Monday, January 28, 2013

Book Review of Revelation for Everyone by N.T. Wright

Revelation for Everyone
by N.T. Wright
ISBN 978-0664227975
Westminster John Knox Press
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Tom Wright is one of my favorite Christian teachers and writers. Perhaps there is no other resource from him that I have appreciated more than his "for Everyone" series on the New Testament. Revelation for Everyone is especially interesting because NT Wright's views on the book of Revelation, eschatology, and the afterlife do not fit neatly into a particular camps ideas, but are profoundly biblical.

I am developing a preaching series on the book of Revelation that goes over the high water marks in this fine boo, and what I have discovered is that N.T. Wright is more down to earth and forthright in explaining what is happening in the book of Revelation than what I expected. Often, he is graceful in his presentation, leaving room for views other than his own, and giving space to futurists, while at the same time placing the Book of Revelation in its historical context.

Often Wright picks up on a key word or action in the text, that is a key to understanding the passage, and then he explains how and why it is important. He also does a good job at tying together the connections of Revelation to other parts of the biblical canon.

I strongly recommend this book as a resource, alongside of others that might give you different perspectives as well. With many voices, you will get a well-rounded picture.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Continuing to learn part 2

I am striving to be a continual learner as a father too. Sometimes kids force you to be this way because they are always changing. Other times I end up doing some experimental parenting. For instance, Karis has been getting up a lot in the middle of the night. So I tried a few new things and got her to sleep all night. What new things prompt you to learn?

Friday, January 25, 2013

Book Review of the Heidelberg Catechism material from the Being Reformed: Faith Seeking Understanding Curriculum

Heidelberg Catechism
by Gary Neal Hansen
From Being Reformed: Faith Seeking Understanding
A Curriculum from Congregational Ministries Publishing
An imprint of the PC (USA) Publishing House

680776 PBcoverHeidelbergCatechism.jpg

After making the acquaintance of Gary Neal Hansen at Dubuque Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa, and expressing my growing interest in the Heidelberg Catechism, Dr. Hansen arranged for me to have the opportunity to view and review the curriculum he wrote for the PC (USA) on the catechism.

For those of you who do not know, the PC(USA) is updating their translation of the Catechism. Dr. Hansen seems the appropriate person to write the curriculum since he served on the committee that gave this new translation work oversight.

All of the rest of my resources reviewed thus far (but not the one to come) end up going through and discussing the catechism based upon the Sunday that it is assigned to be studied. This resource is a brief, six week overview of the whole document for a church Sunday school class. Thus, it touches on the common themes of comfort, deliverance and gratitude. It also makes a point to give special attention to the historical and biblical resources that the catechism gives reference to. Namely the Apostle's Creed, The Ten Commandments, and the Lord's Prayer are given special mention.

The other primary purpose, as I have said before, it to reintroduce the catechism in light of the coming vote on its revisions by the PC(USA). The Presbyterian church, in concert with some of the things that have been done with the RCA and the CRC, is planning on releasing an updated translation of this old document. Many of the changes are not controversial. For instance, the denomination has decided to include footnotes for each question and answer in the catechism that give reference to specific scriptures that the answers were drawn from.

Other changes have a little more controversy associated with them. Most of these controversial "new translations" have to do with human sexuality. In each case, the translation committee chose to go back to the original translation instead of the later editions of the catechism that added more words to match the answer with its Scriptural reference. In particular, two answers have been singled out for question and concern in regard to how they are translated. One is question 87. The other is Question 108.

Question 87 in the PC(USA)'s book of confessions used to use the word "homosexual perversion". The translation committee has decided to go back to the original language which used the blanket term sexual immorality (which of course evangelicals believe would include homosexuality).

Question 108 changes the terms "in holy wedlock or in the single life" to "within or outside the holy state of marriage". This, Hansen says, better reflects the original German vocabulary.

Hansen does a good job of explaining the committees rationale for these changes, and they are already adopted by more conservative Reformed fellowships that the PCUSA. However, with both changes applying to issues related to human sexuality, it is natural that people will become suspicious of a hidden agenda relating to the denominations leftward lurch on human sexuality issues. My position is that 1./ I am in favor of the changes for the reasons Hansen states, and 2./ That I do there is a bigger agenda than simply being better translators, but 3/there are ways to jump through the hoops of about anything like this if that is what you are seeking to do, so 4./ people should relax a little bit and not worry about the changes. After all, the Scripture references are now included as part of the document anyway, so that reference can be made to  the Scripture when imploring people to be committed to the Catechism.

Enough of the political drama.

What are the strengths of this curriculum?:

  • It is brief, and gives people the "big picture" story of the Christian life that the Heidelberg communicates,
  • The teachers guide (by Michael Harper and Mark Hinds) offers several thoughtful discussion questions and ways of getting into the dialogue of the text
  • Hansen does a good job of moving the people who participate in the study toward spiritual disciplines that will enhance their mastery of the catechism as well as grow deeper in their Christian faith
  • It is specific to real life changes that are before the PCUSA
  • It is an overview, which gets people to read over the curriculum, but not feel like they have to commit to a year of learning it. It whets the appetite for going deeper into the document. 
What are the challenges this curriculum faces?:

  • It is poorly publicized and marketed, and thus difficult to find
  • It is very specific to its denominational context, which might present some challenges for groups beyond the PCUSA fellowship who want to use it.
  • It is very much oriented toward a read/response method of teaching, which is a more contemporary pedagogy than the catechism itself, but could have been improved with more handouts, worksheets, and/or activities for folks to participate in. This is not the fault of Hansen, who tends to write well. It is instead a common challenge of denominational curriculum oriented toward people in their 70s or older.
Finally, as I encourage you to study the Heidelberg catechism, I would like to share some of Hansen's words from the introduction to this curriculum, which summarize my feelings as well:

"Having taught the Heidelberg Catechism...I am convinced that far too few Reformed Christians have ever read it. However, once people know it, they often love it. I think we will find that this centuries old document has the ability to put us better in touch with the comfort that comes from the gospel of Jesus Christ, and and aim us toward a life of gratitude for all that he has done for us." (p.6)

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Continuing to Learn

As a pastor, whether in a youth pastor, associate, solo, or senior pastor role, I have always tried to maintain an attitude that I always need to learn new skills, and develop new streams of knowledge that relate to ministry as a part of my job.

For a while, I worked really hard at developing technological knowledge. I tried to do things like understand social networking, learn how to use Youtube, find ways to record my sermon with a voice recorder and then upload them to the computer, and more. This was important in Fowler, where in many ways I felt like I was a little bit in a "Fowler bubble", isolated from much of what was going on in the rest of the world.

The last few years, I have attempted to understand more about the purpose, the development, and the creation of liturgical resources. Since this church is more into that kind of thing that any other I have served, it seemed an appropriate time to learn. So, I began to study concepts on how to organize worship. And even today, I learned how to craft a "Great Thanksgiving" style of communion. I did not create the words myself, but I went through a process where I picked from options from each element of this kind of service, and learned how to put them together in a way that seems nice, at least to me.

I think it is important, no matter what job you are in, to keep on track with learning new ideas, new skills, and new ways of doing things. There are times when people can get stuck on autopilot for months or even years in their jobs. This does not just keep them on a plateau, it guarantees that this person is falling further and further behind their peers in understanding their work every day.

What things do you continue to learn in your line of work? What learning projects do you have in front of you in your life? If you are on "stand still", how can you kickstart your mind and your efforts to grow and learn in new ways?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Book Review of the Heidelberg Catechism with Scripture Texts

The Heidelberg Catechism with Scripture Texts
ISBN 978-0-930265-67-0
Faith Alive Christian Resources
Reviewed by Clint Walker

This is a very hastily done review in order to meet a self-imposed deadline. Please don't judge all my reviews based on this one. It is part of a week-long series on references for study of the Heidelberg Catechism.

This book is what it says it is in the title, which I greatly appreciate. It lists all of the questions and answers of the Westminster Catechism in order, divided by the Lord's Day they are assigned to. Each question and answer is then followed by the Scripture text references printed out underneath that question. This is very convenient. This way I can immediately look down and read a Scripture reference to support the stated question and answer.

This book is especially helpful when teaching on the Catechism. When necessary I can scan down and see which Scriptures are most appropriate to explain a certain question in the catechism. If necessary, I can just read the passage. Occasionally, even though I probably should not do this, I just copy the questions and answers for the day with the Scriptures.

If anyone is doing a study on the Heidelberg Catechism, this is a necessary resource.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Book Review of The Heidelberg Catechism: A Study Guide by G.I. Williamson

The Heidelberg Catechism: A Study Guide
by G. I. Williamson
ISBN 978-0-87552-551-8
Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing
Reviewed by Clint Walker
The Heidelberg Catechism: A Study Guide
Before I ever discovered the Heidelberg Catechism, I memorized and studied the Westminster Catechism. I wish I could say that I had nobler motives, but the truth was that if I had memorized the catechism and wrote an essay on it assigned by the Presbyterian Church USA, I had a good chance of getting a stipend from the denomination given to students who attended PC(USA) colleges. So, I, along with 2 or 3 of my college peers began to work hard to memorize the text, and we succeeded both in memorizing the document and in receiving the $1000 dollars promised for doing so. Somehow, in the process, I was given a study guide of the catechism by someone. The study guide was from G.I. Williamson.

Now that I am getting deeper in my study of the Heidelberg Catechism, I have also picked up a study guide on Heidelberg by Williamson entitled (surprise) The Heidelberg Catechism: A Study Guide. Many times, as I read what he says, I hear a person with questions that come from a more conservative hermaneutical perspective than I, and from a different generation than I. Nevertheless, I find his discussion on each week of questions and answers helpful because he helps me see things from my church people's perspective (who are also from a more mature generation), and it helps me read the text with fresh eyes. There are times when I disagree with Williamson, but I appreciate his willingness to stay rooted in his Orthodox Presbyterian tradition.

Each chapter has commentary on the questions and answers to be studied on each week. They also questions on the lesson, and questions for further study on the biblical and theological issues that the week's questions bring up. Williamson is thorough!

No matter what perspective you come from, I think if you want to study the Heidelberg Catechism, you need to The Heidelberg Catechism: A Study Guide by Williamson on your desk. It is the standard in the English language on studying the document.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Book Review of the Good News I Almost Forgot by Kevin DeYoung

The Good News We Almost Forgot
by Kevin DeYoung
ISBN 978-8024-5840-7
Moody Press
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Last year, as I began my tenure as the pastor of the United Churches, I jumped in during the middle of the school year by having question and answer "talkbacks" about the sermon and the other liturgical texts that were assigned for that Sunday. Many found that  profitable, but others felt that this informal style was not structured enough like a traditional Sunday School class.

This year, in an attempt to try something different and get a few more people plugged in, I tried to do something a little bit more oriented toward discipleship. Technically, we have been spending the year studying the Heidelberg Catechism. But more specifically, the discussion has been guided by going step by step through The Good News We Almost Forgot by Kevin DeYoung. 

In the introduction to the book, DeYoung does a great job outlining the basics of the Heidelberg Catechism and why it might be helpful to Christians who want to go deeper in their faith. He instructs the readers that the catechism was a 16th century document designed to instruct students in the core beliefs of the Christian faith through a series of scripted questions and answers. He shares that these questions and answers generally span a year of study. He also shares his own journey of using the catechism to enhance his own study and spiritual growth, and how he found this study profitable.

 Each subsequent chapter takes on the catechuminal questions and answers for that specific week until all 52 weeks of the study is complete. At times DeYoung does quite well at discussing the ancient document in a relevant manner. He anticipates questions of his readers well. He relates some of the theological issues to everyday life.

There are other times, I have discovered, that the class I am teaching feels that DeYoung is overly enamored with theological detail, so much so that they have a hard time understanding what he is saying, where he is going, and why it is relevant.

Like much of the reformed documents and statements of faith, and the work of those who do thoughtful, intelligent reflection on them, I find The Good News We Almost Forgot to be a helpful book for church leaders and laity alike. I may not agree with the catechism or DeYoung on every point, but I find detailed descriptions of Christian belief such as this helpful. These spiritual leaders help believers think through their faith, and understand it better. And the church could always use deeper, more thoughtful Christians.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sermon Manuscript for 1.20.13 based on Mark 14:1ff

A Beautiful Thing
For the last month and a half we have taken a little detour for Advent/Christmas as well as New Year/Epiphany. But today, we are diving back into the gospel of Mark. When we left of with the gospel of Mark, we were in the middle of the last week of Jesus’ life. In the next couple weeks we read Mark until we get to the arrest of Jesus. From that point on, it is best, in my opinion, to move on from the narrative until we get to Holy Week.

Now, by the time we get to this point in the life of Jesus, we know he does not have much time left. The people around Jesus don’t realize that he only has a few more days to live, but Jesus certainly does. It is Passover week. Jesus is staying with friends in the small town of Bethany, which is really a suburb of Jerusalem. To get from Jerusalem you really walk up, over the mount of Olives, and then head down the opposite side of that hill.

While Jesus is dining with Simon the Leper (who is probably someone who was healed of leprosy), the powers that be in Jerusalem are planning Jesus’ demise. The rich and the powerful despise Jesus, but the rugged, rejected and redeemed love Jesus. The scribes and Pharisees decide to wait until after Passover week. Passover might cause too many problems at an important time of year. There timetable will soon be moved up. Jesus will be dead by the end of the week.

Bethany is a base of support for Jesus. It is where Mary, her sister Martha, and their brother Lazerus live. The name of the town means “house of the poor”. It is the place of the common people. Folks that could not afford to live in Jerusalem.
Jesus is reclining at the table eating. This means that he is the guest of honor of Simon the Leper. The folks seemed to be having a good meal, a good conversation, and then THE WOMAN walked in.

At first the guests (who were probably all men at this point) thought that this unnamed woman was probably entering the meal with that fine alabaster jar to serve them. Or perhaps to offer some sort of gift to Jesus. Nobody was prepared for what came next.

This woman walked over to Jesus. She broke her alabaster jar. Out came oil. This was sometimes done with guests of honor with some olive oil as a way to honor them. The perfume began to fill the room. This oil was certainly not olive oil. What was it? It was…hmmm…it was…nard. Nard? Wow that is expensive stuff. Imported from India where the flower grows that produces this beautiful smelling odor. In today’s dollars, the bottle of perfume would have went for between 30,000 and 50,000. And the woman poured it ALL out.  It flowed down his head, his beard, onto his robe, and it wet his skin beneath his clothes. To show honor, respect, love and worship for Jesus, this woman poured out her valuable perfume. And it smelled WONDERFUL.
Well, this act of honor and worship met with some pretty harsh reactions with the men that were in the room. Some of them rolled their eyes. Others of them grumbled. Others of them began to scold the woman like she was a little child. “What are you doing?” they asked, “Don’t you realize how much that cost? Don’t you realize the good that could have been done with that perfume if you would have sold it and used the funds to help those in need? Why are you being so showy and wasteful?”

Jesus overheard this nagging and criticism. He would have none of it. He said that what this woman had done was beautiful. And after everyone one in that room had passed away. The story of her gift would be told. We would, Jesus said, remember her. And we do. Even today, we remember what she did.

You know, my friends, religion can be a good thing. But, if we are not careful, we can take on a shell of religiosity, and mistake it for authentic faith. We can think our religion is about looking good among my neighbors, about doing a few pro-community activities, about creating good standing in the community, and carrying on the tradition of our parents.

That is the kind of faith that some of the people in the room with Jesus had. One of them, Judas, was one of the twelve. He ended up leaving the room after this little episode and talking to the leaders in Jerusalem and agreeing to turn Jesus over to them to be arrested for 30 pieces of silver. Judas was comfortable with a kind of religion that appeared like faith, but when it really came down to it he wanted a religion that was about what he could do and what he could control.

The woman that we see here helps us to see and understand what true, authentic, passionate worship is all about. As we look at her example, and pay attention to it, we can learn how to live and to worship like her. Let’s take a brief look at some principles we can glean from her actions, and apply to our lives.

1.  Authentic, committed worship is countercultural
Ultimately, if you are going to experience worship in a faithful and powerful way, you are going to have to put the crowd behind you. You are going to have to not think about what judgments other people might have when you worship, and just open your heart, your mind, you life, your actions to what God wants you to do.

I remember a friend of mine who was a church leader, and moved out to Montana because of her husband’s job. Her background was more charismatic that the tradition of the church that they were attending. The church had blended worship, so when the praise songs were playing, her kids decided to stand on their pews and raise their hands in prayer as they were singing. Some people got upset the children were raising their hands, and being so expressive in praise. The kids found out about it. It took them years before they would worship this way again. Poor kids. Let the crowd get in the way of their worship.

The movie Chariots of Fire describes the story of Eric Liddell, who refused to compete in the Olympics on Sunday because that was his day to worship. He ended up switching events with another one of the competitors. And winning.

Worship does not just happen on Sunday morning. It happens as we live our lives for an audience of one, namely the Lord Jesus Christ. It happens when we chose to change the language we use, even when everyone around us tends to be speaking more vulgar. It happens when we chose to spend our lunch break doing our devotions. It happens when we serve others in the name of Christ as we go through our day, maybe by helping someone who cannot help themselves get something done, and then forget we ever did such a thing.

Open yourself to passionate worship, and you will find yourself crying at inconvenient times, you will find yourself moved to come forward to pray in a worship service when you might look foolish, you might find yourself moved to care more for people you might not otherwise care for, and you might give your time to activities and efforts that other people roll their eyes at. All because you have chosen to live in devotion to God, and everyone else’s opinions are less important.

2.    Authentic, committed worship is sacrificial
This woman we read about in this text poured out this expensive perfume on Jesus’ head. She could have sold it and given it away, like her critics said. She also could have sold the perfume and put it away somewhere for a rainy day. She did neither. She gave what she had that was of value in adoration of Jesus, who had more value to her than any object that she owned.

You see, often we miss this truth. Instead we think worship is about us, getting what we want, and having our needs met. How does this happen? We think that worship is about me getting to sing the songs that I want to sing. Or perhaps we think worship is about hearing a really good sermon. We approach worship like McDonalds. “What would I like to order? Yes. I would like an hour long worship service with 3 hymns, no praise songs, a 20 minute sermon. Hold the responsive readings, and add in a second piece of special music in addition to the choir please. Thank you!”

The truth is, Biblical worship is about offering ourselves to God. It is about setting aside what we want, and taking time to give ourselves completely to God and what he wants for us.

This is why we have an offering in our worship service! To teach us that worship is about giving ourselves to God, and sacrifice. And, trust me, if you chose to worship sacrificially, you will find challenges. That tithe money you give will seem like a huge amount, until you go out and get your hair done and pay about the same thing. The hour you are here will seem like a huge commitment, even though you will spend at least 2 hours watching something you are not even paying attention to on television or on the internet later in the day.

The opposite of sacrificial worship is worship that is completely centered around me, and getting what I want when I want it. You know, as we gather for worship, I hope you enjoy yourself. But more than that, I hope you get outside of yourself. I hope you take time to be grateful for the many blessings that the Lord has given you. I hope you take time to praise the one in whom you live and move and have your being. I pray you take time to slow down enough to listen to the music, the word, the sermon, and as you do I hope you come seeking to know and understand a little more about who God wants you to be, and what God wants you to do.

3.    Authentic, committed worship is total
If we are to honestly and completely worship the Lord, we cannot have divided loyalties. We cannot truly be worshipping the Lord, and at the same time have a number of other competing loyalties that vie for our attention.

Worship is an “all-in” kind of thing.

You know, last week at our business meeting we had a little bit of a discussion about worship times. Most of our church wants to just have one morning service. A group of people want two. Some folks wish we would start worship at 9am. Others like worshipping at 10. Another small minority could use another hour to get ready in order to be here at 11. I understand all of the concerns. I have heard all of the pros and cons for each position. And, in this sense, I am at your service as your pastor. Whatever decision that is made, I am going to be here. It is my job to be here, after all.

I also understand that many of us have commitments at different times on Sunday that precede the whole change in worship times. And, some of the changes that have happened in the last 18 months have been difficult.

Having said that, there are times I have a hard time dealing with the decision to not come to worship because it does not fit that person’s preference. In the eternal scheme of things, we should care enough about our faith to get our rear ends out of bed if the service is earlier, or eat breakfast at another time if the service is a little bit later. It seems to me, if one is committed to worship and committed to this church, one is going to be here when worship is scheduled. Your social schedule, your meal schedule, your tv watching schedule, or your sports schedule is not going to get in the way of your worship if your worship really means something.

I also have a hard time dealing with the kind of faith that compartmentalizes our commitment to worshipping the Lord to Sunday for an hour. If we truly worship the Lord, that worship should bleed into every aspect of our lives. It should affect the way we talk to people, the attitude we approach life with, the way we structure our day, the way we go through our lives. In each of these situations, we should live lives obedient to Christ and his gospel. In all of life, the grace and the love of Christ should flow through us. How we love and how we work, how we spend and how we play should all be defined by who our Lord is.

We cannot worship God and money. We cannot worship God and our friendships. We cannot worship God and our ego. We cannot worship God and have room to worship anything else. Yet, in many ways, it is so easy to divide our loyalties between God and this world. Worship has the same root word as worth. When we chose to worship Christ, we chose to say he is worth everything to us, and is our top priority.
The Lord Jesus lived a perfect life. We went to a cross to save us from our sins and give us a new life, and make us a new creation that will spend eternity with him. And because of that, he deserves our total devotion and complete loyalty.

Because of that, he should be worth everything to us. And that should define how we worship on Sunday, but it should also make a different in how we live each and every moment as an act of praise to the one who loves us, saves us, redeems us, and continues to fill us with his love, hope and peace.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Book Review Deeply Loved by Keri Wyatt Kent

Deeply Loved
by Keri Wyatt Kent
ISBN 978-1-4267-4481-1
Abingdon Press
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Keri Wyatt Kent is a prolific author. I like much of what she has to say. She is down to earth, a good communicator, and has a love for the Lord and helping people grow closer to Him through what she writes. Lately, she sent me her most recent book in hopes that I would review it like I have reviewed many of her previous books. I was happy to oblige. I was even more excited to see this book was written for Abingdon Press, which is one of the publishing houses for one of the denominations that our local church represents.

Kent's most recent book is a 40 day devotional called Deeply Loved. Designed to probably be used during Lent, or some other 40 day spiritual adventure, this book gently leads its readers into deeper waters in their faith journey. By slowly guiding her readers to be more and more immersed in an everyday person's journey into basic spiritual disciplines, Ms. Kent challenges her readers to allow for God's presence in the exciting and mundane experiences of everyday life. I enjoy reading a lot of similar literature for my own spiritual edification, but at times have a hard time communicating the basic concepts of spiritual formation to friends and parishoners. Where I often fail in not being able to get things from my head to my mouth, Deeply Loved succeeds at putting on paper in a simple devotional.

The largest drawback to this book, and I hate to mention it, is that some men reading this book will think this is another one of those books for a Christian housewife bent on delving deeper into religion.   Kent does not necessarily write the book for a feminine audience, but several of the examples from her everyday life are more maternal and feminine in nature. This, of course, is perfectly acceptable, as there are a lot of similar books written by men with masculine perspective. However, the book might not be the favorite of the man in the family who likes to spend his spare time in the garage or out shooting something.

All in all, though, a fine book by Ms. Kent. After Deeply Loved, I eagerly await seeing what her next project will be.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Book Review of Fresh Air by Chris Hodges

Fresh Air
by Chris Hodges
ISBN 978-1-4143-7125-2
Published by Tyndale
Momentum Imprint
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Ever felt stuck? Ever felt stuck in your spiritual journey? Ever wonder if you are really growing? Or wonder why you don't feel as connected to God as you once used to? So did Chris Hodges, and he was a pastor of a growing church. However, somehow, God graced Pastor Hodges with a new wind of hope, and a path toward greater spiritual depth and vitality. Fresh Air contains the story of how God revitalized Chris Hodges' faith, and how he believes God can do the same for you.

Hodges begins by introducing and describing the spiritual malaise that many of us feel. He goes on from there to challenge his readers to examine their hearts, and to take on some attitudes that will be helpful for them to become unstuck.

In the second section of his book, Hodges walks believers through some basic spiritual practices that will help them grow and stay connected to God. Among these spiritual disciplines are good stewardship, prayer, Bible study, sabbath, worship, and community. Nothing earthshaking here. But Hodges does a good job of presenting important spiritual disciplines in a way that they can bring renewal to a weary or seeking soul.

Throughout Fresh Air, Hodges uses the metaphor of breathe to describe what God is willing to do to revive his people. This is an apt metaphor. It is helpful because breathing is central to living, and thus he explains the journey of discipleship as a journey toward real, vital, powerful living. Also, the language of air corresponds with the Biblical understanding of the presence of the Holy Spirit as being like wind or breathe. Thus, as he describes the way of getting unstuck in life, he describes it in terms of the Holy Spirit transforming our lives. Very biblical.

I think this is a great book. It is straightforward. And it will be just the right word for someone who is wondering what next in their spiritual journey.

Book Review of The Searchers by Joseph Laconte

The Searchers
by Joseph Laconte
ISBN 978-1-5955-5446-8
Thomas Nelson Inc.
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Christian apologetics takes many forms. Some people commend the faith through citing evidences of the resurrection and the authority of Scripture. Others argue the faith through reasoning with others to accept the truth of Christ. Some, like Joseph Laconte in his book The Searchers commends the faith through a combination of the methods above with a sharing of the journey of the personal discovery and practice of faith.

The Searchers focuses in on the experience of the followers of Jesus on the road to Emmaus in the gospel of Luke. In the process it also shares about the author's own pilgrimage as he grieves.

Laconte explores grief from a number of different angles. In the process he shares about the journeys of other people throughout history, as well as modern persons of faith. He also uses the poignant imagery of doubt and faith that occurs in popular culture as well.

The Searchers is a little slow, but it is well-written and intelligent. There are several great stories within this story, and I will take note of many of them and use them again at some point. There are several well-researched quotes as well.

This book has the feel of a quest. Certainly, that is what Laconte intended, that his readers would walk with him and come to a strong, deep, well-founded faith in Jesus Christ that has dealt with doubt, and overcome it. I would recommend this book to seekers and disciples alike.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Book Review of A Book of Prayers by Arthur A.B. Nelson

A Book of Prayers
by Arthur A. B. Nelson
ISBN 978-0-8308-5736-4
IVP Books
Reviewed by Clint Walker

book cover

I recently moved from a church that was Baptist and decidedly non-liturgical to a church that is multi-denominational and expressed in clear terms that they wanted some liturgical influence in our worship and in my ministry.

As a result of this, I have bought a number of prayer books. Several of these pertain to appropriate worship sourcing. But other books like this that I have purchased also give guides for prayer in specific situations. For instance, I often use the Presbyterian Book of Common Worship to guide my reading of Scriptures and praying with the ill, the dying, and the recently deceased. I have used the Methodist Book of Worship to guide the work of our servants who bring communion to those who are shut-in or homebound.

In the process of using these denominational resources, I had wondered why there were not more resources like this to guide the prayer minstry and pastoral care of church leaders who are not a part of mainline churches. I have found a few resources out there like this, but most of them are dated and out of print.

Recently, IVP released A Book of Prayers by Arthur A. B. Nelson. This book fills the gap of what is needed. It provides a set of written prayers for a number of occasions. Many of these prayers would be helpful for anyone. A few of them would be helpful for specific situations that lay people find themselves in once in a while, but pastors find themselves in quite often. For example, one might feel lost on just what to pray when asked to pray with someone who just lost their unborn child, but this book has a prayer that at the very least could serve as a blueprint for someone who finds themselves in that situation.

In addition to pastoral care, there are several prayers in this book that are fit for public worship. Even more, there are several prayers for situations Christian people, and especially ministers, find themselves called upon to lead in public prayer. Feel lost for words on how to pray for an election? There is a prayer in this book for that. Wonder what to pray to begin a meeting? There are some prayers for that in this book as well.

A Book of Prayers is a great resource for lay leaders and pastors alike. It will guide you in both private and public prayer leadership, and at the very least spark some ideas. For the cost of the book, it is a text a lot of people should have on their shelf. And, it is actually small enough that many pastors should have it in their glove compartment, briefcase, or coat pocket.

Book Review of Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O'Brien

Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes
by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O'Brien
ISBN 978-0-8308-3782-3
Published by IVP Books
Reviewed by Clint Walker

When I began studying for the ministry, I had textbooks that began to introduce the application of tools from cultural anthropology and socio-historical ways of approaching biblical interpretation. Especially prominent in our reading in our New Testament classes was the work of Bruce Malina, who wrote such books as The New Testament World and The Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels. I learned much from these insights, and found that these works were helpful for pastors and scholars. There was very little available, however, that put these important insights down on paper in a way that every day people could understand. Thankfully, Randy Richards and Brandon O'Brien noticed this, and put together a wonderful little book called Misreading the Bible with Western Eyes. This book brings the insights of cultural anthropology and socio-historic insights to the masses.

One thing that Misreading the Bible WIth Western Eyes does is help the reader see the Bible in its historical context. It helps you understand, for instance, the honor/shame system of the Mediterranean world. For example, when you understand honor and shame, you can understand why the religious leaders were so eager to crucify Christ. The Pharisees and scribes would often challenge Jesus' authority, and when they did not win an argument against him, they would lose face. As the folks that held the Jewish society together, they felt after a while that it would be better to kill Jesus than to continue to be shamed and have Jesus undermine their power structure.

Another thing Misreading the Bible WIth Western Eyes does that many more academic works do not do is to help readers identify their own cultural blinders that prohibit them from seeing the Scriptures in the proper context. For example, our attitudes on race have effected the way that many of us look at certain Scriptures. Also, our affluence causes us to miss certain details in the Biblical narrative. The best example of this for me in this book was when the authors cited a study on the story of the Prodigal Son. In this story, the readers were asked to listen to the story, and then to go and retell it to another person doing the study. In America and much of the affluent West, most people hearing the story missed the detail about there being a famine in the land when the prodigal son decided to go home. In less affluent countries that are actually more affected by famines, nearly everyone noticed these details (pp. 14-15). This all goes to show, as the others point out so well, that we often come to God's Word with our own cultural constructs. And sometimes, these cultural constructs lead us astray.

One of the unique things about this text is that Randy Richards also brings his missionary experience into the conversation about our cultural blinders, and how our backgrounds influence how we see the story. Over and over again, his insights from the mission field in Indonesia made the concepts come alive in ways that they might not have otherwise.

Misreading the Scriptures With Western Eyes is a unique and fascinating book. It belongs on the bookshelves of anyone who really wants to dig into understanding what the Scriptures meant to their original audience. Some things you learn may surprise you, others may help you understand parts of the Bible you may be confused about, but no mater who you are this book will make you think.

Friday, January 04, 2013

My NFL Coach Hiring Predictions

Chiefs--Andy Reid
Bills--Lovie Smith
Eagles--Chip Kelly
Browns--Ken Whisenhunt
Chargers--Mike Holmgren
Bears-- John Gruden
Cardinals--Matt McCoy

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Book Review of The Art of Pastoring by David Hansen (Revised Edition)

The Art of Pastoring (Revised Edition)
by David Hansen
ISBN 978-0-8308-4104-2
IVP Books
Praxis Imprint
Reviewed by Clint Walker

The first time I read the Art of Pastoring I was just out of seminary and interviewing for a church in Montana. The church in Montana was pastored by David Hansen, and he had mentioned in passing that he had written three books. I went out, purchased the books, and read them right away. I was immediately intrigued with Dr. Hansen's approach to pastoral ministry. Centered in love, prayer, study, and a theology of the cross, Dave struck me as someone who was doing things right, and someone who I could learn from. And so I packed up my stuff, and headed to Montana to serve Belgrade Community Church and to learn a little bit about what a pastor was in the process.

I worked with Dave for his last 9 months of pastoring in Montana as the Assistant Pastor to Youth and Young Adults. In those 9 months I got to work with Dave a learned a few things about him. First, he was one heck of a pastor. He ministered to others by simply loving them, loving the Lord, loving the Word and teaching and preaching it faithfully. He was a good pastor to me. He invited me into his life, nurtured my gifts, encouraged me on the right path in ministry. I still go back to the study I did with Dave, and some of the conversations I had with him about faith, the Word, and ministry. I still remember many of the sermons I heard him preach...probably the only pastor I can say that about.

It is now 15 years since I first read The Art of Pastoring and met Dave. And I must say, the book still encourages me and it haunts me. It encourages me because it reminds me of God's faithfulness, and it challenges me to return to the basic relational realities of the call to ministry and living it out everyday. It haunts me because every time I read the book I am so haunted by my sins, my shortcomings, my attempts to do things the easy way instead of the right way, that I wonder if I am ever going to do any of this "ministry stuff" right.

For me books like Nouwen's In the Name of Jesus, Peterson's The Contemplative Pastor, and Hansen's The Art of Pastoring are like North Stars. They need to be read every couple of years just to help me orient myself back to the the true direction of my call, and the ministry of the church I serve.

This new, revised edition of the book refines an already powerful story into an even better one. There were parts of the first edition of the book where portions of the text were phrased a little awkwardly, or needed a little more clarification. I don't get that feeling when I read through the revised edition. There are also some extra materials from Dave, including some articles he has written and an updated epilogue at the end of the book.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Muslim/American Relations: The Story Behind the Story with the Ground Zero Mosque

Ground Zero Mosque

I find the debate about the mosque in Manhattan fascinating. What I find fascinating about the debate is not the interreligious debate. What I think is interesting is two different approaches to property and property rights.

One could easily make the argument that our nation was formed for two reasons. First, most colonies were formed seeking some sort of religious liberty after being persecuted in Europe for their varied denominational expressions of their religious faith. Second, our nation was built on the quest for aquiring personal property. Most of Westward Expansion was built on the desire of people to own their own little piece of earth. Most of the impetus for leaving Europe was to pray and worship in peace.

Both of these foundational principles of our nation would argue in favor of the building of the "Ground Zero Mosque". The people who own the mosque hold the personal property rights to the facility, and they are using this prayer to express their faith with the freedom and liberty that the founding fathers envisioned people of faith being able to do in America.

On the other side of the issue lies the more primal approach to land and property. That approach is a tribal approach to one's people's territory. Throughout most of human history, people lived on tribal land, and saw land ownership through the lens of "ours" vs. "theirs". Many people have begun to see Islamic believers as a rival "tribe", and see the Ground Zero Mosque as a territory claim in a place that the "enemy" attacked at an earlier time.

Constitutionally and legally, property rights and freedom of religion trumph the territorial instinct. Intuitively, nearly every American believes this and knows this. But deep down, many American's are strongly driven by the tribal instinct, and believe that they can put enough pressure on the people that might be building the mosque to move it to a different place.

I think we need to consider the primal instinct toward territory and tribe. We need to understand it, even if we disagree with it. Many people in America and throughout the world live by this tribal mindset, and it will become more prominent as our economy gets worse.

President Bush did much to rally American's toward tribalism. When we were attacked on 9-11, we were attacked by a small group of people from several different places in the world. We were not attacked by an identifiable group of people from one geographic area. We were not attacked by a specific nation, and most of the attackers were from a nation that we consider an ally.

We were, however, as a military, organized as a national military, and we were designed to fight other military groups on a field of battle. Our military is made up of the best trained, smartest, best soldiers in the world. But it was and is a modern army, designed to fight other nations, states, and military groups.

Our enemy, was made up of cells, was stubbornly ideological, and was not necessarily loyal to any governmental authority. As terrorists their authority was decentralized, fluid, and difficult to nail down. And when you shut down one part of the group, other parts could survive and reorganize. The terrorists of September 11 were postmodern warriors, and a large, powerful miliary is ill equipped to fight postmodern secret societies.

So what was Bush to do? He announced a "War on Terror". In doing this he chose to attack two Muslim countries. He referred to the region as an "Axis of Evil." Bush rallied people to an "us' vs. "them" mentality. And it wasn't very long before the "them" became Arabs. Then the "them" became anyone who is a Muslim. Then, somehow, in most American's mind, there were two tribes. One tribe was "us"--American Chrstians of lighter complexion. The other tribe was "them" which went from Muslim to Arab, then from Arab to Middle Eastern, and from Middle Eastern to fearing everyone of a little darker complexion.