“The Bible Says.”

The other day one of my friends posted a little rant on social media. Okay, “rant” may be overstating it. But it did spark a little bit of criticism. Here it is:

I hate when people say, “The Bible says.” The Bible doesn’t say anything. It’s a book and it can’t talk.

Okay, so he’s wrong. And for more than one reason. I’ll give you two. First of all, we all know the phrase “The Bible says” is a euphemism, a little wordplay, if you will. It’s just another way of saying, “What is written in the Bible is…”

But it’s a completely acceptable phrase. Do you know why? Because people say the following phrases daily and only a jerk would correct them:

“What’s Wikipedia say about that?”

“My weather app told me it was going to be cold today.”

“Those cupcakes are calling my name!”

None of those are technically, literally true. But they are functionally true. If you take the phrase “The Bible says” literally, you’re just trolling people.

But there’s another reason that line of thought is wrong. And this one is even more powerful. He’s wrong in saying that the Bible doesn’t talk because…it most certainly does.

Let me explain.

(And I bet you’re dying to hear my explanation as to how a Bible can actually talk.)

Raise your hand if you’ve ever smuggled contraband into a foreign country. I know you can’t see me, but please rest assured my hand is raised high.

I was leading a mission trip overseas. I won’t bore you with the details of the country (for fear of reprisal by several international policing organizations), but let’s just say they don’t take too kindly to Christians traveling to their country with the express purpose of telling others about Jesus. About a week before I left, I was called into the office of another pastor on staff.

“Hey, Chris. Do you have room in your suitcase?” he asked me.

“For what?” I mean, sure I had room in my suitcase. But why was he so interested in how many socks and underwear I was taking.

“I need you to leave some space for this.”

He then held up a zip lock bag, opaque with worn edges. Not sketchy at all, no. It was almost bursting at the seams. I just gave him a blank stare. The sort of stare I would give a pastor who just asked me to smuggle drugs into a foreign country. Because that is 100% how it looked like.

He then opened the bag and proceeded to dump the contents out on his desk. Nope, it wasn’t a bunch of weed or little packets of white powder. It was several MP3 players. They looked like cheap, knock off iPods. Really? Black market electronics?

“These are some very neat devices,” he told me. He pushed a button and it played some music in a language I wasn’t familiar with, but which I would hear a lot over the next few weeks overseas. “Watch this,” he said, and then flipped a hidden switch in the battery case. It started playing a man’s voice. Droning on and on in that same language.

What was going on?

“These are little MP3 players that play prerecorded music. No biggee. If they ask you about them, just say you’re brining them to a friend. They’ll probably ask you to pay a small fee, but that’s fine. Nothing to worry about.

“But once you deliver them, our friends will be taking them out to some villages in the far remote parts of the country. Places you won’t be going. But they can. And they’ll be handing these off to some of our Christian friends there. You see, when you flip this switch, it plays the Bible. The entire Bible, all recorded in their language.”

Contraband! Black market electronics! The Bible!

And guess what…it speaks!

All over the world there are places you and I will never go. But the Bible will. The Bible will travel in a bag or suitcase of a brave soul. It will slide under the nose of a customs agent and slip into the pocket of a local friend. It will journey to the heart of the unreached. It will find a home in a hut or a house or an apartment. It will sit down on the floor while those who have never heard about Jesus circle around.

And then it will speak.

That big black Bible you’ve got on your nightstand won’t talk. Not really. Not literally. It takes some action on your part. But all around the world, the Bible is speaking. Where books are burned and printing presses are shut down, technology is doing amazing things. And while you and I may take our unfettered access to faith for granted, there are others who take it in. They risk their lives to bring that speaking word to others.

You’re right. A book can’t talk. But the Bible can, and it is. Every day that you enjoy your freedoms there are some who risk jail or worse for their faith. Here in America, the Bible lays silent most days. But over there, in the midst of oppression, it speaks loud and clear. Can you hear it?

Book Review: Jesus the Bridegoom, by Brant Pitre

In Jesus the Bridegroom, Brant Pitre takes a look at a metaphor we often overlook. At least until it comes to later Pauline passages that equate the church with the bride of Christ. But even then, there’s a tendency in modern Christianity to tone down the metaphor. Let’s not go too deep with the idea that we are married to Jesus, after all.

But Pitre presses forward. He urges us to take a look at the intimate relationship we have with Jesus in terms of a wedding, a honeymoon, and a continued love affair. Such imagery can be difficult to take at first, but once you get into the study you find it fascinating to say the least.

I’m not sure I agree wholeheartedly with his assertion that the Last Supper was a weeding feast (and his conflation of the Old Covenant with a wedding ceremony will have its detractors), but when you link the wedding at Cana in John 2 with the rest of Jesus ministry, up to and including the cross, you see parallels for sure.

This book is worth a read just for the curiosity factor. It will also challenge you to see your relationship – your worship, your service, your giving – in a new light. The light of a marriage of Savior and sinner.

Disclaimer: The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

Book Review: Is Justice Possible? The Elusive Pursuit of What is Right, by J. Paul Nyquist

Is justice possible? J. Paul Nyquist answers this question with scripture and clarity. However, the answer may not be what we expect or want. Due to our sinful nature, many times justice is perverted. But when we lean on the power of God, justice will always be there. It may be delayed or seem unjust to us. But it’s still there.

In regards to his search for justice within the legal realm, he does a great job. Framing the conversation around misapplied justice is smart. He uses stories of wrongful convictions to drive his narrative. And he supplies some good reasoning as to why we so often see justice misapplied.

I do wish that Nyquist would address the so-called “social justice” of the day. In fact, many would claim that wrongful convictions is definitely a part of that. Instead, he separates legal justice from social justice, which is fine. But I would love to hear what he has to say on these other topics. Perhaps a follow up to this fine work?

Disclaimer: The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

Book Review: Sex, Jesus, and the Conversation the Church Forgot, by Mo Isom

Mo Isom is a respected speaker and blogger. Many have gained so much from her words and her life. Unfortunately, I can’t say I have. At least not from this book.

I really wanted Sex, Jesus, and the Conversation the Church Forgot to be a new, refreshing take on the subject matter. Instead, I feel I got more of the same that I’ve heard since I was a teenager. Sex is bad. Doing it before marriage is dirty. If you’ve sinned sexually, you’re filthy. It’s that last word – filth – I found completely despairing. Isom used the word throughout the book rather liberally in talking about sexual sin. That type of word sticks with you, sculpts your identity. When we hear the word “filth” thrown around, we take it personal.

I don’t know what others may think of this book. I’m sure many will love it. But I fear that some will feel the grip of shame tightening. And that’s a shame. Because we are never defined by our sexual sin – or any sin, for that matter. We are defined by who we are in Christ! We are not filth. Our future is free and clear.

I pray that you will find that freedom – and not filth – in your own life despite your struggles.

Disclaimer: The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

Book Review: Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus, by Lois Tverberg

I’ve loved studying the Jewish background of the New Testament beginning with my undergrad days. At that time, my Hebrew professor shared details of life in Israel where he earned his Masters Degree in Jewish studies (before going on to Hebrew University in Cincinnati). He would often share a snippet of insight from the intertestamental period, a geographical detail about the Holy Land, or an interesting linguistic note that added to the text.

Since that time I’ve added to my knowledge whenever I can. Reading about Jewish history from the end of the exile to the fall of the temple has vastly increased my understanding of the New Testament texts. Lois Tverberg feels the same way. In Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus, she opens the text and offers examples of details we would wash over in our western mindset. By resetting our minds to an Eastern way of thinking, she says, we get a fuller picture.

This book is less academic than it is autobiographical, honestly. She speaks less about her personal life than the New Testament. However, her own journey of discovery comes through brilliantly. I learned some things I had never heard before, but many of them I had. But I really loved hearing her passion of discovery. It matched my own.

This is a great book for those who have never studied Jewish backgrounds before. A great primer on the topic in a very easy to read and understand text. I can’t wait to read more from Tverberg!

Disclaimer: The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

Book Review: Activate: An Entirely New Approach to Small Groups by Nelson Searcy and Kerrick Thomas

If your church doesn’t have small groups, then they are missing out on a huge facet of ministry. Not only that, but they’re lacking a vital part of the intended purpose and makeup of the church. It’s almost like you’re missing a limb.

Most churches skip small groups because they’re just too difficult. They’ve tried in the past and failed. But perhaps they haven’t tried the right approach. Searcy and Thomas turn most of the prevailing wisdom about small group structure on its head. Throughout the book, they call out the given rules of thumb that most churches run their small groups. They’re myths, according to the authors.

What we have left is more handbook than memoir of a successful small group ministry. But the authors have led their fair share of successful group ministries. So what they have to say is solid. For instance, instead of hiring a pastor who focuses solely on small groups, get each staff member involved. Only recruit during a one month window tow or three times a year, not year round. These types of ideas run counter to most ways churches run their small groups. And we should probably listen.

Disclaimer: The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

Book Review: The Prayer Wheel

The Prayer Wheel: A Daily Guide to Renewing Your Faith with a Rediscovered Spiritual Practice

Patton Dodd, Jana Reiss, and David Van Biema

Ever since I discovered the examen prayer a few years ago I’ve been fascinated with finding different ways to pray each day. I grew up in a church without a strong liturgical tradition, so these things were new to me. However, they are ancient to Christianity.

One ancient, though lost, way to pray is through the use of a prayer wheel. The practice goes back to the time of Augustine, though the seven-spoked wheel illustrated in the book dates to around the mid eleventh century. It was pasted into the inside front cover of a manuscript of the Four Gospels where it stayed for two-hundred years, before being shelved for eternity it would seem. That is until 2015 when it was discovered in a New York gallery. This ancient practice has now found new light and new life.

The prayer wheel combines seven aspects of the Lord’s Prayer with seven gifts of the Spirit, Seven events from the life of Christ, and seven Beatitudes. As you pray from the outer wheel to the center, where “God” is printed prominently, you pass through each aspect until you reach the opposite side’s fulfillment. For instance, “Holy is your name” leads through the gift of wisdom and the Incarnation of Christ. This leads one to seek out being a peacemaker and thus being called a child of God.

This would seem like a novel approach to prayer, however it’s application can be quite powerful. I’m excited to spend some time in prayer through these seven positions. The best part of the prayer wheel is that you can actually make it your own – adding more wheels, like the seven deadly sins or the seven days of creation. It will definitely be another prayer tool in my toolbox.

Disclaimer: The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

Failing to Fail

I watched two performances at sporting events this last week that should tell us how much we as a culture hate failure. We have an irrational fear of failure. We are scared to death of messing up, especially in front of others. And when we see someone fail, we attack like sharks. So, we play it safe, avoiding any loss, and end up average, at best. We are failing to fail. And that’s a big problem.

The first performance was bad. You may have heard about – but hopefully didn’t actually hear – Fergie’s rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner at the 2018 NBA All Star Game. I won’t link to the actual performance. I’ll spare you that much. It was pretty bad. I didn’t watch it live, and couldn’t stomach listening to the whole thing on playback.

Twitter exploded! Facebook mocked her! Once one person said something, two more piled on. Pretty soon people with absolutely no musical expertise or experience were calling her out. When people who couldn’t sing their way out of a paper sack sit in judgment of another person with infinitely more talent, there’s something going on.

I couldn’t put my finger on it, and then I read this report in People Magazine. Fergie, for her part, faced the music. She didn’t sugarcoat it. She owned her failure. This is what she had to say:

“I’ve always been honored and proud to perform the national anthem and last night I wanted to try something special for the NBA. I’m a risk taker artistically, but clearly this rendition didn’t strike the intended tone. I love this country and honestly tried my best.”

The second performance was not a success, but it wasn’t a failure either. Elizabeth Swaney skied the halfpipe for Hungary. Through a series of technicalities, she became an Olympic athlete. Though she’s never finished higher than 13th in a competition, she found herself on the biggest stage of them all.

And then she proceeded to complete the most average run of any Olympic event in history. Her goal? To not fall over. Just don’t fail. No jumps, no tricks. Just up and down the halfpipe with a couple of turns and then come to the end. She finished dead last. But she never fell down.

So, we have two women. One risked it all and failed miserably. The other played it safe and got to the Olympics. Which one do you want to be? I want to be a failure.

We say that we want a winner. But what we’re really looking for is perfection. Don’t fail and don’t fall! But what does that get you? Not a place on the podium, that’s for sure. Elizabeth Swaney will go down as a footnote, likely forgotten by the rest of us but loved by her family.

Fergie on the other hand? She’ll go on to make more music and win more awards. That’s right, she’s won multiple Grammies, AMAs, MTV and Billboard music awards. In fact, there’s an entire Wikipedia page just for the awards she’s been nominated for or won. She didn’t get there by playing it safe, turning in an average performance, and never falling down.

Go back to that quote from People Magazine. “I’m a risk taker,” she says. And that’s why we all know who she is. Without the risk, you’ll never have failure. But you’ll never have great success either. You’ll stay average at best.

I’ve heard the phrase “failure is not an option.” If that’s the case, then take the easy road, the middle path, the safe route. Do everything average. Don’t risk it!

But when failure is an option, there’s no telling how high you can go.

A friend of mine was interviewed for a job this week. She was asked what percentage of failure from her students was acceptable. “100%,” she said. “I want them all failing every single day. If they’re not failing, then they may never know how great they can actually be.”

Our fear of failure has crippled us. Instead of doing something great, we just want to avoid falling down. I’m the guiltiest! I do this constantly! Chase the sure thing and avoid the faceplant. But without risking it, you’ll never know how great you can be.

Do we have a failure problem? Are we failing to fail? Maybe we need to risk more, put ourselves out there and face the failure. Otherwise, we may be leaving a lot on the shelf and never get a chance to make the podium.

Book Review: This Strange and Sacred Scripture, by Matthew Richard Schlimm

The Bible is your friend! That’s what Matthew Schlimm wants you to know. From the first lines of Genesis to the last vision of Revelation.

But Christians and the Old Testament have had a love/hate relationship at times. So Schlimm wants to offer some reconciliation. In order to do that, he tackles some of the trickiest aspects of the old sacred text. I love how he handles the topics in a very orderly manner, beginning with the creation account and working his way through the Tanak. And he leaves no stone unturned.

Instead of offering concrete answers to all your questions about the texts, he gives an overview of the leading discussions. Then he lets you decide. More than a polemic on the problems of scripture, Schlimm wants to reintroduce his audience to the text in a way that provides both clarity and comfort. The Bible is our friend, after all.

By the end you’ve covered a lot of ground. And Schlimm gives plenty of resources to go deeper. What you won’t find is the old tired apologies about inerrancy or infallibility. What you will find is a new love for the Old Testament. But don’t take my word for it. Pick this up and say hi to an old friend today!

Book Review: So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, by Jon Ronson

We love a good pile on, don’t we? We love to see someone get what’s coming to them. Except when it’s us. Then we cry for mercy.

At the heart of Jon Ronson’s book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed is this dichotomy. How has the advent of social media given us such a ready outlet for (sometimes violent) shaming? And how can we turn it off when it’s directed at us?

Shaming works. And that’s why so many publicly shame others. But at what cost? Ronson delves into the data to determine how lives have been wrecked and who has paid the greater price when publicly shaming goes awry. From a poor joke at a conference to a photo splashed throughout Twitter to a rape-themed backlash on 4Chan. A simple misspoken word in a moment can lead to a lifetime of regret and ruined reputation.

Ronson himself faced publicly shaming and backlash from the publication of this book. When he offered that shaming a joke sent on Twitter about AIDS and Africa was overblown, he was called racist. He readily ascribes to the title of Social Justice Warrior, and this book gets at the ugly roots of that endeavor. What strikes me is what we call justice nowadays. No longer do we look out for victims. We see blood in the water and plunge in like sharks. But justice and punishment aren’t the same. Shaming is punitive, never restorative. And justice must be more wholistic.

I would love to hear what you get out of this book. And if you enjoy it, by all means find more from Jon Ronson. He’s one of my favorite writers, and there’s no shame in that.