Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Review: The Structure of Hebrews: A Text-Linguistic Analysis

The Structure of Hebrews: A Text-Linguistic Analysis The Structure of Hebrews: A Text-Linguistic Analysis by George H. Guthrie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

To start, I have to admit that I did not 'read' the book like I do most books. What I mean by that, is that I didn't read every word on the page, but rather read for content, skimming through sections at times (it's a method I had to adopt in grad school to get through all the reading I was assigned at times). I was given a reading list by a mentor whom I meet with regularly, and this book was HIGHLY recommended that if I were able to get my hands on it, I had to read it. Looking at the price on Amazon for used copies almost gave me a heart attack, but I was quickly surprised when (out of just sheer humor) I submitted a request for an interlibrary loan at my local library to see if they could find it. To my amazement, about 1-2 weeks after submitting the request, they called me and said my book was in. Having a limited time to read it also played into the factor of reading for content rather than making sure I absorbed EVERY last word on the page.

Overall, this is a very helpful book for one who wants to study the book of Hebrews. HOWEVER, it is NOT the easiest read I've ever trekked through. The first half of the book is HEAVILY involved with the history of text-linguistic analysis involving Hebrews, and once the author moves on to addressing the actual text, he utilizes the Greek text at times (without translating). Luckily for me, I've been continuing to work on my Greek so I was able to get through it, but it might prove a little more difficult for someone who hasn't done any work with Greek.

I found Guthrie's structure of Hebrews highly fascinating and a great help to grasping the overarching picture of what the author of Hebrews might have been trying to accomplish when writing the letter. I ESPECIALLY love the various charts and illustrations that he provided in the book to illustrate what he was trying to say. I was able to create my own flow chart based upon his findings that I'm planning on utilizing next semester for our guy's bible study in our campus ministry.

Having never really studied Hebrews super in-depth, I am unable to compare this book and the structures within to other scholar's, however I can say that what Guthrie presents here is pretty convincing. Looking at the letter as two genres that are interwoven and are both moving to bring the hearer to an overall conclusion (though doing it different ways) is something, that to quote Guthrie, "makes our methods of outlining difficult, but rhetorically would have been super effective and powerful!"

If you're ever studying Hebrews and have an opportunity to read this book, I recommend that you at least attempt it! At the very least, check out chapter 7 (and utilize the index to look up techniques/methods that are talked about in the earlier chapters to fill in any confusion you face).

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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Review: The Apache Wars: The Hunt for Geronimo, the Apache Kid, and the Captive Boy Who Started the Longest War in American History

The Apache Wars: The Hunt for Geronimo, the Apache Kid, and the Captive Boy Who Started the Longest War in American History The Apache Wars: The Hunt for Geronimo, the Apache Kid, and the Captive Boy Who Started the Longest War in American History by Paul Andrew Hutton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I will say up front in this review that I was unable to finish the book. Attribute some of it to the time in my life when the ministry season is revving back up or to some other factor. I would be one to say that one of my favorite subjects to study in school is/was history. So when I saw that this was an option for a book to review, I was intrigued. For all the excitement that I had for this book, I must say that I was a little disappointed.

First off there are many parts of this book that are interesting and had me turning page after page to keep reading. Yet there were many more places in the book that I just simply lost interest. One thing that the author does an AMAZING job at, is conveying very detailed information on the historical period of the Apache Wars. There were many things that I learned that I never knew, including some of the misinformation that was circulated through the American newspapers during that painted a massacre as a military victory. One downside of having SO much information being communicated in this book, is the fact that I found myself forgetting who was who from time to time, especially whenever it seemed like a new military commander was coming onto the scene every other page.

If you are a DIE HARD enthusiast of history, and you're curious to learn more about this time period of American history, feel free to check this book out. Be warned, it is a long one, but you certainly might be able to get further in it than I did. I could easily see this book become a resource for a college level class on American history for a specific time period research project and/or a supplemental resource that a student would be required to read and write a review on. Luckily for me, I'm not a student having to read it and write a review on it! =)

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Monday, May 16, 2016

Review: Balanced Christianity

Balanced Christianity Balanced Christianity by John R.W. Stott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I haven't really read anything of Stott's but I have heard him speak (on DVD) and have heard many other people talk about how impactful his writings are, so I figured when I saw this little book in the clearance section of the bookstore last December for a pretty low price, I figured what the heck (It also helps that Scot McKnight wrote something for the book on the back... I like McKnight so when he recommends something, I try to at it my list of things to check out). All in all, this book is pretty good. I really like and appreciate how Stott sought to take the seeming division in Christianity today between people who find themselves on one side of the issue and others on the other, and find the pros and cons from both sides and find a way to merge the two, finding a balance of faith to live out, and not be guilty of falling to the extreme of one of the sides. This is a very short book, and frankly it shouldn't have taken me as long as it did to finish reading (I took breaks, had another kid, worked, and my life just overall contributed to my lack of devotion to this book, haha). I have a feeling that if he were still alive today and I had the opportunity to meet him, we would have gotten along. I really appreciated his willingness to listen to both sides of the issue (even with the side he didn't agree with), and find a common ground on which to move forward. His devotion to a movement toward unity for Christians, regardless of denominational preference, is VERY appealing to me and truly speaks to my heart. Overall, this isn't the BEST book I've ever written, BUT it is worth reading nonetheless. It's short so it wouldn't take you much time at all. The recorded interview in the back of the book is interesting and most of it is worth the read as well.

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Review: Sending Church Stories of Momentum and Multiplication

Sending Church Stories of Momentum and Multiplication Sending Church Stories of Momentum and Multiplication by Dan Smith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have to admit up front that I am probably a little bias since I worked with Dan and company up at Momentum (around the same time that some of the stories he shares in his book occurred). At the same time, however, I feel that my experiences have given me a different type of insight and view on this book (since I DO know what and who he's talking about). First off, I have to say that the insight that Dan provides from his experiences at Momentum and in the Cleveland area have been invaluable to much what how I do ministry. That being said, I'm confident in saying that there are many people who would NOT like what Dan has to say about ministry, in particularly church plants and congregations in general (I would probably add that the MAIN reason for this is the fact that he's unorthodox, recognizes that it's NOT an 'us vs. them' "industry" and therefore seeks to collaborate with other congregations to maximize the Kingdom impact that Momentum does). This is probably the BIGGEST reason I'm attracted to much of what Dan writes in 'Sending Church' and to his philosophy of ministry (unity, even across denominational lines is a core value of mine).

Much of what Dan lays out in his book calls out the current approach to 'church' expansion by many established congregations today. Citing research that reveals that the majority of church congregations today are only effective (or at least are MOST effective) during the first 30 years in existence, Dan calls on churches to consider adopting a 'sunset clause'. Not necessarily saying that the congregation should shut its doors after a set number of years, but he argues that if church congregations today thought this way, their decisions would be surrounded with much more urgency and careful consideration as to its effectiveness for the Kingdom. Additionally Dan touches on something that I think is excruciatingly difficult for many church leaders today, when he calls for congregations today to be a holistic 'sending church', willing to not only send money, but also 'its own' people. If we are called to be Kingdom-minded (seek His Kingdom first above all else and just let everything else fall into place), and we take that seriously, we have to be willing (and even encouraging) to challenge people to ask if God wants them to step out in their faith and move to this new Kingdom-endeavor.

I'm not going to divulge the entire book here (it's a short book anyway so go read it!), but I will say that even if you don't agree with what Dan writes here 100% of the time, this book will encourage you and excite you for Kingdom-expansion/multiplication and church planting. Get this book. Read it. Argue with it. Read it again. Find ways to let the stories of what God is doing in one of the most depressed cities in America spur you to action in making your life more Kingdom-focused.

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Thursday, February 18, 2016

Pondering New Life In Christ In Today's College Environment

I know I titled this as an article of a magazine or even a paper, but hey, what can I say, I enjoy academia even when I'm not "in" it. =)

I was talking with a student the other day and they said something that stuck with me. It struck me as peculiar when they said it, but I just dismissed it in my head and moved on in the conversation. The truth is, however, it's something that I haven't truly been able to fully get over and has resurfaced and commanded my attention (often more times than I would like). It's also a startling confirmation of the mindset that I believe many American college students who claim to be Christians today have developed. The student said that even though much of what the college campus life views as 'fun' is probably not what we should do as Christians, God still wants us to enjoy life. So sometimes that means as long as we don't go overboard and do the really bad stuff, it's okay to indulge a little and enjoy ourselves, after all, we're saved. This isn't verbatim by any means, but this was the general impression that they were leaving.

Now I know that if you're reading this and you're not college age, this might sound obvious to you that there are some faulty beliefs here. This might even be apparent if you're reading this and you are college aged. However the thing that you have to understand (and that even though I'm not THAT far away age-wise from these guys, I've begun to understand), is that college and the atmosphere that comes with it demands a lot from students (This is being echoed currently by some University officials which you can read about in this article). Yes the stresses of pursuing a degree and all that jazz have always been a big part of the life of a college student, but today these stresses have become amplified. It demands more and more every semester, all the while planting the idea/thought that IT is all that matters during the time that you spend there (it can also be stated as they believe that 'THEY' are all that matter... [i.e. get a degree so THEY can get a job, etc]). It's no wonder to me why students like the one I talked with desperately seek for enjoyment in places that are easily available to them. With all their time being demanded by school (not to mention if they have a job(s) and/or a significant other), they often settle for the closest, 'safest' (and when I say 'safest', I'm speaking in terms of doing stuff with friends and people that they know) and 'coolest' things (i.e. parties, bar hopping, etc.) to entertain themselves or escape the pressures of school/life. Yet this doesn't settle well with me, at least in terms of living life as a Christian (ESPECIALLY in your college years) with this mindset.

When I hear a student reference Jesus' words from John 10.10 (the verse students often point to about how Jesus wants us to enjoy life), I typically never hear it interpreted in light of one of Jesus' other sayings regarding how those who follow him should experience life (i.e. Luke 9.23-24). Yes Jesus did say that "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly," but he also said "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it." When we come to Christ, we experience a change, and I'm not talking about JUST a change of attitude. We literally become a new creation (2 Cor. 5.17). Our old self/life is officially dead and done away with. That's one of the biggest reasons that I love why when a person chooses to surrender their life to Christ, they get baptized (it's a time when their old life is buried in a grave of water, and the rise to a 'new(-ness) of life'... (Rom. 6.4)... they 'live' the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus... they EXPERIENCE the Gospel!).

It seems to me that this reality of a "new life" is completely missing from much of this generation of college students' theology. It doesn't help either that there is an influx of college students who are increasingly interested in American politics. I'm not saying that's bad in and of itself, but when politics becomes the 'medium' a person invests in more so than faith, things get skewed. Living in a country where 'rights' are the things we fight over (sometimes even killing [literally and metaphorically] over), it's often times VERY difficult for a person (especially a college student) to comprehend the concept of taking those very rights (which they often times fight for through very heated dialogue), laying them down, and then walking away without looking back. Martin Luther once wrote about the importance of government and how important it is that Christ-followers occupy positions (because of the very nature of WHAT a Christ-follower is), but I can't help but wonder what he might say today concerning how so much of our interests in politics center specifically on 'an individual's rights.'

This new life that we receive from Christ (the one that's redeemed and forgiven) is the life that Christ came to grant to us (by pure grace) and have us enjoy (John 10.10b). The old life that we left behind when we surrendered to Christ as our Savior, is the life that the thief stole, killed, and destroyed (as we were slaves to sin and were 'dead' ... [Ephesians 2.1]). This 'life-switch' is what the Gospel is about. Jesus came to 'switch out' our old, dead, sin-enslaved life with a new, forgiven, and sanctified one. With this being said, I believe it's a little anti-Gospel to say that this new life that we have graciously been given by Christ Himself is ours to do the things with that our old life enjoyed. Jesus' role of Savior is closely tied with His role as Lord. "If anyone wishes to come after Me [and accept the life that I give abundantly], then he MUST deny himself [his life... i.e. the old life that's now dead], and take up his cross DAILY and follow Me."

This is why so much of the 'old' life is incompatible with the 'new.' Our old life (and the things we 'enjoyed' [I use that term loosely]) is gone. If we understood the cost of how we were able to 'start over' and receive new lives, I truly believe we would take a hard look at the things we do. What I mean is this. If the things we 'enjoyed' (again... loosely) in our old lives contributed to (and in actuality continually brought us to the point of) our death, and we have been given literally the GREATEST gift ever, and new life (that's ALIVE), WHY would we even WANT to go back and do the things (or even mess with the things for that matter) that destroyed our former life and were killing us?!?

On another note (but one that's intrinsically intertwined with this mindset), it also troubles me sometimes when I hear well-meaning people seem to offer 'excuses' to these students (i.e. 'their primary focus should be on school while they're in college') rather than words of encouragement to focus on their relationship with Christ, even above school. I understand the desire to want to do well (whether it be to not waste money or because they're wanting to pursue a career in something) but I fail to understand that if a person TRULY pursues Christ with ALL of his/her life, and submits to Him not only as their savior but also as their Lord, that they would still put 'school' ahead of their faith. The way I see/read it, there's no chronological clarifying statement on Jesus' expectations (i.e. give me everything, except when you're in college or need to have something else above me for a time). Why is it that when students need our encouragement to press on in keeping Christ first, even in the face of ever increasing stress by way of school, we offer excuses (i.e. "it's okay that you skip opportunities to participate in the community that is the body of Christ or opportunities to put your faith into practice if you have a lot of work to do for your classes..."). Once again, I think of it like this. We have been given the GREATEST gift EVER! Our gratitude ALONE should cause us to WANT to be around the One who saved us (gave us this new life) 24/7!!! That doesn't mean that there isn't any value or worth in these other things, because there are. What I am saying, however, is that the value and worth of these things pales in comparison to Christ.

I know I'm just one person, and you might be tempted to simply view this gigantic 'word-vomit' simply as just another poor, misguided fool's musings about the world around him. But let me ask you this, what if something I've rambled about here is true? What if the college years of a person's life TRULY are the most formative years of their lives (and their faith)? What if by giving students excuses to 'check-out' of their faith for short periods of time (often times in good intentions... [i.e. get school work done]), we've also unintentionally opened the door for them to develop the idea that maybe Christ really isn't as important as we've all been told?

I'm not an 'professional' expert. There are PLENTY of things in life and faith that I still don't know (and I'm not ashamed to admit that). I try to make it my passion and purpose to solely pursue Christ with every waking moment of my [new] life. Some days I succeed, and others I don't, but the one thing I hope that when people look at me, they see a person rehabilitating ((re)learning how to live [this new] life with Christ first) with the Holy Spirit as my "physical therapist" (guide).

Just some thoughts to wrestle with.

Musing on,

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Blog Update

Of the course of its lifespan, this blog has underwent a number of changes. Each change has lead to a very different 'blogging experience', some good and some not so much. Recently however, I came to the conclusion that it was time for yet another change. I recently have been feeling the conviction to get back into the practice of writing blogs. I've also always found myself pondering questions that I thought it would be fun to share with people and have them join me in wrestling with them. That being said, I never really blogged on my ideas and questions because I would always forget about them whenever I had time to blog. I've decided to adopt a practice that many of my former professors mentioned when I was in school and that some of my friends currently do to help with that. Are you ready to hear what that is? Here it comes.... I'm going to write it down and blog on it when I have my next free time! What a novel concept right? All joking aside, I think this is going to be exciting for me, and hopefully for you as well. This being said, however, there are probably going to be times when I write something that might 1) not make sense to you (let's be real... if my teaching is any indication of my ability to rationalize things in a coherent way, you'll be lost 95% of the time when reading this thing... =) ...) or 2) create a little bit of tension. This being said I wanted write this blog post as a disclaimer and let it serve to prepare you and help you understand a little bit as to why I am doing this. The biggest reason I'm doing this is to once again be involved in the create writing realm (a big reason for my desire for this is because I have found that it helps me wrestle with creativity and come up with new ways to explain things and looking at things). However a secondary reason for this is that I'm going to open up this blog for the college students to be able to read, and one of my core values in ministry is critical thinking. I want to present them with an environment where they can ask questions and get responses, where they can read my thoughts or insights (as unimpressive as they may be) on particular passages or theological concepts that I've been mulling over, in hopes that maybe SOMETHING they read or interact with will help them grow closer to Christ. Maybe it will be the simplest of concepts or maybe it'll be the most complicated idea. Regardless, my life's desire is that when people interact with me (whether it be in person or through some sort of digital interface), they not only see Christ but they move closer to Him. I hope that you will enjoy reading, wrestling with, and interact with this 'new' blog just as much as I hope to. I will continue to add reviews of books that I've been reading via Goodreads (which if you don't know what that is, CHECK IT OUT!... It's like social media for book-readers!!) I will also periodically add in some kind of ministry update, but let's be honest... I struggled with those on here, haha.. (but hey, maybe that will change too!!!). =)  Here's to the 'new' and... (hopefully).... the faith-enriching direction of my blog. As always, thanks for reading!! =)


Saturday, January 30, 2016

Review: The Heaven Promise: Engaging the Bible's Truth About Life to Come

The Heaven Promise: Engaging the Bible's Truth About Life to Come The Heaven Promise: Engaging the Bible's Truth About Life to Come by Scot McKnight
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoy Scot McKnight's work, even if I come across things on which we don't see exactly eye-to-eye. Any chance I get to read his work (books, blogs, etc.) I typically jump at the chance. Additionally, even though a book on Heaven can often times prove to be a little 'oxymoronic' (I find it a little funny that people can write lengthy books on the subject of Heaven... since they haven't been there and are all going off of the same text [the Bible]). Ironically enough, McKnight touches on this very thing. This being said, one of the most refreshing aspects of this book (as is the case with much of his writings), is that McKnight grounds all of his conclusions on Scripture, and doesn't go beyond what we're given in the Bible.

In his book, McKnight centers the entire book around the fact that Heaven is more than just a place that we allow our imaginations to go wild about, it's a promise made, kept, and protected by God Himself! Using this fact as the foundation, he then proceeds to look at and exegete many of the primary texts within the Bible that people like to use to support their own views and promote their own ideas regarding the afterlife. Even in the final section of the book when he takes a look specifically at hot questions that people ask and have debated regarding Heaven. While there were times you can find yourself wishing McKnight would answer more directly about his conclusions and/or personal opinion, he does an adequate job or presenting various positions, and how they stack up against the Biblical evidence. Sometimes, and he admits this, he will never outright say his position explicitly, but rather simply hint at what he thinks might be the truth. He avoids making an 'absolute' claim because there's not enough evidence in Scripture to explicitly answer the question (these questions are always secondary).

Overall, I would THOROUGHLY recommend this book! It's a welcomed edition the current available literature regarding Heaven and life after death (and if I do say so myself, probably a better overall read than most of the others because of how much he grounds his processes and conclusions in Scripture). Even if you end up reading this book and disagree with McKnight and his conclusions, you'll find that he presents his conclusions in a logical and respectful way that helps you understand another perspective on the issue.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

New Semester (Spring 2016)

Hey guys! Sorry I'm not very good at blogging. As I am trying to become more disciplined in areas of my life, this is one of the things that has continually come to mind, so I'm making myself do it, haha.

I just finished a new newsletter, so you should be getting it shortly via email (if you haven't gotten it already). I just wanted to reiterate how excited I am about this new semester! One of the biggest reasons I know that I'm more excited about this semester than some in the past, is because after working on a good chunk of lessons, graphics, and the like over Christmas break, my computer deleted it all when I got back to the office this month. Now normally that would make me dread the work/events ahead because I would have to redo EVERYTHING. However, even though it is a pain at times to redo the work I already did, I find it enjoyable and exciting because I'm doing what I enjoy. More than that I'm doing what I'm called to do. It's so encouraging when you feel a confirmation on what you're doing and you're actually excited to do it (even if at times you have more work to do than you would normally). I don't know if I'm making much sense, but since this is a blog and I'm trying to get back into the practice and discipline of writing, you're just going to have to deal with it, haha. =)