Archive for July, 2014

I'm kind of stuck in Hebrews 2. I want to move on, but I keep going back to it over and over because I keep seeing something in it that captivates my attention. Today what caught my attention is not so much a 'what' as a 'who.' It's Jesus, of course. Today I noticed something different about the chapter and how the suffering of Jesus stands out boldly, how the suffering of Jesus stands in stark contrast to the work and life of angels.

He said, "Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we've heard lest we drift away from it." Now he goes on to give us more details about the contrast between Jesus and angels with a particular focus on the suffering of Jesus.

  • 2:9: Jesus was crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death. And in this suffering, he tasted death for everyone. It was by grace, he writes. Jesus took death into himself and spared us.
  • 2:10: Jesus was 'made perfect' through suffering. And in this suffering he sanctifies us and calls us brothers.
  • 2:14: Jesus partook of death that he might destroy death and the one who holds the power of death, the devil. And in this he delivers those who live in fear of death and in captivity to death.
  • 2:17: Jesus was made like us in every way and was a propitiation for our sins. And in this suffering he has become our great high priest before God on our behalf.
  • 2:18: Jesus suffered. And in this suffering Jesus is now able to help those of us who also suffer and are tempted.

In chapter 1, we are told Jesus is 'the exact imprint of God…' (1:3). We are told he 'is the radiance of God's glory' (1:3). We are told 'he is superior to angels' (1:4) We are told he is God's last word to the world (1:2). In effect, we are told Jesus is God who created, spoke, made purification for sin, sits at God's right hand, upholds the world, and is the heir of all things. The adjectives and superlatives all point to the supremacy of Jesus and his ultimate greatness. The first four verses of Hebrews are simply grandiose in their exaltation of Jesus, the Son of God.

Then we get to chapter 2 and we see something else. We are told over and over that Jesus suffered. We are told that Jesus is made a little lower than the angels (2:9). This grand figure of 1:1-4, who is far superior to angels in every way (1:5-14) is now a little lower than the angels. In other words, he's like us. And so as one of us, what does Jesus do?

Well, he tastes death. A terrible meal. It's that plate full of green stuff that our parents wanted us to eat as children. Jesus ate it for us. As a man, Jesus tasted death.

Again, he calls us brothers. We have very few friends on earth even if we have many acquaintances. Jesus suffered like us and is not ashamed of us. We sin. We foul up. We make bad choices. Yet Jesus remains steadfast by our side. He will not abandon us.

Then, Jesus shares our flesh in blood and partook of our life. In doing so he destroyed death. He set us free. He helps us. We are without excuse, in a sense. We cannot blame God for not understanding because he does just that: he understands.

Finally, he was made like us in every respect. He is the exact image of God. He is like us in every respect. He gets it. He gets us. And he goes before God and explains us to God. He is a high priest before God explaining to God–as if God doesn't get us–what we need. He is our help precisely because he gets us because he was one of us.

Each time we are told that Jesus is like us, that he shared our flesh, that he represents us, that he suffered and endured all the things we suffer and endure. That thing that Job cried out over and over again, "There is no arbiter between us, who might lay his hand on us both" (Job 9:33). Jesus is that Arbiter. So what holds us back? What prevents us from trusting him? What stops us from crying out to him?

He eats death like us. He calls us brothers. He sets us free from fear. He suffers like us. He helps us. All because he became like us, we are not alone. He is with us. All the time. All the time. He is with us.

Jesus said a lot of things that we are aware of. Jesus said a lot of things we are not aware of. John tells us the whole world doesn't have enough books to contain all that Jesus said and did. I'm not surprised; although, I'd certainly like to have a little more. We like to play games with Jesus' words and conveniently forget those things he made explicitly clear to us.

Christians are a strange tribe. We like to shoot our own wounded goes the old cliche. We like to point out the flaws of those we dislike and conveniently disregard Jesus' most important command to us when we encounter someone who troubles our sense of right(eous)ness. We like to think our sense of righteousness is the thing that matters and trumps the faith of others and our relationship to them.  As I have reflected on my experience with the church, via the internet, I have come to think that maybe a little line in a song by Pearl Jam makes a little more sense to me:

I'm ahead, I'm a man
I'm the first mammal to wear pants, yeah
I'm at peace with my lust
I can kill 'cause in God I trust, yeah
It's evolution, baby

Do the Evolution

That is, we think that so long as I am righteous, as long as I am singing in the choir, as long as I love Jesus, it's OK for me to do or say whatever I want–even if it is hurtful or hateful to others. I don't have to love someone from whom I am different because I love Jesus. And let's be honest: Christians are professionals at this game. We seem to think we can trample anyone who gets in the way of our righteousness. We seem to think it is our calling as Christians to point out the hypocrisy and sins of other Christians. We seem to think that if they offend us, we are permitted to have a word for them via blog or FB or Twitter or radio or otherwise. We seem to think if Christian 'A' offends Christian 'B' then it is the god-given responsibility of Christian 'C' to point out how heinous Christian 'A' is so that all those hopeless sinners won't think Christians 'B' and 'C' are somehow like Christian 'A.'

Because, let's be honest, the salvation of the world depends entirely upon such scenarios taking place rather frequently, rather loudly, and rather lengthily. I'm an intervention specialist and one of my main responsibilities is to help my students who have behavior issues decrease their Meltdown Level Events in frequency, duration, and intensity. I'd like to be have such a job in the church. I'd like to help people learn the valuable lesson that it's OK with Jesus if we mind our own business and worry about our own sins more than we worry about those of others. I promise you that the church will not fall apart if we suddenly stop worrying about others' sins and calling them out publicly on them.

I wish I could help some Christians reduce the frequency, intensity, and duration of their hatred of their brothers and sisters in Christ. Maybe even help them love a little.

I'm not gonna mention what provoked this post except to say that if we think it is our responsibility to dredge up everyone's, anyone's, or someone's past in order to point out how mean and horrible and terrible they are then we ought to make certain we dig up our own past too because I have a suspicion we, too, are guilty of something heinous and despicable. I have a feeling that those Christians who feel it their responsibility to harass other Christians by dredging up the past are going to find Jesus a difficult task master at some point in their own lives. You know, that whole mercy, love, forgive thing….

Ask yourself, you dredger-upper of the past: in what manner does your 'work' advance the Kingdom of God? In what way does it correspond to the grace of God? In what way is your rebuke helping to turn a brother or sister from sin? In what way is your rebuke restoring them to fellowship? If they have repented 77 times will you demand yet one more? Does it make you feel really good about yourself? Does it help your google-juice? Does it feed your ego? Do you delight in doing something even Jesus doesn't do? How does your effort reflect obedience to Jesus' command to 'love one another'?

In my opinion, Jesus has no use for such people and if he does then I'm not certain I understand Jesus just yet because I don't recall that Jesus dispensed to anyone the spiritual gift of Spiritual Historian. If Jesus can audaciously say something in the present like, "He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone," then who on earth are we to think he also said something like, "Appoint people in the church to continually dredge up the sins of other christians and expose them to more ridicule in the public arena"?

If I recall Jesus' words correctly, and I think I do, I recall him saying, "Love one another." He gave it as a command. Seriously, as a command. Seriously, christians of the world, did you skip that part that said, "Love one another."

I sincerely love Jesus and the church, but I am beginning to understand at a wholly new level why so many people are opposed to being involved with Christians or Jesus. It's because of the way we treat one another. Sometimes Christians are among the worst people on earth. Sometimes we deserve God's wrath simply because we choose to ignore his command to love one another. I can think of no other way to say it: we ignore his command. Jesus gave us one command, one task, one thing to do: Love One Another and we cannot get it right. Ever. Never.

Jesus said Love. What's so difficult about that? All we have to do is love one another. That's it.

Maybe it's time to give it a try?

God have mercy on me, a sinner, because I have left undone the hard work of loving those brothers and sisters of Jesus. God have mercy on me, a sinner, because I have loved my own righteousness more than my brothers and sisters in Christ.

 A long time ago, when I was studying Hebrews for the first or second time, I 'discovered' a way to understand the book that has stuck with me and continues to provide guidance. Now I don't know if the author was writing to answer questions posed to him or what the circumstances were, but this theological book–weighty as any in the New Testament–provides us with a healthy and robust portrait of Jesus, the Son of God, who is our salvation. 

So about this way of reading Hebrews. The pattern is very easy to see and very easy to understand:

  1. The author introduces a subject or a topic that he feels needs to be addressed. So, for example, 1:1-4 and the revelation of Jesus as God's son and his supremacy over the angels.
  2. The author continues by demonstrating from the Old Testament Scriptures the point he has just introduced. So, for example, 1:5-14 where he shows us that Jesus is far superior in every way imaginable to the angelic host.
  3. The author provides his readers with an application of a sort at the end of each section usually marked off by the word 'therefore.' So, for example, the 'end' of chapter 1:1-14 is actually chapter 2:1-4 where we see the 'therefore.'
  4. This pattern repeats itself over and over again in the book of Hebrews and helps make the boo much easier to understand.

Therefore, if 1:1-14 is about Jesus, about his perfect reflection of the invisible God, and his ultimate supremacy over the angelic beings then what is the conclusion the author comes to and wants us to understand? That is, what is the practical application of 1:1-14?

Therefore, we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard lest we drift away from it.

The practical application is that we need to pay attention to what we have heard–not to what Howard Marshall calls 'lesser messengers' whether those 'lesser messengers' are angelic beings or otherwise. Or maybe he's concerned about a 'lesser message.' I think the lesser message is easy to spot even if the lesser messengers are not–and believe me when I say that lesser messages abound in our culture. Jesus warned us that many would come claiming this or that or saying 'look there he is' when there he's not (Matthew 24-25). And interestingly enough, Jesus' message in Matthew 24-25 is just about the same as it is here in Hebrews 2:1-4: Pay attention or you will be deceived. It is possible, suggests the author, to 'drift' away and not even know it. We sit content in our boat and before long we are 100 yards from shore and we can't explain how it happened.

I think the real application here is this: if we are not diligent we will drift away from salvation. God has confirmed his message about Jesus through signs and wonders and miracles. This is how the message was confirmed to us. This is the message of the apostles, this is the message about Jesus. The point of the author of Hebrews is that there is one message about Jesus and if we are not diligent and careful to pay close attention to what 'God has spoken to us in these last days by his Son' we will most assuredly drift away from our salvation.

So what? I think this means that we need to constantly be evaluating what we hear. Too many Christians are content to take in everything they hear unfiltered. And what has happened is that the church ends up being led off in directions never intended and individual christians end up being led off in directions they aren't even aware are leading them further and further away from Jesus. So we must pay attention to what we heard lest we drift away. We must pay attention lest our salvation become tainted or corrupt or at least impotent.

And it seems to me that this Gospel message is found in these first 14 verses of the letter to the Hebrews–God spoke through Jesus, Jesus is the appointed heir of all things, Jesus is the Creator; Jesus is God's radiance and sustainer of the world; Jesus is the atonement for our sins; Jesus is the rightful king of the Majesty of heaven, the Kingdom of God, who will reign in righteousness.

And no one, not even an angel from heaven, can make those claims. Only Jesus.

_______________________

There's probably more to say about this than I am getting at right now and perhaps I will say more later. For introductory purposes, I hope this provides a good start.

I grew up believing the untenable notion that Jesus never smiled or laughed. I'm not sure why I believed such a thing. I suppose it's perhaps because there's no explicit statement in the Bible that says, "And on that occasion, Jesus laughed." But surely Jesus laughed, right? Surely this one who gives his Spirit to produce the fruit of joy in our lives knows how to belly-laugh or chuckle or at least smile.

Surely. Right?

All that stuff about Jesus being fully human and all that surely means that his 30-some years on earth produced at least one smile or fit of uncontrollable laughter. Was he tempted to laugh at inappropriate times like, say, when Peter tried to start a rebellion and managed only an ear? Did Jesus laugh when Paul said something to people who were pushing for circumcision that he wished they emasculate themselves?

"He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision" (Psalm 2:4).

Perhaps we church folk would find worship and prayer and bible reading much more palatable things if we imagined that every now and again Jesus laughs–that maybe some things written in the Bible are meant to evoke a chuckle from us. I remember once a friend of mine who is a preacher in the Anglican tradition messed up the words of the liturgy during the Lord's supper. He made a self-deprecating joke and we all enjoyed a laugh. I wondered way back then, in a blog post I wrote somewhere else, if this was inappropriate.

I have been partaking of the Lord's supper since July 1983 and I have heard laughter during communion once. Was the Passover always a solemn occasion? Was there never laughter? Is church on Sunday's the saddest freaking place on earth? Shouldn't churches be filled with laughter (at least some of the time)?

So I'm thinking about laughter because I do not want to go back to a church and find myself mired in a way of doing things that is the same as the way of doing things that pervades the world. I want to laugh and be joyful. Furthermore, I don't want to think of Jesus sitting at the right hand of the Father in heaven staring down at us hapless humans with a perpetual grimace on his face. Surely we do not have to wait until we are dead to enter into the Master's joy (Matthew 25:23).

Here's a few things I imagine make Jesus happy.

I imagine it makes Jesus happy when we finally, after many years of bondage, finally realize that he loves us–unconditionally loves us for who we are. It has taken me a long time to realize what this means in my life, but I think it makes Jesus happy. I think he smiles when the proverbial scales come off our eyes and we sit up with a start as if beholding a rainbow or a parrot or a lion fish or a bride for the first time and spit out some stumbling, fumbling word like, "Wow!"

I imagine it makes Jesus happy when we are peacemakers. You know this world is so disgustingly full of hatred and strife and anxiety and fear and war and violence and oppression and, well, insert your own synonym. And people fight and war against one another. There's competition and jealousy. And there are hurt feelings. I think it makes Jesus happen when we genuinely seek peace. I think Jesus is happy when we lay down our weapons–whatever they might be–and seek to live in peace with one another. I think it makes Jesus happen when someone stands in the gap and helps others pursue a course of peace instead of war.

I like to believe it makes Jesus happen when we love our enemies. I've said it before: hate is too easy. We can hate anyone for any reason at any time. Hate is part of who we are and what we do. Anyone can do hate. But what happens when we struggle our way through our feelings of disgust and distrust and angst that prevail when someone hurts us or crushes us or hamstrings us or goes behind our back with a knife and come out on the other side full of love and mercy and compassion? What happens when we turn the other cheek or go the second mile or give up our shirt and our pants? I think it makes Jesus laugh. I think it makes him happy.

I am also inclined to think that Jesus is happy when we, Christians, love one another. I grew up in a tradition that, while not explicitly condemning those in other denominations, made it rather clear that because we 'baptized correctly' and others did not…well, you get the idea. I have spent the better part of the last five years mixing it up with people are not from my closed-door tradition. Thank God for Anglicans who ministered to us–they were not so much Anglicans as they were Jesus's disciples who loved me and my little flock and ministered to us and brought about much healing.

I confess it has been a hard lesson to learn. I love my tradition and cannot wait to get back to it soon. But I have learned to love people from all sorts of traditions. I think this makes Jesus happy. I think it makes him smile. It seems to me that there's enough discontent and divisiveness in the world that we hardly need the church mirroring it or perpetuating it, yet that's what we often do isn't it?

So I ask: why do we find it so difficult to love one another? I mean some of the stuff I see and hear from pulpits or on FB or in blog posts is just appalling. Jesus did not say this: "A new command I leave you, a new command I give you: agree with one another." No! He told us to love one another. Jesus did not say, "By this all people will know you are my disciples, if you all hold to the same  theological construct." No, he said the world would know us by our love for one another. But if all we show the world is that we know how to fight and argue and carry on and bicker and back-bite and tear each other apart on the internet then to whom does the world think we belong? Because it isn't Jesus.

I have to wonder why it is the way it is. I have to wonder why we are not engaging in things that make Jesus happy instead of the things that surely must just make him sad. I don’t even know if Jesus gets angry. I think it’s sadness mostly—all that work on the cross, all the suffering, all the Son of Man stuff and for what? So that the church could behave in a manner only slightly worse than the world in general? Aren't we supposed to be different?

One more thing I think makes Jesus happy is this: when we give up power. It’s true. Jesus was among his disciples as one who serves, as one who washes feet, as one who gave his life as a ransom for many. I question a great deal of what I see in the church—especially the so-called mega-churches because it is not service I see but the ongoing want to power. It’s the constant struggle to be on top, to be noticed, to be adulated and congratulated. It’s the race to be the loudest and the proudest and to have our name heard more than the name of Jesus. Churches are very good at making names for themselves; not quite so good at making a name for Jesus. Isn’t there something wrong with that?

We have every tool imaginable to make churches grow so do we really need Jesus? We can grow congregations, but I think only Jesus can grow a church. It’s because we like power. We like control. We like the applause and the people knocking on our door asking what our secret is. We like the money.

It sounds harsh. Maybe it is. Maybe I’m still a wee bit jaded after my encounter with the church. I don’t know. But I cannot imagine for a minute that our proclivity to activity designed to exalt the name of the church makes Jesus smile. Maybe it’s time to just quit everything we are doing and just get back to Jesus.

Maybe our goal should be to make him happy and not ourselves.

Gabriel FinleyTitle: Gabriel Finely and the Raven's Riddle

Author: George Hagen

Illustrator: Scott Bakal

Publisher: Random House Children's Books (Schwartz & Wade Books)

Resources for Teachers/Librarians: RHTeachers/Librarians

Year: 2014

Pages: 252 (e-book via Nook)

[Disclaimer: I was provided an ARC of this book in exchange for my fair and unbiased review. I was given no compensation or otherwise in exchange for the review and was not required to be positive, just honest.]

If you are a fan of The Hobbit, Lemony Snicket, Harry Potter, The Goonies,and Lord of the Rings (and perhaps a few others) then I think you will like this book. This book has a lot of action, many interesting characters, and some fun along the way towards the end of the story.

This book is an adventure book, but perhaps not so much in the sense of Indiana Jones. The adventures take place in words–a favorite story type of mine. So the story is more in line with The Hobbit because as it turns out the main adventures are found in riddles and puns: word adventures, word games. This makes the book thrilling and keeps the reader engaged. It kept me engaged the entire story as one riddle after another was scrawled across the page and I had to close my eyes to keep from seeing the answer so that I could guess it myself. In my opinion, the book hung on the word games so much that it didn't really matter that there were talking birds and walking desks and magic necklaces and paravolating and more. All of this added to the fantastic nature of the book, but the riddles kept the book grounded in reality and kept it moving forward.

Along the way we meet characters–strange characters, characters we can relate to, and characters we despise. The most frustrating (and my favorite) character was Somes but only because he was so hard to figure from page to page. From the get go I thought he was just going to be a bully all the way through, but in the end we learn some things about Somes that really alter the way we think about him as a character. Along the way, I think Somes actually surprises himself too. Pamela is another interesting character who comes into the story with her mother Trudy. I was a bit confused about why Pamela's mother Trudy was always so bossy towards Gabriel. She was a guest in his house and yet seemed to come in and act like the queen of the castle. Another character, introduced early in the story, Addison, perplexed me because he played absolutely no significant role in the book at all. He was a throwaway character but perhaps the author intends to make use of him in another volume. The end of the book caught me off guard with respect to Abigail's family situation and her 'two moms' (I may have missed it earlier in the book.) There's nothing explicit and it is mentioned almost in passing. We are given no details. It just is. It was a surprise.

There are, of course, other characters. The reader gets hints of these characters' lives–especially the main character Gabriel–but the characters do not drive the narrative. The narrative is driven by the word games that they must unravel each step along the way in order to uncover more clues to the mystery. All of the characters have their issues. Gabriel has parents, but they are nowhere to be found. Somes has a sketchy home life. Abigail, I just mentioned comes from an evidently non-traditional home. Pamela lives with her mother and they both, in turn, live with Gabriel who lives with his aunt Jaz. Even the bird, Paladin, only lives with his mother. The only character whose family situation is relatively typical is Addison who moves before the main narrative kicks into high gear.  It's strange why so many stories have to feature chaotic family conditions. Maybe it is these chaotic conditions that drive these children to adventures. For some students, it will be easy to relate to such diverse family conditions.

Along the way the reader learns about families, friends, loyalty, courage, overcoming doubts and fears, and trust; good and evil. Readers are also asked to think their way through the story. I was only a bit disappointed that 'The Duel' only lasted a few pages and a few riddles. The duel reminded me in a lot of ways of the riddle game played by Bilbo and Gollum in the dark cave. In fact, Lord of the Rings seems to have influenced this story in other ways too. When the author wrote, "It [the magical torc] wanted to be found, and after a thousand years, I was the unlucky one to stumble upon it" (109 ARC e-book, NOOK version) I immediately thought of the Ring of Power that also wanted to be found or lost as if it had it's own will. I think it's a good allusion that I hope students who read this book will catch on to. Understanding the allusions to the stories I have referenced will give the reader a deeper appreciation of the nature of the story and enhance the reading experience.

In conclusion I will say this: it's a good story, but it is dark. There is death in the story. There is a certain level of violence. There is a certain level of metaphysical evil (one of the characters is continually referred to and depicted as a demon). There's good; there's evil. This is a complex story in that regard and I am always quick to help my readers understand that some younger readers may need some guidance working through some of these complex narrative devices. In other words, this is not a story for 'everyone', yet it is a story for everyone. Since I am necessarily an opponent of censorship, my main objective here is simply to state that some readers might need some guidance. Might is the operative word.

I liked this story a lot. It is a bit clunky at times and there are a few phrases I might have turned a little differently, but all in all I think it's a good start to what might be a good franchise (spoiler: since the ending is kind of open, the author has left himself an in to future installments featuring these characters.) Good read and an all around enjoyable story if this is your kind of story.

4.5/5

 

I've been thinking about my relationship with the church recently–especially as I get ready to move back to an area where I will be able to actually participate more fully in the local church. My relationship with the church has been sour for the past several years given the nature of the way my previous ministry ended. P7082251

I have had to re-evaluate my relationship to the church and my relationship with Jesus in light of the destructive force the church has expended in my life. I can say that now. I don't feel the need to sugarcoat things as if God needs me to defend the church. My relationship with Jesus has actually become fuller now that me and the church have an understanding. So here's a preliminary post on some thoughts I have about things Christians can do better.

First, I think can Christians can read the Bible better. What I have learned is that many of the so-called arguments we postulate are formulated by taking the bible as a collection of verses instead of reading it as a whole book, one long story. It ends in the same place it begins: God creating. And from front to back it is a book about God's relentless pursuit of humans–his love for us. I think one of the worst things to ever happen to the Bible was that it was turned into verses and chapters and collections instead of being allowed to remain one long story. It is a cohesive story. It should be read as such. Everything else in this post flows from this key point.

Second, I think Christians do not do politics well. Mostly this is because we have done Bible reading poorly. I'm not saying Christians ought not have political opinions. I'm not even saying we shouldn't affiliate with a particular political party (although we should be wary of those aspiring to office and those who ultimately assume office.) In fact, I think we should support some candidates and then oppose them with great vigor after they are elected. Ultimately, though my point is that most of the so-called propositions (in regard to politics) we put forth as Christians are based on some sketchy readings of Scripture. (See: Dispensationalism)

Third, I think Christians ought to be more liberal when it comes to love and grace and more conservative when it comes judgment. Do we think God's grace will be less than what demonstrate to people? Seriously. It remains a mystery to me that in this world there are Christians who will support war at any level, for any reason. When it comes to war and conflict Christians ought to be the first group organizing protests and writing angry letters to the masters of war who promulgate such atrocities in the name of Solomon who once wrote that 'there is a time for war.' Just because there is a time for war doesn't mean Christians ought to be lining up and offering unmitigated, unthoughtful support.

0421112033aCan I say this? Can I say that I find the whole notion of war appalling? Can I say that I find the entire idea of hostilities and violence to be utterly without biblical or Messianic support? Can I say that we should in no way support the masters of war, the principalities, the authorities that Jesus exposed on the cross and dismantled through his death? Can I just say that when I think of the death perpetuated in the name of anything my heart breaks and my soul cracks. There should be widespread opposition to war in every single church in America and around the world. Our doors should be places overflowing with love and grace and welcome and signs that say things like, "Come to me all you who are weak and heavy with burden. I will give you rest."

Why are some of the loudest voices of opposition to war coming from those who are mere secularists? Why does it seem that only the 'liberal' theologians oppose violence and oppression? Where are the conservative theological voices being raised in opposition to death and violence and hatred and oppression? Again, I believe that our seemingly unwavering support for any form of violence–war, the death penalty–comes from a deeply ingrained, culturally conditioned, and profoundly wrong reading of the Bible.

The bible is a story–more novel than tract, more narrative than textbook. Sadly, we look at it exactly the wrong way: a textbook to convert or prove instead of a narrative designed to make our hearts swell with compassion and love for God and one another. I like when Peter preached: people were cut to the heart. Would that more preachers preached in such a way that the word cut our hearts instead of merely stroking our minds. Later we read that the Bible divides the joints and marrow and is a sword to pierce us. When I read a story, like The Count of Monte Cristo, I always end up crying because that's what a story does. It cuts deep.

That's how we ought to read the Bible.

There are more things I think Christians can do better. We can be quiet better. We can take care of the earth better. We can follow Jesus better. We can write better music, books, and movies. We can do worship better. We can, and we should, take care of the prophets among us better. We would do well to love better and more often those with whom we happen to disagree. A little love will accomplish more than a lot of hate.

Why is it Christians hold the key to this world's problems and yet so many of us are content to live sequestered, judgmental lives instead of throwing ourselves wholly into loving the desperate and hopeless people of this world? Why are we content for peace to be a possession and proposition instead of a clarion call to those who bearing arms?

Why are we not shouting, "No More!" No more war.

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. (Hebrews 1 ESV)
There is so much here about Jesus. So much to think about and enjoy. So much to taste and see. So many ways to involve the senses and not just see words splatter on parchment.
 
There's God speaking. Who can hear? Who is listening? He spoke in the past, he spoke in the present. He spoke to many in many ways; now he speaks uniquely through One. And if we are wise, we listen to Jesus God's last voice to us. I am always skeptical when I hear people talking about how they have heard from God in an audible way because I'm just not certain we need to hear anything more than what he has already said in Jesus: In these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.
 
There's God's radiance. Who can see God's glory? God's glory! I mean, shining, radiating, illuminating, and filling the universe! It's grand! It's magnificent. It's…glorious! And sometimes I hear people saying they need to see this or see that and here in these last days God has shown us what we need to see: His glory in Jesus!!
 
There's God's sacrifice. Who can feel the pain of his death? Who can smell the stench of dying men, the fetid odor of blood and violence spilled all around that hill outside Jerusalem? Who can feel the the cleansing, the purification, the overwhelming power of sin's grip being loosened and sting of its corruption being vanquished? And there is Jesus sitting at the right hand of God. God has shown us the finality of Jesus' work on our behalf and in his presence.  Nothing more to add. Here is the Majesty of God on display in the person of Jesus.
 
All of this leads up to this spectacular finish (vss. 5-14) where it is so easy to get caught up in ideas about angels. I think his whole point is something like this: Forget about angels! Forget about miracles! Forget about power! Forget about sacrifice! Instead: Here is our King!! Here is Jesus! Think about Jesus. Forget about the kings of this world! Here is Jesus: God's voice, God's radiance, God's sacrifice, God's King! Everything we need to understand and know and feel and be and smell and see and hear is found in Jesus.
 
I love that the book of Hebrews opens the way the book of the Revelation does: with a grand sweeping vision of Jesus. Here in Hebrews 1 it's all about what the world looks like right now: Jesus is God's anointed (Psalm 2); Jesus is God's king (Psalm 2); Jesus is God's champion. All of the hopes and dreams and plans God has for this world, for this people, for his creation are summed up in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
 
So why oh why do we spend so much precious time searching for these things in other people and places? Why do we worry: "He upholds the universe by the word of his power." Oh, I want to be on the side with that sort of power: power to make the universe (1:2, 10), power to control the universe (1:3), power to rule the universe (1:8), power to bring the universe to its appointed end (1:12), and power to remake the universe, under Jesus' rule, (1:12).
 
And if God can do all that with this universe, with this world, how much more will he do so with us, his people?  Think about it. No one else and no thing else has that sort of power.

Don'tJudgeALizardByHisScalesCoverTitle: Don't Judge a Lizard by His Scales

Author: Dan Dugi & Bli Marston Dugi

Illustrator: Andrea Vitali

Publisher: Dugi Group LLC

Distributed by: Greenleaf Book Group LLC

Year: 2014

Pages: 34

Tree Neutral

The Principal Gang

[Disclaimer: I was provided an ARC of this book in exchange for my fair and unbiased review. I was given no compensation or otherwise in exchange for the review and was not required to be positive, just honest.]

This is the first in what I assume will be an ongoing series of books published under the The Principal Gang series title. It stars two characters: Bli the Fly and Danny the Wizard Lizard who want to be friends but are separated by the fact that lizards typically eat flies. Bli the Fly's mother is genuinely skeptical of this budding relationship and offers up some preliminary judgments about Danny's intentions without ever having met him. Hence the title of the book.

The story progresses along from there until Bli and Danny finally meet face to face, go to the movies with Mrs. Fly, encounters some bullies, and then the story resolves.

I read this book on my Nook. I think the landscape view was much better than the portrait view because it enabled the pages to be rendered in a way that made the artwork easier to view. On that note, also, I think the artwork was very well done. The lines were clean and the characters were unique–in the sense that I think the intended audience will connect with them.

There is a subtle undertone that lizards eat flies which is a little disturbing. I had trouble understanding how one fly family lives like humans but Danny the Wizard Lizard also keeps a jar full of flies in his room for a snack (10-11).

The story explores in a limited way the nature of friendship (and, ultimately, prejudice), bullying, and, less prominently, kindness (evidenced by the very last question Bli the Fly asks at the end of the book which no one answers). It's a short book so the exploration isn't too deep, and I think that's OK. For the intended audience the connections will be made and a steady, adult guide can help direct the children who read this into deeper waters.

I found the short study guide at the end of the book to be somewhat helpful and there is a link to the authors' website (which I have noted above) which has more features associated with The Principal Gang (there's no indication in the book as to why the characters are referred to as 'The Principal Gang', nor for that matter are they ever actually referred to as The Principal Gang. We are left to wonder why they are somehow more honorable than the Lousy Lizard Gang.)

It's true that 'someone has to take a stand against' bullies, but I wonder about the message this sends to students who may be facing bullies in their daily life. Perhaps a better way to deal with bullies is to involve adults–which caused me to wonder why Mrs. Fly summoned a security guard who stood by helplessly while Danny did all the work. And, to be sure, when we deal with bullies we do not always have magical wizard powers. I get the idea of not being a coward and conveying that message in such a short space. I also wonder if it is always appropriate to stand up to bullies when clearly there are adults around who can help (like Mrs Fly & security guards)?

Two things bugged ( 🙂 ) me about the book. One was the way the author's constantly spelled out the entire name of the characters: it was always Bli the Fly and Danny the Wizard Lizard. I think it would have been fair to simply refer to them as Bli and Danny. The second was how the book started out being a book dealing with prejudice and ended up being a book about bullying. At some point the story shifted and I think perhaps there are two separate stories here. It's a personal thing, but I would have preferred more focus on one or the other of the subjects because the first subject (prejudice) is only subjectively resolved in the story.

I'll recommend this book, but I think it needs to be read with some guidance from adults. This might be a book used as part of a curriculum package dealing with bullying. I sense the authors trying to mitigate some of the issues, but I also sense that they weren't able to do so in a way that this book can be read without appropriate adult guidance. The questions at the end will help that guidance.

It's a good effort and I would use it in my classroom.

4/5 Stars.

Once upon a midnight dreary, I was enrolled in seminary. I had to write a paper once concerning whether or not Jesus ever said anything political. I don't remember everything I wrote but I do remember being marked down a grade because it was my opinion that Jesus had very little to say about politics.

I suppose by now I might change my mind. He probably said a lot. He probably said more than I really care to think about right now. I think if Jesus did say something about politics it is something that most people really will not want to hear. The liberal thinks Jesus said something that justifies their liberal social agenda. The conservative thinks Jesus said something that justifies their conservative social agenda. If we use Scripture to justify a political point of view then we have missed the point of reading Scripture altogether.

I think Jesus said something about the Kingdom of God and anything he said about politics, and how they are used, must be found somewhere within the matrix of God's Kingdom. I think we must also be careful because Jesus spoke to a particular and peculiar political situation. He did not, to be sure, say anything specifically about American politics, American politicians, or the American political machine. There's a lot of folks who think Jesus had something to say about America, but he didn't. Not specifically anyhow. But if he did say something in general, I think he warned his followers that we ought to tread lightly and not be found holding hands with those in power.

Jesus had lots of things to say about the Kingdom of God though.

So I got to thinking tonight and went on a mini-facebook rant, posting mini-screed after mini-screed to my wall. (Mostly I do things like this to aggravate people, but tonight I was kind of being serious because I'm kind of getting sick of the attitudes of many of my conservative Christian friends. Jesus did say something to them, something about humility or being humble or being last or something.) The point here, then, is to post a few of those mini-screeds.

I think if Christians really, really, really want to see the world changed for the better, kind of a redeeming the time sort of thing, then it would be better if we aligned ourselves with Love instead of a particular political party.

[Comment: Jesus gave us one command: Love. We are to love our neighbor as ourselves. Love God. Love one another. That's pretty much it in a nutshell. What bothers me is that more people seem to get this who aren't christians than who are. I think that should bother people; a lot.]

I think if Christians really, really, really aligned themselves with Jesus, then we would have the same opinion of both sides of the political aisle because in truth, neither conservatives nor liberals have in mind the things of Jesus. I'll go a step further and suggest that they don't have your best interests in mind either. Politics is about one thing and one thing only: power. And the Gospel of Jesus is the power we already possess and the only power we need.

[Comment: In my opinion, way, way, way too many Christians think that our salvation comes from electing socially and fiscally conservative politicians. I disagree. I happen to be a socially and fiscally conservative Jesus follower, but that is not where our hope is found. We are not a people of power and we do not need those in power for protection and/or salvation. We belong to Jesus. He is our King. He is our love. He is our God who came to bring us back to Him. David Crowder wrote those last three lines. All I'm saying is that dialogue is fine. Opinion is fine. Belief is fine. But don't for a minute think that dialogue, opinion, and belief in or with a political party is going to keep you safe. It's dog eat dog in politics and Christians are very tiny dogs.]

Funny thing is that I often find it is those who are politically liberal or religiously agnostic who tolerate my ideas more than my conservative friends.

[Comment: I don't even care anymore. I don't even try. I like a good debate, but I have long since given up the idea that I will lead anyone to Jesus just because I have more arguments against evolution than they have for it. I figure if God wanted it to be so clear, he could have made it clearer himself. These political and scientific arguments are great fun, but really amount to nothing in the grand scheme of things. Let's talk about things that really matter–like life, and love, and happiness (that's from Audio Adrenaline.) Down at the bottom of a person, I want to know they are into Jesus. They can sort out their political and scientific angst in their own time and with God. None of this means we have to agree with one another. Jesus didn't say: A new command I give you: Agree with one another. No. No. No. Jesus said, verbally and demonstratively, Love. That's all. Just Love. ]

The Resurrection of Jesus is God's demonstration of Power and if Christians think we need something more or other then we have not truly understood the Gospel of Jesus yet. The greatest among you will be the least. The first shall be last.

[Comment: At the heart of the matter is that we now live in a church that reflects the US constitution and not the Bible. I'm sorry to say it. The church is stagnant–and mega churches prove nothing otherwise. I know from first hand experience how churches treat people–and they do so because of power. Churches like power just as much as the politicians with whom they align themselves. And our daily commentary on world events is not Jesus or Scripture, but talk radio hosts whose use of Scripture is offensive and appalling. What's worse is that Christians buy into it: lock, stock, and barrel. We think because it's conservative, it's right. We think because it's liberal, it's wrong. Seriously, who cares? Let's talk about something like fixing the world because we love Jesus or because he loves us. Let's talk about what real power is and where real power comes from. Let's talk about love. Let's talk about something like how we as Christians can be Jesus to the thousands of people who are illegally entering this country each day. What can we do to alleviate some or all of their burden? Let's talk about how that Jesus Resurrection Power can make this earth shake.]

So you see I am a little out there tonight. It's not about being contrary. It's about thinking through what the Bible really, really, really says and means. It's about being a Jesus follower first and an American second. America is great. I have no desire to live anywhere else, well, maybe Paris for a year or so, but other than Paris, Venice, and Berlin, I'm all about America the beautiful.

But I'm more about Jesus.

Christians need to give serious thought to where their loyalties lie and to whom they belong. Faith is about trusting that God knows better what's going on than we do and that that's OK. We don't have to be in the know about everything. We don't have to be on the supposed right side of everything. Key to our discipleship is God's grace: no one will be saved because they dotted all the i's and crossed all the t's. We are saved only by grace. No one will be saved because they had the right political opinion or because they hobnobbed with all the right political power mongers. Grace. That's all.

In other words, I don't think Jesus gives a rip what your politics are. I do think he pays attention to your motivations when it comes to politics though–that is, where your faith is, how you use politics, etc. He knows your heart. That's what he is concerned with each moment of each day. Your heart. Many of us would do well to be liberated from the notion that our political persuasion will somehow persuade Jesus.

Perhaps some of you will find this short note a bit unpalatable and un-American. I hope you find it both. I have a lot of different kinds of FB friends, liberals & conservatives, christians & humanists, atheists & theists, men & women, and so on. What continues to amaze me is that it is my christian friends who offend me the most. Don't get me wrong, I love them all the same, but let me ask a question: What if Jesus treated us the way some Christians are treating immigrants–legal and illegal?

Oh I get it: "It's unfair to all those immigrants who went through the process legally and followed all the steps to become citizens of this country legally."

I keep hearing that word: legal (and any and all permutations of it). Legal.

Since when are christians legalists? Isn't that the whole point of God's grace? Isn't it the entire point that we did absolutely nothing to become his children? And yet we are outraged that people want to become children of this nation–by whatever means necessary?

What if Jesus said, "You didn't follow all the rules to become my son or daughter. You didn't have faith on this day. You didn't eat communion on that day. You didn't read your Bible. You didn't pray your prayers. You weren't baptized the correct way. Therefore, you cannot come in to my country."

What if that's what Jesus said to us?

And yet my Christian friends are saying the same thing to so-called illegal immigrants: you didn't follow all the rules; therefore, you cannot come in to our country.

Since when are Christians legalists?

I know, I know. Someone's great-granddaddy fought in some war many years ago and migrated here legally and therefore that ought to be the paradigm for everyone who comes here. It's unfair to my great-granddaddy who suffered and bled all over this land. Sure it is. I agree.

But since when are Christians about what is fair and not fair? Since when has God *ever* said to us: I'm going to give you what you deserve?

What if christians, instead of acting like those politicians for whom these so-called illegal immigrants are nothing more than a political sledgehammer, started to demonstrate unconditional, welcoming, unashamed love and compassion?

But what about all the diseases they carry with them? So.

But what about all their drugs? So.

But what about terrorism? So. 

But what about our job? Our economy? So.

Since when do christians put their hope, faith, and security in the ability of a government to eradicate disease, drugs, and fear? When was the last time you or I went without a meal? Or shelter? Or clothing?

The very fact that we are living and breathing is unfair. We are waging the wrong war because the Bible says that our enemy is not 'flesh and blood': "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:12, ESV).

People are the very people God wants to save. Maybe this their only chance to ever hear about Jesus. Or, truth be told, maybe they are bringing more Jesus with them than we currently have here ourselves?

In making immigrants–mostly the illegal ones–the enemy, we are losing the mandate we have from Jesus which is, very simply, to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Are there people who are using this for means of political expediency? Yes: Republicans and Democrats are both using the situation of immigration to secure their power. Make no mistake about it: neither the conservatives nor the liberals have the interests of Jesus–or you for that matter–in mind. They have only their own power in mind: securing it for many years and lording it over you.

Christians have this silly notion that because someone is a gifted speaker that it means they are our friend. Don't be fooled people: the powers that be are only and always friends of themselves and power. They do not and never have had your interests in mind.

Since when are Christians motivated by the power of those in power? We have one King. Period.

So what's all this about? Well, I think the tone of our conversation needs to be changed. None of us know what will happen tomorrow. You think your place is secure because you live in America? You think that because you are older you will never have to leave the security of your country and become and 'illegal' immigrant? Ask yourself, would you want to be treated the way you are treating people?

You think because you have a house or a business or a job that you will never be faced with the prospect of losing your home? Renee and I waited 17.5 years to buy our first house. It was gone in less than 4 years. You think you are secure? You think you can't lose all? Then what will you, christian, do when you have to beg, borrow, or steal in order to provide for your children? 

We used to be called a Christian nation, but we are not anymore. And it's not because atheists and liberals have 'taken over the nation'. It's because Christians have failed to embrace the Jesus of the Bible and have instead created one in our own image–one that is based on worldly notions of power and wears the name 'conservative' or 'liberal.'

Maybe we christians should ere on the side of mercy. We too, says the Bible, are strangers and aliens and exiles in this world: "Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without know it."

But even better: "Once you were not a people, but now you are a people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us" (1 Peter 2:10-12).

Pray for the many people who continue to enter this country legally and illegally. Try to get past all the political rhetoric and remember that they are people and that the US *is* a great place to live. Maybe in coming here they will hear the gospel of hope and be blessed in Jesus. We don't have to change anyone but ourselves and maybe their hope begins by seeing Christians who are not afraid of them, hating them, or angry at them but instead welcoming of them and loving them. Maybe God's plan in their being here is bigger than our notions of politics and economics. Think about it.

And do so without an agenda. Love God; love people. Remember, at one time we were illegals in God's Country. Be glad he did not treat you the way many Christians are treating those who are coming here.

Old Blackberry Pics 2008 2009 113Some parts of life are full of happiness. Other parts of life are full of sorrows. Life is kind of philosophical like that–never content with stasis it is always turning us this way and that, lifting us up and putting us down, patting us on the back one minute and shrugging its shoulders the next.

Life is so often full of so much noise and yelling  and chatter. Life is a cacophony of brutality, violence, and destruction. How can we find any sort of peace in the midst of so much noise? How can we find solace in the presence of so much savagery? Where on this volcanic surface can we find solid ground, a calm and stormless sanctuary?

Today's Daily Office readings are found in Psalm 20; Deuteronomy 34:1-12; Romans 10:14-21; Matthew 24:36-51. I will offer thoughts on a couple of them.

Psalm 20 I'm going to be honest: I crave attention. I like it when people talk to me or pay attention to me. In fact, there have been times when I was so starved for attention that my behavior would become reckless and fueled by ego in an attempt to attract the sort of attention I desired. Maybe this was why I so enjoyed preaching? I liked that everyone was looking and listening to me for 30 minutes. I'm making confession. I have repented and continue to repent daily that in so many ways I have sought attention from other people–attempting to be noticed, loved, or honored. Social media is a hangman's noose for such reckless behavior. Psalm 20 redirects those of us who suffer the malady of inattention. So look what he does when he repeats over and over again, "may the Lord…": answer you, protect you, send you help, grant you support, remember your sacrifices, accept your offerings, give you your desires, make your plans succeed, grant all your requests. Sowhat's he doing? He's saying give your attention to God and God will give his attention to you. I think what James says is that we do not have because we do not ask (James 4:1-3). In fact, I think James' thoughts here are apropos to this entire Psalm: "You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world means enmity with God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God."

So this Psalm gives me pause. "Some trust in Chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the lord our God." Who am I trusting? Whose attention am I seeking? Whose victory do I want? I am all loaded up on LinkedIn and Facebook and Twitter. I do what I can to get my name out there because that's what the world says I have to do if I am to get ahead: fatten up the resume, fatten up the bank account, fatten up my investments. And the world says that it is imperative that we put our friendship and trust in these things if we are to be successful and prosperous and get all the attention we crave. Attention seeking behaviors will eventually pay dividends but they may also come at a price. But the Psalm says differently. Now I'm not suggesting that we seek God because we want success or anything of that sort. On the contrary, seeking God is the reward in itself. That's the whole point. We seek God, we give God our attention–when no one listens, God will; when no one protects, God will; when no one helps, God will; when people forget, God won't; when the world fails us, God will not.

All I am saying is that this Psalm presents us with two pictures. On the one hand we can seek the attention of the world which will invariably fail us and bring us to our knees. Or we can seek God's attention by giving him ours and we will 'rise up and stand firm.' It's a daily choice. I'm trying to get better at making the right choice.

Deuteronomy 34 The other day one of my sons said to Renee and me, "When I die, I don't want to be buried, I want to be melted." I'm not sure what that means, but it struck us as kind of amusing at the time. I've thought about it too–the whole death and dying thing. I've thought about it a lot more since my grandmother died last year and the buffer zone between the generations shrunk just a bit. Moses didn't have a chance. God said you are going to die. It's time. Take one last look. Then die. Then God buried him. Worse, Moses died outside of Promised Land. Moses was mighty in word and deed, so much so that no one had risen up in Israel like him–ever. The part that has always struck me as interesting is the part where the author wrote, "He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is" (34:6). So Moses' epitaph is that he was, more or less, forgotten. There's this grave in Paris at the Pere Lachaise cemetery where a man named Jim Morrison has been buried since his death in 1971. People flock to it and have made it a shrine where they have their picture taken and sit in vigil. I think the whole point of Moses' forgotten burial is found just there: God knew the hearts of people and kept the burial place of Moses a secret precisely so that it would not become a snare or a shrine. The last thing Moses heard from God was, "You will not…" Kind of makes you wonder, doesn't it, what the last thing is that God will say to us.

Matthew 24:36-51 The short and long of this passage of Scripture is very simple: Be ready. We never know when Jesus is going to return. When you are going about your life, your day, be ready. When you are eating and drinking, be ready. When you are least expecting it, be ready. At all times, be ready–whatever you are doing, wherever you are doing it, do it with a heart of expectation.

In the Romans passage he says, "All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people." I think God is for us. I think he wants us to give our attention to him and to seek attention from him. I think all day long he pleads and weeps for us to trust him. I've learned a few things from these passages today.

Psalm, when we give our attention to God, he gives his to us. Deuteronomy, be willing to be forgotten in order that God may be remembered. Matthew, always be thinking about Jesus in whatever you do. Romans, receive what God is offering you with open hands. I close today with a prayer from the Committal Service found in the Book of Common Prayer:

"In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, we commend ourselves to Almighty God and we commit our body to the ground; earth to earth; ashes to ashes; dust to dust. The Lord bless us and keep us, the Lord make his face to shine upon us and be gracious to us, the Lord life up his countenance upon us and give us peace. Amen."

Old Blackberry Pics 2008 2009 227It's been a few days since I have written about the Daily Office. That kind of bums me out a little bit because it means I haven't been truly engaged in the Scripture as I want to be. I suppose all of us at some level have these ideas about what we should be doing and what we are actually doing. Key, I believe, is not even balance because that implies, in one way or another, that all things are equal or equally important. I need un-balance. Or maybe the correct word is imbalance. Either way, we get caught up in life, family, the affairs of today, the regrets of yesterday, and the dreams of tomorrow and it tends to crowd out those things that matter more.

So I'm generally distrusting of people who tell me that their lives are balanced. It generally means they have no priorities. This was not something I easily learned–the struggles of the last several years demonstrate adequately that all the while I was seeking balance–professionally, personally, spiritually–God was in the business of throwing me off course and challenging my notions of what it really means to live, move, and have being.

On then to today's readings.

Psalm 16, 17 What is interesting about these two Psalms is not that the New Testament writers took verses 9-10 of Psalm 16 and filled up its meaning with the Resurrection of Jesus. That is powerful reading, to be sure, but not what I find most compelling. Too often we see such prophecies fulfilled in Jesus (a good thing) and we forget that there are other verses to read as well (a bad thing). Psalm 16 & 17 both begin in sort of the same way: Lord, I am in deep trouble. Keep me safe. Hear my cry. What else is interesting is that they both seem to end the same way too. At the end of 16, the Psalmist is clearly in the grave and counting on the Lord's intervention, and 17 ends with the Psalmist waking up happy to see God's face. In both cases, and at some level, the Psalmist has died. Not terribly optimistic until you remember that in both Psalms the writer has thrown caution to the wind and is reminding God that He is the only hope and vindication he can count upon for survival.

And if we read carefully through the Psalms, we see there is no end to the dangers faced by the righteous in this lifetime. The righteous are always on the backside of those who 'run after other gods.' We see in Psalm 16 that even though the 'boundary lines have fallen in pleasant places' and even though 'with Him at my right hand, I will not be shaken' the Psalmist still finds himself six feet under by the time we reach verses 9-11. I wonder if it is fair to assume that some how or other this death was brought about by those who 'run after other gods'?

Then we arrive at Psalm 17 and we find that the stakes have been raised even higher and the threats against the righteous have grown even more demanding: bribery and violence (4);  seeking destruction of the righteous (9); callous hearts and arrogant mouths (10); hunting parties ( those who 'run after other gods' also form hunting parties to 'track us down' 16:4 & 17:11); physical abuse (11b); and in general wickedness (14). And another interesting note: those who 'run after other gods' in Psalm 16 are 'like a lion hungry for prey, like a fierce lion crouching in cover' (12). I know where I have heard that before: "Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8). Maybe those who 'run after other gods' are equally adept at doing the work of the enemy, the devil. One thing is for certain: the righteous can fully expect that those who 'run after other gods' in this lifetime are going to get what is coming to them, what they desire–their bellies will be full and there will be leftovers beside (17:14). They will have their rewards here, now, in this life. And the righteous should not be envious.

So what I'm thinking about is this. What am I doing with my life? What am I chasing? Am I running after other gods hoping to get my fill of this life? Or will I take refuge in God (16:1 & 17:7)? I guess it depends upon what we want. Do we want a life filled now? Or do we want hope of a life perfectly satisfied forever? In some ways I really believe it is an either/or proposition. Do we take refuge in God and have hope now and later? Or do we do the devil's bidding and be forever unsatisfied? Are we happy to find hope in Resurrection with Jesus? Or are we busily living the unsatisfied life of the devil? Interestingly enough, Psalm 16 reminds us that those who 'run after other gods' are the ones who will 'suffer more and more' (16:4). So it kind of makes me wonder if I have put all my suffering into its proper perspective so that even when I am surrounded on all sides by an enemy who wishes nothing better than my discontent, death, and my utter destruction I can say, with the chorus of the righteous: I will not be shaken because the Lord is at my right hand.

Imagine that: The Lord at your right hand.

Matthew 24:1-35 Over the years, as I have read this complex and perplexing passage of Scripture–set within Matthew's overt Kingdom story–I have grown fonder and fonder of it not, I think, because it tells of signs and wonders and so-called apocalyptic things, but because at the heart of it it tells the story of Jesus. It's like when we read the book of The Revelation. I think if we read the book of Revelation hoping to find anything there but Jesus then we are reading the story in the wrong way or with the wrong intent. The story in the Revelation is about Jesus: first to last, alpha to omega, beginning to end. John encounters a suffering church–7 of them to be exact–and what does he do? He gives them a vision of Jesus (see chapter 1 of Revelation for more insight). So when we read Matthew 24 I believe the intent is the same. You and me we look around and we see all sorts of calamity and persecution and suffering and death and destruction–much like the Psalmist did in Psalm 16-17–and we may grow to despair this life. We may grow to wonder what is happening and where it's all going. And Jesus recognized this so look what he does. He tells us: Yes, there are going to be times when life absolutely sucks. Life is going to get so bad that people won't even respect religious buildings or the righteous who gather there. I like that Jesus is sitting on top of a mountain, looking down on the world like a King on a throne. So again, what does he do? He warns us that there is only one Jesus.

There will be false messiahs, but don't listen. There will be wars, but don't be alarmed. Wickedness will increase, but this Kingdom Gospel will be preached. Religious persecution will grow, but stand firm. False messiahs and prophets will perform great signs and wonders, but don't be deceived. Don't grow cold in your love if everyone around you does. Don't be attached to this life when everyone else is running back inside for a cloak. Don't believe what people tell you when they point to false hope but remember Jesus' words. What does Jesus do? He tells us this: You will know me when you see me and I will not look like or be like what the world tells you I look like and act like. I might come and do no miracles or signs like the world does so don't look for signs and wonders; I might not relieve all your troubles at once as the world does so don't look for comfort or convenience; I might not come to the world's acclaim so don't look in the direction the world points. Instead, listen for a trumpet, watch for the lightning, follow the vultures, pray for peace, and pay attention–not to what the world says to pay attention to–but to the Words of Jesus (35). In other words, if you are paying attention, you will not miss Jesus when he returns. Remain steadfast. Stick with love. Pay attention to his words. He has not abandoned this place or his people. He will not abandon us to the grave any more than his Father abandoned him to the grave. When the world around you goes to the pot, keep looking for Jesus, keep listening to his words, and keep busy in his kingdom.

When you see all these things, pay attention. Things are near. But don't put too much stock in them because it's easy to get caught up in these things and miss out on what we truly hope for: the return of Jesus. And if we are looking, hoping, and waiting upon Jesus we will not miss him. Ask yourself, is it Jesus you are looking for?

That's all I have for today and I hope it is helpful. Be blessed. Grace and Peace to you in Jesus' Name.

SeawigsTitle: Oliver and the Seawigs

Author: Philip Reeve

Illustrator: Sarah McIntyre

Publisher: Oxford

Random House Children's

Year: 2013

Pages: 200

[Disclaimer: I was provided with an ARC (advance readers copy) via NetGalley in exchange for my fair and unbiased review of Oliver and the Seawigs. I have in no way been compensated or asked to provide a positive review. Just honesty.]

I am glad that I am rather frequently asked by publishers to review children's literature. In this way, I am introduced to new authors that I may not otherwise know about or hear of. I am also introduced to illustrators who make beautiful drawings and or painting. One of my favorite classes in graduate school was the one where we did nothing but read children's books and literature.

Oliver and the Seawigs is a fun, whimsical book written for upper elementary to junior high students. I suspect, however, that even senior high students and adults will enjoy and appreciate the fast paced action, light-hearted fun, and witty humor of this book. It's filled with plenty of puns, alliterations, and jokes along the way–and rambling islands, talking birds, sarcastic seas, sea monkeys,  mermaids, and hallowed shallows. As a teacher, I enjoy when authors make fun use of words and invite the readers to think their way through a story. Words are great fun and Reeve did a wonderful job making his enjoyment of words fun for the readers.

As I noted above, I read an ARC. I downloaded through NetGalley into Adobe Digital Editions and attempted to read the book using my Nook. I was very disappointed that the graphics heavy book did not function at all on my Nook. In fact, it crashed my Nook many times before I simply gave up and read the book entirely on ADE. Even in ADE the book pages turned very slowly and at times caused the program to be unresponsive for several minutes. This was unfortunate. I don't know if this is a problem just with the ARC or if this is an inherent problem, but it was my experience.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book and these technical glitches in no way took away from the enjoyment of the story and my pleasure in reading it. I think I would prefer to have a nice hard bound copy as opposed to the digital copy, for reasons mentioned above and I hope that my digital experience was my own and not shared by other readers.

In some ways the book reminded me of A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket–in this case, one young child working through a challenging adventure and attempting to solve relatively complex problems along the way. Furthermore, the language is not softened for readers who may well find themselves in need of a dictionary to work through some of the larger words in the book (e.g., crotchety, feted, doubloons). Of course they are not mountainous words, but still there may be some challenges for some students and other readers. And of course I believe this to be a good thing. One of the best ways to learn how to read and how to think through books is when a reader is forced, at times, to look up a word in a dictionary. Even now, after 40+ years of reading, this is a frequent practice of mine.

The artwork is spectacular. The version I read was mostly pencil drawings with a very small palette of color (blue & black). The artwork was very well done and complimented the story nicely. After looking at the web pages of the illustrator, I also see how the artwork reflects her personality in any number of ways. The artwork only enhanced the story and in no way detracted from it.

The story is simple. The story is short (and the illustrations, sometimes taking up two pages, make the book go by rather quickly). The story is fun. I don't think there is a lot of suspense for older readers who will find the story somewhat predictable and cookie-cutter, but younger readers will probably find it somewhat suspenseful and scary at times. (Maybe.) I highly recommend the book and hope at some point to include it in my own classroom (there are some extras at the illustrator's web page, see above for link).

5/5 stars

ParTitle: Pick and Roll

Author: Kelsey Blair

Author Page at Lorimer: Kelsey Blair

Publisher: James Lorimer & Company

Year: September 1, 2014

Pages: 80 (e-book)

[Disclaimer: I was provided a preview copy of this via NetGalley in exchange for my fair and unbiased review. The version I read and now review was in the form of an e-book I accessed through Adobe Digital Editions on ny Nook reader. Pages numbers may not correspond exactly to other versions.]

Fry reading Level: 3.0 (according to publisher)

Reading age: Grades 4-8 (ages 10-13, again, according to the publisher).

Those who are interested in sports, especially girls basketball, will be interested in this short volume from Lorimer author Kelsey Blair. This is a middle school aged book which I think will appeal to both boys and girls even though the book focuses almost entirely on tension filled, junior high sports world of girls basketball. I suppose unless one has lived it they would never know that the world of junior high sports is so competitive, tension filled, and melodramatic. Nevertheless, that is the impression I got while reading this book. I am not suggesting that is a bad thing merely that this is the nature of the book.

The only real complaint I have about the book is that I think students from the United States who read this volume will be a little confused by the spelling of some words. For example, the words 'offense' and 'defense' are consistently spelled 'offence' and 'defence.' I'm not privy to the publisher's intentions so I cannot make any predictions, but it might be helpful if versions sold in the US had these words spelled with their American English spellings.

The story of Jazz, a junior high girls basketball player, is a fun read. It is written by a woman who herself was a basketball player and who, thus, understands basketball and the lingo and nomenclature well. Technically, the book is spot on. As far as the behavior of junior high girls, I suppose that is spot on too, but I'm from a generation that grew up reading Blubber and Otherwise Known as Shelia the Great. Blair was a little more subtle in describing this tension, and that might be a good thing. I liked that the difficulties experienced by the girls in the book were resolved relatively easily–and on the basketball court. While there was some teenage jealousy and subterfuge going on in the story, the author does a good job of writing about it in a tactful manner. In other words, it wasn't too terribly hyperbolic.

Some of the language and technical basketball lingo might need a little translation for some readers, but I think the author captures well the spirit of teenage jealousies and rivalries and has translated them into a readable story with genuine characters. Jazz is a complex character and offers many surprises throughout the story. There are times when she is likable and other times when she is difficult to figure, but I think young people reading the story will understand all to well the complexities of junior high social politics. And I think they will enjoy the story as I did.

4/5 stars

61 HoursTitle: 61 Hours

Author: Lee Child

Publisher: Delacorte Press

Year: 2010

Pages: 383

This is the third Reacher novel I have now read and it was by far the most difficult–difficult not in the sense of time (only took me altogether a few hours) and not in the sense of it being complicated story, it was neither of these. It was complicated because it out of character from the first two novels I read (One Shot, Gone Tomorrow). I had an expectation of a lot of action, a brutal plot twist, standard Reacher walking around looking for new clothes, and the standard physical love interest. Frankly, I was disappointed in these regards.

Anyone reading this book will not find typical Reacher. It is set in South Dakota and it is cold and frankly the story plods along as if it were set in a cold, snowy, South Dakota. There's simply no secret. The book is set in cold and the book is cold. The characters are cold. I wondered as I read how many different ways Child could describe the crunching of snow under car tires. I wondered how many ways he would find to make us feel the pain of below-zero air pummeling a man's face.  I wondered how many different ways he would find to describe a blizzard.

I must say, Child is incredibly creative.

There's not a lot of action and those looking for typical Reacher action will be disappointed. There are  a lot of conversations between Reacher and an old woman–Mrs. Salter, a sympathetic character whose wit and wisdom matches Reacher's. There is action, but it is mostly bunched near the end of the book. Like a large Reacher plodding through a thick and heavy South Dakotan winter wind, cold, and snow the reader plods through this book. It's a fast read, but it's a slow read. And frankly, if the reader doesn't have this story figured out half-way through or sooner then there might be something wrong with their perceptive abilities. In other words, the helix like mystery wrapped around Reacher in this book is predictable.

The gimmick in this book is the countdown of the 61 hours. This gimmick reminded me of that old Johnny Cash song 25 Minutes to Go. What you wonder all through the book is exactly what will happen in 61 hours. The reader might be surprised when the story's setting and the culmination of the 61 hours finally collide. 61 hours; 4 days. It's a nice contrast, a beautiful picture.  On the other hand, I'm not sure the gimmick worked for me. I think it was designed to build tension, but for me it was simply a countdown to the end of the book. Not a bad idea, but I just couldn't get that Johnny Cash song out of my head.

I liked this book, but not as much as I liked the first two I have read. That doesn't mean it's a bad story. On the contrary, it's a different story from a very good story teller. It's slow. It's plodding. It's cold. Nevertheless, it is Reacher. Fans of Reacher won't be disappointed, but they will probably be surprised.

4.5/5 Stars