Review: “Constantly Craving” by Marilyn Meberg


More.

The desire for “more” is seemingly an inescapable part of the human experience. It comes in many, many forms — the desire for more “stuff,” the desire for a new relationship (or one better than what we have), the desire for deeper friendships or purpose. Why? Why does this desire seem to be a universal part of being human? Where does it come from? What do we do about it? That’s the focus of Marilyn Meberg’s new book, “Constantly Craving.” Meberg, a professional counselor, examines both how these desires manifest on the surface, and what the deeper needs are that fuel them.

For the lay reader, “Constantly Craving” is an excellent introduction to the relationship between counseling and spirituality. With an accessible, personable tone, Meberg takes a counselor’s approach to examining and explaining a common driver in human behavior, the desire for more and better in life. Then, taking things a step further, she relates these counseling concepts to relationship with God — providing the answers to the questions of why humans are this way, where those needs come from, and what we do about them. Humans are constantly craving more, Meberg explains, because we are looking to meet an innate desire for the ultimate “more” — the perfect fulfillment of relationship with the Almighty Father. Veteran students of the link between human behavior and spirituality may not find much new in Meberg’s book, but for those seeking an understanding of why we are wired the way we are, “Constantly Craving” provides an excellent first step toward that knowledge.

(I received a review copy of Constantly Craving” from Booksneeze.com)

He Is Risen Indeed!


I guess I really kind of wrote my Easter post for this year Friday, but I will link back to the Easter manifesto post I wrote a couple of years ago.

I hope you and yours have a blessed resurrection day.

The Gospel of Job


This is not the blog post I was planning on writing.

The blog post I was planning on writing was called “Sometimes The Enemy Wins,” and it was going to talk about the fact that sometimes Satan does get his way, and what happens when he does. I may yet write that blog post sometime, but not today.

In it, I was going to write about the times in scripture that Satan tests people, including my favorite prayer in the Bible. But as I was planning that post, I got caught up on the story of Job, and got to thinking about it in a way that I never had before.

Job’s one of the better-known stories in the Old Testament. There’s this guy, Job, and he’s a pretty awesome and upstanding guy. So Satan comes up and visits God in heaven one day, and is generally putting humanity down, and God’s like, “You seen my boy Job? He’s pretty awesome.” And Satan says that Job’s only all about God because God treats him so good, and if that changed, Job would turn on a dime.

So God says, go for it, and gives Satan permission to test Job, to take away all the cool stuff he’s got and see what happens. So Satan blows up his sheep, and kills his kids and turns his skin into something out of a horror movie. And all Job’s friends come by and tell him he should admit it’s his own fault, and his wife comes out and says he should just curse God and die and get it over with.

But Job, true to God’s assessment, stays the course, and doesn’t curse God. And so, at the end, God shows up to talk to him, and Job’s all, “Dude, … the hell?” And God’s all “OK, look, I’m God, who are you? ‘Cause, um, yeah, unless you’re God, you really don’t have much ground to tell me I’m doing my job wrong, because you couldn’t begin to understand it, much less do it.” God, pretty much by definition, has to be a pretty humble guy, in as much as that He is, by definition, infinitely awesome, and thus can’t really do justice to how awesome He is without taking an infinite amount of time. But the end of Job is one of those rare times where He kind of points out, just a little, that He is, in fact, rather amazing.

And so Job is blessed with new sheep and kids and clear skin, and they all live happily ever after.

And because of this story, we hold Job up as a pretty commendable guy. Even those who don’t know his story may know his name from the phrase, “the patience of Job.” And we put this story down in the W column in the God versus Satan scorecard, and, while we perhaps acknowledge that it’s a messy story to deal with in some ways, chalk it up to the virtues of being virtuous.

But …

What I got to thinking about was, what if it wasn’t. What if this was one of the stories were Satan “wins”? What if Satan had been right, and when he took everything away from Job, Job says, “This is crap; up yours, God!”? How is it different? What do we do with that story then? Would it have even made the Bible with a different outcome?

And what I came up with is this — I’m not sure it would matter.

In fact, it’s really not hard to imagine pretty much the entire book playing out the same way, save that one small detail. God brags on Job; Satan tests him. His friends and wife all give their little pep talks. Job curses God. And God shows up once again and still says, “OK, look, who are you?” and still makes Job understand that His ways are not our ways, and that He is above our ability to comprehend; that it’s not our place to second-guess the job He does unless we fully grasp the job requirements. God still restores his sheep and kids and skin, and everyone still lives happily ever after.

Because, ultimately, the lesson is this — it’s not about us.

God doesn’t show up and tell Job, “Hey, man, great job; you deserve to have everything restored! Congratulations!”

God shows up and says, “Job, son, it’s not about you. It’s about Me. It’s about grace.” And then He demonstrates that.

And we love the other side of grace.

We love that when Christ died on a cross on Good Friday a couple thousand years ago, it meant that our sins, our failings, our fallenness don’t have to matter. It’s not about us; it’s about Him. He paid the price so that we don’t have to. And that’s a rather agreeable thing.

But we sometimes lose sight of the fact that the opposite is just as true. Grace also means that when Christ died on a cross on Good Friday a couple thousand years ago, it meant that our virtue and our good deeds and our righteousness don’t matter, either. If our good deeds mattered, then by definition our sins would have to also, since they affect our good deeds.

None of this, of course, is license to act without thought of Him and His ways; we follow His path not to earn anything, but because He laid the path out because it was best for us.

It just means that it’s not about us. It’s about Him. Our sins and our virtues, our failings and our righteousness, are all irrelevant; however good we are, it’s still not good enough to earn salvation. When Christ paid the price for our salvation, He paid it in full, with no room left for us to pay off any part of it through our own merit.

The Gospel of Job is this — in His grace, we don’t have to worry about the end of the story, because we aren’t the ones writing it.

Ultimately, it’s about Him.

Review — “I Am Second” by Doug Bender & Dave Sterrett


“I Am Second,” by Doug Bender and Dave Sterrett is a pretty book. The page layout is clean and deliberate, the typography a combination of simple serif and san serif fonts that are visually interesting without complexity, the pictures monochromatic against stark plain backgrounds.

The book, visually, is simple and clean. The stories within it are anything but.

“I Am Second” is a story about real people finding God in a real world. Their stories are not pretty. The book is a collection of testimonies that tell stories of hurt, pain and brokenness, of bad choices and bad breaks. The title refers to the point of the stories, of what it means to come to a point of putting God first in one’s life. But even then, the testimonies don’t pretend that decision always makes life pretty and clean; it honestly discusses the struggles people go through.

And that’s the power of “I Am Second” — its unwavering reality. The book makes no case for Christ. There’s no sales pitch. At the end, there’s no altar call, just an explanation of who this Jesus is these people are talking about, and how you could put him first. There’s no pressure, just a collection of love stories with God. Which may be the best case one could make.


I received a free review copy of

“This Will Be My Resolution”


New Year’s Day

Carolyn Arends

I buy a lot of diaries
Fill them full of good intentions
Each and every New Year’s Eve
I make myself a list
All the things I’m gonna change
Until January 2nd
So this time I’m making one promise

CHORUS:
This will be my resolution
Every day is New Year’s Day
This will be my resolution
Every day is New Year’s Day

I believe it’s possible
I believe in new beginnings
‘Cause I believe in Christmas Day
And Easter morning too
And I’m convinced it’s doable
‘Cause I believe in second chances
Just the way that I believe in you

This will be my resolution
Every day is New Year’s Day
This could start a revolution
Every day is…

One more chance to start all over
One more chance to change and grow
One more chance to grab a hold of grace
And never let it go

Lyrics via Lyricstime

Another Year Over, And A New One Just Begun


It’s hard to explain exactly how I felt, a mile in the air, at the moment I stopped falling toward the Earth at 176 feet per second.

When the parachute deployed and our descent slowed dramatically, the first thought to go through my head was, “OK, now I feel safe.”

But the thing is, there had not been a moment, leaving the plane or during the mile of freefall that I didn’t feel safe. I knew the chute would deploy; I knew I would be OK.

However, it was still a nice feeling when it did.

Welcome to my 2011.

That mile has been this year — a year when everything fell apart, sending me plummeting down at terminal velocity.

This, then, is faith: that while I’ll be glad when the parachute finally deploys, there’s never been a moment that I haven’t felt safe.

I can’t imagine what it would have been like to fall out of that plane without the parachute. But with the parachute, it was fun.

It would be easy to view this past year through the former filter; months of unchecked descent. But that’s the beauty of having the parachute — if there’s one thing I’ve learned working with NASA, it’s that in the right context, freefall can be kinda awesome.

When I look back on this year, there’s no question that the things I lost will stand out in my memory. But so will many many other things:

– I saw the last space shuttle launch ever in person.
– I went skydiving, twice.
– I experienced a long-standing goal of going to a Paul Simon concert, finishing my concert bucket list.
– Even if it’s still tied up in publishing limbo, I finished the manuscript of my (apparently cursed) second book.
– I fired an AK-47.
– I gave a lecture in the very cool Davidson Center theater at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center.
– I went backpacking for the first time, and camped in sub-freezing conditions.
– I discovered that I have better and more awesome friends than I ever realized.
– I got to see the number-one team in the country beat my Ole Miss Rebels.
– I went (kinda) to Space Camp.

And all of that has been during “the worst months of my life.” Not bad, really.

I’m blessed. Beyond measure.

And while I would have preferred to have bill-paying employment, this season has given me the chance to do things I wouldn’t have or couldn’t otherwise.

I enjoy substitute teaching. I have loved working at the Depot. If I could make a living doing either, I would in a heartbeat. I’m looking forward to delving further into the world of Pampered Chef. I’ve made money lecturing and selling books and taking pictures and acting and teaching and freelance writing. And along the way, I’ve met some great people. There’s a lot to look forward to in 2012.

For years now, I’ve worn some variety of cross necklace. But in the last couple of months, I’ve substituted it occasionally for a souvenir of my first skydiving outing — a closing hook used on a parachute rig. I felt a little guilty at first replacing the cross with it, but realized that, ultimately, if a symbol of being willing to step out of an airplane without fear isn’t representative of what faith in God is all about, I don’t know what is.

Welcome to 2012. Enjoy the fall. I’ll see you on the ground.

Review — “The Voice” New Testament


With a unique approach to translation and presentation, the new “The Voice” New Testament does a great job of making The Book feel like, well, a book. Neither completely a word-for-word or thought-for-thought Bible, “The Voice” builds on a direct translation approach at its core, supplemented with in-line context and a creative approach to dialogue that combine to make for a easily accessible text.

I’ve not had the chance to take “The Voice” to church yet, and I’m interested to see how it works as a functional Bible, but I imagine I’ll stick with a more robust study Bible there. (“The Voice” features little in the way of “extras” outside the main text, with what there is primarily focused on helping the reader to understand how this version came about and how to use it.) But at home? “The Voice” may very well be the best Bible I’ve encountered for just sitting down and reading. I find myself being careful with some of the context — anything extratextual lends itself to opinion — but the structure makes the reading flow easily. The Gospels, in particular, seem the best material for this approach, which brings a modern voice and feel to the narrative. (I received a review copy of “The Voice” through Booksneeze.com)

The Voice On Booksneeze

The Case for Klingon Christ


Image from A Great Work, via io9

I’m glad that serious thought is being put into the subject of Klingon Jesus.

I read an article on io9 recently about a panel titled “Did Jesus die for Klingons too?” that addressed issues related to Christianity and alien intelligences.

Basically, the issue is this — if there are intelligence species on other planets in the universe, then, from a Christian perspective, there seem to be two possibilities: God becomes incarnate as messiah on each one, or Christ came once to Earth, and it’s the responsibility of humans to tell the galaxy about Him.

I’ve had this conversation several times over the years, beginning with a conversation with some friends in a Mexican restaurant in Jackson, Miss., during which one of my friends argued that this was why he believed there was no extraterrestrial intelligence — the theological implications were too daunting.

Interestingly, we ended up with the same nickname for the question that this researcher, and apparently some others have, all independently — “Klingon Jesus.” If there were Klingons, would God send them a Klingon Jesus, or would we have to tell the Klingons about Jesus? Why it’s not Vulcan Jesus or Wookiee Jesus I don’t know, but Klingon Jesus seems to be the inevitable name for the quandary.

The researcher tends to disagree with the “one Jesus for all the universe” hypothesis, arguing it would make humanity too special, but I personally don’t know that, in a universe in which interplanetary cultural interactions are common place, it would necessarily be any more of a big deal than it was sharing a Jewish messiah with the rest of the world over the last 2,000 years.

There’s a related issue that this article doesn’t get into — Christ had to become a man in order to die for men; can he become a human to die for Wookiees? Or does a Wookiee have to die for Wookiees for it to be equivalent? I suppose the same argument applies — how much different is it from a Jew dying for an aborigine? Answer: I have no idea.

The other issue that this article barely touches on that has been central to some of the discussions I’ve had is the issue of original sin and Jesus as the second Adam. One could argue that, for a human Jesus to die for the sins of other intelligences, they must have been without sin prior to the Garden of Eden on Earth; that no species anywhere was fallen prior to the Terran Fall. And that just seems unlikely, and thus a seeming argument for multiple planetary messiahs. (Which in turn begs for speculative Christian science fiction — what would have happened if a planet which was in its post-messianic era had made first contact with Earth between the fall and the coming of Christ — could humans have been saved by another species’ incarnation of Christ during that period?)

My favorite implication of this is that, really, until humans know that either there is no extraterrestrial intelligence in the galaxy or that the multiple planetary messiah theory is correct, it is arguably a Christian theological imperative to support space travel, lest aliens who need to hear not receive the word of Jesus.

“Go ye therefore for into all nations (on all planets) …”

So, what do you think? Are their aliens out there? And, if so, is there a Klingon Jesus?

Review — “The Grace of God” by Andy Stanley


“The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” For some, this can be a difficult truth to understand. At times, God is spoken of almost as if He’s two different beings — a harsh and angry God in the Old Testament, a merciful and loving God in the New. Pastor Andy Stanley explores the Bible as one continuous narrative, telling the story of just one God: a god of Grace.

Stanley tackles a very large subject in this book, and handles it in a way that focuses on making it accessible. “The Grace of God” selects a handful of Biblical high-points from both the Old and New Testaments, and delves into them in a way that shows how, even when it’s not obvious, these stories are ultimately stories of God’s grace, and how they are all part of one ongoing story.

If the book has a shortcoming, it’s that, in making “The Grace of God” easily accessible and understood, it avoids some of the more challenging events of the Old Testament. This doesn’t mean that the book is superficial, however, only selective — even for mature Christians, the book will challenge readers to view what they think they know from a new perspective. (Note: I received a review copy of this book through Booksneeze.)

“The Grace of God” on Booksneeze

T’was Grace That Taught My Heart to Fear


I’ve been judging Jonah unfairly. And I didn’t realize it until I read someone else judging him the same way.

You know Jonah, right? God tells him to go preach to the rather nasty folks in Nineveh. Jonah hops on a boat and high-tails it in the opposite direction. Big storm comes. Jonah tells the crew to throw him overboard; storm stops, fish swallows Jonah. Jonah has a big heart-to-heart with God; fish spits him out three days after he was swallowed. Per God’s instructions, Jonah preaches to the nasty folks in Nineveh. Ninevites repent; God spares them. Jonah gets ticked off at God’s grace in not destroying the people he doesn’t like. Tree grows; tree dies; Jonah learns nothing. The end.

Jonah’s come up several times this year — in a series of sermons I heard, in a study I was given to read, and now again in the latest book I’m reading.

And the unfair judgment of Jonah I made, that was also in the book I’m reading, was this — Jonah was quick to want grace for himself, but resented it being given to others. What a hypocrite, right?

The book I’m reading made another assumption, though, and that’s what triggered my realization that I’ve been unfair.

The author talks about how unpleasant it must have been inside the fish. And, you know, that’s almost certainly true. In fact, the author says, Jonah probably started praying for deliverance and grace immediately.

That makes a lot of sense. But it’s not what scripture says. This is what scripture says:

Now the LORD provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD his God. He said: [[Prayer Omitted]]. And the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.

The fish swallowed Jonah. Jonah was in the fish for three days. He prayed. Got responded immediately.

Now, you could make the assumption that the timetable is general instead of precise. But, I don’t think so.

Jump back a little bit. Jonah’s on the boat. The storm comes. Jonah knows it’s from God, and he knows it’s because of his disobedience. The sailors confront him about it.

At that point, someone else might have been on their knees, praying for God to stop the storm and promising to do whatever He wants. I mean, it sounds like the sort of storm that would have gotten someone’s attention, and probably inspired some reconsideration.

Not Jonah. He looks at the sailors, and tells them to throw him overboard, knowing it means almost certain death.

Jonah’s not quick to ask for grace. He’d rather die.

But he doesn’t. A fish swallows him.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the author’s right. Maybe Jonah started begging for mercy at that point. But, you know, given his behavior on the boat, I don’t think so.

I think he was waiting to die. As the author was quick to point out, without a miracle, there’s no way a person could survive that. Jonah was that, since the storm didn’t kill him, being digested would.

And so, he waited. Patiently. In unimaginably unpleasant conditions. Waiting for death.

Sitting there, inside the fish. “Any minute now …”

And on the third day, he realized it wasn’t going to come. God wasn’t going to let him die.

Those three days were God waiting for Jonah. Waiting for him to stop wanting to die. Waiting for him to start wanting to live. Waiting for him to humble himself to ask for grace.

Jonah wasn’t a hypocrite. He wasn’t quick to want grace for himself. He was just as willing for himself to die as anyone else.

But God wasn’t. His grace wasn’t just freely offered to Jonah. It was, literally, irresistible.

Because sometimes grace is difficult. Grace isn’t a free ride. Grace for Jonah meant that he still had to do the thing he didn’t want to do. I’ll admit, I’ve been at the point before where Jonah was,  where it seems easier to give up. But God wasn’t going to let Jonah have that option.

What about  you? Are there times you’d just as soon avoid God’s grace? And what does it take to make you accept it?

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