Saturday, December 25, 2010

Global Share the Bible Day @YouVersion @LifeDiscipler

Today, YouVersion is sponsoring Global Share the Bible Day. The premise is simple: Read the Bible and share it with others. Christmas is quite the appropriate day to do just that, I think! :)

You can start by using The Christmas Story plan. Officially scheduled for 5 days, it can be read in probably 15 minutes and takes you and loved ones through the Christmas story in various books of the Bible.

The LifeDiscipler could also be a way of reminding people to engage in the Bible.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Remembering God's Continual Incarnation

Christmas is the celebration of the Incarnation: God becoming flesh in Jesus Christ. God is still embodied in the world through the Holy Spirit inhabiting all of us (no, we're not gods, but we present God's continual Incarnation to the world around us).

So in celebration of the Ultimate Incarnation:
How do you continue to experience God's presence and Incarnation around you?
How are you living and showing God's presence to other people around you?

Merry Christmas!!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Satan: Person or Personification?

On Friday, I mentioned that Christians do not universally agree that Satan, Lucifer, and the Devil are all the same people nor that there even is a personal, sentient enemy Devil.

Most of the modern narratives of Satan as a fallen angel come from extra-biblical texts, especially John Milton's Paradise Lost and Dante's Divine Comedy. From those stories, we infer support into some biblical passages, particularly Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28. Unfortunately, those are explicitly referring to the kings of Babylon and Tyre, respectively. While they could be metaphorically discussing a personal Devil, I see that interpretation being quite a stretch.

In fact, the original use of the term satan was anything or anyone that challenged one's belief. Satan was "the Other" in sociological terms. From this view, any description of Satan as a person is more of a personification of internal and interpersonal struggles and temptation. In my opinion, this often gives even more power to the idea of satan. However, if God is at war with Satan, many people wouldn't like the idea that he is at war with part of ourselves. Or that we war with ourselves. Yet we do. Perhaps the spiritual struggle is very much internal...

Anyway, this is just a summary of many perspectives on Lucifer, Satan, and the Devil. And as I said in a response to a comment on my Friday post, these facts about the development of the theology of Satan do not negate the possibility of Satan as a fallen, sentient angel. We just need to remember that it doesn't come from the Bible.

For more reading on this material, I highly recommend Elaine Pagel's lecture, The Origin of Satan in Christian Tradition. The wikipedia articles on Christian Teaching About the Devil, Satan, Lucifer, and War in Heaven are also pretty good summaries of the differing viewpoints.

Friday, December 17, 2010

God is Not at War with Sin, but for Love #sandalschurch @sandalschurch

My church's advent sermon series is an unconventional This is War. The premise is that Jesus' birth was an invasion in God's war on Satan, sin, and death, and we need to remember that we are at war with those things.

This is not a new idea; John Eldredge talked about Christ's birth as an invasion in Waking the Dead. Eldredge agrees that Satan is a enemy we must be aware of. However, he argues that the war is not on Satan, sin, and death, but rather a war for our hearts (Waking the Dead).

Now there is also substantial analysis about whether Satan is an actual being versus a metaphorical term to describe those in opposition to ourselves. Misunderstandings of the Fall, Hell, and Satan can definitely affect our views of spiritual warfare (summary version: most of our ideas of Hell and Satan come from John Milton's Paradise Lost, and we read those ideas back into the Bible).

Regardless, I agree that spiritual warfare exists, be it between literal dueling angels and demons or metaphorical angels and demons.

What I do not believe is that it is a war on sin. As I discussed in my review of The Pursuit of Holiness, the overemphasis on sin is a misrepresentation of the holiness movement. And it gives sin too much power. It also depends on how sin is defined. Really, anything disrupting the relationship between God and humans and God is sin, but more often, the functional definition of sin is misbehavior, which is very much limited. If and when sin is used in the former sense, it could be a war on sin, but as it is used in the latter sense more often, that is how it is defined here.

Does God hate sin? Yes. Is God's main focus sin? No. Can God tolerate sin? Well, he did when he spent 33 years amongst sinners.

Jesus' words did not focus primarily on sin. They focused on love. Remember the Greatest Commandment? It's all about loving God and others; not about avoiding sin. As my wife said after the message this past Sunday, focusing on the removal of sin just treats the symptom, but not the cause. The core problem is not sin. It is separation from God (yes, sin has a part of that, but it's not the whole thing). The only thing that mends a relationship is love. The solution to sin is not spiritual disciplines. It is love--loving God, others, and ourselves.

After the message, we sang Hillsong's Tear Down These Walls to emphasize solidarity in being at war together. Ironically, there is no mention of sin. Rather, they key phrase is "Let love tear down these walls." We need to emphasize love and hope, not the avoidance of sin and death.

In John 10:10, Jesus asserts, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full" or "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." Focusing our energies on sin and death usually make us feel dead and destroyed. Emphasizing the love and hope Christ gives us helps us remember that we, indeed, do have life and that sin and Satan have no power over us when in Christ.

In contrast to the Sunday messages, this past Monday we had a leaders' meeting. The theme was still spiritual warfare, but it emphasized the power of change and hope. The emphasis was on the power of love and prayer. Rather than only discussing what to avoid and fight against, I find it so much more powerful and important and effective to really preach what we are to do and to fight for. And the answer is love.

Interview with @LifeDiscipler Creator, Tony Guard

On Sunday, I reviewed the innovative LifeDiscipler, which uses technology to remind us of God's constant presence. Today, here (below the video) is an interview with its creator, Tony Guard, about the product, its development process, and how he hopes it will help people.

What inspired you to develop LifeDiscipler?
I have been in product development for close to 20 years, primarily developing products for other people, and inventing products for sale or license. During that time, I always wanted to develop a faith based product to glorify the Lord and share my faith. It took a lot of blessing from the Lord financially for me to have the resources to take on such a venture. And many more blessings beyond that with time, people, resources... etc. But if I went down that road, this may become a small book.

As I approached the idea of developing a product, I soon realized God had been revealing a direction for me throughout the previous years. This direction was focused on seeing the lack of discipling that was and is happening in our churches today. I was seeing too many Christians who were “new believers” without support, believers who were not growing, and young people who were falling away at record numbers. And ultimately, the responsibility comes back to… “what am I doing to grow the Kingdom.”

Through a lot of seeking and even more prayer, God revealed to me that instead of trying to figure out how to encourage someone else to move closer to Him I needed to focus on figuring out what was holding “me” back from growing closer to Him. That one revelation transformed my approach to developing this product and allowed me to get to the place where God revealed the LifeDiscipler to me (Mat 7:7). I realized despite my devotion and prayers in the morning, prayers at night, and church every Sunday… I forgot about Him during the day. And on top of that, not only was I forgetting about God during a time when many important decisions were being made, I was also away from every Godly resource, safety net, and option for accountability. Then it hit me… what if God could "tap me on the shoulder" throughout the day to keep me focused on Him… and better yet, help me get through the tough issues of life with personal guidance on my personal need, anywhere anytime.

Can you explain the idea behind the name?
The name LifeDiscipler grew out of the word disciple (to teach or train) and the word life, representing all that we deal with in this life. The word disciple is almost always associated with a religious context and especially with Christ's 12 disciples. This association is exactly what I wanted since the product was developed specifically for Christians and was created as a first step to needed discipleship for our body of believers. The two words together represent that God's word is the answer for understanding how to deal with the issues of this life... in this world.

What is your view of discipleship, and how does the LifeDiscipler help toward that?
Discipleship, from a Christian "body" perspective, is spiritual training that takes place from one believer to another... some may refer to this as mentoring. From my humble opinion, this is not taking place as much as it should in our current "Christian body" (that’s not to say there are not some great discipleship material and programs – there are – they just aren’t being put into practice enough). Because of this, many spiritually young believers are either left to fend for themselves for growth, become stagnate, or worst of all fall away. The LifeDiscipler is a tool that promotes a step in the direction of growth when there is not a mature believer available to disciple/mentor. My hope and prayer is that when a Christian can honestly experience how easily they can apply God's word to all aspects of their life, and how it can impact their life in amazing visible ways... they will want to go deeper in the Bible and deeper in training. The LifeDiscipler was designed to be a “step” forward in growing closer to God and to understanding His word better… never a replacement for the Bible or believer to believer discipleship.

Your FAQs say only Christians should use the LifeDiscipler because non-Christians won't understand the meaning and application of the verses. Can you say more about that?
God's word is infallible and without question. A non-believer without that spiritual base and compass will not have the ability to interpret the meaning of scripture. True understanding comes from the Holy Spirit (John 14:26), and if the non-believer can’t understand the verses or doesn’t think it’s unquestionable, how can they apply it to their life and believe it. The Holy Spirit must have residence in the heart for true understanding.

Do you think this could still be a way to introduce non-Christians to the Word of God?
Yes. The Holy Spirit is always at work and we need to be prepared at any time to give an answer and to share the love of Christ (2Tim 4:2). Although, we don’t “suggest” the LifeDiscipler for a non-believer, I would always tell you to follow God’s direction wherever He is leading. God’s word and the Holy Spirit work in a way all their own and without any help from the LifeDiscipler, anyone or anything.

This question also takes us to another point… spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is one of many things, as believers, we all have in common… we are all called to share the Good News (Acts 1:8). Within the LifeDiscipler is a life-subject called “TELLING OTHERS.” This subject includes verses that give the foundational verses to understand the option of salvation through Jesus Christ. With the LifeDiscipler in hand, you don’t have to wonder what to say or what verse you should mention… but that also means there are no more excuses.

Please talk about the process of developing the 44 subjects and choosing the 1500 verses. Did you do it alone? How long did it take? How did you decide which translation to use?
In the process of developing a product that deals with Gods word, the most important focus is to honor God and to be in line with His divinely inspired word. The accountability from God placed on anyone representing Him or His word is very high. In developing the LifeDiscipler special and intensive care was taken to make sure of contextual accuracy.  

There was a lot of time (over 6 months) and many resources that ultimately helped define each verse and the subject(s) in which the verse would be categorized. Beyond the resources, five degreed, ordained pastors reviewed every verse to confirm the context and accuracy. This process actually reduced the amount of verses that we were able to include. I have been asked many times, “why don’t you include the entire Bible?”. And my answer is a fairly basic one... Our goal is to provide a quick 1-2 verse insight (quickly read on a small screen) that would express God’s character and guidance within a particular circumstance or situation and still remain in context of the original intent.

What about translations for the LifeDiscipler… Since we are a new Christian company with our first product on the market, we have to make decisions that will benefit the “general” Christian market until a time (Lord willing) when we are established and can develop the more niche products with specific translations. With this in mind, and the understanding that there are many great current translations available, we decided to provide a combination rather than be exclusive to a translation. This also allowed us to get into the market easier and faster.

You say that some of your proceeds go to charities. Can you talk about which ones you chose to support? Why did you decide to give some money to charities rather than just lower the cost of the unit?
The primary goal of LifeDiscipler is to encourage Christians to a closer relationship with God. Our second purpose is to assist other Christian non-profit organizations to continue their ministry and continue serving in His name. This is the first year of our existence in the marketplace and our donations take place at the end of the year. Our first donation will happen the week of December 27, 2010. Our continued focus will be on charities that deal with children and spreading the Gospel. The charities we have selected this year will be Compassion International and Worldvision. We are hoping for this aspect of our business to become a huge blessing to the charities as we grow.

The donation to charities has no bearing on the price of the product. This is simply a corporate decision to continue to honor God (Acts 20:35). This product means much more to us than making money. In fact, it will be a long time before the corporation makes a profit. Don’t get me wrong, we can’t stay in business if we don’t make enough money to continue producing products… again though… it’s not our purpose.

What is your favorite feedback/testimony?
Honestly, the most recent one… Every time I hear how God has revealed Himself to someone in a way that was just what they needed and in a way that changed them spiritually… and in a way only He could do, I am on fire again. So my favorite is the one I am about to hear. I will let you know (we do post some testimonies on our website).

Is there a particular demographic that the LifeDiscipler seems to be popular with or is targeted at?
This is a great question, and one I thought would play itself out as we continued selling. However, what we have found is that it hits almost every generation and demographic for different reasons. The reasons vary and could be discussed in great detail that would probably bore you. In a quick overview, some of the reasons are as follows: as a way to get to know what it means to be a Christian (new believer); as a reference and study tool (new to mature Christian – we even have some pastors using it for quick reference); as a tool to encourage other Christians (great as a gift for any occasion or a gift of comfort); a tool to spread God's word and raise money for a church, school, or charity (Christian organizations/ outreach/ youth groups/ ministries)… as a way to share God daily with the family (some stay-at-home moms are leaving them out on their kitchen counters so everyone has access – and even using it as a teaching resource with their children). As you can see there are many ways the LifeDiscipler reaches into virtually all age groups of Christians.

There is a group that has really stood out during this process and has attached itself to the purpose of the LifeDiscipler… that is the Stay at Home Mom. So often Stay at Home Moms are in need of continual support and assurance from the pressures and pace of their responsibilities. What I have found is that the touch of God’s word throughout the day, specific to their need that day, has become an incredible resource of spiritual encouragement. I receive testimonials from all different age groups but none with the passion and thankfulness as the Stay at Home Moms. Blessings to them for all they do to raise our children in the admonition of the Lord.

Can you talk a bit about the manufacturing process and decisions? Some people, including me, have noted some features that would be nice, but are absent (like vibration alert and backlit screen).
Sure. Throughout the process of developing the LifeDiscipler, we kept certain parameters central to our process; 1) We needed to make the LifeDiscipler in a price range that would allow any Christian the possibility of purchasing it, 2) it should be easy to use and intuitive enough for any person to be able to use, 3) It needed to be an elegant product that would be honoring to God in look and quality. With these parameters set… they drove all of the decisions surrounding features and materials.

I can give you some specific examples;
1) Why the simplified (some say out-dated) LCD screen?
Although we get a few poor reviews on our LCD screen, our intent and purpose remains in tact. When looking into screen types, cost and power consumption needed, the LCD screen stood out as the right choice hands down. If we were to move to an illuminated screen (like that of many cell phones), our retail price would have jumped $20 because of the screen cost and more importantly the larger power supply needed, making the final cost $50.

2) Why the materials?
As previously mentioned, we wanted to make the best God honoring product we could make. Therefore, we used a high density ABS plastic for it’s extreme durability… the lens cover for the screen is made of Polycarbonate (one of the clearest most scratch resistant durable plastics available). We selected the best materials possible for each aspect of the product. Even the protective stretch-on covers are made from “Super Silicone™” for its durability and wear.

3) What about vibration for an alarm?
We agree this would be a nice feature, and we wanted it as part of the first features for the LifeDiscipler. Again, we had to go back to our first priority of keeping our price as low as possible. Any process within an electronic that requires focused action like vibration, sound, and illumination requires a lot of power… and power means money.

The LifeDiscipler is a simple product with a simple purpose… growth. No fancy functions or features, just allowing God’s word to have access to you to deepen your relationship with Him… when you typically don’t have it.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Remembering Biblical Assumptions @penns1176 @BioLogosOrg

BioLogos posted a great article based on a video of Pete Enns (the same guy who had a great article/presentation on doubt). In the new post, Enns describes how ancient readers and writes had different assumptions and understandings of the world than we do today. And that affects the biblical narrative.

This is an excellent reminder that we cannot approach the Bible with the lens of a modern American person only. We will impose assumptions as to what the text is saying that are simply inaccurate. And then this leads to incorrect interpretation and fights over infallibility and inerrancy. If we take the original context and intent into account and not try to impose our own worldviews on it (won't ever be totally possible to avoid), then we will get closer to God's original intent in the text.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Deconstruction Does Not Mean Lack of Truth @IgniterMedia

This is a wonderful video by Igniter Media about some of the nativity myths. Watch through to the end because it really emphasizes one of the central points of this blog: Getting rid of man-made traditions and ideas does not get rid of the Truth of Christ. HT Matt Stone.

The Pursuit of Holiness is Pharasaical Self-Righteous Perfectionism @christianaudio @caReviewers

I recently received a complimentary copy of Jerry Bridges' audiobook version of The Pursuit of Holiness in order to review it (without any expectation of a positive review, as will be obvious here :) ). I had several theological problems with this book that bleed over to the larger issues of some of holiness movements. Let's go through these by way of some of Bridges' central points:

Factual certainty is central to faith. This, I think, is one of the most damaging elements of this book. At the same time, it was one of the most helpful to me, as it elucidated why so many people are obsessed with sin and the purging of sin: It helps certainty of salvation (more on this later).

Bridges states, "Faith must always be based in fact." I'm not sure where he gets this idea, as it's not biblical or humanly defined. Hebrews 10:1 defines faith as being certain, but based on what we hope for and cannot see. As emphasized by the positivist and empiricist movements, fact is really based on what can be observed by humans. That does not meant there is no fact of God. It means that there does not have to be proof in order to have faith. In fact, faith is more powerful without fact.

Secular definitions also define faith as not being based in fact. Wikipedia's first sentence in the article on faith states, "Faith is the confident belief or trust in a person, idea, or thing that is not based on proof." Other definitions of faith have more to do with the general idea of belief or trust, not necessarily rooted in fact.

This blog is devoted to people's struggles with faith, usually based on their reliance on facts that end up being unsupportable or not as they originally thought. Just because the facts disappear does not mean God or our faith have to disappear.

Reason must contain and control desire. Bridges rightly explains that our desires can be impure and lead us down some terrible roads. Therefore, he argues that we must always use our reason to contain our sinful desires. Reason is a very good thing, but it can also lead us astray. As a psychologist, I frequently see the reason-based defense of rationalization used to dissociate someone from their emotions and therefore move them away from truth.

Ransomed Heart Ministries is based on the premise that once we give our lives to Christ, he gives us a new, good heart. Heck, even the more conservative and sinlessness-driven John Piper's ministry is called Desiring God. We must listen to our desires. Yes, they may mislead us, but if we pay good attention to them, we will hear God speaking to us. Frankly, God speaks to us more through our emotions than through our intellect.

Holy is defined by sinlessness. Bridges states that holiness is "separation from impurity and moral evil." This is one of the biggest and most dangerous bad definitions in Christianity. A few months ago, I talked about how holy and sinlessness are not one in the same. Holiness can include sinlessness, but it is not defined by it. Rather, a better definition of holy is sacred, meaning set apart. Avoiding sin is one way to be set apart, but holiness is a lot more than that.

Granted, Bridges later says that holiness is in a broader sense "obedience to the will of God in whatever God directs," but by the content of his book, he clearly focuses on God's will being that we lead sinless lives.

One of the reasons this perspective can be dangerous is that it can lead us to assume that God dislikes us. Jonathan Brinks recently posted an article related to a video by Skye Jethani, exploring how God views us in the midst of sin. The answer: God loves us. When we forget that, our relationship with God becomes strained because we no longer trust him. But usually that's not our fault, but rather the fault of the Church. 

Sinlessness is the evidence of salvation. Bridges states partway through his book, "The only evidence of salvation we have is a holy life." Based on his definition of holy, this would mean sinless. Besides the fact that no person will ever be sinless on earth (Bridges notes this), this idea is simply not biblical. He argues that the Holy Spirit helps us become sinless.

Yet in Galatians 5:22-23, Paul states the fruit of the spirit is "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." Do these correlate with sinlessness? Some do. But these indicate something much more than the absence of sin. They emphasize the presence of love. Frankly, most of these emphasize desire and emotion and not reason, contrary to Bridges earlier point about reason trumping emotion.

Finally, this brings us back to the idea of the role and motivation of factual certainty. It seems this whole book (and I would argue much of people's obsessions with sin) is focused on the need to be confident in their own salvation. This is definitely an understandable concern: We don't want to wonder if we'll be in Heaven. We want proof. So we look for it in various ways.

One of the ways is emphasizing a "pure," sinless life. Like the Pharisees, we can become self-righteous if we lead sinless lives, being certain of our salvation. But just like the Pharisees, it is at this time that we are the farthest from God, missing the true hope of salvation in a relationship with Christ.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Importance of Calling @garybarkalow @David_C_Cook

Gary Barkalow was a central player in Ransomed Heart Ministries until he realized his calling was to focus more on helping people find their calling. As part of that mission, he founded The Noble Heart, a ministry to aid people in developing their insight into their calling. Recently, he released his first book, It's Your Call, which I got to receive a complimentary copy of to review.

I was excited about the book because I love Ransomed Heart, really appreciated Barkalow's brave venture to follow his call, and also want to aid people in their search for meaning and purpose in life (although this is slightly different from calling).

Barkalow's book definitely has strong elements of the central principles of Ransomed Heart, namely that we need to pay attention to our heart with its glory and our deepest desires, as they are God's way of letting us know our true calling. For instance, on page 138, he states, "Desire or passion is not a deterrent to our walking with God and discovering our calling; it is the means to both." I'm curious if Barkalow influenced John Eldredge in this regard, if Eldredge influenced Barkalow, or if they just found each other through God. The language each uses to describe the power of the heart is similar, so I can see how Barkalow was a good fit with that team. That means that if you like Ransomed Heart and Eldredge's work, you'll likely appreciate Barkalow's work.

The book is easy to read with a deep, yet conversational style. Barkalow stated he originally had a lot of difficulty getting published. Based on the final product, I don't know why! :) While reading, there were several times I highlighted various phrases that were particularly powerful. This honestly doesn't happen all that often in books I read; in some ways I can judge how much I engage and love a book by the number of folded pages to mark a quote! This book has a lot of those.

Many of the highlights were of personal note and reminder to myself. One of the more generally relevant ideas, though, was that calling can and does come to us over the course of a journey that may or may not include our career or a formal ministry.

I often say that my career as a psychologist is my ministry, and that is true. Although I also struggle with wondering if my particular position right now is what my true calling is. I often yearn for something more. Barkalow points out that God may be developing us in this moment for something later on. He has some great stories from his own life about exactly this.

In particular, our particular positions may be being used by God to remind us that particular positions do not fulfill a calling. Those positions may simply be roles or assignments that may work in alignment with our calling, but do not equal the calling. On page 82, Barkalow states:
By staying aware that life consists of our calling, our roles, and our assignments, we can be free from the fear of having to create a career path or being stuck in a field of work/experience or limiting titles. We can move as God directs us and as our lives change, take the effect of our lives wherever we go. This is living in your calling.
This is so important. Oftentimes, we can get stuck focused in a career or title, thinking that is our calling, when our calling is much more important. In many ways, this idea reminds me of Christ's words of losing our life so we can gain it: When we let go of the life we think we are supposed to have, we will gain the life God has intended for us.

Additionally, Barkalow emphasizes that formal ministry is not always helpful. Rather, he says that "impact is not exclusive to or guaranteed by working in ministry (a church or nonprofit, philanthropic, or mission organization). I have known many who had to leave a ministry to find their ministry" (p. 121). For those of us who do have a heart for a formal ministry, we need to remember to not get too tied to it. It may actually limit ourselves, our calling, and our God's work in us.

It's Your Call does not lay out any formula for finding one's calling or what our calling should look like. And that's a good thing. Meaning, purpose, and calling are not formulaic and cannot be prescribed. Barkalow does an excellent job emphasizing the organic nature of calling and how it can powerful transform lives.

St. John of the Cross Day

419 years ago today, St. John of the Cross, the author of The Dark Night of the Soul, died, making today his honorary holy day. If there were patron saints of blogs, I would consider St. John the patron saint of this blog, as his work is centrally influential to my spirituality and the purpose of this blog. So today, I honor St. John.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Requesting Reader Feedback

I've been writing reviews on my blog for about the past year. My goal in writing them has been to provide people with some resources that can help develop their faith, but also to engage in dialogue around some of the ideas going on in Christendom.

I'm curious if these reviews have been helpful and interesting to people. The last couple of weeks I've been catching up on some reviews, so there have been many more than usual.

So I would like some feedback from readers of this blog. What would you like to see here? What is most helpful to you?

It Gets Better: Christianity, Homosexuality, & Suicide @ItGetsBetter #itgetsbetter

Homosexuality is a hot topic politically and religiously. It leads to heated debates and high emotions. Those debates and emotions can also lead to condemnation (and the Bible tells us not to condemn). As a psychologist, I have seen the effects of condemnation from other people in a variety of settings. It never turns out well. It is not a motivator.

As many people have heard, there has been increased attention to suicides by gay youth. For those of us in Southern California and even the conservative Inland Empire, this occurs here.

I primarily work with children, ages 8-13, in inpatient, partial hospitalization, and intensive outpatient programs. That means they are seen at a minimum 6 hours per week. Pretty intensive stuff, meaning they are dealing with pretty intensive issues. Even at that young of an age, I have seen kids who are in therapy because of the way other kids have treated them because of assumptions that they were gay.

One child in particular denied he was gay, but was teased because he was more effeminate than most others his age. Granted, some could argue this kid is in an early stage of homosexual identity development, but the point is the bullying and condemnation does not occur just those who are "out" or who are even necessarily gay.

Regardless of what one believes about the homosexuality being a choice or one's nature or sinful or normal, I would hope we can all agree that anyone committing suicide, contemplating suicide, or self-injuring is a tragedy. It's a particular tragedy when the whole process is so preventable. Remove the condemnation, and depression and suicide rates will drop.

In John 10:10, Jesus asserts, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full" or "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." By participating in bullying and condemnation, we are participating in Satan's work of stealing, killing, and destroying, often quite literally.

Religion Dispatches recently posted an opinion piece about how American Christians are a central cause of homosexual suicides. It was for this reason that Jim Swilley of Church in the Now in Georgia came out as gay in November. Contrary to some reports, he was not seeking support of himself (he actually had hidden his sexual orientation for decades). Rather, he came out to emphasize to non-straight youth that life is not over by having a non-heterosexual sexual orientation.

There will, of course, be debate about how that will look in real life. However, the first step we all need to take in preventing suicide in gay youth and everyone in general is stop condemning. It Gets Better is a new organization aimed at proclaiming to LGBTQ youth that they do not need to commit suicide because despite whatever difficulties are going on right now, life will get better.

Life is difficult for everyone. We all face trying circumstances, tragedies, and traumas. When we condemn one another, particularly in times of struggle, we often condemn one another to literal death. For the true love of God and Christ, please remember to love people and remind everyone that it gets better.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Technological Contemplation & Presence @LifeDiscipler @FCStores

Since I read Present Perfect a few months ago, I've been looking for some way to remind myself to remain present intermittently throughout the day. In that book, Boyd talks about how he gives himself reminders to stay present and attentive to God. Staying present is something that is very difficult for me, as I can become easily distracted. I searched for some applications for my Android phone, but nothing quite worked.

Then a short time ago, in a Family Christian Stores brochure, I saw a listing for the LifeDiscipler. It is a little gadget that feeds you a Bible verse every 15, 30, or 60 minutes (of your choice). At the selected interval (and you can turn the device off completely), it beeps at a soft or loud volume (or you can silence the alert) to let you know you can read another verse.

In many ways, this is exactly what I was looking for, so I purchased one from a Family Christian Store. I currently have it set to 30 minutes, which feels generally perfect to help me remain mindful of and stay in God's presence. I would really love if it could have a vibrate setting. Working in a mental health setting where all devices have to be silenced, I simply have to leave the LifeDiscipler in my office. While I wouldn't be able to read the verse during a therapy session, just the vibration would help me remember to be present. Additionally, even the loud setting can be too quiet at times (I missed it going off doing some Christmas shopping). The vibration option could help prevent this.

They are developing iPhone and Android application versions of LifeDiscipler, so we may see the vibration feature there....

The other really neat benefit is that the 1500 verses from 5 translations (NIV, TNIV, NKJV, NLT, CEV) are broken up into 44 categories, so you can choose what theme you want to receive verses from. This helps meet individual and immediate needs more effectively.

The LifeDiscipler goes for $30 on the LifeDiscipler website, although they are advertising a 20% coupon code (CHRIST20) through December 17. They are offering a 30% off coupon code (LIFE30) via the Facebook page. Family Christian Stores had it for $25 when I purchased it, although it's on sale for $20 right now. Ultimately, this seems overpriced. The basic technology is simple, and the plastic does not seem like the highest-quality. However, it does not feel like it would break in the time I've used it. It seems more like a sub-$10 product, especially compared with various youth games with more detailed screens and controls. At the same time, the price seemed worth it to me for the benefit I got (although I almost didn't purchase one because of the price).

[I provided the creator of the LifeDiscipler with a preview of the review, and he provided this clarification of the product manufacturing process and resulting cost:
The LifeDiscipler is actually made with high density ABS (very tough plastic - more expensive as well) and the lens is protected by a polycarbonate lens (best clarity and most durable)... we selected the best plastic possible (the weight of the product is light and oftens gives the impression of a lesser quality part - so it's understood why you said that). And the price is a direct correlation to our cost and the volume we produce. Since we are a brand new company with one product, our product costs are much higher than a company that produces 50k units. Many of the games you mentioned started out at double their current retail price (like 20Q for example).
The LifeDiscipler is a way that emphasizes how technology can truly help us become more contemplative and practice the presence of God.

However, the name implies we can become a disciple simply by reading Bible verses occasionally. As I discuss on this blog, that's obviously not true. The packaging and website also advertise how it can provide life answers as we need them. I think that's an overstatement, especially as the verses are not read within the larger narrative. However, they are chosen well to be able to stand on their own as much as possible.

Nevertheless, I think the name is clever and fine. It's good marketing. And as long as we don't over-rely on any one tool, the LifeDiscipler can help us become better disciples by reminding us of God's promises, God's presence, and God's word. I will continue to use it on a daily basis.

Bible as Theology or Devotion?

One of the things I have noticed recently is that I have preferred to read the Bible more from a perspective of contemplation and devotion than trying to define theology. What I mean by that is not worrying as much about how to believe in certain systems and what is or is not a sin, but rather exploring the character of God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit and what the journey of faith is like. Charlie Wear recently wrote a post entitled, Getting to Know God Through His Book, which I think gets to some of these ideas, too.

Most of the biblical authors seem to have written from a devotional perspective. While devotion definitely has an element of theology, devotional texts are very different from systematic theology tomes. Yet many times, we ignore the celebration of Christ as we read the Bible, instead looking for ways to defend our system of beliefs.

This leads us to miss out on a huge part of the beauty and power and message and truth of the Bible. Instead, viewing the Bible as primarily a theological text, I think, makes us more likely to be defensive about our particular readings of it, thus making it more difficult to accept the superficial paradoxes and contradictions.

The Jesus Creed blog recently ran a post about reading the Bible both critically and religiously. In it, they ask:

What does it mean to read the Bible religiously?
Is the Bible a book we submit to and proclaim?
Is the Bible a book we wrestle with – critically, theologically, practically – to discover God?

I don't think the Bible as theological text is incompatible with the Bible as devotional text, but we need to remember that it is not only theological.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Prayer Books Summarized

This week, I have reviewed seven rather different prayer books. If you missed any of them or would like a summary with links, here you are!

Celtic Devotions: Based in the Celtic Christian tradition with short morning and evening prayers and devotions. Portable and useful for individual use. Could be used in a group.

A Pastor Prays for His People: Developed and transcribed from a pastor's prayers over the years for his congregation during weekly church services. Has an index of themes. Probably more useful in a group setting. Good portability.

Prayers: A Personal Selection: A short audiobook of prayers from the Bible and from Church history set to music. Particularly good for individual meditation time.

Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals: Thick and dense book rooted in the long history of liturgy from several Christian traditions, making it quite comprehensive. Included is a songbook, making it quite unique. Focused primarily on a contemplative tradition. Not as portable as some. Could be used individually, but more useful in a group.

Light for the Journey: Morning and Evening Prayers: Written with a goal of becoming more active participants in our lives and with God to renew the world. I received a PDF version, so I cannot comment on portability, but it is like mobile. Could be used in both an individual or group setting.

Eucharistic Prayer for Inclusive Communities (Vol. 1 & 2): Coming from a feminist Catholic perspective, the editors bring together "high church" liturgy from worldwide authors for use in group while celebrating the Eucharist. A unique element is using gender inclusive (and often female) language around God. It comes in a spiral bound version that lays flat for easy use. I received a PDF version, so it is difficult to know the dimensions, but they appear to be 8.5x11.

BodyPrayer: Focused on a more Incarnational tradition, emphasizing the role of our bodies in prayer, reminding the reader that the body is important to holistic spirituality and prayer. Very mobile and can be used individually and in a group.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Friday Round-Up: Women in Ministry, The Role of Sin, Doubt, and Art

Here's some great articles I've read recently:

Men Changing Views on Women (in Ministry): A nice article about the movement of men from a complementarian perspective to an egalitarian theology, where women are allowed and encouraged to be in leadership.

No, It's Not God's Will: A short post emphasizing how fatalistic thinking emphasizing sin can be damaging. It also discusses what my problem is with the New Calvinism, in that everything that happens is viewed as being part of God's will. It's not.

How Does God See Me In The Midst of Sin: This is a great post and video exploring people's reactions when asked how God reacts to them despite sin. The video is very good. I think this, again, emphasizes the limitations of focusing primarily on sin, which really is not the center of the Gospel. Our relationship with God is.

Philip Yancey on Doubt: Excellent article exploring the role of doubt and its relationship to apologetics, both of which have been featured on this blog. One of the best quotes from the article, I think, is, "I ask the same questions, but quite frankly, the biggest encouragement to my faith has not been losing an argument or winning an argument; the biggest encouragement to my faith is seeing it lived out in real life."

New Reformed Movement- Grassroots or Astroturf?: An article from last month that I just discovered poking some holes in the idea that the New Calvinism is really as popular as many claim it to be. Basically, as Jethani says, it seems like the popularity has more to do with a desire for certainty than anything else.

Pop Art: This is not terribly relevant to this blog, but just plain cool (maybe it's relevant by remembering the beauty God has put around us that we don't see--like my attempts? :) ). An artist has taken pictures at 1/40,000 of a second at the moment a water balloon pops. You've got to see the images!

BodyPrayer @pagitt @randomhouse

This post is part of my series on prayer booksThis was one book in the series I purchased and did not receive a complimentary review copy.

BodyPrayer was one of the first books I purchased by Doug Pagitt, and I love it. He is currently posting excerpts from the book on his blog, so that's a great way to get a free introduction to the book. He is also offering a special discount on several of his books, including BodyPrayer.

This small hardcover book is also written by Kathryn Prill and illustrated by Colleen Shealer Olson (when one of the authors is well-known, others get overlooked, so I don't want to overlook them! :) ). The size makes it very user-friendly, as it is quite mobile. One of the practical difficulties is that with it being a hardcover, it doesn't always stay open on its own. So if you're trying to do a prayer posture while reading, it can be a challenge! :)

As indicated by the title, a major focus of this prayer book is not as much on contemplative prayers or meditations (although short ones are included in it), but rather including our bodies in our prayers. As the authors state, so often we forget about our bodies when engaging in prayer and with our spiritualities. As I often discuss on this blog, an Incarnational approach, recognizing the humanity of our spirituality, is very important. This is one of the few prayer books that is centrally Incarnational, which I appreciate.

The authors note that including the body in prayer actually has a long history in Christianity, although we often forget about it in Western Christianity. They offer several suggested prayer postures for various themes and events. One of the things I particularly appreciate is that they explicitly state in the introduction that these are not meant to be formulaic or perfect solutions to prayer. Rather, they are suggestions, essentially prompts for us to engage in prayer in deeper, more holistic ways. I think just approaching prayer slightly differently like this can be particularly powerful.

This book has helped me remember to pay attention to my body during times of prayer and make sure that I posture myself in a way that is most meaningful during that particular prayer. I also used it a couple of years ago during a spiritual formation presentation at my church to help people engage more holistically. There was some initial awkwardness, but people generally had a positive reaction to it. So this book can definitely be used both individually and in a group.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Discovering the God Imagination Class @jonathanbrink

A few months ago, I reviewed Jonathan Brink's new book, Discovering the God Imagination, which I really enjoyed. I also posted an interview with Brink about the book.

To help people dive deeper into the ideas of the book, he is conducting an online class for it, which some of you might be interested in. From his post on the class:

Many of you have asked me what resources are available for Discovering The God Imagination.  I’m pleased to announce that we’re finally announcing an online class with, a division of Southwestern College.
Dates: January 3 to February 18, 2011
Cost: $69
The class will explore the book over seven weeks and will include online interaction with those who are also reading the book.  If you’ve read the book and want to explore it in dialog in community, this is your chance to do so.  The beauty of the online format is that you can participate at any time during the day or week.
This seven week class is limited to the first 20 participants, so if you’re interested, I would encourage you to sign up today.  I’m really looking forward to the dialog that will happen over the seven weeks.
The class takes place online using Blackboard’s classroom technology.  If you’ve used it before you’ll know it’s really simple to use.

Eucharistic Prayer for Inclusive Communities @sofiabmm

This post is part of my series on prayer booksI received a complimentary review copy of this book without a requirement or expectation of a positive review.

Eucharistic Prayer for Inclusive Communities comes in two volumes, Themes and Special Occasions and Possibilities for the Liturgical Year. The volume titles are rather good definitions of the respective books. Volume 1 can be used year-round for various life cycle events, while the second volume is organized aroudn the traditional liturgical year. They were edited by Sheila Durkin Dierks and Bridget Mary Meehan, while the prayers were compiled from a variety of men and women worldwide.

The central focus of the volumes is time to gather to enjoy, celebrate, and experience the Eucharist (also known as Communion). Therefore, they are intended to be used in a group, communal setting rather than for individual devotion.

Besides the focus of the prayers on the Eucharist and community, these books particularly emphasize inclusion--communities that are not defined by walls and in- and out-groups. Meehan, in particular, has been advocating for female clergy in the Roman Catholic Church, so there is a strong feminist theme that runs through the books.

Ultimately, these prayer books are particularly aimed at more liturgical congregants of Catholic, Episcopalian, or Anglican traditions who emphasize inclusion in their communities. As the authors noted in the introduction of volume 1, many of the traditional Eucharistic prayers have been lost over time and create a feeling of exclusion for certain groups. The authors seem to want to help people feel welcomed to worship and connect with God, which is a noble and difficult task.

One way they attempt to be more welcoming is by intentionally using more inclusive language (those who have followed the debates over the TNIV know how controversial this can be in some circles). This inclusive language even moves to language about God. Specifically, the authors state:
A couple of thoughts: we encourage variations in naming toward God. The world is full of amazing possibilities, and as you give yourself permission to stretch in words of Eucharistic prayer, you will also find new ways of calling out to God in all the her/his/its wonderful abundance. (Vol. 1, p. xii)
Gender ambiguity related to God can definitely be controversial, but as most theologians would agree God is without gender, it should be less controversial than many make it out to be, in my opinion. Even if one is comfortable using male gendered language with God, changing our language temporarily can help us remember why we use the words we use.

The websites for each book also include a sample liturgy from the books. These definitely represent the "high church," strong liturgical traditions, so checking a sample could be good if you are unsure if you are a fan of liturgy. If you are a "low church" Protestant who is new to and exploring the liturgical traditions, other prayer books, like Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, may be a better start, as it provides more instruction and guidance. However, for those who love liturgy, this is an excellent resource.

The prayers are strong and definitely represent inclusive language. Those who are open to different approaches to language about God could benefit from these prayers in stepping back from routine ways of talking about God in order to remember the meaning in our language.

Unless the reader is a feminist or a strong advocate of explicit inclusive language, this may not be a resource for regular use. I definitely want to see more inclusion in communities and am an egalitarian rather than a complementarian, but the text was still representative of a perspective that is more "liberal" than my own and would probably not be one I would use. Again, though, it is still useful as a way to reflect on my own position and beliefs, and I can definitely see how this can be a very valuable prayer book for many people.

I received PDF versions of the books, but I was told they come in spiral-bound versions, which are made so they easily lay flat during times of prayer and celebration, making them sound quite user-friendly.

NLT Translation, Facebook, & Give The Word Contest @TyndaleHouse @AdamSab

The Mosaic Bible introduced me to the New Living Translation, which I come to love. Those who follow the Bible translation controversies know the balance between literal, word-for-word translations and paraphrases. I have come to prefer translations more on the paraphrase side because it emphasizes the spirit of the text, while literal translations can be clunky and over-emphasize a fundamental interpretation, which I do not generally support.

Anyway, I have found NLT is an excellent balance between the two methods. It's more on the spirit of the text side compared to many translations, like the ESV (English Standard Version), but is faithful to the text. In my experience, it has been incredibly readable and accurate, which is obviously very important for good devotional and theological Bible reading.

Anyway, right now, the NLT Blog is having a contest for a free One-Year NLT Bible. They are also running the Give the Word contest, which not only supports Wycliffe Bible Translators, the Dream Center, and Oasis International and getting the Bible to those who do not have a copy, but you also get the chance at a cool vacation and other goodies! The NLT Facebook page also frequently announces great giveaways and news about the NLT, like the recently announced NLT Online (there's also an interlinear version for those who read Greek and Hebrew).

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Light for the Journey: Morning and Evening Prayers for Living Into God's World @msa @ChristineSine

This post is part of my series on prayer booksI received a complimentary review copy of this book without a requirement or expectation of a positive review.

Christine Sine, the author of Light for the Journey: Morning and Evening Prayers for Living Into God's World, along with her husband, is the Executive Director of Mustard Seed Associates, an intentional Christian community that extends worldwide to try to live out the Gospel and transform the world and future "one mustard seed at a time." It's a great organization, which I particularly like because of its focus on Celtic Christianity, so I was excited to review Sine's prayer book.

Like some of the other books in this review series, the introduction is particularly powerful and sets the stage well for a powerful engagement with the prayers and devotions. The mission of MSA is immediately evident in the introduction of the book, laying the foundation for the purpose of this prayer book:

I believe that we need to regain our focus. God’s grand plan is not for war and violence with an end-times cataclysm of death and destruction, but rather a renewal of the earth and all its creatures and the restoration of the abundance, mutual concern and love of God’s original creation. (p. 10)

I love this focus not just on contemplation or avoidance of sin, but true renewal of ourselves and the world. It takes great intention to be renewal-minded. And I agree with Sine that God's "grand plan" is for "a renewal of the earth and all its creatures." Being focused on a particular goal helps makes this prayer book more coherent than many, which can definitely be a benefit. As I often advocate on this blog, Sine asserts that "our faith should not be a passive expression of our love for God, but rather an active participation in God’s work to
change our world" (p. 21). Having this kind of excellent foundation makes this prayer book particularly helpful and focused on not just passive contemplation, but meditation with a focus on transforming ourselves to go out again and be active in the world. And that is good.

Further, Sine has a healthy and biblical view of the Gospel, stating, "The good news of the gospel is that we don’t need to wait to see God’s wholeness come into being" (p. 15). So often we assume things will change later and miss out on the transformation going on right now. And so often we forget that we can be a part of that change and transformation.

Sine also states that a central purpose of the prayer book, like many other similar tomes, is to help us gain a rhythm of life that is focused on God. She says it so beautifully that I have to share her words:
In order to move our devotional life beyond its chronic randomness, we need life rhythms that intentionally renew our hope in God’s kingdom vision and connect us to the essential foundations of our faith. Only then can the Holy Spirit work to shape how we allocate time and use resources with God’s priorities in mind. (p. 14)
The prayer book is divided into a rhythm of seven days, with a daily theme. The daily devotions are not short, but they are meaningful. Sine also suggests using one of the themes per week, focusing the whole week on a theme rather than a single day. I like the flexibility of the work, being able to adapt it to each individual's needs.

Additionally, this prayer book can easily be used in both an individual or group setting, which adds to its flexibility. It's definitely one I want to continue using personally.

Limitations of "Biblical"

I frequently hear people defend a concept by saying it's biblical. That's a statement that's hard to argue against because it's just so final.

The problem is different people have different ideas of what is biblical. It largely depends on approach to interpretation and reading the Bible. As everyone knows, anyone can find support for anything within the Bible through proof-texting.

Is that biblical? Of course not. In order to achieve an accurate interpretation, we need to consider the entire text (chapter, book, and entire Scripture) and cultural context. The problem is that people can take all of those things into account and still disagree on interpretation.

So what's the point of calling something biblical? It seems like it's, once again, a way to defend oneself and one's beliefs. It also disallow any ability to have an honest conversation and exploration, leading to Truth. And that's a problem.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals @zondervan @Shane_Claiborne @TweetEnuma @newmonasticism

This post is part of my series on prayer booksI received a complimentary review copy of this book without a requirement or expectation of a positive review.

Common Prayer is a the result of a collaborative effort of Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and Enuma Okoro. All three (from my understanding) have an emphasis on missional living, intentional community, and the new monasticism. This instantly brings the book into a more modern context, particularly as the authors includes notes integrated into the book of marks of the new monasticism.

Like many people who have interacted in the emerging conversation, the authors are re-introducing people (especially younger people) to the beauty and power of liturgy. The introduction is long, but relevant, as most readers will likely be minimally familiar with liturgy and its meaning. This introduction itself is one of the most meaningful parts of the book, reminding the reader of the unity of the worldwide Christian Church. As the authors note, the power of liturgy helps keep all churches on the same calendar, which allows all churches who choose to do so to read the same Scripture and meditate together on the same issues (hence the title common prayer). It's like a National Day of Prayer for the whole world year-round. This alone reminds us we are not alone and need to be mindful of our global brothers and sisters.

Another element of liturgy that they note is that the book is not "so much an 'inspirational' text as it is a workout guide" (p. 20). Oftentimes we don't feel the Spirit moving and don't have much motivation to pray and worship. Liturgy helps us stay in the motion and habit of remembering God. Granted, plenty of people go through the motions without any intent, so remembering why you're doing what you're doing is important. That's why "workout guide" is a great analogy. I usually ride my bicycle to work. There's many days I don't feel like doing it, but once I get going, I usually enjoy it. And the days I choose to drive, I usually miss my bike. I think the same can be true of liturgy, as long as we remember the purpose of them (connecting with God, not going through the motions).

The prayers are definitely intended to be read in a group, socially. There are directions as to how to say the prayers as a call-and-response (if you've never experienced this in a positive way, trust me, it can be awesome). That does not preclude their use individually. A nice element is that there is a songbook at the back with actual sheet music (not just chords--I hate that :) ) for a variety of, as the authors say, various traditions' "greatest hits." Occasionally throughout the liturgical prayers, there is a notation to include a specific song to enhance the experience.

The prayers and songs are a nice compilation of Christian traditions and time periods, reminding me a bit of the Mosaic Bible. It feels modern enough to be relevant, but ancient enough to help feel a connection to the long history of Christianity.

The version I received to review was a book editorial version dated 9/10/10, so there may have been some differences. It was also a thick stack of 8.5x11 pieces of paper bound together, which took away from some of the devotional feel that the final published version seems to have (I've seen it in a bookstore--it has a nice textured cover and seems rather light for its size). It still seems a bit bulky to be used as an individual prayer guide, and again, the goal really is a more communal experience.

They have also created a companion website, with a liturgical calendar to which you can subscribe and daily prayers automatically updated. This element seems more inclined to the individual user. It would be nice if it was set up as an RSS feed to automatically get the daily prayers from the website.


Got a question, struggle, or doubt you'd like to see addressed here? Contact me, and I'll try to discuss it (and may even help you get an answer).