Book Review: God Is the Issue

January 28, 2010 at 5:59 pm | Posted in Books and Movies, It's All About God | Leave a comment

            This book was sent to my office, and the title was intriguing to me.  If you are a regular reader or listener, you know my theme is “It’s all about God,” so a book with this title caught my attention.  The author, Brad Bright, son of Campus Crusade founder Bill Bright, summarizes that idea in his Introduction:  “The answer is God.  . . .  He is the answer to every dysfunction I face as an individual, and he is the answer to every dysfunction we face as a society.” (p.13)  To that I say a hearty, “Amen!”

            After the intro, Bright begins by stating that we must distinguish between cause and effect.  The moral failures of our society are only symptoms of deeper troubles.  “It’s now time to recognize . . . that moral collapse is not the critical issue.  It is no more than a symptom of a much deeper problem.”  In a nutshell, “we have pushed God aside and focused on self.” (p.25)  The solution is to get a correct view of God back into society.  “God is the central issue of all life, and therefore our view of God is the central issue for each of our lives as individuals and for our culture.” (p.33)  “Attempting to correct wrong behavior while ignoring a person’s underlying view of God is short-sighted and ultimate destined to fail.” (p.49)  Amen!  The church needs to see this matter more clearly to really minister to the non-believer.

            I thought this might be a book about not getting involved in the political arena because political change isn’t real lasting change, only God’s work in a life is.  But Bright takes his theme another direction.  Again in the Introduction: “This book is written to the person who ardently desires to bring about wholesale change within the American cultural mindset.  It is written to the person who wishes to help frame the message that could ultimately allow us to win the war.” (p. 15)  I should have known, since the subtitle is “Recapturing the Cultural Initiative.”  So Bright goes into an lengthy explanation of what he believes is necessary for that to happen.  The next three chapters are about reframing cultural issues and rhetoric, so that Christians can control the context and ultimately make God the central issue.  I’ll admit here that I was terribly disappointed in this line of thought.  However, after it had time to set a few days, I find what Bright says fascinating; I think he’s onto what is necessary for change on the media and political fronts.

            In the final chapter, Bright goes into some areas I expected earlier, saying we can’t pass on a correct understanding of God if we don’t have that ourselves.  So he encourages his readers to know God better.  “Only after I have begun growing in my intellectual and personal understanding of who God really is and why it matters would I shift my focus to engaging with the culture.” (p.144)  One aspect of this last chapter that convicted me was the author’s question about loving non-believers; if you really know God’s love for people, you will love them like he does.  “Do you really love sinners as Jesus did or do you deep down inside resent them?” (p.148)  In a story that pays a great tribute to his father, Bright adds, not from personal experience but from dad’s example, “If you have ‘problems,’ your view of God is flawed.  Ouch!  Either you don’t believe He is totally sovereign or that He really is all-powerful or that He is perfectly loving.  Somewhere your intellectual or heart view of God is off base.” (p. 150)  Again I say “Amen to that!”

              I don’t believe that God calls everyone to work for change in the public arena, or in the cultural battles of our day, but for those he does, this book is a must read.

When is Lying Commended?

January 25, 2010 at 4:06 pm | Posted in Theology | Leave a comment

          I have hesitated posting this, because it could be rather controversial, and it could be easily misunderstood.  I am not claiming to have the definitive answer to this issue.  But the question does come up, so, as a Bible expositor, I can’t avoid it.  When is lying commended in the scriptures?  That is an interesting question I thought about last week in my reading.  Lying is condemned almost always in the Bible, however there seem to be some exceptions.  Namely two incidences: the story of the Israelite midwives Shiphrah and Puah is the first exception (Exodus 1:15-21 which I read the other day), and Rahab of Jericho is the second (Joshua 2).

          Commentators sometimes go to great lengths to explain why the lies of these three women were sinful and how they were not commended for their lies but for something else.  Now I don’t claim to be smarter than the commentators, however, it seems pretty clear to me that they were commended, not in spite of their lies, but for their lies – or at least the lies were a significant part of the actions that were commended.  In the first case, the women disobeyed the king of Egypt because they feared God, and when questioned about it, they lied.  Both before and after telling us they lied, the text commends them for their fear of God.  The most obvious reading is that the lies they told were somehow a part of fearing God and doing what he desired.  And so “God was kind to the midwives . . . And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.” (20-21)

          In the second example, Rahab lied to the king of Jericho about the spies being in her home; they were there and she said they were not.  “The king of Jericho sent this message to Rahab: ‘Bring out the men who came to you and entered your house, because they have come to spy out the whole land.’  But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them.  She said, ‘Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from.  At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, the men left.  I don’t know which way they went.’” (3-5)  Then later, after she confessed her faith in the God of the Hebrews, they promised to spare her life.  “‘Now then, please swear to me by the LORD that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you.’ . . . ‘Our lives for your lives!’ the men assured her.  ‘If you don’t tell what we are doing, we will treat you kindly and faithfully when the LORD gives us the land.’” (12, 14)  Notice that he condition for them dealing kindly with Rahab is that she not tell what they were doing.  In other words, if she would continue the lie she just told (this is reiterated in v.20).  Later we learn that Rahab would be spared because she hid the spies, and had she not lied, they would not have been hidden (6:17 and 6:25).

          There is a third example of lying that, if not commended, is at least not specifically condemned.  That is the case of David who was fleeing from Saul and lied to get some bread for his men and for their protection (1 Samuel 21).  But this one isn’t quite so clear.

          What is common to these examples is that innocent lives were at stake, and without a lie, those lives would have been taken.  Therefore, I wonder if the correct biblical understanding would be to say that lying is always wrong, except in the rare case where innocent lives are at stake.  In those rare cases a higher principle takes over, that is the value of human life.  That is why Corrie ten Boom’s family can be considered heroes for hiding Jews in Nazi controlled Europe, when they constantly had to lie to the authorities about it.  In her case, as in the biblical examples cited, innocent lives were at stake.  The biblical principle is that God values human life.  It is the highest of his creation and deserves protection.  Now I am a terrible liar, not only because it is wrong, but because I can’t hide my lying; it shows all over my face.  But if I’m ever in the place where I have to decide between the loss of innocent lives or telling a lie, I pray to God I can lie with the best of them – for the protection of those lives.

           At this time of year, we are often reminded to celebrate the value God places on innocent life – especially intrauterine life.  Maybe these thoughts can serve that purpose as well.  And maybe some of you have better thoughts on the matter.

P.S. I am not advocating situational ethics; rather I am showing a rare example.  And I would never extend this to say that God wants us to protect human life by violating other principles that he’s laid out, like deliberately taking another life.  I can’t think of any examples of that in scripture.  Murderers of abortionist seem to believe this way.  The only exception I see in the scripture is lying when approached on the matter.  It is never retributive, only protective.  Vengeance belongs to God.

Big Truths for Young Hearts

January 20, 2010 at 2:03 pm | Posted in Books and Movies, It's All About God, Theology | Leave a comment

          Big Truths for Young Hearts is a great family devotional book by Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Bruce Ware.  My family is reading this book, about two or three evenings each week, and we are almost half way through.  It is a presentation of basic Christian doctrine for young people – probably aimed toward young teens.  My daughter is 13, and this is perfect for her level.  It also would be great for older teens and adults who have little Bible or theology background.  So far I am very impressed.

          On the positive side, Ware begins his presentation with the greatness of God.  In fact, the book’s subtitle is “Teaching and Learning the Greatness of God.”  One of the first chapters has the title “God is God Apart from Us,” which teaches the transcendence of God without using big theological words.  “God is the one who gives to all of creation what it needs, while nothing in all of creation can give to God anything that he supposedly lacks.” (p.25)  Many in our world have a limited and faulty understanding of God because they start with themselves and their needs, rather than with God and his sufficiency.   The world of their understanding is then human-centered, rather than God centered.  God is nothing more than a big vending machine that meets our needs or a super large human with problems of his own.  Ware avoids this difficulty from the beginning.  Our young people today need his presentation of God.

          Also on the positive side, the chapters are all short (2-3 pages) and can be read in only a few minutes.  Most have led to some good discussion in our reading times.  Each chapter includes some discussion questions and a memory verse.  Occasionally the questions are forced regurgitation of the material, but usually they are well done.  Though we are not memorizing the verse, we are reading it together out loud a couple of times.

          On the negative side, the book is divided into 10 sections, and each section has 6 chapters.  The section on the doctrine of the Trinity was forced into this format, and thus was way too long and redundant.  I wonder how many other sections are also forced into this format with redundancy or, in some cases, deletion of good material.  So far I haven’t sensed that in any other section.  The unfortunate part is that the Trinity section is the second in the book, where it rightfully belongs, but the boring repetition lost my daughter’s interest for a while.  We persevered and are now all enjoying it, but I’m afraid some will get only that far and quit.  They will miss a treasure.

          One of the best chapters we’ve read so far is the “The Punishment for Our Sin.”  Professor Ware does a great job connecting the size of our guilt with the presentation of the just punishment we are due and the greatness of what Jesus did.  This is so misunderstood.  We live in a society that holds a sin-light philosophy – we don’t recognize the seriousness of sin.  A God who punishes sin is seen as cruel or inhumane (he is, in truest sense!).  But Ware turns that argument around, so one can understand the greatness of His grace.  Here’s a part of one of his great paragraphs, one that we had to stop and discuss in our family:

          We need to know just how terrible our punishment is so we can marvel and wonder at our Savior, Jesus, who took our punishment upon himself when he died on the cross.  If our punishment is a small thing, then when we learn that Jesus took our punishment upon himself, we think little of this.  But when we see our punishment as the great and weighty and horrible thing that it is, then it becomes a wonder and a marvel to us that Jesus took that punishment upon himself for us.” (p.99)

          If you have preteens or teenagers, get this book for family devotions.  It will be well worth the cost, even before you’re half way done.

Satisfied with Life at a Ripe Old Age

January 11, 2010 at 12:31 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts | Leave a comment

            “Abraham breathed his last and died in a ripe old age, an old man and satisfied with life; and he was gathered to his people.” (Genesis 25:8)  I am reading through the New American Standard Bible this year.  Although I used to read this translation exclusively, and continue to use it for reference, I have not read through it since it was updated in 1995.  Today, this verse stood out to me.  Although the NIV says that Abraham was full of years, the NASB says he was satisfied with life.  I have known too many older people who were bitter about life at worst or dissatisfied with life at best.  There are times, in middle life, when I see the emptiness of it all, times I perceive the shallowness of my own life, even as a teaching pastor.  I’m sure it’s worse in other professions.  That attitude will lead to dissatisfaction later.  I pray that as I age I will be satisfied with life – more particularly that I will find my satisfaction in God, and in Him alone.  I should be dissatisfied with everything else.  As I’ve said so often from Ecclesiastes, life can be empty, and the only thing in life that satisfies is something beyond the sun.  At the end of his 175 years, Abraham was full, satisfied with his life.  He looked beyond this earth and found that satisfaction in the LORD.  May I do likewise.

Best Books of 2009

January 5, 2010 at 5:43 pm | Posted in Books and Movies | 1 Comment

          This past year was a slow one for reading; I didn’t do near as much as I would have liked.  Too much Rockies baseball on the radio, too many sudoku puzzles, rather than books, in the quiet moments.  But here’s the best or most interesting ones I recall.  If the title appears as a link, it connects you to my blog about that book.

I read, for the first time, some of Michael Crichton’s novels.  Jurassic Park, The Lost World, and The Andromeda Strain.  There are some men in the congregation who really like Crichton, so I thought I’d read his most famous to see what he’s about.  They were all fun reads – hard to put down – but I was disappointed that everyone was a lesson in evolutionary theory.

The Shack. Wm. Paul Young.  It wouldn’t be on this list of favorites except that my review of the book is the most read post I’ve ever written.  Just don’t miss the addendum to it, as I hardened my opinion after further review.

Simple Church. Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger.  Our Elders have worked through this one together. I found the details and statistics boring, and sometimes they didn’t really seem to support what the authors were saying.  But the main emphasis of a church committed to one simple process of making disciples was great.  Village is a complicated church, by the author’s definition, and the leadership is struggling with how to simplify.

Angel in the Whirlwind. Benson Bobrick.  (This book got a second blog)  A too long and detailed history of the American Revolution.  But still profound and thrilling.

Swimming to Antarctica. Lynn Cox.  My family read this one together, and it was by far the most fun book of the year.

Transforming Grace. Jerry Bridges.  As Christians, we often believe that salvation is by grace, but that living the Christian life is on our own merits.  Bridges counters with the biblical truth that all of the Christian life, from new birth to heaven is by grace.  Though the repetition on the theme got a little long the truths presented were very valuable.

John Calvin, A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology. Burke Parsons, ed. (This book got two blogs also)  The best Christian book of the year for me.  Both insightful and inspiring.  The title says it all.

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