Month: March 2018

An Easter Eve Nervous Breakdown

 

He is risen.

How can I? How can I stand in front of anyone and preach on a day like this? How can I explain what the big deal is? How can I possibly take glory and put it into words? How can I shape awe into syllables or craft wonder into sentences?

This day is too big. I can’t wrap my arms around it for myself. His heart beats. His pulse races. He smiles. The God that I was not good enough to bow to, who came and died for me, he looks at me and reaches out with a scarred hand. He grins. “Jon, come on. Come walk with me. Tell others.”

And I can’t. (more…)

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Review: He Was Crucified

He Was Crucified: Reflections on the Passion of Christ
by Gerard Joseph Stanley Sr., MD, ed. by Kent J. Burreson, PhD.

Sometimes we get to know things too well… or think we know them too well. If you’ve heard the Passion accounts every year as long as you can remember, it’s easy to grow numb to what happened. In this book, Gerard Stanley analyzes Christ’s passion from the upper room through his burial from a medical standpoint, using both history and his knowledge as a doctor to deepen our understanding of what Jesus went through. Pictures from throughout the ages accompany the text with explanatory notes. The margins of the book are filled with quotes from Christians throughout time, describing what Jesus went through. Experience the Passion anew as you are walked through Jesus’s last twenty-four hours of life.

This book is gorgeous to look at. Burreson, the editor, did a fantastic job gathering art from across the centuries, from the very first depiction of Jesus’s crucifixion that we’ve found, up through modern times. The text that accompanies the pictures, too, illuminate what you’re looking at. I found those descriptions very useful in looking deeper and reflecting on what the artists were conveying. Most of the pictures are placed well to reinforce the text, though a few seem a touch out of place – for instance, the section on Jesus’s burial had a number of pictures with him still suffering on the cross. In general, though, the pictures helped me meditate on Jesus’s sacrifice. (more…)

“You have handsome teeth.”

I accepted the compliment as graciously as I could, though I really was weirded out by it. What exactly are “Handsome teeth?”

I’m feeling so much better today. So, so much better.

Depression will come when it feels like it and leaves when it feels like it, though I’ve been able to track down certain triggers. For instance, if I spend too much time around people without enough alone time, I usually bounce into depression. Similarly, if I’m depressed, if I can spend a few days basically interacting with only my family, I’ll be ok. (more…)

Review: Flickering Pixels

Flickering Pixels: How Technology Shapes Your Faith
by Shane Hipps

Our world has changed. Technology shapes us, and new technology has altered our lives. What about our faith? Does digital media change our trust in God? Author Shane Hipps takes readers through history, showing how technology changes have altered what the church does in the past, evaluating positives and negatives, and points ways to use modern technology wisely.

Well, the book sounds like a great concept! Is it a good read, though? (more…)

The Fall of Christ, Chapter 5: Ex Crucio

Listen.

Do you hear the sound of the serpent striking his heel? Do you hear the sound of King David crying out as he sings, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Do you hear Isaiah weep as he says, “He was crushed for our iniquities”? The Prince’s pain echoes down through time, to the very beginning. His fall is so great, because it is the center of everything that has ever happened. It is the heartbeat of the Bible, of your life, of the world.

Listen.

The Prince and the Father wove a plan throughout all history… and it all came to this. It came to his Fall. He has been betrayed. Arrested. Rejected. Denied. Condemned. And now he comes to his cross. Ex crucio. The Latin phrase literally means “from the cross.” It’s where we get our word “Excruciating.” And now… here his cries come, ex cruio, from the cross.

The Fall of Christ, Chapter 5: Ex Crucio.

They led him out… to crucify him. As is normal for the Romans, they force the condemned to carry his own crossbeam. A hundred fifty pounds of already blood-stained wood. Jesus isn’t even worthy of a new cross; he gets one that has already been used to crucify… what? A dozen criminals before him? Two dozen? More? His arms are chained to the crossbeam, and as he falls… he can’t even use his hands to catch himself. He lands on his chest, all the weight of the crossbeam pressing down. The Prince is so, so weak. The soldiers have a job to do. They grab Simon. Force him to carry the bloody wood.

And the Prince… has so much farther to fall. (more…)

The Lies that Dwell within Me

Guilt 2

Oh God.

I hurt.

I messed up. Real good, Jon. Real good. Couldn’t keep your mouth shut.

He’s a trusted and respected member of the congregation. He has won my respect over and over and over again. I think he may be the most mature Christian I’ve ever met. Somehow he looks up to me. He respects me as his pastor.

And today he asked me to help him face his past.

For nearly a decade he’s been estranged from his son. He has longed to reconcile. Finally, finally, he is seeing his son again. He wanted me to be there to help.

You idiot, Jon. What did you do?

Made jokes. Talked about yourself. Talked, period.

Sure, you did a devotion. That was nice. Told a Bible story that fit and prayed a prayer that was truly from the heart, begging God to be present, to reconcile, to bring healing.

But then what did you do?

Shut up. Shut up. Shut up.

Just shut your mouth, Jon. (more…)

It’s fine.

Yesterday I got to stop two men from clobbering each other in a hospital parking lot. I was there to visit a member, but as I walked through the parking lot, one man I didn’t know attacked another man I didn’t know. I got between them. It was either angelic intervention or the fact I was carrying a Bible that kept them from turning on me. I escaped with only shaking hands and a heart beating just a titch too fast.

One of the things shouted in the fight was, “I’m here for cancer treatment!”

I don’t know what caused the fight. The two men seemed to not know each other at all. But I suspect that for at least one, the sheer stress of facing what might well be death caused him to cling to what pride he had and burst at some affront to said pride.

And he broke.

…I forgot what it was like to be broken. (more…)

Review: The Anonymous God

The Anonymous God
Ed. By David L. Adams and Ken Schurb

Our money says, “In God we trust.” Is it true? Who is the god of American civil religion? And does the civil religion of the United States have anything to do with Christianity? In this book, nine essays struggle with the nature of our national religion, its history, the histories of national religions in general, and how Christians should react to it.

As with any anthology or collection, some of the essays here are very strong, and some I remember nothing about other than thinking they were very nice and smart-sounding.

The opening and closing essays, both by David Adams, comprise the strongest and most practical of the entries. For instance, Adams writes,

The First Table of the Torah begins by describing Yahweh as Redeemer and concludes by describing him as Creator. … The text focuses the discussion of worship on the name of Yahweh and defines the substance of that name in terms of God’s creative and redemptive acts. Yahweh as Creator and Yahweh as Redeemer: This is the way the true God teaches His people to worship Him. No other kind of worship is acceptable to Him. To attempt to worship Him in any other way is to incur His wrath. (37)

He argues that because civil religion introduces a bland, amorphous deity we can know next to nothing about, being involved with such worship breaks the entire first table of the Law. Any proclamation of God that does not center on his revelation and our salvation in Jesus proclaims a false deity. His closing essay included ten theses I found to be very engaging and practical for consideration as well. (more…)

The Fall of Christ, Chapter 4: Condemned

Listen. Do you hear the whispers of the Law? From the very beginning, it has whispered and it has shouted. It has always been very clear: Follow the Law, and you will live. Just do this thing. Just love God with all you are, holding nothing back for yourself. Just love every person around you, no matter how much they’ve hurt you, no matter how much they don’t deserve your love, always put them first and yourself last. Just do that… and you will live.

Listen. Do you hear what the Law says to you? You who have not loved God with all you are? You who have not loved those around you, putting yourself after them? Listen. The Law condemns. The Law says to you: You have failed, and so you will not enjoy the reward. Instead, you will receive wages. You will get what you have worked for. You will receive death. The Law is not your friend. It condemns. And you know that the Law is not lying.

But listen… there is another whispering on the wind, in the Word, whispered from mouth to ear across centuries. Another is coming who will carry our transgressions. Another is coming who will be wounded for our sins. Another is coming… and the Law will work on him instead of on us.

The Fall of Christ, Chapter 4: Condemned (more…)

Review: Abraham

Abraham: Faithful Patriarch
by Roger H. Knepprath

He was the father of nations, but who was Abraham? What did he do? If you were confused by the family lines or how a many of such great faith could still sin in such big ways, this book lays out Abraham’s life as a story, loyal to Scriptures, but telling what happened in an adult narrative manner.

Like Noah, which I reviewed previously, this book keeps to the Scriptures. It is not historical fiction like you might find in many Christian bookstores. Instead, author Knepprath keeps to the Bible and helps connect some narrative dots so we get to follow along.

I really appreciated that he kept the narrative focused on Abraham. Some of the accounts that take place in that section of scripture, such as the account of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham didn’t witness directly. The narrative here reflects that; we get to see Abraham praying about the cities, and then he sees the destruction the next day.

Knepprath also anchors Abraham’s faith in what he knew about God. Abraham knew the promises. He was able to trust those promises of a Savior to come.

An aspect I enjoyed was how Kenpprath made Sarah, Abraham’s wife, come alive. So often she’s a back-up player, almost shrewish in many depictions I’ve seen. This author took scripture’s exhortations to be like Sarah to heart, though, showing her to be a caring wife who, like her husband, struggled with sin.

And here is where the book shines. Not only does it show Law and Gospel clearly, but it avoids turning Abraham into an action hero of faith. So often the Old Testament people are raised up as gleaming examples, but here we see Abraham as both sinner and saint. In fact, the book opens with a passage that makes it very, very clear: “When writing about Abraham, the temptation is to make him out to have been more than he actually was. This would, in turn, make Abraham’s God to be less than he actually is” (v).

Because the book fights to make sure it doesn’t add to Scripture through imagination, it’s a pretty short book – I polished it off in about half an hour. That said, I think it’s well worth your time, and well worth getting into the hands of someone who’s curious about who this Abraham guy was. Go ahead and check it out!