Friday, July 26, 2013

My Daily Prayer

Photo (c) Lisa Guinther 2013

Lord, help me this day to walk the path you have put me on.

Please give me some of your strength, for I am not strong enough to keep up with the others I am walking with.

Please give me some of your wisdom, for I will never be wise enough to teach those whom you are asking me to teach.

Please give me some of your knowledge, for I will never know enough to answer the questions I am asked.

Please give me your understanding, for I just can’t understand the evil and darkness that I see around me.

But most of all Lord, I need your love; for I cannot love people enough to say as you did from the cross “Father forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.”


“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’ Where are the wise? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” (1 Corinthians 1:18-25)

We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true… (1 John 5:20)

“Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:8a)

Monday, July 22, 2013

"Bible Savvy" by James L. Nicodem: Book Review

Review of Bible Savvy by James Nicodem. 

I received this set of study guides to review, and not recognizing the author, I was intrigued by the endorsements by both D.A Carson, and Franklin Graham; so I had high hopes for this interestingly packaged, colorfully covered set of books from Moody press.  I took the time to listen to a couple of the videos on the web-site, and I came away with the impression of a well-spoken pastor, but when I started reading these books I was disappointed with what I found. 

Nicodem’s indicated audience is adult seekers and Christians learning how to read the Bible. He spends time writing about the facts and statistics of how reading seems to be a lost art, and most adults read at or below a “basic” level; yet throughout the set of books he frequently lampoons decisions to study, and seems to have a very intimate knowledge of “Cliff-notes.”

Further, these books are peppered with words like “wow”, “cool” “huh?” “so stupid” and “so lame,” which does not seem to support this author’s claim to being a reader and aficionado of great books.  I did find some well thought out advice and observations using the “COMA” acronym; a memory aid in interpreting biblical passages, but my overall impression of this set of books is inadequate for the stated purpose.

 My advice to reach a generation of people who are internet-educated and “savvy” in technology, would be to take the highly successful approach of Tim Keller, from Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City, with his book The Reason for God; a fine example of current, educated apologetics to reach the contemporary seeker; one who knows a little, has questions, and who appreciates a serious answer. Putting “QR” codes as the beginning of each chapter is not a selling point for education.

 I noted that the analogies primarily used were examples from the world of sports. I do know a bit about golf, have personally played soccer, and have even been given wonderful life advice from a retired NCAA Eastern Division basketball referee (advice I still treasure), but this seems to be trying to reach a small segment of both believers and seekers.  This may be a shock, but not all persons that he is trying to reach are sports fans as exhibited in this quote from Epic:

     Now imagine you’re the coach. Your rules cover everything from showing up on time for practice, to working out in the weight room, eating a healthy diet, maintaining a B average in schoolwork, dressing up on game day, demonstrating sportsmanship on the court, and so on. Why all the rules? Because you want your player to look and behave and carry themselves like champions—like a breed apart.
          God wanted His people to be a breed apart… (p. 51)

Really? This is a truly unfortunate analogy to explain the separateness of the Jewish people from the other cultures surrounding the early nation of Israel.

          But he goes further when in writing in disagreement with Jewish author Herman Wouk, Nicodem writes, “The Jew’s best contribution to all peoples has been Jesus!” (p 52)  I agree that Jesus is the priceless treasure of God’s one and only Son, but with that comment Nicodem disposes of all the history, drama, context and teaching of the entire Bible.   Did he somehow forget that both the Old and New Testament was written by Jews, in fact Jesus is recorded in the Gospel of John saying; “Salvation is from the Jews.”(John 4:22b) How could this pastor of 30 years forget that?

There are far too many anti-intellectual leanings in Christianity today to refuse to challenge and teach congregations, and answer seeker’s questions about the Bible in a concise and educated manner.  J.P. Moreland, in his book Loving God With All Your Mind wrote  “…as with every other area of life, you have to study hard and gain an intellectual grasp of the issues so you can be confident and courageous.” (p. 52)

And this includes how we understand and interpret the Bible.

How can we ever expect to follow the challenge of the Apostle Paul that we should “…not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our minds...” (Romans 12:2) by following the advice of these little books.  This author seems to make it a point to make light of education and the educational process throughout these study guides.  These are deep and important truths of salvation we need to understand through contact with the amazing book that is called the Bible, in order for us all to understand the finished works of Jesus Christ, not football locker-room antics. Frances Schaeffer made this clear when he wrote in The God Who is There;

As we get ready to tell the person God’s answer to his or her need, we must make sure that the individual understands that we are talking about real truth, and not about something vaguely religious with seems to work psychologically. We must make sure that he understands that we are talking about real guilt before God, and we are not offering him merely relief for his guilt-feelings. We must make sure that he understands that we are talking to him about history, and that the death of Jesus was not just an ideal or a symbol but a fact of space and time. If we are talking to a person who would not understand the term “space-time history,” we can ask “Do you believe that Jesus died in the sense that if you had been there that day, you could have rubbed your finger on the cross and got a splinter in it?” Until he understands the importance of these three things, he is not ready to become a Christian. (p. 157)

And glib, pseudo-hipster language is not how we attract people to the Gospel nor encounter Scripture.

Overall this is not a resource I would or could recommend for either seekers or Christians looking for education on how to understand their Bible. There are great apologetics materials and biblical study guides in print today that can be used for small groups, or large adult classes which are well written, and much more “savvy” than anything I read in the Bible Savvy set.

The books below I would recommended for those wanting to know more on how to study the Bible, and to answer questions about the Christian faith:

J.P Moreland, Love Your God With All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul.  (1997, Colorado Springs, Navpress)
And The God Question: An Invitation to a Life of Meaning (2009, Eugene, Harvest House)

Timothy Keller, The Reason for God, (2008, New York, Dutton)

Introductory text in biblical interpretation:

J. Scott Duvall & J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God's Word (2005, Grand Rapids, Zondervan) This is a college level text with exercises at the end of each chapter.

Gordon Fee & Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All It's Worth (1993, Grand Rapids, Zondervan) Basic text but still challenging.

For more guides for what to read, and reviews from professors, see the Denver Journal, provided by Denver Seminary.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Fénelon: Fidelity in Little Things

 Fénelon:  Fidelity in Little Things

        Great virtues are rare: the occasions for them are very rare; and when they do occur, we are prepared for them, we are excited by the grandeur of the sacrifice, we are supported either by the splendor of the deed in the eyes of the world or by the self-complacency that we experience from the performance of an uncommon action. Little things are unforeseen; they return every moment; they come in contact with our pride, our indolence, our haughtiness, our readiness to take offence; they contradict our inclinations perpetually. We would much rather make certain great sacrifices to God, however violent and painful they might be, upon condition that we should be rewarded by liberty to follow our own desires and habits in the detail of life. It is, however, only by fidelity in little things that a true and constant love to God can be distinguished from a passing fervor of spirit.

            All great things are only a great number of small things that have been carefully collected together.  He who loses nothing will soon grow rich. Besides, let us remember that God looks in our actions only for the motive. The world judges us by appearance; God counts for nothing what is most dazzling to men. What He desires is a pure intention, true docility and a sincere self-renunciation. All this is exercised more frequently, and in a way that tries us more severely, on common, than on great occasions. Sometimes we cling more tenaciously to a trifle than to a great interest. It would give us more pain to relinquish an amusement than to bestow a great sum in charity.  We are more easily led away by little things, because we believe them more innocent and imagine that we are less attracted to them; nevertheless, when God deprives us of them, we soon discover, from the pain of deprivation, how excessive and inexcusable was our attachment to them.

çois de la Mothe Fénelon (1651-1715) Letters and Reflections, English Translation, 1906) p. 95, as printed in A Diary of Readings by John Baillie.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Quote from "The Cost of Discipleship" by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

 From The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1995, New York, Touchstone) Translated from Nachfolge first published in 1937.

Chapter 15
“And when ye pray, ye shall not be as the hypocrites: for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have received their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thine inner chamber, and having shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret, and thy Father which seeth in secret shall recompense thee. And in praying use not vain repetitions, as the Gentiles do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye hath need of, before ye ask him. (Matt. 6.5-8)

Jesus teaches his disciples to pray. What does this mean? It means that prayer is by no means an obvious or natural activity. It is the expression of a universal human instinct, but that does not justify it in the sight of God. Even where prayer is cultivated with discipline and perseverance it can still be profitless and void of God’s blessing. The disciples are permitted to pray because Jesus tells them they may—and he knows the Father. He promises that God will hear them. That is to say, the disciples pray only because they are followers of Christ and have fellowship with him. Only those who, like them, adhere to Jesus have access to the Father though him. All Christian prayer is directed to God though a Mediator, and not even prayer affords direct access to the Father. Only through Jesus Christ can we find the Father in prayer. Christian prayer presupposes faith, that is, adherence to Christ. He is the one and only Mediator of our prayers. We pray at his command, and to that word Christian prayer is always bound.
           We pray to God because we believe in him through Jesus Christ; that is to say, our prayer can never be an entreaty to God, for we have no need to come before him in that way. We are privileged to know that he knows our needs before we ask him. This is what gives Christian prayers its boundless confidence and its joyous certainty. It matters little what form of prayer we adopt or how many words we use, what matters is the faith which lays hold of God and touches the heart of the Father who knew us long before we came to him.
         Genuine prayer is never “good works,” an exercise or a pious attitude, but it is always the prayer of a child to a Father. Hence it is never given to self-display, whether before God, ourselves, or other people. If God were ignorant of our needs, we should have to think our beforehand how we should tell him about them, what we should tell him, and whether we should tell him or not. Thus faith, which is the mainspring of Christian prayer, excludes all reflection and premeditation.
         Prayer is the supreme instance of the hidden character of the Christian life. It is the antithesis of self-display. When men pray, they have ceased to know themselves, and know only God whom they call upon. Prayer does not aim at any direct effect on the world; it is addressed to God alone, and is therefore the perfect example of undemonstrative action. (pp. 162-163)          

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Quote from "Heaven: The Logic of Eternal Joy" by Jerry Walls

Here is a quote from Jerry Walls' book Heaven: The Logic of Total Transformation.  (2002, Oxford University Press)

…[T]he notion of heaven and its attendant doctrine of divine judgment represents the ultimate account of a human telos imaginable. The final aim of life is to share the life and fellowship of the Trinity. This requires a thorough moral and spiritual transformation that embraces all that we are. Thus, the hope of heaven entails lifelong accountability. Nothing is outside the pale of God’s transforming grace. Our life as a whole must be reordered. Our past actions, including those that were wrong and self-centered, must be reevaluated in light of God’s will and purpose for our lives, and much must be repented of. The future direction of our lives must be ordered by God’s will as well. We are no longer our own, and all of our plans and aspirations must be sifted and weighed by our aim of being eternally united with God.
     All of this involves the belief that there is a truth about what makes for a good life, a life of true happiness and flourishing that fulfills our divinely given nature and achieves the human telos. Heaven, fellowship with the Trinity, is thus not viewed as a mere personal preference that may be reasonably rejected in favor of another end. Rather, it is the end for which all human beings were created. We are all accountable to God for the gifts and grace he has given us. We cannot truthfully view our lives as our own. There is a truth about our past and how we should have lived. Likewise, there is a truth about how we should live in the future and what we should pursue. We cannot with integrity focus our future efforts on living a life of self-centered pleasure or other false ultimate goods. The hope of heaven requires a thoroughgoing reorientation that leaves nothing untouched. There is no other way to enter into the loving relationship with God for which we were created.  (p 107)

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Independence Day Reading 2013

Happy Independence Day!

*This is the official site*

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.