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

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?

… To Build Him An Arky, Arky


So on Friday, I wrote a post that alluded to Noah. And that reminded me of the Noah post I’ve been meaning to write for a while.

See, Noah is one of those Bible characters that I would love to get the chance to interview. In fact, I’d be happy with just one question. I mean, there are probably any number of people I would love to talk to, but if I got the chance to talk to Noah, I’ve had the one question I would ask picked out for a while.

That one question would involve filling in one of those details the Bible leaves out that to me would be awesome to know.

We’re introduced to Noah a little before the main ark narrative begins — we know he was, at some point in time, 500 years old, we know he had three sons, we know he “found favor in the eyes of the Lord,” and we know he “was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God.”

So in Genesis 6:13, God shows up and tells Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out.” And He goes on at some length telling how exactly to build this ark, and about the flood that’s going to come, and what Noah should put in the ark, and that sort of thing.”

And when God finishes with the instructions, we’re told, “Noah did everything just as God commanded him.”

And the very next verse, Genesis 7:1, says, “The Lord then said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation.  Take with you seven pairs of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and one pair of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate,  and also seven pairs of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth.  Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made.”

And once again we’re told, “And Noah did all that the Lord commanded him.”

So then, of course, there’s a big flood, everybody dies, yadda yadda. But that’s beside the point for the moment.

I’m fascinated by a word in verse 7:1, and that word is “then.”

Because that makes it sound like, God said this, and Noah did it, and then God said that, and Noah did it. Which, I guess, is true, technically.

But in between the two “God said”s is a period that is estimated to be anywhere from 120 years on the unlikely long end to maybe about seventy on the conservative short end.

And I’ve heard any number of preachers talk about what that period must have been like for Noah, in terms of people questioning and mocking him for spending decades building this boat with nowhere to go.

What I wonder, though, is whether what the Bible tells us really was it. Did God show up one day, say “build an ark,” leave Noah to it, and then show up around a century later when it was done, and say, “OK, get ready to load up”?

I can’t imagine what that would be like. Sure, you have a word from God, and that’s a pretty good foundation to start building an ark on. But at some point, do you start to question it? Even Abraham, that paragon of faith, became dubious in less time than that. At some point, a decade or two or five, do you start asking yourself, “OK, how well do I remember what happened? Am I sure that wasn’t just a weird dream? Shouldn’t something be happening by now?” Was there ever a time that Noah kept building the ark solely because he didn’t want to admit to others that he might have been wrong about whether he should be building an ark?

On the other hand, we’re told Noah “walked faithfully with God.” Was that going on the whole time? Did God occasionally stop by and say, “Hey, man, great ark-building! Keep it up!” If so, was that, what? Every week? Every year? Every decade?

There have been times I’ve felt like I’m doing what God wants me to do. And so I do it. But, I’ll be honest, without reinforcement, I don’t think I could spend a century doing it, even if I were to live that long. I’m not sure I could spend even a decade, without reassurance that, yes, this is right. Or, really, a year.

So I would love to know — “What was God doing while you were building the ark, Noah?”

Because, to be honest, it would make me feel a little bit better knowing that there was the occasional encouragement.

Though I still doubt it was as often as I would want it to be.

Review — “Rumors Of God” by Darren Whitehead and Jon Tyson


Chances are very good, you’ve heard about this “God” guy Christians talk about. You probably even have some idea of who you think He is. But how accurate are those impressions? How many of those are misconceptions? Even for a lot of Christians, some of the most important truths of the nature of God are things they’ve only heard something about. In this book, Darren Whitehead and Jon Tyson explore the deeper reality of these “Rumors of God.”

The greatest merit of the book comes in making the divine personal. The book is divided into chapters that each explore the truth of a different “rumor” of God, exploring a different aspect of each nature — grace, love, freedom, justice. But in doing so, the authors do far more than reveal who God is — by shedding light on who He is, they explore what it means to be a Christian, and what it means to be a church, and how the two are intricately linked.

For me personally, I could not have asked for a better book at a better time. I read it serendipitously, having received a free review copy through BookSneeze, but it was an incredible blessing. I’ve been through a period that had really challenged my view of who God is, and this book helped me break apart and better rest in my understanding of Him.

Rumors of God on BookSneeze

The 100-Word Word


Being a former newspaperman, I love following the Overheard In The Newsroom blog.

I was amused by this recent entry:

Reporter: “My story is already over 700 words and I still have a second soldier to interview.”

Editor: “You act like I can’t edit. I could edit the Bible down to 100 words.”

But then it made me start thinking. What if I did have to present the entire story of the Bible in 100 words? What would I say?

And the thing that fascinated me was, I wonder how intensely personal an exercise it would be. How much would me 100-word Bible be just that — mine? How different would somebody else’s look?

So I thought I would take a stab at it. But what I would really love is for other people to do the same. How much to they differ? What do we each take away from what we read? I suspect it would demonstrate just what an incredibly personal love letter to each of us His Word is.

And the truth is, if I were to do this as an ongoing project — if I were to, say, do this again a year from now, and two, and so on, how much would my own version change. How much is this version different from what I would have written five years ago?

Here’s my very poor attempt at it:

In the beginning was a Father, who created children He loved very much. His children were headstrong, and ignored what He tried to tell them, hurting themselves in the process. He watched patiently as they ignored Him and made mistakes — always trying to help, always weeping to see them turn their backs on Him and to see them hurt. Eventually the children made such a mess of things that a price had to be paid, a price higher than the Father wanted His children to suffer. So He came to Earth, suffered and died, to save His beloved children.

What would yours say?

Review: “Understanding Four Views On Baptism”


I wrote a post a while back about baptism, in which I basically said my thoughts on the subject were limited by the fact that I didn’t understand other people’s views on the matter.

Take, for contrasting example, the issue of predestination. I have my views on the matter. And I feel comfortable with those views because I’ve studied other people’s and felt like I understood them enough to say, “OK, I understand why you believe that, but here’s why I don’t.” It’s a complicated issue with lots of good arguments from the different sides, and I can respect the diversity of beliefs. Even the ones that are obviously wrong.

With baptism, on the other hand, I have a harder time. I, for example, don’t believe in infant baptism. It would be easier for me to say, “OK, here’s why I disagree with people who believe that,” if I understood why they believed that. But I don’t. I don’t feel like I have enough understanding of the arguments to evaluate them.

So my co-worker Johnny was kind enough, after reading my post, to loan me his copy of the book Understanding Four Views on Baptism.

I don’t know that it really changed my thinking, but it sure was fun.

The way the book works is this. It’s written by four experts representing four different belief sets, and is divided into four sections. In each section, one of the four experts explains what his group believes, and why. The other three then get to write why he’s wrong.

The problem with this approach is that you never get an unbiased look at anything, you just get a variety of biases to average out. I came out of the book with the same viewpoints I had going into it. I read the arguments supporting differing views, and still didn’t really understand how people could believe those things. But that may be as much a reflection of me as it was the book. It seemed a lot of the arguments involved adding things to scripture, which raises the question of whether those things were good things to add. Shockingly, the person writing that particular argument thought they were. The other people, shockingly, did not.

The discourse, however, was quite entertaining, in very much a polite “with all respect, I have no respect for this” tone. To be honest, I found it more enjoyable reading from a debate perspective than from a baptism perspective.

The book is part of a series, and I very well may have to go back and look into other volumes in the set to see what it looks like for other topics to get this treatment.

You Won’t Re-Lent


Two years ago, Lent was … well, a big part of my life that year.

Complicated and twisted, much like the relationship it was a part of, but a big part of my life at the time, also like that relationship.

I’d never really paid attention to Lent before, but did that year, and it’s kind of stayed with me.

Last year, I did give something up for Lent. With varying degrees of success, both in terms of actually sticking with it, and in terms of actually getting any benefit from it.

This year, I’ve been kind of meditating on what, if anything I should do for Lent.

This morning, I read a great article on “My spiritual discipline of not giving up something for Lent” that has an interesting discussion on Lent and what it means and what it’s for and so forth.

I’m not giving something up for Lent this year.

I’m taking something on for Lent.

I’m not Catholic. I have no proscribed rules for Lent. If I choose to do something, it’s not because I’m trying to take on someone else’s rituals or beliefs, so it’s OK if I’m doing it wrong. I’m not doing their thing wrong. I’m doing my thing right.

And this year, the thing that sticks out to me the most about Lent is the contemplative discipline aspect of it. Ideally, the awareness of the absence of what you’re giving up should remind you of why you’ve given that thing up. If you give up chocolate, when you have a desire for it, you have to consciously choose to do without, and that conscious choice should cause a conscious reminder of why you’re doing it, and that should point you back toward the cross. Less of chocolate, more of Him.

I’m choosing to do that this year not through absence, but through presence. For a decent period of time, I had a necklace and a bracelet that I wore; the necklace with a cross, the bracelet with an anglecized version of ΙΧΘΥΣ. I put them on as reminders to myself. It wasn’t intentional, but it evolved nicely into fitting into a song that I liked with lyrics taken from Song of Solomon — “I’ll set You as a seal upon my heart / As a seal upon my arm.”

To be perfectly honest, as I gained weight late last year, I reached the point where I felt too big to wear them. I doubt if that was really true, it was just me letting negativity get the better of me.

But for Lent, I’m going to start wearing them again, as a tool for that contemplative discipline. I put them on in the morning, and think about why. I see or feel them during the day, and think about why.

Maybe it’s not pure to the point of Lent, but hopefully it honors the spirit well enough.