FeelMyFaith.com

Creative Biblical content at the intersection of life and faith.

A New Book on the Horizon???

A New Book on the Horizon???

The last book I released was my first book, #TheWalk in 2014.  I had no intentions of it being my one and only, but sometimes life puts you on standby.  I did contribute to a devotional in 2016.  I have been writing, I just haven’t been finishing.

The release of book #1 was exciting but I didn’t anticipate what happened next.  I had heard of it, but never truly experienced it.  Runners call it “the wall.”  Nerds call it “writer’s block.”  

I have never run far enough to make it to the wall.  I give up before I get tired.  Honestly, I just hate running.  Carrying too much fat will keep you out of any danger of going too far.  

I can tell you, writer’s block is a very real thing.  Whatever it is or isn’t, it will serve as my excuse for 2015.  My computer contains the partial manuscripts of now three other books I started and hated.  It also contains numerous blog posts that seemed more like meandering rather than anything of substance with meaning.  Writer’s block is your brain hitting the wall.  I think it is you being trapped in the last thing you did.  I wrote #TheWalk, then I couldn’t leave it.  I found myself writing #TheWalk only using different words and topics; if that makes any sense.

2016 was an emotional, physical, and spiritual drain.  Emotionally I shed a lot of tears.  For the families in our church it seemed like one devastating loss after another.  We buried a lot of very loved people in what seemed to be a dark year.  In some seasons you don’t need to write, you just need to cry with people; and cry we did. 

Physically I was leading a growing church, teaching a class, and serving as chaplain for a football team.  Each of them wonderful experiences, but I just couldn’t keep up.  

Spiritually, 2016 was a walk in the wilderness.  I’ve been there before.  I’m not sure why those jaunts into the dry are necessary, but God does seem have a purpose for you in them.  It’s the place where you’re not quite sure what God is doing because it seems like nothing productive is happening.  You’re just stuck.  I’ve counseled people in that place before so I took my own advice to just keep reading, praying, and doing.  The oasis is out there, somewhere.  Sometimes you find it.  Sometimes it finds you.  

At the very least take courage, four remarkable men in the Bible had long walks in the wilderness: Moses, David, Jesus, and Paul.  You’re in good company. 

In the midst of the emotional, physical, and spiritual; I wanted to write, I just couldn’t.

Good news, I’m back - I think.

With some staff reorganization, emotional rest, spiritual refreshment and some web help (kudos Bridgette!) I have tried to tame life and get back to the place where I can create content.  So here is what I want to do.  

1 - I want to tell you what I’m doing so that you will hold me accountable to finish it.

2 - I want to tell you what I’m doing so that I will feel the internal pressure of getting it done.

3 - I want to see who may be out there willing to help me.

4 - I want to give us all something  to which we can look forward with anticipation and excitement.

The current project is a book about David that is emerging in two, possibly three versions.  In 2005 I had a vision for this book as I preached a series of sermons and was impacted deeply by the content that came of it.  This was one of the few series of sermons we did not publish on audio because I wanted to write it before everyone heard it, but it never happened.

As a monument to intentions without execution, last week my amazing wife produced the cassette tapes of these sermons.  For those of you born later than about 1993, if you ever get your hands on one of those things DO NOT put it in anything until you search YouTube for an instructional video on just what to do with it.

David revisited has come on the occasion of my chaplaincy with the Christian Heritage School football team.  As part of our pre-game I took our team through the life of David and talked about 12 characteristics of a man after God’s own heart.  The first printing of the book will be a personal version I plan to give to the team that is born from those chapel talks.  My goal is to get this printing completed by graduation.

That said, I see a potential version that could be tailored into a devotional for student athletes.  That’s where I need some help.  Perhaps there are some coaches, FCA leaders, or student pastors out there who would like to massage that message into something that would impact some athletes.  If so, let me know, I would love to talk with you.

The final version of the book will be a printing for a more general Christian audience.  I am currently reworking this material as I am preaching through it with Liberty.  I am encouraged by the content that is coming from this and from the comments people are making on Sundays.  Perhaps this version will be ready by early fall.

As that version nears completion I would love to gather a team of people who may be interested in creating discussion material for small groups and sermon guides for pastors.  FeelMyFaith.com needs a few more fingers!

So that’s the update.  Pray.  Encourage.  Help me if you can!  

Before you go, leave me some ideas.  Maybe there are some good things online, perhaps some apps or some services for writers/authors of which I am not aware.  Please share them with me.

I would love it if you would leave a prayer.  My experience with #TheWalk was supernatural as I had a group of people praying for me as I wrote the manuscript.  I penned over 170 pages for the rough draft in 4 days.  It just flowed!  This one is happening more slowly, but the good news is - it is coming and I want the Lord’s guidance as it does.

Perhaps if enough of you leave a prayer in the comments, I would like to include them in an after material type section of the book.  Thanks for reading, supporting, praying and helping!  I look forward to hearing from you.

Continue reading
719 Hits
0 Comments

Death by Devotional

Death by Devotional

I am about to sell you something that will kill you. I stand at the head of the line of a long list of professionals that should also admit the same. Alongside of me should come Mr. Mayfield ice cream man, the guy who sold you your car, the cashier at your favorite sporting goods store, and a vast number of servers, cooks, and clerks at your favorite restaurants and leisure spots; each of us a testament to the adage “too much of a good thing.”

Ice cream, good. A gallon a day, bad.

Your car, good. Your car going too fast while texting and driving, deadly.

All the stuff you can buy and do at the sporting goods store, fun. Any of it crashing upside your head, concussion.

Food and fun, always good. Living only for food and fun, always bad.

So what is it that I am selling you to death? A devotional!  

A devotional?  

On my website I have listed the Grace, Hope, and Love Daily Devotional. I think it is a fantastic collection of Scripture and applicable stories that would be a blessing to anyone who reads it, but I am warning you not to misuse it. Too many people misunderstand the intent of a devotional book. For them, something that was written to help their spiritual walk has become spiritually crippling.  

So that your devotional reading can be a blessing and not a curse, here is a list of cautions and encouragements when it comes to using devotionals.

A devotional book is not a devoted life.

The word devotion in Scripture is a powerful one. In the New Testament it is often translated from a word that entails three concepts; to beware, to believe, and to apply. This should be a daily expectation of the disciple seeking counsel from God’s Word. We need God’s Word to reveal, redeem, and repair areas of life of which we need to beware and/or be-aware. We need our faith informed so we may more strongly believe. We need God’s Word applied so we may obey.  

A devotional book is purposed to help you with this endeavor in a daily, structured way. But devotional reading is not a devoted life. The word devotion in its strictest sense speaks of what you give yourself to. Devotion is not a something you read, it is something you do. We do not need a Bible reading plan as much as we need a Bible doing plan. Just because you are reading a devotional book does not mean you are giving yourself to the Lord in a devotional life.

A devotional book is a start not a stop.

Many great pastors and Christian thinkers have written devotional material to help shepherd and feed God’s people. There are many notable ones in churchdom, but one of classics is Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening. The title reflect a constant theme in Scripture. In the creation week there was evening and morning.  David called for those who were truly devoted to God’s Word to meditate on it day and night (Psalm 1). Morning and evening, evening and morning is the the rhythm of creation set in motion by God.

Many people purchase devotional books that they use either first thing in the morning to get them going, or perhaps they use them at night as they seek to still the busy mind. I find no fault with either.  Yet the concept of morning and evening as devotional reading is not meant as a discipline of consideration - as in to make sure you do it daily, but as a discipline of meditation to make sure it guides your thoughts throughout the ENTIRE day; as in starting with the morning and keeping you throughout the evening.

Devotional books are quick reads to get you going, but the deeper call of God is for Bible intake, memorization, and study. I like to use material written by Warren Wiersbe as part of my devotional reading. He is about as meat and potatoes of a Christian author as they come. But he is not my stop, as in, I read it and now I have fulfilled the discipline. Rather, a Wiersbe’s book alongside God’s Word is my start, as in I will ingest it in a way so that I DO NOT stop thinking about it throughout the day - morning and evening!

A devotional book is text, not context.

Devotional books will often give you a verse or a chapter of Scripture to read and give you an immediate application of that passage to life. Awesome idea! In that sense a devotional provides you a text. Where a devotional fails is that it does not provide you the context.

Use a devotional, but read the Bible. Find out where those verses are IN Scripture. A devotional may tell you that this verse came from Ephesians, but what in the world is an Ephesians? Where is it? What is it about? 

Ephesians 2:10 is wonderful. Ephesians 2:10 in context is a masterpiece. 

I am a big advocate for having a paper copy of the Bible. Learn where the books of the Bible are located in the cannon of Scripture. These books form the collective story of God.  

A devotional book is a bloom in a garden. Its intent is to pluck something sweet and fragrant that will inspire you, but the greater glory is the garden from which it came. Sure, the blooms are beautiful, but if you never walk the garden you really won’t smell the roses.  

The Christian life is not meant to be lived verse by verse. We are sovereignly immersed in the story of God. Each text/verse of the Bible exists within the larger context of God’s story. Use your devotional to point you to curious places. Use your Bible to walk the garden paths.

A devotional is application, not exposition.

One of the reasons people enjoy devotionals is because they quickly get to the point. Many people find it challenging to read the Bible, understand it, and know what to do with it. Yep, me too.

Devotionals cut out the leg work. Don’t bog me down with long, arduous explanations of what passages say, just tell me what they mean.

I recently had a conversation with a doctor about feeding tubes. Odd topic, I know, but sometimes a necessary one.  

As many doctors tend to be, he is an eclectic fellow, a highly intelligent man who walks to the beat of a different drum. In demonstrating to me the ease of use of a feeding tube, he demonstrated to me how one can conveniently uncork the tube, pour in a bottle of nutrients, re-cork the tube, chunk the now empty can of nutrients into the trash and go about the day. He said, “It would save me a whole lot of time having to eat.” I assure you, he was laughing when he said it, but I also think he was somewhat serious about the prospects of installing one on himself.

Devotional books are spiritual feeding tubes. They will give you what you need, but wow, what a joy it is to chew!  Feeding tubes may be faster, but there is a flavor in food you will soon miss if you do not have to break it down in your mouth.  

Sometimes a tube is necessary, but insane if we want one merely out of convenience. God gave you a tongue, not a tube!

While it is true that what we need from God’s Word is application, there is a flavor that emerges from the hard work of exposition that helps us taste and see that the Lord is good. The Bible is not a ‘How To’ guide for life. It is a story. It is a poem. It is a command. It is a revelation. It is a multi-course meal robust with the flavor of God. Don’t forget to chew!

A devotional is personal insight, not personal investment.

One of the things I like most about the Faith, Hope, and Love Devotional is that it gives you insight into God’s Word from 52 pastors, teachers, authors, and evangelists. It is an indispensable resource full of wisdom. These people have a journey with God that is curious to me and I love hearing from them.

But wouldn’t you like to hear the voice of God for yourself?

One of the great truths of Scripture is that we have a God who desires to be with His people. The Bible is filled with image rich words that communicate the opportunity we have to be close to God. One of the words we translate as “prayer” in Scripture speaks of intimacy, not merely request.  

Prayer is not shouting aimlessly into the heavens, prayer is communing with God. Prayer is not an announcement over a megaphone, it is a conversation at the table.  

The only way to have a personal experience with God is to make a personal investment in His Word. Use a devotional book, but devote yourself to Bible study.

__________________

It is a worn out metaphor for many things, but the Christian life is not a microwave, it is a crock-pot way of living. We would like to think that a few convenient seconds is all we need to be like Christ. Devotional books ARE NOT intended to be the Bible nuked for you!

There is NO devotional author worth their salt who would ever advocate his or her book as a replacement for the Bible. Their intent, my intent, is not to replace Biblical reading or meditation. Our intent is to inspire you to start somewhere and to help keep you there daily.  

At some point the devotional book should be a gateway into something greater, not an end in itself. We have to simmer on Scripture if we are ever to truly appreciate the flavors of God that are there. There is no shortcut to the good stuff!     

 

Continue reading
768 Hits
0 Comments

Beneficial Basic Bible Browsing Books or Some Good Basic Old School Bible Study Stuff

I just had someone stop by my office asking if I would recommend something that would help her and her husband read the Bible together more effectively. When I get a request like this I usually direct people to Bible study tools that reveal the Bible in themes and ideas. In other words, I recommend stuff to laity that paints with lots of colors and broad brush strokes. As a preacher I usually choose to preach paragraphs of Scripture instead of verses because paragraphs reveal themes and in most cases the verses are sentences, or parts of sentences. Ideas, sentences, in this case verses support themes. I am probably more likely to preach a sermon on John 3 or John 3:16-21 than I am to preach a sermon on John 3:16.

Many moons ago Warren Wiersbe published a book of outlines on the whole Bible. The copy I have was handed down to me. The pages are brown, it’s in a three ring binder and it weighs about 42 pounds. It is old school. It is VERY alliterated. It is 8th printing 1982 – (At the time I would have been 9 wearing short shorts and tri-stripe sox). I like Wiersbe’s outline book because it paints with broad brush strokes and helps the reader see the Scripture as themes and supporting ideas. I checked CBD and surmise that the outline book is now hard bound and probably updated again. You would need to buy it as a pair, OT and NT editions – no more old school three ring binder editions are available on the market. I may have a very expensive antique on my hands!

Link to Wiersbe’s Outlines

If you want to study the Bible book by book you could spend a small fortune in a hurry. Instead of spending a small fortune in a hurry, spend a small fortune slowly. All of us should spend a small fortune studying the Bible! You can buy Bible commentaries that cover the Bible in one volume, in two volumes, in 5, 12, 66, or more. Some commentary series may publish four volumes on Psalms or two 1,000 pagers on Luke. There is so much out there that would range from “please poke out my eyes and relieve me from this exegetical torture” to “all this guy is doing is rephrasing Bible passages and refusing to say anything about Scriptures that may take a little thought.” But if you want colors and broad brush strokes I would fall back again, to some old school stuff: These commentaries may not float your boat if you are a more abstract post-modern, but then again, it may be beneficial to take a little more concrete siesta ever now and then.

The Exploring Series by John Phillips
The “Be” Series by Warren Wiersbe

At times the alliterations are forced and will hasten a call for the “eye poker” but these affordable and usually printed in paperback books are enough to give you some good “aha” moments and spawn good conversation.

For the last year I have been reading the English Standard Version of the Bible on the recommendation of a pastor friend. I bought an ESV journaling Bible and I must say it is one of the best purchases I have ever made. So far I have found the text accurate and readable. The journaling layout has inspired a treasure of personal notes. Right now I preach from the NKJV, but I will probably switch to the ESV at some point in ’09. On that note I will now do something I usually avoid at all costs, and that is recommend something I have yet to read myself. But tomorrow (10/15/08) the ESV study Bible comes out. I am NOT a study Bible guy. I usually find them cumbersome, cluttered, and distracting from the text. Yet, this one may be a must have. Given the list of contributors and the articles I have reviewed the ESV study Bible will be in my library. Here is a video I found that previews the product. When you watch it I challenge you to catch the guys name, spell it and say it 10 times fast!

Tags:
Continue reading
362 Hits
0 Comments

Review of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray - A Commentary on Conscience

I think I had a renaissance at thirty. . .I think.  For some reason I suddenly became interested in art, reading and more thoughtful forms of music.  I became more serious about developing my writing skills, about becoming a better public speaker, about becoming a deeper man.  I can blame my renaissance for not only killing my online XBOX NCAA football career but also for going back to seminary.  Seminary killed the video star (only those of us who watched “Night Tracks” and MTV back in the eighties can really appreciate that line).

 

My renaissance has also caused me to revisit all the books I was supposed to read in Junior High and High School but never actually did.  Over the last few months I have begun to explore some readings from all the classic literature I once considered about as interesting as a dead bug.  I now realize what I have missed and regret the wasted time.  Vocationally I relegated my reading to only Christian stuff, the ultra expensive shelves at Lifeway kind of stuff, you get the drift.  I realize that was a mistake.  I have found that reading broadly makes one not only a more well rounded individual but in my case, interestingly enough, even more appreciative of Biblical truth.  After reading lots of those type books for the last fifteen years I feel overly saturated.  It may sound a bit pompous because it is indeed a bit pompous, but much of what is being produced in Christian print is not fresh.  At least that’s my opinion.  

 

So I’m reading old stuff, particularly old short stories and novels.  Some people would call it a renaissance, some would call it maturity.  Either way you put it, it is just a more kosher way of saying I am marching closer to death and that “It is time to use the noggin old man.”

 

A couple of weeks ago I picked up Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray.  It is amazing how much poetic truth can emanate from tortured souls.  

 

The young Dorian Gray is a masterpiece.  He becomes the infatuation of artist Basil Hallward who uses Dorian as the object to revitalize his career.  During one of his portrait sessions Dorian meets Basil Hallward’s colleague Lord Henry Wotton, an annoying cynic who introduces the young and innocent Dorian Gray to a hedonistic worldview.  Wilde uses Lord Henry’s character as the philosophical vessel that moves the ideology of the story along, that ascetic beauty is the only nobel pursuit in life.  

 

Upon seeing his completed portrait Dorian loathes the idea that the canvas will forever preserve his beauty while his own flesh is doomed to fade.  The portrait would become a torturous reminder of what he once was.  Realizing this doom Dorian enters a reckless prayer requesting that the opposite would somehow become reality, that he could forever wear his beauty while the portrait would somehow suffer the strains of life and time.  Dorian’s prayer is mysteriously heard.

 

The irony of the story is that the portrait would indeed remain a torturous reminder, not of Dorian’s youthfulness, but instead of the corruption of his own soul.  Exploring Wotton’s hedonistic world Dorian’s face remained the picture of innocence while the portrait became a commentary on his conscience.  Without ruining the story for those who have never read the book the conclusion is riveting and becomes a borderline horror flick.

 

Personally I was struck by Wilde’s open acknowledgment of the corrupting effects of sin upon the human soul and how try as we may to atone for our ways we are incapable of doing so.  I do not have an English degree although I know five or so people who do.  I am not trying to offer a scholarly critique of this book, a task to which I am incapable.  I did a limited amount of research on Wilde and his own ascetic hedonism.  Given that, I did not see a man trying to justify himself but in the story I could almost hear the cry of a man who was desperate to escape his own soul.  Was he like Dorian in the end hopeful for atonement but at the same time far past hopeless?  Kellen O, Shannon S, John Mac, Linda M who has no idea how to use the internet, cuz John John - any English nerd who would like to weigh in on this one I would love to hear your thoughts. 

 

In any event I thought this book was like the portrait, a commentary on conscience.  I found it timely especially since I will be beginning a series on Romans this Sunday, another commentary on conscience but with a far more hopeful ending in that its author does find atonement.  Paul provides us the picture of one who can indeed rescue the soul.  At this point I would say both, together Ocar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray and the Bible’s Epistle to the Romans are must reads.  

Tags:
Continue reading
377 Hits
0 Comments

The Year of Living Biblically

Instead of simply offering a laundry list of books I enjoyed from time to time I thought I would try to add to my blogging experiment some review on the books I read. Hopefully this will not only offer a preview before you throw down your next twenty dollars at the bookstore, but will help me better digest content. So for my first attempt at public book review I offer you A.J. Jacobs’ bestseller The Year of Living Biblically, One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. (Simon & Schuster, 2007, 332 pages)

A.J. Jacobs is the editor at large of Esquire magazine. He is agnostic, a true New Yorker, extremely secular, and Jewish “in the same way the Olive Garden is an Italian restaurant.” The Year of Living Biblically chronicles his participatory journey into fundamentalist Biblical literalism by trying to live every commandment, principle, jot and tittle of Scripture as closely as possible. From stoning adulterers in Central Park to being faced with administering his child’s first spanking Jacobs’ quest involves applying even the most quirky commandments to daily life. Without ruining the read for you the comedic value is high in this one.

The journey is not without an agenda. He writes, “I would do this by being the ultimate fundamentalist. I’d be fearless. I would do exactly what the Bible said, and in so doing, I’d discover what’s the great and timeless in the Bible and what is outdated.” Being a devout Christian I encountered Jacob’s purpose with my own sense of skepticism. I figured by the end of the book I would be exhausted by the rehearsal of the common secular/agnostic/intelligent New Yorker/agnostic/media type conclusions about people like me, people of faith who follow Jesus. You know the song and dance, that we’re basically flat earth idiots who should be exiled to a strange island where we can spend our nights sitting around a fire singing Kum Ba Yah to our happy slappy God delusion.

I was wrong.

The more I read the more I found myself actually rooting for Jacobs. His story was humorous and honest. I think he was surprised by two things. One, that even the most obscure commandments in the Bible can be meaningful. Even if we never understand their purpose they still possess the capacity to deepen life, all of them are in some way wise. The more Jacobs applied Scripture to his walk, at times just for a laugh, the more he grew. He learned to be thankful, prayerful, and thoughtful. Jacobs was surprised at how truly deep and transformative the Bible is when applied to every facet of life. I think the second thing Jacobs found surprising was that people of faith are not flat earth idiots. From his visit to Ken Hamm’s creation museum, to Jerusalem, to a trip to a Tennessee snake handling church (as odd as even I think snake handling is), Jacobs found that people of faith are a diverse and profound people. Sure each of us may have our own odd idiosyncrasies but the term fundamentalist does not necessarily mean stark raving, uneducated lunatic.

At times the book rambles along and seems long, but you can’t help but be drawn in to the day by day account. As a pastor and student who has spent a good portion of my life concerned with the interpretation of Scripture, I loved some of the ways Jacobs found to apply the text to even the mundane moments of life. There were a few borderline crude moments, but the story is what it is, a man that does not believe in God trying his best to do what God has spelled out for all of us to do. And for this reason I was rooting for Jacobs on every page; hoping that in the next chapter, the next day he would meet God. At times when it seemed as if he were close to the truth, realizing that Scripture is not just ancient moral codes, but a directive toward a passionate relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ. But in those moments that bordered too closely to truth Jacobs pulled in the reins and would not allow himself to go there. SPOILER WARNING: In the end, I was disappointed when he reduced God to a ten minute feeling of mystical euphoria. The Creator of the universe, the Heavenly Father is not a mystical but actual. He is God.

Personally I was convicted by the book in that here is a guy who is agnostic, who allows his world to be cataclysmically restructured by the Bible. Here I am, a believer and follower of Jesus Christ, and I look around wondering what in my world has been so cataclysmically impacted by my faith? Don’t get me wrong, I think my life is profoundly shaped by the Bible, but at times it becomes so routine I wonder what it is that I am truly sacrificing, giving, restoring, exploring, restructuring that I may conform more of myself to Christ? Am I constantly and meticulously evaluating every thought, action, and moment of my life against the Word of God? At times Jacobs was overly compulsive to the point of stifling the Scriptures, but all in all I found it convicting that he was willing to go so far.

Sure, he did it for a book deal, but I honestly think Jacobs found in the Bible more than he bargained for. Sure, it was massively Old Testament and he may not have given the New Testament a fair shake, but I truly appreciated the book just the same. My prayer is that Jacobs’ journey did not end with a shave and a manuscript. I hope that in his mind and heart he continues to explore faith, because I know that in his mind and heart now there is so much Scripture that surely the power of God in the gospel is making an impact on him. Perhaps it will fruit unto salvation.

Quick Note: Jacobs employs an array of spiritual advisors who range from theologically conservative, to skeptical, to liberal. He attends an evangelical gay event, he struggles to find the place of alcohol in the Biblical walk – he is unapologetically agnostic. This book is not a Bible commentary or a Sunday School lesson. If you want a book that is Baptist, conservative, and “in the circle” per se, this is not it. If you have a hard time reading books that question the truth and validity of Scripture, this is not it. It is what it is, an agnostic, secular New Yorker trying to participate in a world that is foreign to him – and he writes honestly from his perspective. This is not a Christian book! To borrow from Jacobs’ humor, this is a Christian book in the same way that Garth Brook’s “Unanswered Prayers” is a Christian song! I enjoyed the book because I think it is interesting to see how people who do not believe in Christ perceive the ways and means of our faith.

Tags:
Continue reading
364 Hits
0 Comments