During this Lenten season my scripture reading guide took me through the books of Jeremiah and Lamentations. To get more out of my reading, I read along with The Message of Jeremiah by Derek Kidner and this exposition The Message of Lamentations by Christopher Wright. Both of these books helped my reading immensely. During a time when our world is threatened by widespread sickness, it’s even more sobering to read of a time and place that was much more severe.
These books put their subject in historical and biblical context, giving the reader a much better picture of what it was like in ancient times for a city to be invaded by a cruel and powerful army; its starving people brutally treated, killed, led into exile in a foreign land. Forsaken by the God whom they had forsaken. Kidner and Wright also shed light from the New Testament on the writings of Jeremiah and Lamentations helping to connect their meaning with our own time and place.
It is difficult to read Jeremiah and Lamentations without help from those with in-depth understanding of them. This is probably the main reason these books of the Old Testament are largely ignored by Christians. Kidner and Wright do a very good work in showing what real gems are these biblical books.
Praying through the Canon of St. Andrew has been a blessed experience for me during Lent. This tradition of Eastern Orthodox Christianity was new to me. Frederica Matthews-Green’s notes and considerations for each day are an essential guide. Lent is a season of lament for suffering and for sin. This year we live through a climate of worldwide suffering during Lent. Especially in a time like this the confessions of the Canon may seem overdone to many in our Western culture but, for me, they were an encouragement to probe more deeply into the ways that I have fallen short of God’s careful desires for me and in the ways I often care for other people. I think that, without times of some bitter reflection on our own sinfulness, we cheat ourselves out of a deeper understanding of God’s love for us. We have so few occasions to exercise genuine humility because we are so prone to avoid the opportunities for it. In the end though, as Matthews-Green says:
“… And as humility increases, so does joy, because you can let go of false fronts, and know yourself loved exactly the way you are. God will not leave you the way you are; His will is to make you like He is. ‘You, therefore, must be perfect has your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). This is a lifelong journey, but not one you have to make alone. …”
This little book is among the best Lenten reading that I have found. Edna Hong wrote this in response to overhearing a clergyman’s opinion that the season of Lent is far too long for modern times. Whether you are tempted to agree or not, this book will put things in a perspective which is the crucial importance of our awareness of both our fallen human nature and our divine nature of bearing God’s image. There is a tendency in Christian circles to emphasize one to the near exclusion of the other. Either we are ridden with an overwhelming or unhealthy sense of guilt, or we neglect that sense of guilt in favor of completely affirming picture of God’s love and acceptance. Both of these extremes leave us spiritually stunted, relying on our own ineffectual efforts in self acceptance. Edna Hong’s perspective is that the downward journey of honest self-examination is crucial to a genuine ascent in the understanding and experience of God’s love.
“There is no motivation for works of love without a sense of gratitude, no sense of gratitude without forgiveness, no forgiveness without contrition, no contrition without a sense of guilt, no sense of guilt without a sense of sin.” (p 24)
Hong explores the ways that we evade self-seeing in our relation to others and the world (horizontal) and in our relation to God (vertical) as well as the “dead end” efforts we can experience along the “descent” of self examination. A healthy understanding of our true position in relation to God provided by the Cross of Jesus Christ does not come easily or naturally to us, but is more that worth the effort (without earning it) to practice and live out. Edna Hong is a trustworthy guide.
I’m sorry that this book is currently out of print and hard to find in good condition for a reasonable price. My copy is pretty worn from other’s use. I hope it lasts me a lifetime.
I enjoyed this book very much. I couldn’t help comparing it to Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. Mark Allan Powell has done a much better job of describing my spiritual journey as a “First and Second Naïvetè” than Rohr did with his “First and Second Half” of life model. The focus of Rohr’s book seems too much on the self, its “container” and “contents,” and its trajectory, “Falling Upward.” Powell’s focus, as its title indicates, is on what it means to be “loving Jesus” through all phases of life. His is an approach to Christian “piety” that grows with maturity and understanding. His tone is humble, balanced, and welcoming, where Rohr often seems arrogant, judgmental and off-putting. Each chapter describes an aspect of Christian faith and spirituality that takes a deeper account of one’s beliefs, faith and practice in the course of life without losing its passionate focus on the One with whom “all things are possible” and on whom all things depend. This is a very good guide book for renewing, and growing in one’s faith by loving Jesus.
I’ve been savoring this book. Its short chapters and conversational style make that a good way to read it. This isn’t a book about apologetics, except maybe where one’s own faith is concerned. It’s more about epistemology–how we know what we know–where it comes to the really important matters upon which our most important commitments rest. The author’s musings are interrupted occasionally by the snarky, sarcastic comments of his “Inner Atheist.” I’ve heard them all before and found them more annoying than anything else. My inner atheist is a bit more subtle.
I had been an intentional Christian for about 13 years when, in 1987, I read Daniel Taylor’s book, The Myth of Certainty: The Reflective Christian and Risk of Commitment. I felt like the author had somehow gotten inside my head and knew very well the questions and doubts about my faith with which I had been wrestling for some time. I was rather awestruck by this. What I read in that book greatly helped make my faith intellectually and reflectively sustainable and growing through many years of wrestling and inquiry.
With this book, Daniel Taylor has done it to me again, discussing in much greater detail how faith and the doubts of a skeptical nature can reinforce and balance each other in crucial ways. Taylor understands the importance of doctrinal belief and propositional truth but sets them in the context of relational truths that are what support anyone’s most important beliefs; whether he or she be a “religious” person or not. We are all characters living out a life story. Reflection on the nature of that story and the meaning it gives to one’s life is a frequent concern for many people; even some Christians who may fit the Taylor’s description of himself as a “skeptical believer.” For most of my life, I’ve had a part in the most compelling story I know. Daniel Taylor has articulated the thinking behind the living of such a life for someone like me better than any one that I know of. It’s been quite a journey. I look forward to where it all leads.
Reading Mike Mason’s book, The Gospel According to Job, along with the biblical book of Job has been quite an experience for me. When the book of Job came up again recently in the devotional calendar that I use, my reaction was, “Not again?! Didn’t I read this during Lent?” But something told me that it was important to read it then. Mason’s book was already sitting unread on my shelf so I decided to read through Job a chapter a day along with this book. I’m glad I did. Continue reading →
I have voted in every election since the 1980 presidential election. I’ve often been unhappy with the choices presented by the two major parties. This time both of those choices have fallen far below an acceptable level for me and for many others. I think this election presents a rare opportunity and so I have decided to vote for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party candidate, even though I’m not a Libertarian or a strong adherent to any political party platform and even though I don’t think the Libertarians will win the election, at least not in the first round. If you find yourself in a similar position, you may want to read on…
I’ve read a few introductions to New Testament study and interpretation. I can’t imagine one being better than this one. Written as a seminary text book, it should also be quite valuable to, and essential reading for, anyone who teaches or preaches from the Bible, or who wishes to seriously study it and apply its teaching in individual and community life. Certainly anyone in this position or with this intent should understand the things that this book explains about interpreting the New Testament. Continue reading →
This book was published in 1991 but has much to say to the Church today. It saddens me that a book like this has apparently had so little impact on the Christian Church. The author’s main concern is for the way that mainline Protestant churches, particularly his own Presbyterian Church (USA), had been losing younger members to more conservative evangelical or charismatic churches. This trend has been well documented and is still very evident today. Some of these people grow disillusioned, in one way or another, with their experience and may seek to return to the mainline, but it’s a trickle that won’t sustain the churches. Many more just seem to abandon the Church altogether. Something is missing. The problem Johnson sees is the way mainline denominations have all but abandoned their emphasis on the need for a vibrant personal commitment to following Jesus as a disciple for the sake of the cultural relevance offered by social activism. “In an effort to be universally relevant, we have often forgotten about individuals both inside and outside the church who need to be introduced to a personal faith. … Without personal conversion, either of the nurtured or dramatic type, the church lacks the energy to fulfill it’s mission.” (pp. 169-70.) The problem is that most of these members and clergy feel very uncomfortable or inadequate in talking to people about their commitment to Christ.
In the fall of 2009, I bought a bicycle that I could use instead of my car and started riding it to work. I live only a few miles from my work place and the bike route takes me through some much more pleasant scenery than the car ride. The bike ride takes only about 15 minutes. Riding by car can sometimes take that long because of the traffic. The bike came complete with fenders, head and tail lights powered by a dynamo in the front wheel hub, a rear rack, an 8 speed internal rear hub and a warning bell; a complete city commuter bike that I could ride comfortably in street clothes. There were a couple summers back in the 1990s that I rode my Schwinn road bike to work at AT&T. That was 12 miles each way over some difficult roads. I had to use the showers at work and bring a change of clothes. That was a nice workout, but I couldn’t do it regularly. Now I work closer to home and regular bike commuting seemed like a real possibility.