Books you need to read in 2020

The year isn’t done yet, but as the Christmas season rolls around the corner there might be some books that you would like to get for that special someone… or, let’s be honest, yourself. These are books I’ve read. Most of which are in the last years and a half. At the end I tag a couple on that I’m looking to read in 2020

Here’s a list, links, and a short reason why.

Dave Ramsey’s Complete Guide To Money by Dave Ramsey

I read this book early on in 2019 in preparation for a series I was doing. I cannot say how much it changed my families approach to money. It helped us to be intentional and smart with our cash. I cannot recommend it enough. Grab your copy here: https://amzn.to/2Rz4vE9

The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom

At first, I must be honest, I thought “what have I got myself into?!” But just like most reviews of the book I read, I must echo that if you stick with it through the disjointed parts you will be rewarded. I find my emotions swirling constantly as Albom slowly unfolds the story of a boy and his guitar. You can grab your copy here: https://amzn.to/345sbmd

The Day The Revolution Began by N.T. Wright

The Day The Revolution Began is not for the faint of heart. It is heavy! Literally and figuratively. Wright begins be spelling out the history around the cross and the Jewish belief/practice of laying down one’s life for another. Wright then methodically unravels various Scriptures (mostly Paul’s letters) as he points us toward the true nature of the cross, thus revealing the character of God. If you have question on how a good God could kill His son (what we call cosmic child abuse) then this is a book for you. If you want to go deeper into understanding both the cross and Scripture in richer ways, I cannot recommend this book enough. Pick up your copy here: https://amzn.to/36hvg43

Purple Cow by Seth Godin

This book has been sitting on my shelf for a while and it was also published many years ago. Saying this Godin spells out some important principles are pretty universal when it comes to marketing. Be a Purple Cow… how? well, you’ll have to read the book for that. grab your copy here:https://amzn.to/2s8trYA

The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder

My country, Canada, just went through an election. this book help me immensely while thinking through, what would Jesus do? As my neighbours to the south begin to embark of an election also, I cannot recommend this book enough. Yoder looks at some very important principles in Jesus’ life and teachings and how they affect us here today. While things are the same, there are some general principles that are. Get your copy here: https://amzn.to/36kBhNg

Simply Jesus by N.T. Wright

Wright show up again, and in the same vein as Yoder, this book helped me navigate the complicated waters of Jesus and politics. Now, that is only one aspect of this book. Wright does an exemplary job of putting Jesus in His historical period and point us toward a kingdom life. Grab your copy here: https://amzn.to/2RxIh5u

Short Stories by Jesus by Amy-Jill Levine

Levin takes a fresh look at the parables of Jesus and pulls us into the mind of a Jewish person of that time. I’m not all the way through this book (I’m about half which you can track by connecting with me on Goodreads.) and have been reading as part of my devotions each morning. Levin as a way of poignantly, but humorously, pulling out insights that never crossed my white, male, western mind. We are captive to our experiences, Levin helps us expand those. Grab you copy here: https://amzn.to/2DWR1Kv

Hidden Faces by Josh Trombley

I am biased. However I really believe my book will enrich your life for the positive. I explore Biblical narratives in ways that will affect your life. Personal stories, humour, and yes, pictures, help convey the truth that God loves you with a deep passion, you are His child, and He is the one you defines your value. There is no need to put on masks (or faces) but we must strive to be who Christ has declares us to be. Grab your copy: https://amzn.to/38vo32q

Einstein by Walter Isaacson

A fascinating look at a fascinating man. Einstein overcame great trials, prejudice, and his own prideful self limitations to become the premier scientific mind of the 20th century. His story is encouraging, inspiring, and challenging. A fantastic read. Grab you copy: https://amzn.to/2Yuz4MA

On My Reading List For 2020

Inspired Imperfection by Greg Boyd

The Imitation of Christ by Thomas A Kempis

Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson

Eternity Is Now In Session by John Ortberg

History and Eschatology by N.T. Wright

What are some of your “must reads” of 2020? What books are on your “to-reads” for 2020?

Jesus For Prime Minister part 2

They never had a thought about the environment. Education is handled within sub-communities. Health care was up to the individual and the individual alone. Military a presence in their everyday life, people to whom they hoped they would not have to interact. Men ruled and there were no social services service programs or anything, yet they had to pay their taxes.

In part 1 we discussed the political nature of Old Testament prophecy and Jesus’ birth and death. We discussed that though Jesus’ world was vastly different that there is overlap. Finally, we explored that Jesus came to establish a kingdom that is vastly different from our idea of a kingdom and clashes with the powers that be. It is Christ that is our hope, not a political party or politician.

To follow Jesus’ teachings that ultimately inform our politic, we must realize that Jesus speaks of a personal revolution within our hearts, a communal response to the action of God, and an eternal outlook when thinking about God’s kingdom. As followers of Christ we are called to life out a Christ centred Kingdom in the here and now, and one day, Jesus will return, bringing heaven to earth, restoring it to how it is meant to be. This means that when we hear Jesus’ teachings, we must hear that it isn’t just personal. Yes, there are personal aspects. However, if we stop there, we miss the hope. 

Bell and Golden write,

Jesus wants to save us from preaching a gospel that is only about individuals and not about the systems that enslave them. Jesus wants to save us from shrinking the gospel down to a transaction about the removal of sin and not about every single particle of creation being reconciled to its maker. 

It is so easy to personalize what Jesus came to do. After all, Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (Jn 10:10). It seems personal, which it is in one aspect. However, it is social. Community and relationship is an essential part of what Jesus says and does. Two aspects of Jesus’ teaching and ministry need to be known.

1) Jesus came to speak of an eternity with Him that goes beyond this life.

2) Jesus came to speak of a hope that begins in the here and now.

To understand Jesus’ teachings, we must realize that He speaks of salvation that starts in the here and now and carries us into eternity. Jesus isn’t just about eternity. Jesus isn’t just about now. Jesus is about an eternity that begins in the now. N.T. Wright says,

But he wasn’t teaching his followers how to rise above the mess of the world. He was training them to be kingdom bringers.

As we turn this to discuss politics, we can not remove the personal communal ethic Christ calls us to.

What a leader looks like

We begin looking at the type of leader whom Christ calls our leaders to be. The obvious point which we won’t discuss is one that they yield to Christ. God wants all people to yield to him. Hopefully, a leader who professes Christ as their king would live out that Godly lifestyle. However, just because you call yourself a Christian, it doesn’t you are a leader.

There is an aspect of biblical leadership, leadership that I believe we should demand from those in elected office.

Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.”

Lk 22:25–26

Jesus isn’t saying that we need to be young and servants by profession. Jesus calls leaders, and, all followers of him, to behave in such a way where they seek to raise others then have others raise them.

I believe that this is a vitally important aspect of how we should think about the leader we are electing. Is it a person who humbly serves those they lead or do they lord over them, forcing the agenda that best serves them?

Fiscal 

Jesus also talked about money a lot. Money was an issue then, and it is an issue today. There is the famous passage of spies sent from the teachers of the law to trap Jesus. But, Jesus ain’t no foo’.

“Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” He saw through their duplicity and said to them, “Show me a denarius. Whose image and inscription are on it?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. He said to them, “Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

Lk 20:21–25

John Yoder explains this,

…the attribution’ to Caesar Caesar’s things and to God God’s things’ points rather to demands or prerogatives which somehow overlap or compete, needing to be disentangled. What is Caesar’s and what is God’s are not on different levels, so as never to clash; they are in the same arena.

It is not our money, nor is it the governments’. The money we have has been entrusted to us through the blessing and grace of God. Thus we must honour him with it. I spoke about money in a series inFebruary at my church, I encourage you to listen to that http://www.lifeboatchurch.ca/podcasts/media/2019-02-03-who-do-you-serve.

If these are our values, the party we vote for should reflect this.

There is an important aspect of the fiscal portfolio, and it is debt. We are in a debt crisis as a country. The baby boomers are the first generation that cannot retire until they receive their inheritance. That is not a way to live, and it is not how God wants us to live. For Jesus, he picks up on an Old Testament instruction from God regarding financial inequality. In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus says, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Yoder points out that,

“Jesus is not simply recommending vaguely that we might pardon those who have bothered us or made us trouble, but tells us purely and simply to erase the debts of those who owes us money; that is to say, practice the jubilee.”

Leviticus tells of the Jubilee,

Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each of you is to return to your family property and to your own clan.

Le 25:10

There is much to this that we need to understand. Jesus isn’t calling us to communism.

While we can’t go into all it entails, the Jubilee meant they were to free their slaves, forgive each other’s debts, return family lands, and as the whole sabbath for a year, trusting God. This was to be a sabbatical year. This was meant in the words of Yoder, “to liberate people and not to enslave them.” Think of systemic poverty and how this would solve it. Yoder does clarify,

The honesty of the debtor should correspond to the generosity of the lender. the debtor should not hide behind the protection of the law of the sabbath to avoid keeping his commitments.

There are guidelines within the OT law that we need to make ourselves aware of before we use this as a blanket principle. If you’re looking for an OT principle on finance, this is it

Military 

When it comes to the military, it can be complicated whether you subscribe to complete pacifism vs. just war. No matter which end you find yourself on, Jesus is always freeing people from oppression, standing up for those who have no voice, ministering to those in need, and serving the least of these. Richard Rohr writes,

“Jesus told us to love our enemies because he saw his Father doing it all the time, and all spirituality is merely the ‘imitation of God’ (Ephesians 5:1)”

We are imitators of Christ. A Christ politic doesn’t take resources; it doesn’t exploit; it doesn’t oppress. Within this complicated matter, we must see that Jesus calls us to enemy love and to be givers of life.

Social Services 

As we mover to social services, I don’t think we need to spend too much time focused on this. I have included Scripture references in the notes. Of course, this connects to Jubilee, and what we see in the first church in Acts where they sold land to take care of each other and made sure no one was in need. Jesus stands up for the poor, for the social outcast, and determines people have value.

If people have value, it means that no matter who they are, what they have done, where they are, we are to care for them. As a nation where even the poorest has more than a lot of the world, we have the means to care for each other.

Equality 

Jesus also taught of a kingdom of equality. It didn’t matter the race, creed, social-economic place someone found themselves Jesus believed in equal opportunity. Greg Boyd writes,

Jesus inaugurated a kingdom that was to include all people and in which all nationalistic, economic, and gender distinctions as well as all the walls of division and all the power hierarchies that are based on those distinctions, would be torn down and rendered meaningless.”

Jesus’ idea of a kingdom had nothing to do with our borders, nationalism is pagan. It sets up racism, xenophobia, and stereotypes. The struggle is how this manifests within our structure we’ve have, and struggle we must. John 3:16 declares that “God so loved the world.” If God loves everyone, how do we reflect that? It means we must strive by all means necessary to see equality in both our nation and the world. Thus we must also seek policies that reflect. Further than policies, we must insist that our leaders act and live them out in their personal life.

What it Looks like – Beatitudes

Finally, we would be remiss if we didn’t look at the most political statement Jesus makes that sums everything up. 

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, 
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 
Blessed are those who mourn, 
for they will be comforted. 
Blessed are the meek, 
for they will inherit the earth. 
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, 
for they will be filled. 
Blessed are the merciful, 
for they will be shown mercy. 
Blessed are the pure in heart, 
for they will see God. 
Blessed are the peacemakers, 
for they will be called children of God. 
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, 
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. 

Mt 5:3–12

I will leave this to the words of someone much smarter than I.

“This is what it looks like, today, when Jesus is running the world. This is, after all, what he told us to expect. The poor in spirit will be making the kingdom of heaven happen. The meek will be taking over the earth, so gently that the powerful won’t notice until it’s too late. The peacemakers will be putting the arms manufacturers out of business. Those who are hungry and thirsty for God’s justice will be analyzing government policy and legal rulings and speaking up on behalf of those at the bottom of the pile. The merciful will be surprising everybody by showing that there is a different way to do human relations other than being judgemental, eager to put everyone else down.”

Jesus’ clear teaching is that the real kingdom is not one of power that lords over others. God’s kingdom is one of self-giving love. It is one that brings hope to the hopeless, life to the lifeless, and give worth to those who feel worthless. It is one that does not seek to take advantage of others. It is one of liberty. God’s kingdom, the one that Jesus taught us about, the one that our life should reflect is one of love. It’s a love that rises about social class, economic class, race, or nationalism. It is love that threatens the status quo. Love is the politic of Christ. 

Check out the resources used in this post

Jesus For Prime Minister Part 1

Churchill once said that politics is

“The ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year. And to have the ability afterwards to explain why it didn’t happen.”

Politics can be tricky. It’s very personal though it does not just affect you personally. For something that caries such huge ramifications, I believe it is essential to talk about it. We need constructive conversations and hear different opinions.

Just because you think you’re right, it doesn’t mean you are. Just because you have the most to benefit, it doesn’t mean that it’s the best for society.

While campaigning in 1900, someone exclaimed to Churchill: “Vote for you? Why, I’d rather vote for the Devil!” to which Churchill replied, “I understand,… But in case your friend is not running, may I count on your support?”

In this blog series, we are not looking at any political party. We will not be looking at specific platforms. I will not be telling you how to vote. What we will be doing is speaking of the principles in which Jesus came, lived, and how he told us to live. Though the political landscape is vastly different from now–incomparable even, that doesn’t mean that there are not very important principles.

Because politics can divisive, I’m going to leave you with one last story before we jump into things.

A newly elected Churchill had a moustache to show his dignity and maturity. One time a woman came up to him and said forthrightly: “There are two things I don’t like about you, Mr. Churchill–your politics and your moustache.” “My dear Madam,” he replied, “pray do not disturb yourself. You are not likely to come into contact with either.”

Is the Bible political? If it is, what does that look like, and what does it say about Jesus’ ministry?

To fully understand the political nature of the Scriptures, we must understand the culture and what was happening. Israel didn’t rule its self. They didn’t have a real king. They had no political power. Israel had bounced between Babylonia, Persian, Greek, and now in Jesus’ day, Roman forces. This type of rule was brutal. It was violent and built upon keeping the other group down, oppressing, and extreme taxation. Julius Caesar, through a brutal war, took control of the Roman Empire and spread the Good News of a newly united empire. There now would be peace on earth. Runners ran with this gospel to all corners of the empire. Later when Julius’ adopted son Augustus Caesar took over, he declared Julius to be divine thus making him the ‘son of god.'” Now let’s turn to three critical scriptures referring to what Jesus came to accomplish.

Understand this is an oppressed group of people reading about a Messiah. Hear what is being said through their ears.

The first is from Isaiah 9.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.

Is 9:6–7

Do you hear the trigger words that would cause hope to rise in the heart of an ancient Jew under Roman rule? This passage speaks of a Messiah long before Jesus lived. This passage helps to inform what the Jewish people in Jesus’ time would expect of their Messiah. Now let’s add the angels’ message about Jesus. Remember the trigger words.

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Lk 2:10–14

Then in Matthew, Herod is scared to death about this coming king whom the wise men are saying they are visiting. This language doesn’t just have words that trigger something political these are political terms. In a world where there was no separation and fragmentation of life, Jewish people of the time cannot help but hear that Jesus has come to upheave the political system.

The disciples thought it was a physical kingdom, but Jesus was speaking of something much more powerful–a kingdom that rules the material, and that’s a spiritual kingdom. Though they begin and manifest themselves very differently, we must not see a separation in them. They were not separated for Isaiah, Luke, Matthew, or Jesus. These two kingdoms are intertwined. What we see is that even Herod and Pilot felt threatened.

If there were no political ramifications surrounding Jesus’ birth, then why was Herod fearful and start killing toddlers (Matthew 2:13)? If Jesus’ life wasn’t political, why was Roman threatened, and why did Jesus die the way he did?

We will be looking at the explicit teachings of Jesus in the next blog. Before we do, we must see how deeply

the declaration of a coming messiah and him establishing a new kingdom is not just an idea that affects our life regarding eternity. It affects how we live life in the now, and it is the type of life that is threatening to the powers that be.

John Yoder tells us of these terms Good News and kingdom,

“It hardly needs to be argued that ‘kingdom is a political term; the common Bible reader is less aware that ‘gospel’ as well means not just any old welcome report but the kind of publicly important proclamation that is worth sending with a runner and holding a celebration for when it is received.”

N.T. Wright further points out,

“The message was carved in stone, on monuments and in inscriptions, around the known world; ‘Good news! We have an Emperor! Justice, Peace, Security, and Prosperity are ours forever! The Song of God has become King of the World!”

It sounds like they are talking about Jesus. However, they are not. Imagine what the Romans and Jews would hear in Jesus and the New Testament writers’ language. Wright continues,

“The message of the gospel is the good news that Jesus is the one true ’emporer,’ ruling the world with his own brand of self-giving love.”

While Augustus and Herod took, Jesus came to give.

The generosity of Jesus is not just personal but a profoundly political statement on how His kingdom would operate.

The Disciples weren’t crazy for thinking Jesus had a political agenda, he did. When we speak of the disciples getting it wrong, it’s the nature of how the revolution that would take place that was wrong rather than that a revolution itself would happen.

The political nature of Jesus is further propelled by the question, why did Jesus die? Greg Boyd points out,

“In the political world of Jesus’s day, a crucified messiah’ was nothing short of an oxymoron.”

The crucifixion wasn’t something concocted by the first Christians to win people to their side. As much as the Jewish leaders influenced the process, they weren’t in charge. They were the occupied nation. Think of it as the black leaders in the height of apartheid rule in South Africa being able to force an execution, not very likely. As Yoder points out, this only leaves us with one option.

“Herod cannot be seeking to kill Jesus for heresy or prophecy; sedition would be the only possible charge.”

We know this further from how Jesus died. Crucifixion was meant to brutally humiliate a victim who threatened Rome while also acting as a warning to others of their insurrection. Jesus hung on the cross with the charges nailed above his head. What were they? Luke 23 tells us,

“There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews.”

Lk 23:38

The sign stated Jesus’ political crime. He was a threat against Herod and Augustus. Jesus had to die because his kingdom was not compatible with theirs.

Even though the Roman rule is vastly different from our governing authorities, even though we choose our leader, that does not mean that it has no effect on us today. Any kingdom built upon a man or woman is a direct contrast to the kingdom of God. Why? Because we are imperfect. However, I don’t think that this means we retreat or not get involved in politics, or don’t vote.


On the contrary, let’s engage, get involved, and vote. We must vote with a Jesus conscience. We need to be asking ourselves these questions.

What policies would he make?
How would Jesus treat the poor?
How would Jesus use the military?
How would Jesus structure our economics?
How would Jesus deal with immigration?

These are important questions. How they manifest is not clear. As a follower of Jesus, we must think through these questions as we vote.

Jesus doesn’t tell you how to vote. He gave you a brain. We also have a community so you can wrestle with these questions. Most importantly, Jesus gave you the Holy Spirit to help you, in community, to explore the Scriptures, your heart and experiences, and in prayer to know where He is guiding you.

We need to have God’s kingdom mindset. That means it is not about voting, which is best for you, but voting for what is best for society — voting for who best represents God’s Kingdom.

What are some of your thoughts on the politic of Jesus?

Check out the resources used in this post

What if we’re all just trying too hard

We were all from different backgrounds. White, black, male, female, middle-aged, young, theologically trained, laypersons–all from different denominations. There was something that united us and brought us together–we wanted to grow closer to God.

While we build our discussions around a book, like any group that’s worth going to, we digress to the issues of the heart. 

Hatred, family, struggle. 

These things arose in conversation. 

Boundaries, community, grace.

These were discussed as a solution.

They were important topics that flowed out of one question, what do we do with the Old Testament. Everyone in this group needed a new paradigm to understand. Looking at it through the lens of Christ is a great idea, but sometimes it is so tough to see Christ. Books like, What is the BibleCrucifixion of the Warrior God, and Cross Vision came up. We even discussed understanding the Scriptures as Midrash

The Bible is hard. Some passages don’t make sense.

What do you do with that?

It can be super stressful. Have you been there?

Here, our life is supposed to be built on the person of Jesus who we see primarily in the Scriptures, yet there is so much that doesn’t make sense. There is so much more. However, that is beautiful, life-giving, and challenges us to live a bigger and better way–that calls us to a higher standard.

As we talked, discussed, struggled, someone said something simple, yet, profound. “What if we’re all just trying too hard.”

Boom!

He referenced a scholar who said that studying Scripture is just something he does. It was fun. 

Maybe the reason we can’t have productive conversations around the Scriptures in cross-denominational circles without someone being offended, angry, and calling another a Heretic is because we take ourselves way too seriously.

Of course, church history doesn’t bode well in this light, either. Saint Nicolas once punched Arius in the face during a theological debate.

I believe the Scriptures are to be wrestled with. The story of Jacob makes that clear. But when we take ourselves too seriously, we cannot approach the Bible with humility.

When we take ourselves too seriously, whatever opinion we derive from the text becomes what the text is saying, and when that is challenged, that challenge is against us as a person.

We need the Holy Spirit to speak to us and allow the Spirit to speak through the Scriptures. We must know that whatever ideas, doctrines, concepts we extract from the Scriptures are not exhaustive. Why? Because we’re not God. We have fallible lives. We are not omniscient. 

We need the Holy Spirit to speak to us and through us. We need the community to challenge us, offering different perspectives that push our interpretive paradigm a little further–stretching us in how we interact with the text.

Humble hearts are what’s required with this text. The ancient words–this God-breathed text–these profound but sometimes archaic words, can change our life in radically good ways. First, we must realize we’re not God. We need community and humility. More importantly, though, we need the Holy Spirit to minister to us.

Check out the resources used in this post

You’re probably reading the Bible wrong; here’s why

The most important influential book in the world is the Jewish and Christian Scriptures. The Holy Bible is the top-selling book every year and the Youversion Bible app has been downloaded more than 3 million times.

The problem is that there are fundamental principles in reading the Scriptures that are lost to the average reader. It is not that there is a perfect reading that is attainable. We are all limited because we have been removed from the context by at least a thousand years. It doesn’t mean that God doesn’t use it. It doesn’t mean that His Spirit can’t reveal truths about life, struggle, strength, and the character of God. As N.T. Wright pens,

“It’s a big book, full of big stories with big characters. They have big ideas (not least about themselves) and make big mistakes. It’s about God and greed and grace; about life, lust, laughter, and loneliness. It’s about birth, beginnings, and betrayal; about siblings, squabbles, and sex; about power and prayer and prison and passion.” 

N.T. Wright Simply Christian.p.173

Keeping all of this in mind next time you read the Bible try and keep a few things in mind.

1) Think of it as one book

   Yes, the Bible is a collection of books. However, when we fragment the Scriptures from each other, not allowing them to tell a unified story. There is a larger story of who God is and how He interacts with His people that you will miss if you are only reading parts and not as a whole. Believe it or not the chapters and verse were not in the original text. They were added much much later. There were also no headings.

Next time you read it, try thinking of each book as a chapter (I know that makes for some long chapters). This enables you to hear the unified story in each book, as well as the whole of Scripture. Ignore the headings and think narratives. In Matthew, the lost sheep, coin and son go together. They cannot be appropriately understood unless they are understood together.

2) Remember it is not about you

 It may surprise you but the Bible is not about you. The Scriptures were written to groups of people in a very different time. In fact, the groups even represent different times. They related to a divine being differently. They had different hang-ups. They also had different struggles than many of us.

This is not to say there isn’t great power and might lessons to be learned. On the contrary, because it has great power and the wonderful lesson that can be learned we must approach with humility and listen to what is being said through the power of the Holy Spirit. As Greg Boyd points out,

“…Scripture is intended by God to be read as the word of God, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, and with ‘the eyes of faith within the community of faith.'” 

Gregory Boyd The Crucifixion of the Warrior God.p.520

We need the Holy Spirit, we need faith, and we need the humility to hear each other’s interpretations of the Scripture and what the Holy Spirit is speaking to the community as a whole. 

3) There are different genres

 It is essential that we realize there are different genres. The is history, poetry, wisdom, allegory, metaphor, parable, apocalyptic. Further to the point, the way they told history 4000 years ago is not the same as we do now. Where nowadays we are concerned with facts rather than the overarching narrative, they viewed things the opposite. Facts, whether right or wrong, weren’t as important than communicating the lessons that can be learned.

 What can complicate things a bit more is that just because part of a book is written in one genre that doesn’t mean the whole book is. This is why it is so important to invite other voices into our interpretation. If you stay only within your tradition, whether that be Reformed, Catholic, Charismatic, or Orthodox and are listening only to interpretations from your tribe, you are handicapping yourself. Also, we must read outside of our time and ethnicity. We need to pull from the ancient and the near; we must learn literature from the east and west, it’s imperative we engage the voices of men, women, young, old, white, black, brown, and all the shades and cultures in between. As we engage all these voices, it helps us understand the nuances of genres.

4) Remembering it’s an interpretation is key

Finally, we must remember that as you read the Scripture that is your interpretation of someone’s interpretation, using a collection of interpretations (ancient manuscripts). Men and women have studied and are doing their best. As we learn, we understand better ways to interpret.

Whether we want to admit it or not, our biases influence everything we do. As a reader, we have a theological leaning. These leanings affect how we read and understand. Also, the translators have a theological leaning. They do the best they can with their understanding, but there are times when you have to make decisions when interpreting. Our biases play into how it is translated. While much is the same throughout different translations, there are slight variations.

It is for this reason why I have decided to read a different translation each year. From ESV, Message, TNIV, NLT, NRSV, NASB, Amplified. We need to leverage all we can to engage the text in new, vibrant, and beautiful ways.

My prayer is that this helps you see that we need to wrestle, challenge, struggle, search, yearn, cry, praise, study, and humbly apply the Scriptures. They are challenging and to see them as though they are not is not to take them seriously. As Matthew Kelly writes,

“The Bible isn’t like other books. It requires patience. Reading the Bible is like meeting a fascinating person: it takes time to get to know him or her.” 

Matthew Kelly The Biggest Lie in the History of Christianity.p.100

So let’s read, ask, and explore, inviting the Holy Spirit to reveal truth through the Scriptures.

Check out the resources used in this post

3 things to get the most out of Sunday

If you are a regular church-goer then Sunday, more than likely, is the day when you gather with others who are on the same spiritual journey as you.

There are many reasons why we do this. To learn, be challenged, and fellowship with others, are to name a few. There are, however, times when this does not happen. It is quite easy to walk away from a Sunday service and feel, was that it? 

Whether you have felt like that or you always walk away satisfied, there are three things you can do before Sunday ever happens so that you can get the most out of Sunday (or whichever day you meet).

I break them down to heart, body, and mind.

1) Heart

This may seem obvious, but to get the most out of Sunday, you need to prepare your heart. But what does it mean to prepare your heart? 

To prepare your heart begins with prayer. Prayer is about repentance, thanksgiving, petition, lament. 

Consider prayers like this the tenderiser and your heart the meat. Now the Sunday becomes the grill. While not the perfect analogy, I hope you can get the picture. 

Sunday is a time when God speaks to His body corporately, which you are a part of. As Greg Boyd writes,

“…our heart conditions our ability to see and understand spiritual truths…”

You need to do your part to set aside the weekly distraction in order to hear what God is saying, which leads us to the second one.

2) Body

I’m not talking about spiritual jumping jacks or shoulder exercises so you can hold your hands up longer. Body has nothing to do with your physical body.

As mentioned previously, your part of the body of Christ. As a member of that body, you need to help the body get ready for what God is saying to His Church. You have just as much of a responsibility to help prepare the body for game day (to use a sports slogan), as anyone else.

Call someone up form your church have coffee, maybe lunch, or a someone for dinner and discuss spiritual matters. If your church has small groups, engage in them. Proverbs states that we are to be,

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”

Proverbs 27:17. 

A great way to get the most out of Sunday is to engage others with what God is doing in your life, their life, and the church as a wholes life.

3) Mind

Depending on your tradition, this is either over or underemphasized. In most cases, it’s the latter. Surprisingly, it is almost demonized. Yet, Jesus told us to love him with all our mind (Mark 12:30, Mark 12:33, Luke 10:27).

Here’s the thing, it’s easy to be lazy. When you are lazy with your mind on spiritual matters, you do your self a disservice. Most churches nowadays do series. That means you can know the topic of the series and the Scripture before it ever comes. Pick up a commentary and do a little study. Even if you’re not a reader, it’s easy to either read a verse or listen to it. Once you do that, think about it, talk about it, pray about it. You can even find other sermons or podcasts on that Scripture.

Even if you don’t know what is coming next, you know what has happened. Engage the previous Sunday. Talk, pray, and think. Do as much as you can to engage the text and hear what God is speaking to you through it.

If you do these three, I guarantee that you will get the most out of your Sunday experience.

Checkout the resources used in this blog

Is it O.K. to struggle with your faith?

There has been a lot of doubt and skepticism from “high profile” Christians. Many have felt that there hasn’t been a place for this line of thinking in the Christian movement. While there are circles where this is not encouraged, there are also a ton of circles that are exploring.

I have seen a few rebuttals by bloggers and musicians that have some excellent points. Some have pointed out the holes in the arguments; others are urging us to follow God and not celebrity.

As much as these points are valid what needs not to get lost in the conversation and what I want to say to those who identify with the struggle of faith that has invaded so many Christian leaders is,

It is ok to struggle with God and your faith.

I believe it is un-Christian to not.

To not struggle in some capacity or another is to say that you have a full understanding of not just what the Scriptures say, but of God. If you believe in the God of the Scriptures, then both of those premises are absurd! Us understanding God is like a chair trying to understand it’s maker. The maker of the chair is so far beyond what the chair could ever comprehend.

Luckily we have Scripture and can experience God in beautiful and rich ways. To say that Scripture should be the thing that pulls us through and anchors us into the world of certainty is to claim that we have a perfect understanding of what the Scriptures say, which we don’t. Not even close. We rely on wisdom, experience, and tradition, and we do the best we can.

Often not recognizing this, we fix our faith to unhealthy paradigms.

When doubts and questions appear to unfurl our sails of faith, we become crippled. Instead of pushing forward to discovering brave oceans of new realities in God, we can either give up and lose hope or bunker down in safe coves.

I see neither of the later as viable options.

I believe it is good to doubt and question. When I look at the Scriptures, I can’t help but see a God who wants us to wrestle with the big issues, always realizing that there is more to learn.

There is a story at the beginning of Scripture that articulates this. There is a story about a man named Jacob. Jacob, like us all, has some serious baggage, much of which is self-inflicted.

As Jacob begins to travel to create a new life for himself and his family, he begins to wrestle with his ideas of what his life is and who God is. The book of Genesis records the Jacob has an encounter with an angel where they wrestled, and Jacob left with a limp and a new name. In the words of Switchfoot, however, “[he] wrestled an angel for more than a name.”

The Scriptures record,

“Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”

Genesis 32:28

While the name change is important, we must not lose sight of how the ancient rabbis interpreted this verse. They believed that this set the premise for our approach to the Scriptures and a relationship with God. (more in this in Chapter 2 of my book Hidden faces).

There should never be a point when we stop wrestling with God, Scripture, or hard questions. It doesn’t mean a patchwork of ideas that we throw together as though we’re filling a pothole, but there are times when we need a fresh coat of pavement.

It is not that Scripture, tradition and experience don’t matter. That somehow our wrestling with the big and small questions undermine everything. It just means that sometimes we need a tweak and other times we need a new street.

For me, because I have experienced God, it demands me to push to understand this life deeper. There have been times when my tradition has let me down, majorly. There have been times when no matter how much I trusted and looked at Scripture, it left me frustrated, confused, disillusioned. I had an experience that I could not deny. I knew and still know that there has to be something beyond myself and that faith isn’t built upon the straw of others nor upon the weak foundation of my limited understanding of an ancient text.

My faith is built upon the fact that I have had experiences with something beyond myself. It now demands of me to wrestle.

Saying this, if my faith stopped at the experience and didn’t have the structure of tradition (tried and true practices, rituals, and paradigms) and the Scriptures (God’s word that tells of the Word, Jesus) then my faith becomes a kite flying in the wind with no string.

We must wrestle with all of these aspects of faith.

As a teenager, I had a lot of struggles with the church. Its brokenness has a continual effect on me. One of the many things that helped save my faith was a little book called Joshua by Joseph Girzone. It’s a story of Jesus showing up in the church today. It was then in my first year of college that Len Sweet’s book Postmodern Pilgrims opened my eyes to new ways of expressing our faith. Sweet helped me find the traditions that could keep me tethered.

During my mid-twenties, I was struggling with the abuse of experience in my movement. As I reflected on those I grew up with and the teens I was now pastoring, it was plain to see that in many cases, their whole faith was built upon experience alone. There were no roots! No tradition or Scripture – no wonder they fell away. It was a dedication to Scripture in this season that helped me sift through the healthy and not so healthy experiences — something I still have to do.

More recently, I had a crisis with the Scriptures. They weren’t working for me anymore. I was preaching and leading others, but the words fell flat for me. Luckily, as I stated previously, my experiences wouldn’t allow me to let go. What I needed was a new paradigm of understanding. I am thankful for POD casts like The Bible For Normal People and Reknew With Greg Boyd. I’m eternally grateful of Boyd’s book, Crucifixion of the Warrior God (I suggest the abridged Cross Vision) that has given me a new lens (hermeneutic) to reading the Scriptures that have allowed it to come alive in my heart again.

If I never began to wrestle I would have thrown it all away, of this I’m sure. If I never struggled through the hard questions, I would never have the faith I do now that is vibrant and life-altering.

I not only see the value in doubting and questioning; I see it’s vital. Just remember, it must never end with doubt and question. That’s just lazy. The doubts and question must propel us forward to seek new lands of truth that direct us to new understandings of God that are never complete but continually drive us forward to new areas of discovery.

Check out the resources used in this post