My Lord and my God!”

                Jesus shows up and shows off, and suddenly my faith is restored, renewed, strengthened—whatever the appropriate word is for the exact circumstance.  

                A lot of times faith is just that—those things unseen in which we still believe and have hope, other times there is empirical evidence. And in the case of Jesus, it’s a little bit of both.

                Last year CNN had a popular show called Finding Jesus: Fact, Fiction, Forgery. Each episode took one of the biblical narratives and looked at some of the evidence for, and against, it. Preeminent scholars were guests on the show, and the viewer could determine for himself whether or not he wanted to believe or disbelieve, or change his mind.

                This Sunday, Mar 5th, season 2 premieres.  Later on in the season there will be an episode dealing with Thomas. Legend has it that it was this same Doubting Thomas who took the gospel to India.  What do you think?   9:00 pm ET/PT on CNN

              Watch the trailer HERE

My friends at Grace Hill Media have sent me a Gift card ($25.00) from Lifeway to use as a giveaway.  Tell me if you think Thomas went to India, and the gift card could be yours. If you get randomly selected, I'll email you the card.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Race to Win- thoughts on the movie

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." (Joshua 1:9, NIV)

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.
The Lord Almighty is with us; (Psalms 46:1-3, and 7a, NIV)

Sometimes things happen and we need to be reminded that God is still God, and he’s with us, making his presence known in so many different ways. We see that happening in the movie “Race to Win” starring Luke Perry and Danielle Campbell.

Let me get the hard part over with first. This film was a little too ‘sappy’ or ‘schmaltzy’ for my taste, and the ending, although a surprise was fairly predictable. There were also a few places where the editing was a little choppy. I recognize that to get across the point that we can remember lessons learned from people that have died, that it was necessary in this film to have Dad/husband- Gentry Rhodes, played by Luke Perry- appear as a physical presence. Too much like shows such as ‘Ghost Whisperer’ or a recent medical show where ‘ghosts’ help the Docs, for my theological understanding.

Having said that, this is a family-friendly, kid-friendly movie. It’s not rated, but there is no profanity, no nudity, no sex or drug connotations, and it deals with death in a very real way.

            Gentry Rhodes loves God, loves his family and loves his ranch and horses; he also has some issues—in other words, he’s not a saint, but he does instill those loves in his daughter Hannah (Danielle Campbell). After Luke dies from a sudden heart attack, the family is faced with several financial issues if they are to keep the ranch and horses that Gentry loved. And it’s Hannah on who the burden seems to fall the heaviest.

            Of course, like in the melodramas of yesteryear, there is a villain; think “You must pay the rent! I can’t pay the rent! You must pay the rent! I can’t pay the rent”. Everything about the guy suggests, even the makeup, suggests that he’s the bad guy.

            Hannah comes up with an idea to make money to pay off her father’s debts (gambling debts, which add up to over $100,000.00) and save the ranch. Her plan fails, but throughout the time of trial, Dad appears and reminds Hannah of how much he loves her, how much faith he has in her. He affirms her in a way that every child needs to be affirmed

            This is a powerful story of faith in God, in redemption, in justice, and of affirmation (something we all need) with enough metaphors to make an English professor go giddy with joy.

            Like any other film, it has its issues, but all in all, this is a good film with which to gather the family and enjoy the reminder that regardless of what’s going on in your life, that God is there to uphold and sustain you. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

thoughts on When the Church Was a Family

It seems that as our culture has become more and more self-focused and me-oriented, that the church has not been far behind. Books have been written on how we’re losing generations Y and Z, how inwardly -focused churches (make me comfortable, I pay your salary) are more and more the norm as opposed to externally focused (concerned with lost souls outside the congregation).
But perhaps this isn’t as new a phenomenon as we think. In a book first published several years ago, Joseph A. Hellerman addresses the issue of change in how the Church functions. When the Church Was a Family (B&H Academic, 2009) looks at the structure of the earliest churches described in the New Testament and compares it to the Church of today.  Do not read into this something that I don’t intend to say, Hellerman is not slamming the modern church, rather pointing out the shift and offering suggestions for how things can be done in a way that honors God.

One of the first things that he points out is that society as a whole has changed, and a Christian culture has also changed. About 2000 years ago, there was a strong sense of family first.  An example he gives is marriages.  Years ago marriages were often arranged, and the young couple may or may not agree with their parents’ choice, but it was understood that sacrifices might have to made for the good of the family as a whole. Try telling your teen aged son or daughter today that they will be getting married in a few weeks—to someone they have never met. Yes, times have changed.

 The local church served as that family. Conflicts were resolved within the church and when someone was in need, the church helped out. Today it seems like we turn to other places for the assistance we (members of a congregation) used to be able to get from the (local) church. We’ve given up family in favor of doing it on our own.

The culture was as it was, and then along came Jesus, followed by Paul, and they worked at setting an upside-down world right-side-up. Next Hellerman introduces us to the Church in the Roman world, places salvation in the context of community and offers suggestions for life together, decision making, and leadership in the family of God. And those things look a lot different in God's family than they do in  a secular setting.

Charts and diagrams throughout help the reader with some of Hellerman’s points. And the one on page 94 points out the subtle differences in where we place our allegiances.

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

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Seven miles for seven words

For many of us, as Easter approaches we are compelled to consider the broader implications of the crucifixion and the resurrection. Many people who I know will start that process by fasting during Lent, a period of time that starts on Ash Wednesday (40 days—minus Sundays) before Easter. Lent is a time of repentance, and introspection, but alongside the somber moments, we also celebrate that Jesus was able to resist Satan’s tempting offers, and in doing so set the stage for His eventual defeat of sin and death.
And then comes Good Friday.  The humiliation, the torture, and eventually the death on the cross of Jesus. It was a horrible death, and just the evening before Jesus had spent time praying that the cup be taken from Him, but when the answer was ‘no’ he showed himself, again, to be the obedient Son, as he went to the cross.
Any of us would have reacted quite differently to the cross than did Jesus. And the 7 last ‘words’ – the statements that he made give us quite a bit to think about as we prepare for the joyous celebration of Resurrection Sunday. Stephen Furtick takes his title (Seven-Mile Miracle: Journey into the Presence of God through the Last Words of Jesus (Multnomah, 2017) from the Emmaus walk—7 miles to Jerusalem—that two of the disciples made after the crucifixion and the mystery of the resurrection (they left town before Jesus made his appearance known) (see Luke 24:13)

One word or phrase for each mile on our journey to understanding what Jesus had to say to his followers on that first “Good Friday”.
The events of the day start at about 9:00 am, and by noon Jesus has made several statements. He asks that his tormentors be forgiven, he promises salvation, and he tells us about being adopted into the family of God.   Then at about noon, things start to heat up, and Jesus cries out to God, why am I feeling so alone? I’m thirsting for you. Then the cry of triumph: It is finished—I’ve done everything we set out to do, and finally that joyful reunion with God: into your hands I commit my spirit.
Each chapter consists of two parts: a basic discussion of the ‘word’ itself and some questions to help us think though that part of the crucifixion story, and then what could almost be called a sermon on the theme. 
Several years ago Multnomah published a DVD and participants guide to walk people through the seven last words.  It’s still available from on-line retailers
I received a copy of this book in exchange for my review.


Saturday, February 11, 2017

Dreaming of Justice

Let me get one thing out of the way: I typically don’t like autobiographical works. All too often the style in which they are written tends to be a little too stilted or choppy for my tastes. But at the same time, I find books with the theme of justice to be compelling. And so when the opportunity to review John M. Perkins book Dream with Me: Race, Love, and the Struggle We Must Win (Baker Books, 2017) I opted in. Both of my preconceived notions were correct, the style is, in my opinion, stilted and choppy; but the story itself is so compelling, that I was able, for the most part, to get past the style.

John Perkins has been around for a while, and he has been fighting for justice for a large part of that long while. Dream with Me is the story of that fight. Perkins’ dream is for racial justice, and he has certainly seen his share of injustice, and paid dearly for being a man of color in the segregated south. But today there are other types of injustice of which we are aware, and the people involved in those struggles also have their dreams.
                Much of this story contains a spiritual slant, but Perkins didn’t always have that going for him. He shares how it wasn’t until a grandson started coming home from Sunday school excited about stories of Jesus that he was willing to give church an honest try. And that’s understandable. John Perkins had seen his share of injustice, he had been beaten and jailed, his brother had been shot, and on a regular basis he had been cast into the role of ‘less than’.
                This is the story of how he learned to fight hate and fear with love. Not just love for those who loved him, but love for those who hated and feared him. It’s the story of living out the incarnation. IT’s a synopsis of the Christian Community Development Association, and living among those who need the light of the gospel to help them escape the darkness of the world. It’s about fighting, with love, for those who God loves. And it’s an incredible story of justice taking place before our very eyes.
                I received a copy of this book from Baker Books in exchange for my review.


Finding Jesus: Season 2

Last year I really enjoyed watching Finding Jesus, a 6 week mini-series in which scholars and theologians looked at events of the Life of Jesus, and tried to prove or disprove them.
Season two is about to start with the season premiere on March 5 at 9:00 pm  ET/PT on CNN
 this is what you can expect:
CNN’s hit series returns for a second season.  Pastors, theologians, and scholars, will once again examine famous religious artifacts, and bring to life the places and people from the Bible touched by Jesus and the Gospel. This trailer is available so you can get an idea of what the show is about.

And here's a mini press-release

With Lent and Easter around the corner, Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact Forgery  gives readers a great opportunity to relive Jesus’ journey throughout the ancient world, the impact of his ministry, early church history, and why our faith is more meaningful than ever in our modern day world. 
Season 2 will explore the following:
·         The Childhood Home of Jesus
·         The Tomb of King Herod
·         The Bones of St. Peter
·         Relics Believed To Shed Truth About Doubting Thomas
·         The Pilate Stone
·         The Tomb of Lazarus

FOR additional information visit this site

Monday, February 6, 2017

Free to Fake no More

Sometimes you stumble on a book that you can hardly finish because after the first or second chapter you can think of at least three people that you want to share it with. No More Faking Fine: Ending the Pretending, (Zondervan 2017) is that book. Esther Fleece had it made, except for one little thing. Her perfect life was a sham. On the outside, everything was wonderful, but on the inside, everything was falling apart.

                Esther’s story has so many levels and layers that it’s hard to know where to begin. But two things stood out for me: the first is Lament’, and the next is ‘forgiveness’. 
Let’s start with lament. Admit it, it’s hard to be mad at God, especially when everyone is telling you to suck it up, to get over it. But when we turn to the Psalms, there are so many examples of what it means to turn to God when things turn sour. Individuals poured out their heartache, their heartbreak, their grief and sorrow to God. And so did the nation called Israel (The Old Testament Israel: the twelve tribes led by the sons of Jacob—whose name had been changed to Israel—this has nothing to do with the 21st century nation state called Israel.)
Sometimes there is nothing we can do except listen to God as He calls us to Him, as He calls us into a season of Lament. A time when we pull back from the Theater of perfect lives, and let other people, let God speak into our lives. Just like for the Psalmist, just like for Israel, things happen in our lives which we struggle to deal with. We don’t understand them, others don’t understand them, and as Fleece points out, often our friends follow the example of Job’s friends, they try to come up with a reason. Sometimes we just have to accept the fact that the reason is that we live in a fallen world and is not because God is mad at us. (see page 120).
And as we go through the season of Lament, the ‘desert experience’ that many Christians know all too well, the bonus is often that we learn about forgiveness. And forgiving equals freeing. Forgiveness is freedom.
I want to give this book to several people who are struggling with these issues, but I want to read it again and again.
I received a copy of this book in exchange for a review.


Saturday, February 4, 2017

21 studies on the Gospel of Mark

The Gospel attributed to Mark is the shortest of the Gospel accounts of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It is also, according to most scholars, the first of the gospels to be written. And when you start at chapter 1 verse one, and read it straight through to the end of chapter 16, it moves very quickly. (I know because I once took a class where we were handed a manuscript of Mark (no chapter/verse designations) and sent to various parts of the campus to read it aloud!) If I could only read one of the synoptic gospels this is probably the one I would pick.
Based on this Gospel account, William Boekstein has given us a book with 21 studies for individual or group use. Bible Studies on Mark (Reformed Worship Inc., 2016) starts at the very beginning and goes through the book, offering insights and opinions on the text.
I appreciated the thought that Boekstein put into writing these studies, and for the most part enjoyed reading through them, although at times it seemed like there was a disconnect between some of the material presented, and the questions at the end of each chapter. I was also confused, in this study of Mark, why the author felt the need to explain why Matthew’s gospel started with a genealogy.  And that disconnect, for me, continued throughout the book. Although he made a point of suggesting that one should study one gospel at a time, he made frequent references to other gospels and to the New Testament letters.
As I mentioned earlier, the Gospel of Mark is very fast paced. In the NIV, the word immediately is used 11 times, and a frequent time indicator is ‘then’. Unfortunately this book didn’t maintain the pace of the gospel. The details that Boekstein provides fit more with the gospel of Luke than of Mark.
Having said that, there is a lot to be gleaned from this book, just as there is from the Gospel on which it is based.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my review.


Friday, February 3, 2017

      It may be politically correct in this post-Christian era to say that Jesus is one of many, someone who lived and died and taught a lot of neat stuff, just like Krishna, the Buddha, Confucius, and Muhammad. Politically correct, but not correct. In his book God among the Sages: Why Jesus Is not just Another Religious Leader (Baker Books, 2017) Kenneth Samples discusses the similarities, and more importantly the differences. 

     The book is divided into three parts which follow a logical progression. Part I is the “Historic Christian Portrait of Jesus” and talks about who Jesus is, how, he saw himself and others saw him; along with ideas on how to answer challenges to that identity. Part II, “Four Major Leaders of World Religions and Jesus”  is a compare/contrast synopsis of Jesus and other leaders. The chapters cover some of the many titles ascribed to Jesus. The titles were chosen to coincide with the titles that other leaders claimed or were given to them. Hindu’s Prince (Krishna), Buddhism’s the Buddha (Gautama), Confucianism’s teacher (Confucius), and Islam’s prophet (Muhammad) are put side by side to Jesus: Lord, Christ, Savior, and son of God.  Part III talks about the truth of Christianity as compared to World Religions (and the 4 mentioned above are just some of the major religions of the world).

         Samples deals with a very touchy subject as addresses the issue of truth: specifically the truth of Christianity.  If the claims of Jesus, and Christianity are true, then by default, some of the claims of other religions must be false. In a culture of inclusivism and pluralism are accepted by many, this is a hard pill to swallow. But Samples treats the issue and the differences with utmost respect.  He insists that tolerance does not mean we agree with everything that proponents of other religions have to offer, but our disagreements should be done in a respectful manner.

         The topics covered in most of the chapters are worthy of entire books (many of which have already been written), so I comment Ken Samples for his clear and to the point presentation of so many difficult to understand topics.

     The discussion questions and suggested readings at the end of each chapter are also very helpful.

        I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my review.


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

A New Generation Means New Methods of Sharing an Old Message

For quite some time the ‘generation of interest’ for communities in general, and specifically faith communities, has been Gen Y or Millennials. It’s a demographic that differs from the boomers, builders, and busters. And just when the experts think they have it figured out, we move onto a new subset of the population: Gen Z-Centennials.
They’re younger, and they have different goals and priorities. And so, the learning curve has to start over for those who are trying to keep up. And by the way, starting now, and for the next few decades, this subset is going to figure substantially in national conversations. That means that we as community leaders, and church leaders, want to know who it is that we are ‘leading’.  In Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, (Baker Books, 2017) James White gives us a picture of who is included in this generation, and the distinctive that separate them from previous generations.

White divides the book into 2 parts; one part addressing current realities that are facing the church in our Post-Christian world.  Here he includes some research on what we are facing in the west, and moves on to the distinctives of Gen Z, and how their thought processes are being shaped. Part 2 is what the author suggests as a response, and the author talks about being countercultural as a church.  (that seems to follow the example of Jesus---when sin entered the world things got turned upside down, Jesus was all about turning the upside-down upside-down, thus making it right-side-up)
But being counter-cultural means we have to learn the culture we want to address, so that we know how to address members of that culture, without offending them (except with Biblical Truth). Chapter 8 includes some ideas for new approaches to evangelization in this new culture.
There are also some manuscripts of 3 messages that Dr White has preached, and his sermon on gay marriage (Appendix A, p 161) is quite an eye-opener. That teaching tool in itself would be worth the price of this book for anyone struggling with how to address the issue in a loving manner, while staying true to Scripture.
White also provides “discussion questions” at the end of each chapter. The questions can be used for personal reflection, but small groups wanting to learn how to share the gospel would benefit, as would church leadership teams as they plan for the future of their faith community.

      I received this book from Baker Books in exchange for posting a review. I was not required to post a positive review.