The God who is

I’m reading Jack Hayford’s “Manifest Presence”. At one point he talks about how we worship God simply because of who He is. Hayford references Exodus 3:17, in which God tells Moses, “I Am Who I Am”. I Am—well, I thought, if that’s good enough for Moses, it’s good enough for me! Then I read the whole third chapter of Exodus. This is the burning bush episode where God reveals Himself to Moses and sends him to bring the Israelites out of Egypt. And “I Am” definitely wasn’t enough for Moses: he spends most of the chapter going, “but…”
 
Several things strike me about this section. The first thing is that God alone is reason enough to be obedient. The second is that we always second-guess this. The third is that even when we do, instead of picking someone else for the task, God equips us—with staffs that turn into snakes and well-spoken brothers. But He equips us: He never does pick someone else to send.
 
You have been chosen. That’s the long and the short of it. There are things that God wants only you to do. Yes, there’s probably someone else out there who is better qualified, readier, more faithful, less doubtful–but they aren’t you. And it’s you God needs.

No ifs or buts about it. He Is.

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Prayer Monday | July 29, 2013

What does prayer do for God? For one thing, he likes your company.

I cannot imagine a greater motivation to pray—that God enjoys having me in his presence. He enjoys my company and delights in listening to me! He doesn’t get bored with my repeated requests, and he doesn’t moralise if I get it wrong in what I ask for. He doesn’t laugh at me if I put silly, even impertinent, requests. He never makes me feel stupid. There is no rejection, only total acceptance.

… It is such a dazzling thought, that the same God who has countless billions of angels worshipping him sixty seconds a minute day and night, to whom the nations are but a drop in the bucket and who knows all about every leaf on every tree in the world, also welcomes my company—because I am indeed very important to him.

Did You Think To Pray? By R.T. Kendall

Featured Blog Thursday: Rachel Held Evans

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I don’t know about you, but for the life of me I can’t comment. I never know what to say. Sometimes I read a post I agree with so much that I have nothing new to add to what’s already been said. When I disagree in a non-constructive way I don’t say anything at all. And people typically react poorly to statements like, ‘Your blog is so cool I check back three times a day for updates!’ or ‘I had a dream that I was camping in your garden!’ My social awkwardness has followed me onto the Internet.

That’s why I like WordPress’ ‘like’ feature so much. I get to admire or concur without actually having to try and say so. The downside is that ‘liking’ is an easy way to increase audience and reach without even having to go to the trouble of offering up a semi-relevant comment. You don’t have to actually read a post to like it, so it’s not the most ideal way to build online community. And since the best I can come up with when a post so intrigues me that I’m galvanised into actually commenting is often something along the lines of ‘Thanks for posting this!’ or emoticons, I’ve decided to start Featured Blog Thursday.

Each week I’m going to feature a blog or blogger who inspires me or challenges the way I think: wise people, funny people, random people, believers, non-believers, well-known or obscure or garden variety types like myself. It’s not like I have much limelight to offer, but the little there is I’m going to shine around so we can all see better.

I hope you’ll click through to the blogs and engage, and that you’ll share some of your favourites in turn. Let’s read more posts than we write! :) Continue reading

Book review: The Widow of Saunders Creek by Tracey Bateman

Seven months after her soldier husband’s heroic death in the Middle-East, Corrie Saunders moves back to his hometown and into the house that once belonged to his grandmother. She doesn’t feel completely at ease in Saunders Creek, partly because her dead husband’s family resents her for keeping the house, and partly because she knows that she’s still looking for Jarrod. And she finds him…

Well, it’s probably a good thing I don’t write dust jackets for a living.

Christian fiction isn’t usually my style, but I enjoyed The Widow of Saunders Creek. It’s a nice PMS read. It won’t win any writing awards, but it’s comforting like an old duvet, and it has a horror twist just creepy enough to make you peek over your shoulder when you pass dark rooms.

Had this been anything other than straightforward Christian fiction, that horror twist could probably have been exploited more, but Bateman chose not to stray too far from within the confines of the research she did. I was disappointed that she didn’t flesh out the folklore around the witchy backdrop of Saunders Creek more, which would have steered her farther from the novel/warning story line she toes at times.

Final verdict: 3.5/5.

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Disclaimer: As part of their Blogging for Books initiative, WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group gave me a free review copy of The Widow of Saunders Creek in exchange for an honest review of the book. If this sounds like a deal you’d like to get in on (free books!) click the picture below.

Church, Christians, Christ: two books with awesome names

I don’t think there are many Christians who have escaped the church unscathed. Most of us have been on the receiving end of gossip, judgment, unjust accusations, rejection, hypocrisy, even spiritual, emotional or physical abuse—all at the hands of people who by their own definition (Christ followers) should be the last to judge, criticise, reject or misuse. Is it any wonder that people are turning to Christ but rejecting Christianity, when Christianity is riddled with harsh churches and GOD HATES FAGS pickets? Or worse—abandoning Christ because of Christianity?

Two interesting reads in this regard. The first is Dan Kimball’s Adventures in Churchland, which tackles this trend by challenging churches to rediscover their Christ roots. Their Christ roots, not their Christian roots. He wants churches to get back to judging…but the right kind of judging: loving action to help people in their walks with God, not the legalistic rejection of practices that don’t align with their own view of scripture.

The second is Dave Burchett’s When Bad Christians Happen to Good People. His approach is more humorous than Kimball’s, but the same basic message prevails. He points out that in the early church, the people who believed in Christ were called disciples, not Christians. And maybe a little something (well, a lot of something) went missing in the eventual transition. That’s what we need to get back if we want our churches not to work (most churches’ biggest concern nowadays) but to serve.

Both books are interesting reads peppered liberally with personal experience and practical advice. Perhaps some people won’t read them because “they’ve been saved” or are actively involved with a church with no problems, but that’s missing the point of these books: they’re as much for the apostle as the apostate.

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Note: While my review is an honest reflection of my opinion on the books, I should mention that I received free copies in exchange for a review. Dan Kimball’s Adventures in Churchland I got from NetGalley and Dave Burchett’s When Bad Christians Happen to Good People from Waterbrook Multnomah.

Aint that the truth

“If there is one theme about our faith that should be communicated more freely, it is that we all fall short of the mark. That is why we need a Savior.”
When Bad Christians Happen to Good People, Dave Burchett

Book Review: As Silver Refined by Kay Arthur

This is my first review for Blogging for Books. As such, the standard disclaimer applies: I got a free copy to review but all opinions are mine, etc etc. Let’s get down to it!

In As Silver Refined, Kay Arthur tackles one of the most difficult topics for both new and maturing Christians: disappointments and the seeming contradictory nature of a loving God and the reality of pain.

With sensitivity, warmth and insight, Kay shows us how God uses disappointments in our lives to refine our faith. It is not just a case of ‘soldiering on’. It is about hopeful, expectant obedience and trust in a good, holy God.

If you’ve experienced more of your fair share of pain in life, this book will help locate your struggles in the bigger picture of God’s plan. It is healing, empowering and inspirational.

My only complaint is that Kay addresses the reader as ‘beloved’, for reasons she explains in the book itself. I feel her empathy and it’s just a small, editorial niggle, but I don’t like it when authors try to foster a relationship via epithets.

Overall: three out of five.

Lost in translation

Woman, Thy Name Is Ezer

The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” (Genesis 2:18)

This verse evokes a range of emotions, from satisfaction to disillusionment to sheer frustration and anger. Some women step back from the Bible at this point, writing it off as an archaic text and therefore irrelevant. Some go further, seeing this verse as one example of where the Bible—and therefore God—is misogynistic and has nothing positive to say about women, and considering the Bible a religious tool for their oppression.

Others have raised the concern that it suggests that a woman is incomplete and has nothing to contribute to society unless she is married. What happens if you are single, divorced, widowed? Does a woman have no worth or value outside of her marital status? It raises the issues of what this means for the women with high-power careers, with major influence in their companies, of the entrepreneurial businesswomen. Should they expect or desire to rise to the top of their profession if they are “helpers”? Others just find it a bit confusing in light of the Scriptures themselves, wondering how women like Deborah, Phoebe and Lydia were helpers in the contemporary sense of the word.

If ever there was a word lost in translation, it is the word “helper.” It’s a word that requires deeper study to grasp the depth of its meaning (not to find a meaning that we feel comfortable with, just simply to understand what it means). A closer look at the word “helper” in Old Testament Hebrew illuminates what has been at first glance an alienating verse for many men and women.

The Hebrew word translated “helper” or, in older translations of the Bible, “helpmeet,” is the word ezer (think “razor”). There are over a hundred references of the root of this word in the Old Testament, and about 21 references that use the identical word. Incredibly, the vast majority of times that this word appears are in reference to God, often when he is delivering his people. The woman is an ezer, and so is God.We’re made in his image, and his potential resides in us!

Ezer is a powerful word. Scholar R. David Freeman observes that it is a combination of two words, one meaning “to rescue,” “to save,” the other meaning “to be strong.” Dr.Walter Kaiser, theologian and author, notes that ezer appears in the Old Testament often in parallel with words denoting strength or power.

The word ezer does not mean that a woman should never be an assistant, an ally, a supporter. There is nothing pejorative about a man or a woman helping someone, or being called by the Lord to fulfill that role! It’s always a privilege to serve him as we serve others. But it is also crucial that we understand that in the biblical definition of “helper” the ezer can also fulfill a different role. It seems that ezer has more to do with what helping looks like, because it doesn’t seem to suggest anything about hierarchy. In some instances, ezer is a word with military connotations; the ezer is also a warrior. In this context, help comes from one who has the power and strength to provide it. Ezer is a verb as well as a noun, meaning “to defend, protect, surround and cherish.” The ezer is an amazing mix of strength, power, proactivity and vulnerability.

–Excerpt from More Than Enchanting by Jo Saxton, via Patheos.

Not A Fan (1): Too much “belief”, not enough “follow”

(Part 1, Chapter 1 & 2)

Not A Fan asks you to define your relationship with Jesus. Are you a fan or a follower? What’s the difference? Well, fans are ‘enthusiastic admirers’: they

“…confuse their admiration for devotion. They mistake their knowledge of Jesus for intimacy with Jesus. Fans assume their good intentions make up for their apathetic faith.”

In short, fans don’t want the same thing from their relationship with Jesus that Jesus does.

“…Jesus wants to turn our lives upside down. Fans don’t mind him doing a little touch-up work, but Jesus wants complete renovation. Fans come to Jesus thinking tune-up, but Jesus is thinking overhaul. Fans think a little makeup is fine, but Jesus is thinking makeover. Fans think a little decorating is required, but Jesus wants a complete remodel. Fans want Jesus to inspire them, but Jesus wants to interfere with their lives.”

Kyle starts by categorising the readers of his book into two groups: the “Jesus fish on the back of my car” group and the “Why is there a fish on the back of my friend’s car?” group. I think there’s a third: the “I probably should have a fish on my car” group. Those are the fans who strongly suspect their fandom but aren’t quite sure what to do about it, so they look over at Group 1…or RSS every popular Christian blog…thinking: Well, someone’s* got to know what they’re doing.

(If you’ve read Not A Fan, be honest: how many things could you check off on the list on p20? [7] I had to laugh at ‘Did you get a purpose driven life in 40 days or less?’ because boy did I try.)

He uses Nicodemus from John 3 as an example. Nic was a religious leader who believed in Jesus, but actually following him would cost Nicodemus everything, so he tried to ‘follow’ Jesus on the downlow. He believed but he didn’t really want to follow, because following Jesus meant commitment and commitment meant sacrifice. And belief alone isn’t enough – it has to be coupled with commitment:

“[T]he two [belief and following] are firmly connected. They are the heart and lungs of faith. One can’t live without the other. If you try and separate the message of follow from the message of believe, belief dies in the process. … Following is part of believing. To truly believe is to follow.”

Fans want “a gospel that cost[s] them nothing and offer[s] them everything”.

Jesus wants a “twenty-four-hour-a-day commitment that will interfere with your life”.

There is no middle ground.

*Jesus does. Go figure.

Everything.