Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Gospel According to Jesus

Had some great reading to take to the beach recently...The Grace of God I just reviewed, and The Gospel According to Jesus by Chris Seay.  This book took a little bit longer to get through as it was less storytelling and more thoughtful examination.  This pastor/writer often takes on the project of finding truth in less obvious places, as in his previous works "The Gospel According to Lost" and "The Gospel According to Tony Soprano", so it would seem that finding Jesus' Gospel would be a great deal easier.  The idea for this work actually came from another project he worked on, "The Voice",  a new Bible translation.  When the writers came to translating the word "righteousness", they found that the Church had a misunderstanding of the word, having to do more with piety and morality than with how they defined it: "God's restorative justice".  It took me a while to wrap my brain around that definition, and thoughtful reflection is not a strength for me, but it was a struggle worth having.  There is dialogue at the end of each chapter with people like Mark Batterson, Dan Kimball and Gabe Lyons, which help flesh out some of the ideas. "God restores us so that we might become agents of restoration", says Alan Hirsch.  It's all about living out the Gospel...not just playing Church, but being the Church.  While I think the primary audience for this book will be those who consider themselves avid students of the Bible, more casual readers may get lost.  If you are like me and can become frustrated with prolonged theological discussion, then this book will be a challenge.  But in the end, I enjoyed the challenge, and I think my understanding of the Gospel according to Jesus has been enriched as a result.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Grace of God

Before I begin this review, I must confess my bias…I am a huge Andy Stanley fan.  Almost ten years ago, JJ and I went to a conference at his church in Alpharetta, Georgia and "discovered" him.  Ever since then, we have soaked up every opportunity  to learn from him through his books and sermons.  He is a gifted communicator that is able to take topics that you have heard countless sermons on and somehow give fresh insight every time.  I was sure that The Grace of God would be no exception.  So to say I was eager for the opportunity to get my hands on this book before its release is a huge understatement.
So on with the review!  The topic of The Grace of God seems like a topic too broad to cover in only 217 pages…I mean, where do you start?!  Well, I'm so glad Andy Stanley chose to start at the very beginning.  When speaking or writing on the topic of grace, authors and speakers often skip straight to stories of the New Testament where the redemption of mankind unfolds in the person of Jesus.  But Andy starts instead with the gritty stories from the Old Testament, showing that “from the very beginning God has responded to the sin of humanity with…well…amazing grace.”  He writes of the many facets of God’s grace, by retelling the stories of Abraham, Judah, Rahab, David, and Jonah, then moving on to the New Testament stories of Matthew, Nicodemus, the woman at the well, and the Prodigal Son.  And while many of these stories were familiar, he still manages to shine a light on something fresh and show how amazing God’s grace truly is.   And throughout each story, the constant theme is that of the God of all creation reaching out to fallen man with a love that defies logic.  And then he challenges the church in a chapter titled "Commissioned for Grace", and cites Acts 15:19, reminding us that we "should not make it difficult for people who are turning to God".  When confronted with the Grace of God, the only appropriate response is to celebrate what He has done and to demonstrate His grace to others.  All of these stories are really God's story, where His love is not earned, but given...not because of anything you've done, but simply because of who He could we not want to share that?  For that is the gospel!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Lost, then Found

A few nights ago we were getting the kids ready for bed, which is often a long process due to the many distractions along the way.  While Caleb was finishing things in the bathroom, I was practicing a song for church the next day, then looking at childrens' church curriculum online (see, I'm the one distracted!).  Makenzie comes to me and asks, "Where is Caleb?"  I tell her he's probably already in bed...she goes to check...he's not there...and we begin to look for him...casually, at first, because we expect to find him quickly.  But, 20 minutes later, I am in a panic!  We have looked everywhere in the house, 3 times at least, and I'm starting to look in ridiculous places like the washing machine and the refrigerator.  I've begun calling the neighbors, I'm screeching out his name in this panicked (LOUD) voice, and JJ is outside searching outside with a Caleb!  At that point, I'm not even sure how it happened, but I went to the sofa and found him, buried under (and completely concealed by) pillows, fast asleep (even though JJ had even tapped on those pillows as he looked under the sofa earlier)!
I don't know if you've ever experienced anything like that, but it makes you profoundly aware of what matters.  Suddenly, there was nothing else.  Music for Sunday, children's curriculum, teeth brushing, or anything else was of no importance with my child missing!  My mind was racing through all the things that could have happened to him.  And then the relief that flooded over me when he was found!  Again, nothing else mattered!  My child was safe and in my arms! 
After the drama calmed down, and all was determined to be fine, it seemed silly that we were in such a panic and he was just asleep on the sofa the whole time.  But I see now that it was probably good for me.  Look at Luke 15, where you find the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son.  Can you grasp the intensity with which they look for that which is lost?  I sure can now!  I want to carry that same intensity around with me each day, that same love that God has for all of His children.  And so many of his children are just like Caleb was...asleep.  Even, like my favorite Keith Green song, "Asleep in the Light".  They are numb to the voices calling to them, and the only thing that can wake them up is someone's loving touch. 
And don't think that everyone will understand why you have that you think the 99 sheep liked it when the shepherd left to find the one?  The older brother was angry that his father was welcoming the prodigal son.  But we have to remember that we once were lost, and through God's Amazing Grace, now we are found.  My prayer is that though some may be blind, through God's Amazing grace, they may see.