Review — “You Were Born For This” by Bruce Wilkinson


9781601421838

“You Were Born For This” by “Prayer of Jabez” author Bruce Wilkinson, according to its subtitle, provides “seven keys to a life of predictable miracles.” How much you get out of the book depends largely on what you believe a miracle is.

The basic idea of the book is that God is wanting to do incredible things in the world today, and that He’s wanting to do them through His people, a basic tenet that I would agree with even prior to the case Wilkinson makes for it. If that’s the case, then, Wilkinson argues, we need to be willing and ready to do the work that God has for us. Again, pretty solid ground. If we are, God will use us, routinely, to do amazing things. This idea, and how to live it yourself, are the meat of the book.

And it’s some good meat. Some of the ideas Wilkinson presents are pretty straightforward and basic — be willing to serve God; seek His will; listen to others; be willing to care about and for them and their needs. Some of it is a somewhat deeper. I was personally challenged and plan to adopt his idea of the “God Pocket.”

I found myself questioning occasionally, however, how much of this was really universal. Is this really what God wants everyone to do? Does He really speak to everyone in this way? Or is this a calling and gifting He has for certain people? Wilkinson frequently cites Biblical prophets as examples of his ideas; is that because his ideas are for those with the gift or prophecy?

The book also, for all its strengths, seems to cheapen the idea of miracles somewhat. Biblical miracles were of a much more impressive scale than the ones Wilkinson presents here. Are we to believe that these sorts of God-driven coincidences are the best we should hope for in this modern age? I would like to think not.

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

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.

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?

A Matter Of Trust


I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
— Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear, from Frank Herbert’s Dune book series

I had to admit to Heather this morning that I’m afraid.

“Afraid” may be a bit strong, in public I would probably say “nervous” or “worried” or something.

But whatever word you use, it’s driven by fear. I’m afraid.

I’m nervous or worried or fearful or whatever about the things that I wrote about on here two days ago, particularly the looming financial giants of the potential government shutdown and roof repairs.

And Heather, very calmly and honestly, stated to me that it’s going to be OK.

And she’s right.

But here’s the sad thing:

I know it’s going to be OK. I know God’s not going to give me more than I can handle. I know that I’m taken care of.

I know all that.

But …

The part of me that is afraid doesn’t care.

Not because it doesn’t believe those things.

But because it doesn’t care.

Because that part of me knows that God will make sure I’m OK, but He’ll use His standards for what that means.

I want to be OK by my standard.

That part of me  don’t want to be OK by the standard of not having to deal with more than I can handle. It wants to be OK by the standard of not having to deal with anything.

I don’t want to have to use what I have to survive this.

I want to come out of this continuing to be able to go out to eat and buy books irresponsibly. I want to buy an iPad.

I want to be that sort of OK.

That’s selfish, and self-indulgent.

And I’m afraid, because I’m afraid God isn’t going to enable those things.

That’s rather sad.

And that’s been true many times. I had that conversation over a year ago with a good friend. We have trouble trusting God because we judge His trustworthiness not based on whether He does what is best, but whether He does what we want.

Part of me really does trust. Trust that He’ll do in this what is good.

And that part of me really does have peace and rest.

Part of me on the other hand is afraid.

Afraid I don’t get to be sloppy and self-indulgent and undisciplined.

And it’s a good reminder for myself that I’m still very much a work in progress.

Social Media and the Divine Disconnection



twabsence [twæbsəns] n. a break taken from use of social media, such as Twitter or Facebook (coined 2011 by Jason Sims and Mathis Sneed)


This post has no point. Sorry.

Or, at least, it has no conclusions. This is me working through feelings about a subject that’s too nebulous to have concrete thoughts on at the moment.

It goes back two or three years. I have a friend who quits Twitter and Facebook. A lot.

These days, you don’t even notice. You get a friend request from him, or see that he’s following you, or that someone’s saying you should friend or follow him. And you realize that he’s been gone again.

The part that’s odd to me is that, frequently, in the time he was gone, he’s become someone else; his user name is slightly different than it was the last time you followed him, indicating that he’s actually creating new accounts each time, instead of just returning to the unused one. Why, I don’t know.

But the subtlety of the way it happens lately is a change from the past. In the past, each departure would be marked with a long period of tweets or statii about the fact that he was spending too much time on social media.

That’s right — he was spending time on social media talking about the fact that he was spending too much time on social media (talking about the fact that he was spending too much time on social media [talking about the fact that he was spending too much time on social media {ad nauseum}]). The solution seemed simple — stop talking about it, and then you won’t be.

It’s not uncommon. Author Anne Jackson, whom I follow on Twitter, recently began a month-plus-long Twitter break, having just returned from another two-month break last month. One can look at her Twitter feed and see where it would be overwhelming. If I used Twitter like she does, I might sell more books. Promoting awareness has always been one of my weak suits, and she’s far better at it than I.

Also not uncommon, and very fascinating to me, is the social media Lent break. At least one good friend of mine has stopped using Twitter for Lent. Another person I follow has stopped tweeting after 5 p.m. for the duration.

Others are curtailing their social media use in other ways for Lent. It’s fun logging in on Sunday and watching them catch up on what they’ve missed saying.

I wrote on Ash Wednesday about Lent and what I was doing this year, but I don’t know that I got deep enough into one of my major issues with the way a lot of people treat Lent — they either give up something bad, or they give up something good.

Many people use Lent as an opportunity to give up something they really feel like they probably shouldn’t be doing anyway. And then, after 40 days, they go back to doing it. If it’s really something you shouldn’t be doing, don’t give it up for Lent. Give it up. Period.

Other people give up things that are actually good things, in order to give something up. To quote Dr. Martin Luther King, the time is always right to do the right thing. If you should be doing it, don’t stop.

The better approach I’ve seen is to give up luxuries. There’s nothing wrong with them, but they’re not needed, and their absence prompts an awareness, and that awareness can lead to the contemplative discipline that I think is at the core of Lent.

The problem there is that, again, there’s often little long-term beneficial take-away from it. People often choose luxuries that they believe they over-indulge in. So for Lent, they give it up. And after Lent, they all to often return to the way it was before. Because nothing has changed. Because the secret isn’t in being able to give something up temporarily.

The secret is in moderation.

Which brings us back to social media.

Personally, and this is just my bias, I disagree with giving up social media for Lent. The reality is, we live in an age when social networking is an important part of how we communicate. As Christians, we have an obligation to communicate. Our job is to share our gospel. In my opinion, at the point where we make ourselves less effective communicators, we fall down on our divine obligation.

I’ve had several people say they don’t use Facebook or Twitter or other social media because they don’t want what it is.

Well, what is it?

Many years ago, I toured William Faulker’s Rowan Oak home in Oxford, Miss., and the tour guide said something I wish I could remember about how Faulkner used the telephone. Basically, the upshot of it was that Faulkner believed that the telephone in his house was not there for other people’s convenience, it was there for his convenience.

Amen, brother.

But we lose track of that. We carry a cell phone so that other people can get in touch with us. It becomes not a convenience, but an obligation.

Me, I believe that’s why my cell phone has voicemail. Leave me a message, and if I believe it’s worth my time, I’ll call you back. Otherwise, I’ll respond in a way that’s respectful of both of our time.

But I digress.

Social networking is no different. It is what you make it.

Facebook, in particular, is one of the most versatile tools to come down the pike in a very long time. For one friend, it’s about keeping in touch with classmates. For another, it’s about rescuing dogs. For another, it’s about promoting her writing. For another, it’s about playing games. And those are just personal accounts, without getting into pages and the like.

The flip side of that, however, is that, because there is so much it can be, it can become more than you want it to be. Let Facebook become how you play games and how you keep up with friends and how you promote your band and how you do whatever else, and it gets to be too much.

Moderation.

Twitter’s more focused, but even in the one or two things it does well, it can become too much. It would easily be possible to follow enough people who are posting enough that it would take all your waking time to keep up with it.

Moderation.

But the same thing is true of any means of communication. You could write letters all day. You could talk on the phone all day. You could read books all day.

Any of that would be unhealthy. But so would not communicating.

Moderation.

My challenge would be, don’t give up social media for Lent.

Develop a social media strategy for Lent.

But whatever your reason for taking a break, don’t take a break that’s going to return you to being overwhelmed after Easter or in May or after a month or whatever you’re giving it up for.

We share the Word by sharing our lives. And in this day and age, social media is one of the best tools we have for doing that. Every tweet doesn’t have to be about God for it to serve Him. It just has to build relationships. To make connections. So that those may let Him be seen in you.

If you’re a Christian, and you’re giving up social media for religious reasons, my challenge would be this — am I using this in a way that serves God or not. If so, don’t give it up. If not, then don’t just give it up for Lent. Give it up. Period. And ask yourself how it could be better used.

In moderation.