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?

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.

Review: John Piper’s “Spectacular Sins”


“I guess you had to be there.”

I’ve heard a lot about preacher and theologian John Piper. I’ve read some quotes that I thought were inspired. I’ve heard people talk about things he’s taught, which seemed to be a mixed bag.

To be perfectly honest, for that reason, I was reluctant to delve much deeper, to listen to sermons or read his books. To me, there are few things worse that can happen to a church than to allow a cult of personality to form around its preacher, and there are few things worse to happen to a Christian than to become part of a cult of personality around a teacher. When people answer theological questions not with “here’s what scripture says” but with “here’s what Piper says,” that frightens me, and it’s happened to me all to frequently recently. To paraphrase Paul, “When one says, ‘I am of Piper’ and another, ‘I am of Wright,’ are you not carnal?”

I say that not to be critical, though, but rather for two reasons. One, to explain my biases at the outset of this review, and, two, to say that because of all that discussion and devotion, I had certain expectations going into it when my Bible study group decided to study Piper’s Spectacular Sins: And Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ.  Surely this was going to be brilliant and inspired and informative. Surely this would let me see what it was that inspired that sort of interest and loyalty.  Like I said, guess you had to be there.

The problem that I had with “Spectacular Sins” is that it’s just a sloppy book.

I agree with Piper on some things. I disagree with him on some. There were many things in this book that, superficially, sounded like things I would agree with. None of them were particularly groundbreaking or made me think about things in new ways, but they still seemed to be good points.

The problem is, I’m not entirely sure; the logic in his arguments was so flimsy that I really didn’t have enough to judge their merits. The first three chapters of the book contained so many unsupported suppositions that the entire book collapsed for me from their flimsy support. Piper groups things like crimes and natural disasters together as “evil” with no explanation why. He essentially argues that someone doing something unpopular or with bad consequences is sin, even if it’s God’s will, with no evidence that this is the case. He takes examples of places in scripture where, he says,  “sin” is “caused” by God and applies those universally, with no acknowledgment or discussion of the examples that don’t say that.

(And, leaving this particular text for a moment, this doesn’t seem to be the only time Piper has done this. During the study, another participant, attempting to clarify Piper’s stance, referred me to an essay Piper had written in which he argues that God does everything for His glory, citing a handful of passages in scripture that say God did something to make His glory known [an important distinction from saying He did it for his glory, but that's beside the point], ignoring all of the other reasons God did things throughout the rest of scripture. This same pick-and-choose approach could be used, for example, to focus only on times God did things regretfully to paint Him as depressed and petulant. That same approach basically is used by many Christians who paint God as angry and judgmental, and it’s just as wrong for Piper to do it as it is for them.)

And I was left wondering why. From all accounts, Piper is an intelligent enough man that he should see the holes in faulty logic. Does he simply take his beliefs so much for granted that he doesn’t realize there’s a need to support them? Is he trying to shortcut to a bigger focus and not realizing that he’s shortchanging the conclusion as a result? Does he believe that a bit of slight-of-hand is justified in convincing people of his views? Is he just an ingrained part of the preacher culture in which Christians are encouraged to take the word of professionals instead of figuring things out themselves? Again, I say this not to be critical of Piper but of the book; its flaws were so distracting that questions like these, not about the subject matter were the main ones I came out of it with.

As for Piper himself, I’ve already bought some more of his books, and I would love to discover that Spectacular Sins was just one bad experience.

Save your ten bucks, here’s all you need to know from the book, and the one point Piper did make convincingly — Some times God does good things when bad things happen.

Another Sunday — Sojourn VIII


This entry is part of my series on my on-going “church journey” that I’ll be documenting as it takes place. You can read about other visits with the “journey” tag.

This past Sunday I was back at Sojourn Kids, teaching about Moses, which I’ll get to in just a moment. First, however, I wanted to link to this post that Heather wrote on her blog about visiting Sojourn while the boys and I were in the kids groups. She did a good job at capturing that my “journey” series is about; the experience of visiting a new church and exploring what makes it unique.

Sojourn While David the kids were in kids church Sunday I went to Sojourn’s “big church.” It was the first time in … ever? that I’ve gone to a new church, for the first time, all by myself. That, in itself, was liberating. The church is small — 40 or 50 people in worship, I guess. It meets in a brewery, which initially the smell got to me, but I kinda got over that after a while. I’ve had strong opinions in the past about holding church in a place that … Read More

via Calluna

Now — like I said, while she was there, the boys and I were at Sojourn Kids. The lesson was about Moses, covering from burning bush and the plagues. I prepared by reviewing the lesson materials and the scripture and some Moses mood music — The Plagues from Prince of Egypt, a “Let My People Go” bit that in my opinion rivals the Charlton Heston bit.

It’s hard for me to say for sure, but it felt like one of my better performances teaching at Sojourn Kids.  Aided by some great acoustics, I did a pretty decent retelling of the story.  The crossing of the Red Sea wasn’t part of the lesson, but the kids wanted to hear that part and the Passover, so I added those in. My Red Sea crossing, and the encore performance the kids asked for, got applause.  It felt like a week that I made good use of everything I brought to the table, from understanding of scripture to improv acting skills. I’m biased, but I feel like I’ve made some progress over the past year.

So that complicates the decision as to whether to continue or not. I’ve been doing this for a year, and so it’s sort of a logical time to move on. I started doing it on an open-ended basis, but didn’t think it would be permanent. To be honest, I really believed I would be so bad at it they would have asked me to stop by now, but was willing to “put my ‘yes’ on the table,” as Heather would say, and be used if called to serve. I plan to start going to church with Heather and the boys more, so that’s a factor; the boys like hearing me teach, so that’s a factor; but they also don’t like going back and forth, so that’s a counter-factor to the last factor. There are also some changes in Sojourn Kids leadership coming, and I think that may be the deciding factor; while I like the new people, I started as largely a personal favor to the outgoing leader, so that makes this a logical time to move on. I wouldn’t teach again until next month, so I may have a little time to decide, but I think that may have been my last lesson.

It was sort of an appropriate lesson for dealing with that; it’s easy to forget just how reluctant and resistant Moses was when God called him to service at the burning bush.  I’m nowhere near that set on quitting this, so if He wants me to keep going, I’m sure He’ll let me know.

Another Sunday — Sojourn VII


This entry is part of my series on my on-going “church journey” that I’ll be documenting as it takes place. You can read about other visits with the “journey” tag.

With Christmas approaching, the lesson I taught the kids this past Sunday at Sojourn was about joy, in honor of the third week of advent, and about Gabriel appearing to Mary, and about the fact that, with God, all things are possible.

Heather’s boys, Finn and Caden, came to hear me teach for the first time this past Sunday, and that was really cool. I think it may even make me better at doing this. When I started doing Sojourn Kids storytelling, I struggled with being able to read my audience. Doing improv or giving lectures, I’m pretty decent at reading the audience and reacting accordingly. When I started working with kids, it was like a blank wall; I couldn’t read them, so I couldn’t tailor what I was doing. The boys have given me a better feel for that, and having them there Sunday was a great metric. Renae, the Sojourn Kids leader, commented that she thought I’d really been doing better lately as well.

But, getting back to the actual lesson, there were some entertaining parts, like when one of the kids and one of the teachers acted out Gabriel’s appearance to Mary — angels run around in circles more than I would have expected — but, for me, the biggest take-away was in the part about how all things are possible with God.

To help engage the kids, I made signs saying “It’s Not Possible” and “It IS Possible” and then asked the kids if different things were possible or impossible. I started with general stuff, and ended up asking whether they thought it was possible or not for me to do certain things, picking some unlikely-sounding examples, like floating in mid-air. Almost all of the kids picked “not possible,” even though they were all things that I’ve actually done. I used it to make the point that we can do things that we may thing are impossible.

But it drove home just how blessed I am; how many things that seem, particularly when you try to explain them to little kids, like they should be impossible that I have had the opportunity to do. God’s let me do some awesome stuff, and it’s easy to overlook how blessed I am. And, in part, it gets back to what I wrote last week about children’s perspectives — they help us see how amazing things are that we take for granted.

How about you? What things that a pre-schooler would think are impossible have you had the chance to do?

Another Sunday — Sojourn VI


This entry is part of my series on my on-going “church journey” that I’ll be documenting as it takes place. You can read about other visits with the “journey” tag.

John the Baptist baptizing Christ

Image via Wikipedia

So, Sunday, I was teaching kids at Sojourn again. I’d studied my lesson on John the Baptist and was really feeling pretty good about it. Unfortunately, when I got to church, I discovered that I had accidentally downloaded the wrong materials and that I was, in fact, actually supposed to be teaching about Gideon. Whoops.

So I quickly reviewed the materials about Gideon, and was able to successfully tell a decently engaging story about him, instead. Which was a shame, because I was really looking forward to doing the quiz provided in the materials about eating bugs.

Continuing the theme of the week, various and sundry random thoughts about the experience:

– It surprises me sometimes how much my Bible literacy has increased, or at least how much it feels like it has. I was able to switch gears so quickly in part because I was moderately comfortable with both stories, enough that I was able to brush up adequately just in looking over what points they wanted made from the story.

I’m not really sure what’s changed, but I credit it in part to a change in how I think about the Bible. I was raised with the impression that the Bible was a collection of verses that you were supposed to memorize, a task that was rather daunting and really not particular compatible with my skill set. I always felt like I didn’t “know the Bible” because there weren’t enough verses and chapter and verse citations that I could rattle off. Over the past couple of years, I’ve changed to thinking more about the Bible as an anthology of related and interconnected stories, and focus less on memorizing the verses than knowing the stories. It’s made the book as a whole make a lot more sense to me, and made it much more accessible to use.

– I was a little glad not to be teaching about John the Baptist. I commented ahead of time that I was going to have to make a real effort to behave. That’s another thing that’s changed in the past couple of years about how I access the Bible, is I’ve tried to work to have a better understanding of cultural context for the stories. And the story of John the Baptist develops some interesting ramifications when you look at it in a Jewish rabbinical yoke context. A big part of the guy’s ministry is saying, “Hey, look, you don’t have to do ‘religion’ they way you’ve been taught you have to. I’m not in the temple. You don’t have to be, either.  You don’t have to go to ordained ministers to learn about God. God’s bigger than all of that that.” But that’s probably not what they were wanting me to teach the kids.

– Gideon, on the other hand, was just fun. I’ve had the opportunity to tell stories to kids much more frequently lately, and I felt like that came through for me during the story I told Sunday morning; I felt like my actual delivery was better. I’ve talked in the last few Sojourn posts about feeling like I was struggling to keep the kids engaged and focused. Sunday, i didn’t feel that way at all. And that was nice.

– We studied John the Baptist in my Journey Group recently, so he was fresh on my mind. My most recent interaction with Gideon, on the other hand, was in fleeces. The angel appears to Gideon, who’s like the most unlikely action hero ever, and tells him he’s going to lead an army into battle against the rather daunting Midianites, and he’s going to win. And Gideon goes home, and says, “Hey, God, look, um, before we do this thing, I want to make sure that was, like, a real angel and all, so, if you wouldn’t mind, I’m going to put a wool rug out, and when I wake up tomorrow, would you be so kind as to have the ground be dry and the fleece be wet?” So he goes to sleep, and wakes up, and sure enough, dry ground, wet fleece. So that night, he says, “OK, God, thanks for the wet fleece and all, and, see, it’s not that I don’t believe, it’s just that I’m not really sure that I believe, you know? So if we could maybe make sure that last night wasn’t some sort of super-absorbant fleece abnormality, I would really appreciate it. So maybe could we do it again, only reversed? You know, wet ground, dry fleece?” So he goes to sleep, and wakes up, and, sure enough, wet ground, dry fleece. And so after some exciting stuff about God telling him his army’s too big and people drinking water the wrong way and trumpets and torches in jars and stuff, sure, enough, badda bing badda boom, Midianites are gone.

And it’s something Christians like to latch onto, this putting out our fleece bit. I did it earlier this year, and still have no clue what to make of it. I hoped I’d get some great insight from the lesson in that respect, but, really, not so much.

How about you? Any thoughts on putting out fleeces? Have you done it? How’d it turn out?

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