what i’m reading: Jesus wants to save christians

Category : God, bible, book review, faith, feeding my brain

……….

Reading the Bible is one of the most difficult things for a Christian to do.  It’s challenging because it takes discipline to read it every day.  It’s far too easy to get busy and let it slip.  On top of that, a lot of Christians find it kind of boring.  And lets face it, there are parts that are exactly thrilling.

Of course that doesn’t mean those parts aren’t useful or important.  It’s just that this isn’t exactly the next Harry Potter.  Because of things like this, many Christians never read the Bible.

I personally love reading the Bible.  It has re-shaped my understanding of who God is.  And the more I study it, the more I realize the Bible is real.  I’ve written about my own experience reading the Bible many times.  But that doesn’t mean there aren’t times that I feel myself struggle to stay focused.

There are days when I would like to read the Bible written in a bit more contemporary style (such as The Message).  I’d also like to read a Bible that was chronological, as the Bible skips around a lot (at least if you read it cover to cover.)

That’s where Jesus Wants to Save Christians comes in.

Authors Rob Bell and Don Golden write, in what they call, a New Exodus perspective.  To boil it down, New Exodus refers to the fact that Jesus led a new exodus for Christians in much the same way that Moses led an (old) Exodus for Jews.

Prior to reading Jesus Wants to Save Christians I hadn’t really considered this before.  I knew the details, and I even knew some of the similarities.  But I had never taken the time to really consider what that looks like.  Or what that would mean for my life.

And it’s this life change that we’re most interested in here at R3.  That’s why I was so intrigued by Jesus Wants to Save Christians.  It provides a useful framework for understanding our own journeys, and our own lives.  And it’s built around four major events within Jewish history.

  1. Egypt - Egypt was a place built on the concepts of slavery and oppression.  It was a country that didn’t value people.  That didn’t value God’s creation.  And didn’t value life.  As the book describes it, “Egypt is what happens when sin builds up a head of steam.”
  2. Sinai - Sinai is where God breaks his silence (up to this point he had only spoken to a few people).  Now he’s speaking to everyone.  It’s during this time he truly sets his people free.  It’s about grace, forgiveness, compassion, love, trust, and caring.  It’s about getting a new beginning.  It’s about all the things Egypt wasn’t.
  3. Jerusalem - This was God’s kingdom.  A chance for people of faith to show the world what it means to live a life of faith.  But it all fell apart.  Sin crept back into the story and Solomon, instead of using his wealth and power to advance God’s kingdom, used it to create luxury and palaces for himself.  Or as Bell and Golden say, “in just a few generations, the oppressed have become the oppressors.”
  4. Babylon - Exile.  That’s what happened here.  Israel was destroyed by their enemies and the Jews go back into exile.  Exactly where they started many years before in Egypt.  Exile is all about forgetting your purpose.  It’s about losing sight of why God has given you blessings – not to gain wealth and power, but to use wealth and power to advance the Kingdom.

It’s these four things that stick in my mind.  These events may have happened on a grand scale.  But it also happens on a very individual scale.

How many of us have been rescued from a figurative Egypt?  Maybe we lived in terror from someone who abused us.  Or we lived a life consumed with sin, lust, and temptation that took us to a very lonely place.  Or maybe we were just consumed with greed, and found our lives destroyed by money.  And yet, for some reason, God rescued us from our personal Egypt’s.

The danger in all of our relationships with God is losing sight of that miracle.  It’s forgetting the grace and forgiveness.  The world is crafty, the enemy is smart, and we will get tricked (all too easily) into becoming the oppressors.  Instead of showing the world what it means to live out a life of faith, we show them exactly how not to live.  And so greed, lust, temptation, abuse, anger run rampant in our churches and our lives.

It’s that structure that I take from this book.  It helps me see this pattern in my own life.  And encourages me to stop it at all costs.  I don’t want to go into Exile.  I don’t want to forget the amazing things God has done in my life.

As you can tell the thing I liked most about Jesus Wants to Save Christians is how it provides a new way of looking at the Bible.  The Bible is one of the best ways we can connect with God.  And anything that helps to improve that connection, that relationship, is worth pursuing.

A word of caution though.  I found this book difficult to read.  Not because it was complex or heavy.  But because of the writing style Bell and Golden use.  Let’s just say it’s “choppy.”  Fortunately this isn’t an English class, so we don’t need to grade them on that.  But if you’re going to read it (and it’s worth reading) you should know what you’re getting into, grammatically speaking at least.

what i’m reading: Faith & Doubt

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Category : God, different, faith, feeding my brain

  

I grew up never questioning what I was told about God.  I just accepted everything at face value.  Especially the part about “if you’re good everything will work out.”  So when I suffered a horrible set back in college, my faith shattered.  It simply couldn’t withstand the onslaught of doubt and questions.

It wasn’t until years later that I found a rekindled belief in God.  This time, instead of taking everything at face value I was filled with questions.  Is the Bible real? Is it relevant to my life? Why doesn’t God prove he exists? If a tree falls in the woods and no one’s around, does it make a sound?  I knew I could never believe in God until I wrestled with these questions.

To me questioning your faith can be one of the most important things you do.  I slowly learned that despite what I had been told, God never intended for us to hide our heads in the sand.

Likewise he never intended for us to act as if we had all the answers.

The story of Job cuts right to this matter.  Despite all of Job’s suffering he never learns why his life fell apart (it was a wager between God and Satan).  Even though God spoke to him and helped him come to terms with everything, God never revealed the reason why.  Job could have speculated all he wanted, but it’s unlikely he ever would have come up with the real reason.  Job didn’t have all the answers.  And his friends, who thought they had all the answers, turned out to be wrong as well.

It’s okay to say, “I don’t know.”

This is why John Ortberg’s new book Faith & Doubt appeals to me: I don’t know everything.  And yes, that’s hard to admit.

For most of us the words “faith” and “doubt” are separated by miles.  They couldn’t be perceived as more opposite.  We’ve been told we should never doubt any aspect of our faith has left us feeling guilty when we have questions.  Instead of addressing our doubts, we let them slowly erode our faith.  Is that how we’re supposed to feel?

Life is filled with difficulty and ambiguity.  And God doesn’t always give us clear cut explanations.  Just ask Job.  Yet we still need to operate in the midst of all this confusion.  As Ortberg points out, faith isn’t about 100% certainty.  It’s not about theological perfection.  It’s about going that last step, based on what you understand.  It’s about taking that “leap of faith” not because you know everything, but because you’ve come to some good conclusions based on what you do know.  Faith is about trusting in who God is, not what principles you have surrounded yourself with.

Faith & Doubt is filled with great information, good illustrations, and intriguing arguments.  As a whole I personally find it compelling.  But none of that is what I really take away from the book.  What I take away is something simpler:  it’s okay to have questions.

Which takes us right into R3’s mission (learning how to live out a life of faith).  This is rarely neat, and often a messy process.   We don’t always get directly from point A to point B.  Sometimes we need to ask questions.  Sometimes true exploration of faith raises hard issues.  At least that’s what’s happened in my own relationship with God.  As I struggle to understand what it means to live out a life of faith, I find I have questions.  That I have doubt.

Sometimes this doubt is significant (did God really kill people because he was angry?)  And sometimes this doubt is more trivial (Did Adam and Eve really live for hundreds of years?)  If I allowed myself to focus on the fact I don’t know everything, my relationship with God would end.  How could it continue?  If my requirement for true “faith” is 100% certainty, how do I console a family who loses a child when they ask if God is a loving god?  How do I reach out to the hurting when you expect theological perfection?

You can’t.

That’s why I will always have some doubt.  But I will also always have faith.  After reading Faith & Doubt, I no longer see faith and doubt as words separated by distance.  Instead I see them as part of the complicated picture of who God is. 

And I’m okay with that.

what i’m reading: Wide Awake

6

Category : God, book review, feeding my brain, hope

   

If you’ve been reading R3 for any length of time knows that I’m a huge fan of Erwin McManus.  So when I was approached by his publicist about reading an advance copy of his latest book, I was thrilled.  But I have to admit, I was a little apprehensive.  What if I didn’t like the book?  What if I had to say a bunch of bad things about it?  What if I had to come up with a third question that started with the phrase ‘what if’?!

That concern only grew as I had a hard time figuring out what to say about this book.  So much of it seemed familiar: the influence of The Barbarian Way, Chasing Daylight, and Soul Cravings is obvious.  But I’ve already read those books.  I already get that way of thinking.  I’m already on board. 

There’s no question Erwin’s writings have had a profound impact on my life.  The Barbarian Way helped bring me into a relationship with God.  While Chasing Daylight forced me to be bold, and was a  major reason this site was launched.   But when I read Wide Awake nothing immediately jumped out at me.

“Sure it was good.  But it wasn’t brilliant.” I told myself.  “What am I getting out of it?”

But that view changed when I was, of all places, at the gym.  I have no idea what caused the light bulb to go on.  Maybe it was sheer exhaustion.  Or maybe I just was looking for an excuse to stop exercising.  But in one moment everything crystallized.

Wide Awake isn’t so much about me and my dreams, but about other people and their dreams.

As I mentioned, I already get Erwin McManus.  And for the last few years I’ve been doing much of what he talks about in Wide Awake.  But what I hadn’t been doing is helping other people live out their dreams.  I had no framework for even recognizing that people were searching for their dreams.

Wide Awake changes that.

It gives me a way to relate and communicate with people about their dreams. 

At it’s core Wide Awake is about identifying the dreams God has for us, and then learning to live a life that makes those dreams a reality.  Considering most of us probably can’t even identify a dream we want to live, that’s no small task.

Since that moment at the gym, I see just how many people are sleep walking through their lives (myself included).  When I hear people talk about their unfulfilling jobs I no longer think in terms of job satisfaction, pay raises or a career change.  What I realize people are saying is that they long to live a different life.  They want to wake up, but they don’t know how.  And so they feel trapped.

When I hear that story of loneliness, I no longer have to say, “gee, I’m sorry to hear that,” because I have nothing else to offer.  Now I can offer them some hope.  I can talk about the potential in their lives, and the dreams that God has created them to live.

No matter how spiritual we are, it’s funny how we still take a consumerist attitude toward God.  I wanted Wide Awake to benefit me.  I wanted a blueprint of how to live the life of my dreams.  What I got was a road map of how to help other’s achieve their’s.

And you know what?

That’s letting me live out my dreams.

what i’m reading: Orthodoxy

1

Category : barbarian, book review, different, feeding my brain

  

Orthodoxy.

What a strange title for a book.

I mean, it doesn’t sound very revolutionary.  It doesn’t sound very radical.  I’ll admit, it does sound different.  But probably not in a good way.  So what made GK Chesterton call his “autobiography” of faith “Orthodoxy“?

The answer is the same as why R3 focuses on God’s revolutionary, radical, and different nature.  In short, orthodoxy is the most radical thing we can experience – if it’s from God.  Or as Chesterton says, “the orthodox Church never took the tame course or accepted the conventions; the orthodox Church was never respectable.” (Orthodoxy, p. 93)

I bet you didn’t expect that when you saw the word “orthodoxy”!  That’s okay.  Neither did I.

But that’s how God works.  He does the unexpected.  Sometimes he works in ways that at first don’t seem oblivious.  And yet when we look back we realize everything made perfect sense.  That’s where I found myself when reading Orthodoxy.  There were just certain things that didn’t make sense about Christianity.

On the one hand the Bible says that we should love our neighbors and be willing to give up our lives for them.  But at the same time we’re told that the world is broken and defective.  That it’s not how it should be.  So why, as Christians, should we work so hard to fix something which can never be fixed?  Wouldn’t it be better to just pick one philosophy and hold to it?

Life would be so much easier if we could just love people without working to fix problems.  And it would be easier still if we could just give up on the world and say, “I don’t care.”  But that’s not where God asks us to be.

So how do you find a balance?

The world’s answer is that we need to find a balance between the two.  That the solution is somewhere in the middle.  That we should love some people, but not everyone.  And that while the world isn’t perfect, it’s not really that bad.

Let’s face it, that doesn’t sound like too bad of an idea.  Isn’t compromise a good thing?

But compromise is not the answer Christianity offers.  It says the tension itself is what’s important.  That when you try to create balance what you’re really doing is losing something important.     

That’s why Christianity can say radical things like “hate the sin, but love the sinner.”  On the surface it sounds crazy.  How can you separate the two?  Shouldn’t we have some sins that are “bad, but acceptable” (e.g., stealing food because you’re starving), and other sins that are “beyond redemption” (e.g., murder, rape)?

“Christianity came in here as before.  It came in startlingly with a sword, and clove one thing from another.  It divided the crime from the criminal.” (Orthodoxy, p. 87)

Orthodoxy, when it’s about God, is startlingly revolutionary. 

“The criminal we must forgive unto seventy times seven.  The crime we must not forgive at all…We must be more angry with theft than before, and yet much kinder to thieves than before.”  (Orthodoxy, p. 87)  It’s out of this answer that we find how we’re supposed to live our lives.  And it’s out of this answer I began to understand how Christians can say things that seem so obviously contradictory.

Now when I look back at my questions, I see they aren’t contradictory at all.  I see that we really can hate the sin, but love the sinner because I don’t need to somehow balance them.  Instead they are two things that are fundamentally separate.  And it’s in that “separateness” that we find our answers. 

This is an idea that applies across Christianity and applies to courage, sacrifice, life.  It’s no wonder that an orthodox church doesn’t take a tame course. 

Sometimes we need to know “not only that the earth is round, but [know] exactly where it is flat.” (Orthodoxy, p. 90)

what i’m reading: Purpose Driven Life

Category : book review, feeding my brain

       

By my unofficial, and highly unscientific estimation the Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren is a hugely popular book.  I believe the exact number of people who have read it is, a lot.

But not me.  I avoided it.

I saw how many people have read it, and I’ve heard people talk about it so often I thought it would be best to steer clear.  Don’t ask why, it doesn’t really make any sense to me either.  But all that came to an end when I found a copy for $4 at a used book sale.

What I read makes me understand why it’s such a popular book.  Purpose Driven Life sets you on a 40 day journey to better understand yourself, and you’re relationship with God.  While I disagree with some of the first few chapters, I was blown away by two major themes I saw in this book: 

1.  We are all called to change the world, even if that’s only one person or one city.  God expects great things from us.  Not because he’s a task master or over bearing, but because he knows just how amazing we can be.  No one knows our potential like God.  He also knows exactly what we can handle.  And because of that he has big plans for us.

2.  We should focus on the eternal.  No one denies that life gets busy and hectic.  It’s easy to misplace our priorities and start chasing after things that don’t matter.  Sometimes we even intentionally choose to go after a career or family instead of God.  While a lot of the things we emphasize in our life are good, they all fall short of the importance of how we spend eternity.

Purpose Driven Life really highlighted the fact that living with the future in mind changes how you see the present.  If the only thing we’re living for is a new job, a new car, or the perfect family we will be devastated when we don’t get promoted, can’t afford an upgrade, or our family has problems. 

When you live your life thinking about the impact you can make for all time, a lot of our fears seem pretty insignificant.  After all, what’s a little criticism or rejection when you can impact someone forever?

God created us for a reason, and while we can certainly go through life without living out our purpose, it seems like we’d be missing out on something. 

Just because life is short, doesn’t mean we can’t change eternity.  And I find that exciting.

what i’m reading: Mere Christianity

Category : CS Lewis, book review, feeding my brain

   

“Why didn’t anyone tell me CS Lewis was brilliant?!”

That’s pretty much what I think when I pick up one of his books.  I’ve gone my entire life not understanding what people saw in this CS Lewis guy.  I had read the Chronicles of Narnia and enjoyed them.  But even as a kid I knew they were “simplistic.”  I could never quite figure out why he held such appeal for Christians. To be honest I thought they were latching onto the guy because he was famous.  Little did I know how wrong I was!

Mere Christianity is my second book by Lewis.  And I now fully understand why he’s been important to so many Christians.  Lewis is a master of words, and is able to explain complex Christian theology in a simple and relate-able way.  Every sentence in this book is packed with importance and significance. 

The title of the book is a bit confusing to the modern ear.  And until I started to read the book, I didn’t fully understand what that title was trying to convey.  In essence he really wrote a book that could be called ’simple’ or ‘basic’ Christianity.  In a way this is God 101.  But don’t let that fool you, there is more information packed into this book than most dense academic works.

Mere Christianity is broken into 4 sections.  Each dealing with an aspect of what it means to come into a relationship with God.  In section one he outlines some clues to the existence of God.  Section two discusses what Christians really believe.  Followed by how Christians should behave, and what it means to be a Christian.  The fourth section, which is probably his most ambitious, is an attempt to explain who God is – namely the Trinity (Jesus, God, the Holy Ghost).

Very few writers are more quotable than Lewis.  But that’s not the most striking part of Mere Christianity.  Lewis is a master at using examples to explain his points.  He has a way of taking a complex concept (e.g., the Trinity) and giving simple explanations that really crystallize the concepts for the reader.

Lewis holds a special place for me, because he’s one of those writers that disproves the idea that to believe in God you need to turn off your brain.  As I explore his writings I continue to realize that God wants us to use our brains as much as our hearts. 

what i’m reading: Jesus Among Other Gods

1

Category : Bible reliability, Jesus, bible, book review, feeding my brain

   

I think it’s safe to say that we live in a very pluralistic world, where ideas from a wide variety of cultures are shared and believed.  Who among us doesn’t know someone of a different faith or philosophical background?  But that pluralism isn’t limited to just religion or politics.  Choice is everywhere, including our toothpaste aisles!  Because there are so many options out there, sometimes it’s difficult to define our reality, and so we’ve all heard someone ask, “what is truth?”  

Of course it may not matter with toothpaste.  I suppose they may even all be the same.  But is religion?  Do all religions somehow end up at the same place?

That’s the question Ravi Zacharias takes in Jesus Among Other Gods.  Zacharias tackles some of the biggest questions facing religions (Is there a God?  Does God cause suffering?  Is God knowable?) and shows just how Christianity differs from Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Atheism.  In each chapter he discusses the Christian view and then compares it to one (or more) of the other major religions.  By showing that the religions believe very different things on these topics he argues that it is impossible for all religions to be the same.  Either God exists or he does not.  Either God sent his son Jesus or he did not.  If God exists Atheism can not be true.  If Jesus is not God, then Christianity can not be true.

Christianity is often presented as a religion based purely on faith.  But that’s not true.  There is certainly something to be said for “divine revelation” and “understanding through faith.”  Those things help Christians better understand the world.  But God didn’t leave us with only those tools.  He also gives us historical evidence and eye witness testimony. 

I don’t know about you, but I am very much concerned about the truthfulness of Christianity.  I want to know if Jesus was real, or if it is a hoax.  Frankly I have no desire to live my life believing in something that’s a sham.  And that’s what I enjoy about Zacharias’ approach.  He uses logic and reason to make the case for Christianity.  He puts together compelling arguments that answer tough questions.  And in my mind this book definitely proves that all religions are not the same. 

what i’m reading: Chasing Daylight

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Category : book review, feeding my brain, revolutionary

   

Erwin McManus’s first book, The Barbarian Way, is the most important book I’ve ever read.  I know it’s considered “bad” to say this, but it has been more important to me than reading the Bible.  Without The Barbarian Way I never would have read the Bible, let alone seen the beauty of it.  McManus has a way of presenting an idea that fundamentally alters the way you view the world and God.  As I’ve often said on this site, I grew up believing God was this safe, quiet, wimpy thing.  I thought that to be a Christian you had to be a push-over.  The Barbarian Way shattered that view and showed me that being a Christian is this radical, dangerous thing.

In a similar way Chasing Daylight (formerly known as Seizing Your Divine Moment), has completely reshaped the way I “listen” for God to answer my prayers.  In the past I always thought I had to get a specific “yes” from God before I could act on anything.  Instead McManus argues that God has already given us a “yes” on a lot of things.  We have been told to spread the message of Jesus.  We’ve been told to love our enemies and care for the hurting.  We’re already supposed to help one another and support those in need.  We don’t need to wait for a “yes” when we want to do these things – we already have it.

To illustrate this point, McManus uses the story of Jonathan in 1 Samuel 14.  Jonathan was bold and aggressive when it came to pursuing God’s will.  You kind of have to be when you decide to charge an army with just two people.  But he also recognized that God’s will often takes us to dangerous places that may cost us everything we have.  Jonathan knew full well God may not save him saying, “Perhaps the LORD will act in our behalf.”  Perhaps?!  Perhaps?!  If I was about to engage in a life threatening endeavor, I’d want a bit of a stronger word than “perhaps!”

But Jonathan represents a model of action.  He worked under the assumption that God had already said “yes” and promised victory to Israel.  He wasn’t waiting for a reconfirmation of God’s word, Israel already had it.  Jonathan knew that victory was just waiting to be grasped.  When we choose to take action McManus calls this “seizing your divine moment.” 

This is such a foreign idea to me that it was hard to accept at first.  But I quickly realized just how revolutionary it was.  We need to flip our usual way of listening for God.  Instead of waiting for “go” we need to assume we have permission to act.  What we really need to listen for is God to say “no.” 

I’m not sure exactly how this idea will shape my life or R3.  But I do know it is going to fundamentally alter how I respond to people as a Christian.  In fact, even before I finished reading Chasing Daylight I knew God was asking me to seize my first divine moment by giving the book away

Chasing Daylight is an amazing book that really challenges us to change our lives.  I don’t usually recommend books to people – I think they should choose to read them (or not) on their own.  But this is a book that I believe everyone should read. 

what I’m reading: This We Believe

Category : book review, feeding my brain, sharing faith

    

When I first realized I had become a Christian, I had no idea what to do with that knowledge.  So I did what came naturally to me – I began to read as many books and articles as I could about Christianity.  I figured if it was a good enough technique to learn psychology in college, it was good enough now!

Of course I didn’t really know who or what to read.  I had no frame of reference.  I suppose I could have asked someone, but I didn’t.  So a lot of what I’ve read over the last few years has been trial and error. 

One of the first books I bought (for $2.97 baby!) was “This We Believe“.  It is a book of themed essays from many evengelical Christian leaders.  Probably the two who are best known are Ravi Zacharias and Lee Strobel.  I read half of it and then got sidetracked, and it was only this last week I picked it up again. 

What drew me to this title was my desire for someone to explain to me what Christianity meant.  I wanted to know what Christians believed.  And that’s exactly what this book does.  It lays down a foundation of evengelical beliefs through a statement of faith.  Each chapter looks at, and addresses, one aspect of that statement.

So what did I get from this book?  It forced me to think about how I try to explain what I believe.  In some small way it’s probably partially responsible for this website.  How do you explain what you believe is one of the questions I am always thinking about.  And this book was one of the first to address that very question.