Archive for February, 2015

9780801039447Title: Engaging the Christian Scriptures

Authors: Andrew E. Arterbury, W.H. Bellinger, Jr., Derek S. Dodson

Publisher: Baker Academic

Year: 2014

Pages: 286

Kindle Price: $14.57

Paperback: $20.33

[Disclaimer: In exchange for my fair and unbiased review, I was provided an ARC by the publisher through NetGalley. The views expressed here are mine alone. I was not required to write a positive review and I was in no way compensated for the review. All images belong to the copyright owner.]

When I went to Bible College between 1991-1995 I was introduced to the brilliant and wonderful world of academia and Biblical scholarship that to this day, 20 years later (although I am no longer in located ministry) I thoroughly enjoy. I read theology now as a sort of hobby, still subscribe to theological journals, and still read commentaries for fun. But sometimes I think that it was my love of the academic side of Christian faith that caused my ultimate downfall in the pulpit–not that I am particularly smart, but that perhaps I didn't learn how to filter well enough the material I studied during the week in preparation for preaching. At the heart of it, I think many Christians sitting in the pew on Sunday morning do not care all that much about what the learned have to say and what those who read the learned think about it.

Thus I was excited to read this volume of introductory articles to the Bible. My own experience in Bible Survey in my undergraduate work left little to be desired and was often a source of frustration given how shallow it was. Well, I get it: it was a freshmen level class, so I shouldn't speak too harshly. So I read. I commend the authors of the book on a job well done. I like it because it has a rare combination of scholarly astuteness and pew sitter awareness. Frankly, I needed this book 24 some years ago when I was sitting in freshman Bible Survey. I needed the balance that this book brings to the difficult issues that surround the Scripture, its composition, its collection, and its interpretation. For example, I regret that when I learned of JEPD I only learned that it was the tool of liberal devils who wanted to uproot the Word of God from its Source and render it unreliable. What I didn't learn was that there are sincere reasons for accepting it as a reliable tool that was used to bring a certain cohesion to the Scripture, that it may have been useful to God, and that those who were the JEPDs were righteous in their intentions.

Maybe it's the years that have softened me or maybe the authors did a fine job of saying something like, "There are sources that critical scholars consider but the fact of these sources does nothing to render this less than the Word of God–useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness." Maybe. Maybe I didn't read them well enough. Frankly, I have gotten to a point in my life where I really don't care how the books came together: whether through various sources and editors or by the hand of one author who was 'carried along by the Holy Spirit.' I think ultimately what matters when reading the Bible is that we read it as a whole. That is, Genesis may well have been 'edited' by 50 different people for all we know or it may have been written by one person, say, Joshua or Moses. But what matters is that right here, right now, we have one book that we call "Genesis." And we interpret Genesis as one book with one overarching theme from front to back and as God's word given to us.

The book was written with a clear audience in mind: "We intend for this volume to serve as an introductory textbook to the Christian Scriptures for students who are engaging in an informed reading of the Bible within an academic setting" (xi). To this end, I think the authors did a fine job. Their goal is not to undermine personal faith or catholic Christianity but rather to set the Scripture in a context where it can be properly understood in light of historical context, literary development, and theological contexts. In other words, they are not telling the student what to believe, but they are helping the student to see that even though the prophets spoke and wrote as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit, these books were not written in a vacuum devoid of context or unaware of the strictures of written language. These are two areas, especially, where I think the Christian church gets it wrong–both in the academy and the pulpit.

We tend to picture Scripture being written in a void as if the Holy Spirit took over a person's mind, set them on a mountain in the lotus position, and dictated word for word what was to be written. He may have at times, but I think one only needs to read the Bible to see that the authors who wrote the books had an agenda and were consummately aware of their surroundings. So when Christians read, we do not need to be afraid that there are scary things happening in the Bible or that some of the things might be culturally obscure to us. To this point, I suspect that even though this is a book written for an academic setting, perhaps that is too limited a market: not everyone goes to Bible college or seminary, but most Christians sit in a pew listening to someone who has and for too long that pulpit has not been challenged on a critical, local level. I'm not saying run the preacher down, but I am asking: Isn't there room within the church to discuss heady and deep issues we find in the Bible or that we find about the Bible?

Isn't there room for intelligence among people of faith? I think there is. I'd like this book to find its way into the local church and not remain merely in the classroom where ignorant freshmen waste away their days and squander opportunities to bring real change to our churches–real change that starts in the pulpit with the person preaching the Scripture. In my opinion, a book like this will go a long way to that end precisely because it is not so heady that the average pew sitter cannot understand it.

"We want the reader not only to know the contents of the Bible but also to gain a critical appreciation and respect for the historical distance between us as modern readers and the ancient contexts of the Bible. We want the reader to consider how these texts were heard or read by their ancient audiences by asking historical, literary, and theological questions of the texts. We hope this study of the Bible initiates a journey of both discovery and intellectual curiosity, and thus deepens engagement with the biblical text." (2)

The only thing I wish they had done is gone one step further and also indicated that they hope the book would strengthen faith and foster trust in the Scripture as God's word. The Bible is not a merely influential document or a tool for debate or a window into the past. It is those things, yes, but not merely and in their introductory comments I wish they had made further comment about the Bible being the Word of God to his covenant people. They ask, "Why study the Bible?" (2) and I agree with their answer that we may "evaluate contemporary interpretations of the Bible that one may encounter in various ways: in church-related and religious literature, in sermons, in politics, through the media, and in informal conversations with family and friends" (2). I give a hardy 'amen!' I think many would agree that the church's knowledge of Scripture is woefully inadequate to the tasks and pressures we are facing in this world today and no amount of television preaching is going to alleviate that inadequacy.

If this book helps people to be more informed, then good. But more: if it helps pew people read and engage their Bible with more consistency and regularity, then better. If it helps bring a certain note of wisdom to young men and women in bible college, then this is best.

I'm not sure I buy the Documentary Hypothesis to be honest. I might; I might not. I'm not sure that it harms the Scripture, but I'm not sure it helps. Again, my point is: we have the text so does it really matter how it came together or whose name is attached to it? Jesus accepted the OT Scripture so shouldn't I? It used to be that those who accepted and taught JEPD were on the outside, sort of fringe scholars one ought to be wary of. Now, I see in this book that the DH is becoming more mainstream, a more accepted thought among scholars and pew people. Make of that what you want.

I like the charts, graphs, maps, and pictures in the book. They are helpful and not intrusive. They help break up lengthy texts and explanations that may bore a young college student (as do the grey call out boxes where the authors give readers extra insight into structure, definitions, and more.) I like how explanations are given to difficult terminology–such as JEPD (Documentary Hypothesis (42). I like the engagement with historical documents, criticism, and manuscripts. I like that the authors take their time and explain difficult concepts to the reader in plain language. I also like that at the end of each chapter or section of Scripture examined the authors take the time to print a short bibliography of source material. Many of the sources are very recent and some of the authors may be a bit obscure to new readers or students. Some of the sources are from recognized evangelical scholars whose names will be immediately recognizable and will thus lend some credibility to the authors' work.

Disclaimer: In exchange for my fair and unbiased review, I was provided an ARC by the publisher through NetGalley. The views expressed here are mine alone. I was not required to write a positive review and I was in no way compensated for the review. All images belong to the copyright owner.] – See more at: http://specialeducationteacher.typepad.com/my-blog/#sthash.L9A7040Y.dpuf
Disclaimer: In exchange for my fair and unbiased review, I was provided an ARC by the publisher through NetGalley. The views expressed here are mine alone. I was not required to write a positive review and I was in no way compensated for the review. All images belong to the copyright owner.] – See more at: http://specialeducationteacher.typepad.com/my-blog/#sthash.L9A7040Y.dpuf
Disclaimer: In exchange for my fair and unbiased review, I was provided an ARC by the publisher through NetGalley. The views expressed here are mine alone. I was not required to write a positive review and I was in no way compensated for the review. All images belong to the copyright owner.] – See more at: http://specialeducationteacher.typepad.com/my-blog/#sthash.L9A7040Y.dpuf

I want to say that I am glad this book is not merely a rehashing of what is already in the Bible. Too many times scholars write Bible surveys or introductions to the Bible and the book ends up being little more than a retelling of what is in the Bible–so much so that the person reading would get more from just sitting down and reading the Bible. I like that the authors seemed to keep the overarching theological strand of God's redemptive plan in Jesus in view from Genesis to Revelation and that their 'retelling' includes outlines of the texts, discussion of significant textual issues, and theological reflection on themes (context), purposes (audience), and literature (genre, author) (their discussion of the Book of Revelation beginning on 252ff is especially helpful and on the mark.)

Indeed, the authors conclude:

"The Christ even represents the beginning of God's end-time action to reconcile all creation to God's self. As it awaits the consummation of this redemption in the coming of Christ, the community of Christ followers gives witness to this divine action in its life together and its proclamation. This overarching story, of course, provides another context in which to interpret the texts of the Bible." (259

Scripture index. Subject index.

A helpful volume for new students and perhaps for students who worship each week in a local church. And given that this fall, September 2015, I will begin teaching at a small local Bible college, this will be a helpful volume for my students.

5/5

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I keep wondering about a religion that endorses murder. I thought Islam was a religion of peace. #Bangladesh

Sad. #AllLivesMatter

The third passage of Scripture I am zeroing in on during this Lenten season is found in Mark 8:

Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the God will save it. What good is it for you to gain the whole world, yet forfeit your soul? Or what can you give in exchange for your soul? If any of you are ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of man will be ashamed of you when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels." (Mark 8:34-38)

Tonight, February 24, 2015, I started thinking about this passage and Jesus' words: "…take up their cross…" I have no fancy words to help us understand this. Jesus flat out says: "If you want to follow me, you must die."

Daily.

In other words, "Offer your body, your very selves, as living sacrifices to God." Essentially there is no difference between what Jesus said and what Paul wrote.

Daily.

I'm wondering: Did I die today? Did I give up today? Did I quit today? Did I stay on the altar today? Did I stay on the cross today?

Daily.

Just before this Jesus said to Peter, yes, Peter who had just rebuked Jesus for daring to suggest that was going to be killed, Jesus said to that Simon bar Jonah, "Get behind me, Satan! You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns."

Daily.

It's easy enough to understand, right? The person who refuses to die daily has little more in mind than the things of Satan. The person who willingly goes to the cross, daily, is able to 'test and approve what God's will is–his good, and pleasing, and perfect will.' If we want to be Jesus' disciple–that should give us pause too, right?: Do we really have the will to be Jesus' disciple? Do we really want to be his disciple? Do we really want to follow him?

Because if we do there is only one way to do so: Deny yourself. Take up your cross. Follow Jesus. If you want to be a disciple of Jesus then you are required to follow Jesus where Jesus leads. You are required to deny yourself–all those urges, and doubts, and fears, and desires, and lusts. You are required to die.

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. (Romans 6:11-12; and read the rest too.)

Daily.

This means that much of the extracurricular things we do on a daily basis, as long as we are living, will have to be forgotten. It means that my will must necessarily take less than a backseat. It means my will must be outside the car and way back at the truck stop. It means I must stop giving priority to my will, my plans, my ambition, my dreams, my desire, my lusts, and myself. It means that if these things are at the forefront of my daily existence that I am not looking intently at Jesus.

It means that the will of Jesus must be the overarching, governing theme of my everyday existence. It means we need to spend time with Jesus each day so that we might test what his will is, so we will know where to God, so we will know what to do. It means I must die: quite literally and quite figuratively. 

Why do you think the sacrificial offerings were offered daily in ancient Israel? They were daily reminders that sin costs. They were daily reminders that someone else was paying the price.

Daily.

This brings us back to Hebrews 12:1-2:

And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.

Because as I wrote in another post: when we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus we know exactly where we are going and in what direction we need to travel to get there.

Daily.

Jesus gave his life for everyone else. We are to give our lives to Jesus.

Daily.

Another of my theme verses during this Lenten season is Romans 12:1-2.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and please to God–this is true worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is–his good, pleasing, and perfect will.

Like the passage I noted from Hebrews 12 here, this verse begins with the word 'therefore' which indicates that what came before it must have led to the conclusions that are about to follow. In this case, at minimum, from chapter 8 on (where we also see a section led with the word 'therefore') we must consider that the present verse (12:1) serves as a conclusion or 'so here's what you ought to do with your life' kind of verse. "If everything I said previously is true, then, therefore…" And so it goes.

And chapters 1-8 are heavy, heavy teaching.

Therefore….offer yourselves to God. In view of God's mercy–'For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all' (11:32)–offer yourselves back to God. Give yourselves over to him. Make a sacrifice back to God–of yourselves. Offer yourselves to God…your bodies. This is the first step. I don't think it means that we are literally to die; I don't think it means we are not literally to die.

I wake up each day and I wonder about what life means and how I am going to manage yet another day…especially after yesterday. The thing is, living sacrifices have a tendency to crawl off the altar. I think the thing here is this: we have to be continually offering ourselves to God. Even after we crawl off the altar. We have to get right back up on top and bring the knife down again. I think anyone reading this, anyone reading who takes Jesus seriously, will agree that dying to the self is very, very difficult. We continue to struggle.

One of the hardest things for me to recognize and confess is this: I will always be a sinner. This will never change as long as I am encased in this corrupt flesh. What can I do? I'm starting to really understand this constant struggle….this wanting to be near Jesus every minute…and knowing every same minute that I am a sinner and that I will continually fall, fail, and forget that I want to be near Jesus every minute. We are walking paradoxes. It probably doesn't bother us enough that we are to worship God in this way–you know, asked to offer ourselves as living sacrifices who are prone to crawl off the altar.

Living. This is key, isn't it? We are to die each day we are living. I take this to mean that every second after we fail is another second we have to offer ourselves back to God. So long as we are alive…living…we are to offer ourselves to him; holy and pleasing.

So Paul goes on to write this, "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is–his good, pleasing, and perfect will."

There are a lot of ideas floating around the world just now–as there always has been. It is very easy to just go with the current and conform to the thought patterns and processes in this world. It is very easy to succumb to the valueless values of this world. It is very easy to give up and become another drone forgetting to whom we belong. And every single minute of every single day our minds are bombarded with the latest philosophy or idea that is making the rounds. I am finding that, frankly, all of this clouds my mind and makes understanding God's will profoundly difficult. So much media, day in, day out is stifling me. If I may be honest, it is killing me slowly because the brain is flexible and susceptible to conform to whatever we allow into it.

This is the problem…the same problem I think when it comes to prayer (I mentioned this in another post). If we are not allowing our minds to be filled with truth, then our minds will become full of lies and the only language we will know how to speak is lies. If we never fill our minds with the Word of God then our prayers will be little more than 'thank you God for the day and thank you for keeping us safe and bless the gift and giver' kind of prayers (these are good thoughts, yes, but there is a lot more we can pray about, don't you agree?). I know what my problem is: my mind knows a lot of Scripture, but my mind is not saturated with it. My mind is filled with a lot of words of God, but I'm not thinking about it deeply enough day in and day out.

I understand all too well how easily how the day in day out business of living crowds out all thoughts of holiness and righteousness. Dare I say that we have to make the effort, we have to create space, it is imperative that we make time each day to renew our minds with the Word of God. We conform to the world when all we take in all day long is the world, but when we allow something contrary to the world, something diametrically opposed to 'the world,' to break in from the outside our minds then start to become renewed. Frankly I don't think we can survive very long if all we are doing is taking in the world. "Did God really say?" I recall it was Jesus who won the battle we constantly lose precisely because his mind was saturated with the Word of God.

We might have to put something else away if we find ourselves losing more often than we are winning. We might have to stop with all the input from the world and dedicate more and more time to the Word of the Lord. We might need to carry a Bible with us and read it at work. Or add the app to our phones so we can read it.

Why do you think the Psalmist wrote, "Blessed are those…who delight in the law of the Lord and meditate on it day and night" (Psalm 1:1-2). It's this person who meditates day and night who prospers–and by prospers I think he means what Paul wrote in Romans 12: this person is able to test and approve God's will. This is also what Moses told the people of Israel in his great sermon Deuteronomy:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:5-9; see also Deuteronomy 11:16-21)

I'm reading this book called God in the Whirlwind by David F Wells. Part of the early pages of the book were dedicated to exploring something similar to what I'm talking about here in this blog. "It is Scripture alone," he writes, "that is God-breathed and, therefore, it is the source of our knowledge of God. Is it not entirely sufficient, then, for all we need to know about God and his character?" (17) He then goes on to answer his question this way:

The answer, of course, is that Scripture is indeed sufficient. However, there is a proviso here. Scripture will prove sufficient if we are able to receive from it all that God has put into it. That, though, is not as simple as it sounds. The reason lies in what Paul says elsewhere. We are to 'be transformed by the renewal' of our minds–which is surely what happens when we take hold of the truth God has given us in his Word–but also, he says, we are not to be 'conformed to the world.' The shaping of our live is to come from Scripture and not from culture. We are to be those in whom truth is the internal drive and worldly horizons and habits are not. It is always sola Scriptura and it should never be sola cultura…Being transformed also means being unconformed. (17)

All of our ideas and thoughts are to be formed and shaped and daily renewed by our intimate contact, study, memorization, and meditation upon the Word of God. I confess my own failure. There is a huge difference between knowing the Word of God and depending upon it second by second. I think to dig deeper into these thoughts, but I suppose for now it is enough to know these things, to stop writing, and open my Bible.

Maybe you should too.

Related articles

Reflections on a World Afire, Lenten Reflections #1
Fixed Eye Faith, Lenten Reflections #2
Learning to Talk, Lenten Reflections #3

In a little book I have called Answering God, author Eugene Peterson writes,

"But the first requirement of language is not to make us nice but accurate. Prayer is not particularly 'nice.' There is a recognition in prayer of the fiercer aspects of God…Psalm language is not careful about offending our sensibilities; its genius is its complete disclosure of the human spirit as it makes response to the revealing God. Given the mess that things are in, it will not be surprising that some unpleasant matters have to be spoken, and spoken in the language of our sin-conditioned humanity, for the language of prayer is, most emphatically, human language. It is not angel talk." (41-42)

Sometimes we simply do not have the words though. Sometimes talking to God is difficult because perhaps we think what we have to say might be offensive or too caustic for God's ears. When I read through the Psalms–or the Bible in general–I am quickly disabused of that idea. Those who pray use real words and often rather salty language. It seems that God's ears are quite accustomed to our complaints and our verbal atrocities. He's been around a while; he can handle it.

But that's not how we pray. It really isn't. I have been involved in the church since I was born. I cannot remember a day when I haven't been involved with the church in some way. And I am one of those people who actually listens to everything that is said in church. I pay close attention because I want to hear the Scripture read and preached, I want to hear the prayers prayed and offered, and I want to hear the Spirit move among God's people. On the other hand, I'm also like Stanley Hauerwas who wrote,

"I do not trust prayer to spontaneity. Most 'spontaneous prayers' turn out, upon analysis, to be anything but spontaneous. Too often they conform to formulaic patterns that include ugly phrases such as, 'Lord, we just ask you…" Such phrases are gestures of false humility, suggesting that God should give us what we want because what we want is not all that much. I prayer that God will save us from 'just.' (Hannah's Child, 255)

Hauerwas goes on to note that because of his fear he took to writing out his prayers. I'm OK with that. Some folks need to do just such a thing. When I was younger I objected to such things, but the older I get and the more cut & paste prayers I hear from people leading worship or in small groups, the more I am fine with the practice. Nevertheless, I think there might also be another solution though and that solution has to do with the Scripture.

Part of the reason I think corporate prayers are so anemic is because our minds have not drank deeply enough of the Scripture to let it saturate the part of our brains that generates language. Or we are simply content with formulating our own nonsense. But if we trust that the Bible is the Word of God then why shouldn't we pray back his words to him? Why shouldn't we remind him of what he said? Why shouldn't we pray the very words he gave us and hurl back to him the words he hurled at us?

I'm not sure why we think our words are better than his words. But to my point: the prayers we offer in public worship, the prayers offered by our leaders (preachers, elders, deacons), those prayers are weak and speak nothing: "Thank you God for this day. We just pray for this or that. Bless the gift and the giver so that your message will go out in this community and around the world. Be with us."

There's nothing wrong with these words at all, but when these words are the meat and substance of our prayers, and when these are the same words repeated time and time again from pulpits and by leaders, it makes me stop and wonder if we are even in tune with what the Bible has to say about the work God has planned for us, through Jesus, in this world? Jesus said that the very gates of hell cannot count an offensive to stop the church or mount a defensive position that the church cannot conquer. Yet our prayers are prayers thanking God for the day. Again, nothing wrong with thanking God for the day, but don't you think our prayers could have a little more urgency? Don't you think our leaders should pray with a bit more expectancy? Don't you think our prayers should have a little more prophecy infused? 

I mean seriously: Why are all those prayers we read in the Bible there in the first place? Are we just supposed to read them? Are they there for decorative purposes? Are they there so we can marvel at how wonderful the saints of old prayed? Or are they there to guide and direct our own prayer life, to give us words to pray, directions for our journey, and/or language to fatten up our prayers? Think about Jesus on the cross and the prayers he prayed. Luke 23:46: "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit" is from Psalm 31:5. Mark 15:34: "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?" is a quote from Psalm 22:1. Or think about Stephen in Acts 7 who was stoned to death because of Jesus. He prayed twice during his execution: "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit," and "Lord do not hold this sin against them." Well, it seems to me that these are both allusions to the words that Jesus prayed on the cross, words that Jesus quoted from Scripture.

Or think about Revelation 6:10: "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?" This was prayed by the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. But here again is my point: How many times in the Older Testament, especially the Psalms, do we see these words or words similar to them? Look at Psalm 13:1, for example. Or Psalm 6:3. Or Habakkuk 1:2 for that matter. The point, of course, is that even these dead saints in Revelation are still praying the Scripture.

This post could go on for a while because I haven't really even laid out all of my reasons for believing these things or the reasons why I think we should pray the Scripture. And by 'pray the Scripture' I do not only mean using the language of Scripture but I mean literally praying through it. That is, opening up a book of the Bible and literally praying it's words back to the Father–kind of like we do when we recite the Lord's prayer. Like I said, this post could go on for a while and I want to end it for now. Suffice it to say, in conclusion, that I think perhaps it would do us well to dig deeper into the Scripture as congregations. Our lives as members of the church should be centered around the Scripture. Scripture should be read frequently from the pulpit. Scripture should be sung. Scripture should be read as part of the worship. Scripture should be prayed. Scripture should be preached. Scripture should be read privately and publicly.

I hear the words of Amos the prophet:

"The days are coming," declares the Lord, "When I will send a famine through the land–not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord. People will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it" (8:11-12).

I get this. I think it's going on right now and is evidenced in the prayers we pray.

Several years ago I became rather obsessed with the book in the New Testament we call 'Hebrews.' I don't remember the exact dates off the top of my head, I just remember catching a glimpse of it one day (I think I may have been reading N.T. Wright's book Following Jesus) and then diving in deeper until I absolutely fell in love with the short letter. Aside from those concerning chapter 11, I have heard very few sermons from Hebrews–which is a shame. It's a beautiful book in every way and, in my opinion, not terribly difficult to interpret.

Well, of course there are some parts that are difficult to understand and which might call for some more nuanced explanations, but I think if a person reads the book slowly and looks for some key clues in context (which are rather easy to find in our English Bibles), then the book begins to make sense in every way. And the truth is, I'd love to share that with you and perhaps someday I will. Tonight though I'd just like to focus for a minute on the particular verse that is kind of my theme verse during this Lenten season.

"And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:1b-2)

I kept coming back to this verse today…thinking about Jesus being the author (pioneer; trailblazer) of our faith and why, if this is true, I should 'fix my eyes' on him. Because let's be honest,it's not like I can literally see him no matter how hard I stare and no matter how fixed my eyes become on a particular spot in the sky. It's not that I think Jesus is in the sky, but, well, I guess that's where I have been trained to look for God: up there.

So the questions are something like: How do I fix my eyes on Jesus? and Why do I fix my eyes on Jesus.

I have heard a lot of folks get down on the church or Christianity or even Jesus. They have things to say like, "Oh you are just running away from your problems." Or, "You are just avoiding all the lousy stuff in the world." Stuff like that. But I don't think that's it at all. The book of Hebrews does not say we are running away from anything–but we are running to someone. Just because we are running to someone doesn't mean we are running from anything though. I look at all that went on in the life of Jesus, his apostles, his saints…they were hardly escapists practicing escapism. I think the key is found in the first word of chapter 12: Therefore.

The word 'therefore' follows closely on the heels of everything that was written in the 'great faith chapter', Hebrews 11 which, interestingly enough, begins with a discussion of faith: "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for" (11:1-2). Oh, so faith is being certain of things we do not see…therefore…fix your eyes on Jesus the author and perfecter of faith. Faith is not about not seeing, it's about seeing the right things. Faith is not about blindness, it's about being perfectly sighted. Faith is not being oblivious to what we see or endure in this world, it's about being fully aware that this world is not all there is.

Faith is about knowing where to look. Faith is about knowing to whom we look. Faith is about being able to discern who gives us hope and who does not. I find it not one bit ironic or strange that the author of Hebrews then points us to the one place where there is absolutely no historical doubt: Jesus was crucified. Of there there is not one shred of doubt–except from the sort of people who would not have faith anyhow. Yet because of this crucifixion we have faith that sees beyond this culture of death we have created–the world walks hand in hand with the devil who comes to 'kill, steal, and destroy.' Don't mistake it; it's all around us. Yet we are among those who do not fear death, even though we fear it, because we fix our eyes on Jesus.

Like when Stephen was being stoned to death in Acts 7: "Look, I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." That is faith! Faith that sees.

So look at all of chapter 11 and see the sort of trouble all those saints got into precisely because they refused to look anywhere but Jesus. For example, "By faith, Moses, when he had grown up refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh's daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy a season of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king's anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible." Amazing…Moses had eyes powerful enough to see someone who is invisible!

Faith isn't about 'blind-leaps'; faith is about being able to see beyond what normal eyes can see. Faith has eyes to see things at a distance and welcome them. Faith has eyes to see a better city, a better land than the one we live in now. Faith has eyes to see beyond the destruction of the flesh. Faith looks forward to a better resurrection. Faith has eyes to see Jesus…even amidst the clutter and culture of death that surround us.

You see, I think what I've been learning is this: it is terribly difficult to go through life with eyes that scatter all around–like Mad-Eye Moody from the Harry Potter books whose crazy eye was constantly zipping this way and that. Life doesn't function so well when that's what we are doing with our eyes. Our eyes need to be fixed on Jesus–the pioneer, trailblazer, architect, author and perfecter of our faith. I think sometimes I work too hard trying to muster up faith and I get discouraged when I fail. I'm always looking around trying to catch a glimpse of what faith looks like, heroic faith, radical faith. And people, some people, make a living telling the rest of us what real faith looks like. And then we try to recreate that faith in ourselves.

We don't need radical faith. We don't need heroic faith. We need Jesus. And if that sounds naive and simple, you're welcome.

I'm tired of tips and techniques for mastering faith. I want simple. I want simply to fix my eyes on Jesus because it seems to me if someone else was able to pioneer and perfect our faith we would have been told to fix our eyes on that person. But the author of Hebrews says we are to fix our eyes on Jesus…who understands the faith he calls us to and will perfect that faith in us…because he too endured the cross. He led the way!! He has blazed the trail he asks us to follow. So even if he calls us to 'take up our cross daily, deny ourselves, and follow him' we know he will not fail…and the faith he creates in us will not either.

It's kind of like taking a business model that works in city A and recreating in city B–which has nothing of the demographic markers that city A has and expecting it to work. Or it's like trying to take a model of church growthism and recreating it in another church in another town and expecting it to work the same wonders. All are doomed to failure. Well, here's the thing: I can neither create nor perfect faith…any faith. I simply cannot be entrusted with such a task. It is, and I am, doomed to failure. And so long as I look to myself or to others or all around that faith is doomed to destruction. Only Jesus can create and perfect the sort of faith that I need in my life…the kind of faith that looks beyond the failures and deaths of this world. This kind of faith, the sort spoken of in chapter 11, is resurrection faith. It's faith in Jesus, who, "shared in [our] humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death–that is, the devil–and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death" (Hebrews 2:14-15).

Faith is not perfected by ignoring what's going on around us, but rather by keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus despite all that is going on around us. We fail because we try to create our own faith. We fail because we think we know what faith is and what it looks like. Do we really think self-manufactured faith will be enough to see beyond the deaths of this world? Will our own manufactured faith be enough for us to scorn family like Abraham? Will our own manufactured faith be enough to deny the pleasures of this world like Moses? Will our own manufactured faith be enough to obey God when he asks us to do something ridiculous as he did Noah? Will our own manufactured faith be enough to speak boldly the word of God in the face of death as did the prophets? Will our own manufactured faith be enough to scorn the cross for the joy set before us? Will our own manufactured faith be enough for us to run the race marked out for us?

Do you trust yourself to create and perfect that sort of faith? I don't.

Whatever else this verse teaches me, it teaches me that I absolutely cannot get by a single moment of my life apart from Jesus. And what's more? We fix our eyes on Jesus because…wait for it…because He is our reward…He is the joy set before us….He is the goal of our faith.

And if we fix our eyes on Jesus, then we know exactly where we are going and to whom we are heading. Right? If we are fixed on Jesus, then we have no confusion whatsoever about our path or our destination.

Right?

[Feel free to leave a comment. I'd love to hear from you.]

One of the last acts I performed as a member of Facebook was to follow a link to a blog post and read the blog post. It had something to do with Daniel 11 so I thought this would be a good thing–given that I am currently neck deep in a study of Daniel in preparation for weekly Bible school lessons and, further down the road, teaching it at a small undergraduate college nearby.

Then I got there.

I'm sure the blogger's intentions were good. Maybe not. Personally I think that if a person has to go to that much trouble to understand what Scripture is saying then the person probably has no idea what Scripture is saying. That's my opinion, but I'm pretty sure that the Bible can be understood on its own terms without the help of charts and graphs and overlays and all other such 'helpful' things. Take Daniel 11 for example which should be read closely on the heels of chapter 10 of Daniel.

Chapter 10 is a conversation between Daniel and one who 'looked like a man.' This one strengthens Daniel. Speaks to Daniel. And reveals things to Daniel. Chapter 10 is a prelude to what he says in chapter 11. It may well be helpful when reading Daniel 11 to think in big pictures instead of small pictures…that is, see the forest through the trees. There are trees and if we like it may prove a fun exercise to wander through the woods and attempt to identify all the different species of trees that we see, but there is a bigger picture in chapter 11 that the identity of one small tree cannot overshadow.

The cycle in chapter 11 goes something like this:

  • A king will rise up somewhere in the world.
  • This king will do as he pleases. He or she will do whatever necessary to gain and consolidate power for themselves.
  • This king will wreck the holy people of God.
  • This king will come to an end.

It is there. Over and over again it is there. 11:4. 11:6. 11:17-19. 11:20. 11:24. 11:26-27. 11:45. Everyone of these verses speaks to the downfall of some king who thought he was the cat's meow. Every single verse. Every king who has ever lived, every kingdom ever established on earth–all of them from the greatest to the least–comes to ruin.

It seems to me that this ought to give us pause for more than a moment. It seems to me that our reaction ought to be more in line with that of Daniel who 'trembled', who 'was overcome with anguish because of the vision,' and who 'mourned for three weeks, ate no choice food, drank no wine, and used no lotions.' I'm not sure this is our christian response when we see the world afire. Ours is typically not a response of repentance, but one of indifference. It starts with me.

I repent.

It seems to me it ought to give us pause to think about our own situation here in the United States because many Christians seem to think that somehow or other our kingdom is different. I think this is why we are fond of seeing the trees instead of the forest when we read Daniel. That is, if we can learn the true identity of the 'king of the North,' or the 'king of deception,' or the 'king of the South' as people who lived hundreds or thousands of years ago then, well, think about it: if that is the only thing true about Daniel's prophecy then it must not apply to our kingdom here in the USA, right? I'm sure it's important to know about Antiochus and Alexander and Ptolemy and the rest. That's the trees.

But don't you think it's also important to know who these people are in our world? That's the forest. And it seems to me that it is far more important to see the forest just now than it is to see the trees since, of course, we are living now and not then. Don't you think it is important, right now, today, to understand the fate of every single kingdom that has ever arisen on this earth? Doesn't this help us understand why now, even now, the world is afire with death, destruction, and hatred?

I'm thinking about my allegiance to Jesus. I'm thinking about how being a citizen of the USA affects my counter-cultural identity as a citizen of heaven–a much better country (Hebrews 11:16). I'm thinking that during this Lenten season, I need to reorient my eyes, my mind, and my heart so I will be guided by three passages of Scripture.

First, Hebrews 12:2: "…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." My vision needs to be clarified. My focus needs to be fixed. If the world is afire, I need to have a steady gaze. There is a greater joy than the shame of suffering. Jesus is at the right hand of the throne of God. All the kings of the world will come and go, but Jesus remains. (Which is a key to understand the entire book of Daniel.)

Second, Romans 12:1-2: "Therefore I urge you brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to daily  offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is true worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is–his good, pleasing, and perfect will." My mind needs to be clear and sober. My body needs to be holy and pleasing. If the world is afire, I must be ready to endure. Giving my body and mind to Jesus every day is the best way to be ready.

Third, Mark 8:34-35: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and the gospel will save it." I think we have to make up our minds whether or not we want to be Jesus' disciple. If we want to then Jesus tells us what being a disciple entails. Give up your life. Deny what the world tries to tell us our body needs. Take up your cross–which does not mean to simply endure the burdens and drudgery of life, although it means that as well–taking up your cross means head to Calvary with Jesus. Daily. Make the sacrifice. Daily. Give your life for something more than yourself. Lose your life for Jesus as he gave his life for you.

If the world is afire, I had better make up my mind right now whether or not I want to be Jesus' disciple. And if I want to, then here's what I had best be prepared to do and how I best plan to live. Like Rick said in Sunday evening's episode of The Walking Dead, "we are the walking dead." We are.

So this Lenten season there is a lot of turmoil in the world. There's a lot of death. There's a lot of hatred. Kings are coming; kings are going. Empires are rising; empires are falling. Look at the forest…what looms on the horizon of our own nation? What preparations are you making should this great empire we live in here in the USA be the next kingdom to collapse under the weight of its own hubris?

Fix your eyes.

Offer yourselves.

Die with Jesus.

Daily.

God bless you on your Lenten journey. Come back often for more updates and reflections on this life with Jesus.

IndexTitle: Aloof

Author: Tony Kriz

Illustrator: Jonathan Case

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Year: 2014

Pages: 228

[Disclaimer: I was provided a reader's copy of Aloof through the Thomas Nelson BookLook Blogger program. I was not compensated for my review and I was not asked to write a positive review. My review is only to be fair and unbiased. And so it is.]

See also: The Parish Collective

I'm gonna be honest when I say that I really have no idea how I feel about this book. Kriz is about the same age as I am and, based on some of his anecdotes, has had some similar experiences in church and life as I have; although, while he seems to have grasped a theoretical atheism at some point in his life, I think I grasped a more practical atheism at some point. I don't say that lightly about myself because making such a confession might cast a negative light upon Jesus and I am not about that at all. As Kriz makes clear, this was more about himself than it was about God. Maybe what Kriz experienced was a practiced atheism and mine was simply an indifference towards God. I base that conclusion on the way I chose to conduct myself for a number of years after an incredibly difficult season of ministry that ended with my leaving local church ministry altogether and having no church home for the better part of 3 years. I'm not sure.

Whatever the case, Kriz belongs to an imaginary group of writers that I try really hard to understand and appreciate. Yet for some reason I cannot seem to fully do so. I say that in no small part because I have lived many of their experiences, I have suffered just as much if not more, I have wrestled equally with my doubts and fears, but for some reason I continue to wait upon the relief and peace they seem to have found after so many years of the same–a sort of rest and peace about where God has led me and a certain uncertainty about where the path may lead in the future. You can read that for what you want: jealousy? my own unresolved angst? my own sense of lostness–being 40something and caught between two generations and feeling the (sometimes misguided) compulsion to correct the generation that brought us up and the (equally strained) need to train up another generation correctly so they avoid all the missteps we have made? It's all so much a burden that people my age sense. Maybe the problem is that I see too much of myself in Kriz's book and I'm uncomfortable staring in that mirror too long.

All that aside, I will confess that I was immediately turned off when I opened the book and before I read anything else I was confronted with 6 pages worth of 'Praise for Aloof.' I'm all about praise and accolades for well written books, but 6 pages? Seems like overkill to me. OK. That's a small thing, but it's a thing nonetheless. If the book is good, slay with me with a couple of quotes and let it go. I'll find out for myself after I have read it.

So here's how this book went for me: By the time I arrived at page 96 I was still marking in the margins something like, "I'm still not sure what I'm reading about…" By the time I finished page 104, I was thinking, "Oh, another book by a well traveled, angst ridden, spoiled brat." I mean, seriously, by then I had read about his trips to the Philippines, to Bangkok, to Albania, and someplace in South America. It gets a bit tricky keeping track of the itinerary. He tries to help a few pages later, "Across the world, these buccaneer maps led up to places as exotic as the capital cities of the Middle East or as provincial as forgotten villages in Albania's rugged frontier. The destinations were always unexpected. The maps might even lead to the second floor of a Greek embassy" (111-112).  Here I'll own my jealousy because God's buccaneer map for my life hasn't moved me beyond the tri-state area of Ohio, West Virginia, and Michigan. I probably couldn't eat the food in those places anyhow. Maybe God has spoken to me after all.

But I still wonder why so many of these author who write these books feel so compelled to share all their travels to exotic places us mere mortals only dream in dreams we have in our dreams? I'd settle for a month long retreat at Lake Erie let alone the Cascades (p 144).

The first three parts of the book, and the fourth part to an extent, read like an autobiography of how a person came to something that might be called 'genuine faith.' I'm not sure what that means because the way he writes about his struggles only led me to believe he was never far off from God anyhow and I'm not sure that Kriz would use the word 'genuine' to describe where he ends the book because in his mind his faith was always genuine. So take that with a grain of salt. Or perhaps his quotation from A Grief Observed at the head of chapter 1 should have tipped me off as to the nature of the book. Kriz watched his nephew succumb to an inoperable tumor much like CS Lewis watched his wife also succumb to cancer. Maybe this is Kriz's version of A Grief Observed for another generation. Maybe it's both.

I didn't really 'get' the book until part 4 when Kriz started to think more 'theologically' about his story. The first three sections were too autobiographical for me because until I read this book I had never even heard of Tony Kriz. So his grief observed seemed too distant and I wasn't really able to attach myself to it quite the way I did when I first read Lewis' story (because I had read several other of Lewis' books by then). I wish it were different, but it's not. I'm not sure that's necessarily an indictment of the book as much as I think it might be a limitation to those Kriz may wish to read this story. Those who know him will undoubtedly be touched. Those who do not know him might not. I wasn't. I was simply unable to attach myself emotionally to this story–even though I share many of Kriz's experiences up to, and including, watching a loved member of my family succumb to a brain tumor at the age of 30, being terminated from a ministry position, near destitution, and wandering in and out of serious conversations with God for a long while.

Part 4, then, 'Reanimation', is the part I like the best because it was the only part of the book that left me with any hope. I speak for myself here and not a single other person who may read this book. I remember preaching a deep series of sermons one year–about a year or two before being asked to resign my ministry. The series was all about suffering for Jesus–something I took seriously when I was safely behind a pulpit; something I failed at miserably when I had to regroup after my security went to someone else. I went through all the hows and whys and questions about what I did or didn't do and second guessing and angry diatribes at God and shaking my fist and weeping and quoting Job and trusting and faithlessness–I went through it all. It's a lonely time when God is gone or feels gone and one just wants Jesus to hold them. It's a lonely thing to feel abandoned by the only person in the universe we thought would never, ever fail us or leave us or forsake us. It's a terrible thing to feel so forsaken. It's difficult to see clearly when blinded by so much anger, bitterness, and weeping. Tears cleanse and blind.

In the fourth part of the book, I think Kriz does a yeoman's work (I know that's a bit antiquated) bringing home all the angst and turmoil of the first three parts and showing, however quickly, that God isn't so quiet as we sometimes think him to be. And like Kriz, "…slowly I am learning to more fully submit…" (193). Which is another thing very difficult to do.

I come full circle and confess that I'm not sure what to do with this book. I relate to it in many ways; it aggravates me in a number of other ways. The main question for me is this: Does the value I find in the four part of the book outweigh the struggle I had with the first three parts of the book? Can the weight of hope vanquish the weight of despair, the angst of God's hiddenness? The short answer is…yes. I say yes because, if the truth be told, the first three sections can be the story of any person who reads the book. Change the names, change the places, change a little of this or that and what one ends up with his their own story. And all of us need the fourth part, the hope part, the part where the scales fall from our eyes and we experience the full weight of God's presence in 'ten-thousand places.'  Why? Because we all go through these things in life, because all of us have our own buccaneer map we are called to follow. And if I am honest with myself and those who read this review, then I have to confess that I have squandered most of the grace God has poured out on my life and then I have turned around and shook my fist at him wondering where he was or why he didn't give me more, more, more!

That's not God's fault; that's mine. Learning to own that is a long struggle.

In the end, I think Tony Kriz tells the truth: God hides, but that doesn't mean he is not there. Those who have eyes to see and ears to hear will do those very things. In the end I agree with Kriz that God has 'created a system of mostly silence' (218). There are times when God does speaks with deafening volume, as through a megaphone and yet as a whisper in the midst of a storm. We do well to tune our ears.

This is a helpful book that many people will enjoy. They might struggle a wee bit through the first three sections of the book, but for the hope that is found in the fourth section, I think the struggle is worth the effort.

4.5/5

PS–I enjoyed very much the illustrations by Jonathan Case. They were a great addition to the work and complimented the writing well. They were neither an intrusion nor unnecessary but rather well placed and well done.

912Ap+P711LTitle: Ballet Cat: The Totally Secret Secret

Author: Bob Shea

Publisher: Disney Book Group (Hyperion)

Year: 2015

Pages: 56

[Disclaimer: I was provided an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for my fair review of this book. I was in no way compensated or asked to write a positive review. I was asked to write a minimum number of words and to be honest. Done. The copy I read and reviewed was prepared for NOOK via Adobe Digital Editions.]

This is a short book that is highly enjoyable both for it's delightful artwork and for it's whimsical storyline about two friends learning about compromise, friendship, and honesty. It's a simple enough book to read and understand from an author who has demonstrated an ability to write stories that make connections with young readers in a variety of situations (see Dinosaur vs. series).

I think it is a hard lesson to learn, as humans, that real friendship is a difficult water to navigate precisely because it entails things we'd rather not think about–things like compromise and honesty. Children seem to understand these things, but I think even children tend to get caught up in the mayhem of 'one-upism'. I see this a lot in special education where children often come from such environments where family or economic struggles obscure these things for one reason or another. I have no explanation for why it seems to be so, but in my experience working in special education I see a tendency among my students towards selfishness and an unwillingness to compromise even in the smallest areas of social interaction. It could be their particular diagnosis; it could be environmental. Others can tell us why, I'm concerned that it is so and that the classroom becomes a training ground where these things–not taught in other environments–are learned and perpetuated.

Ballet Cat has it all worked out and seems to push towards playing 'ballet' every day: "We play ballet every day, Ballet Cat," grumbles Sparkles the Sparkle Pony. Then Sparkle engages, less than enthusiastically in Ballet play until he simply can take it no more and slouches to the floor in despair. He is sad, frustrated, and defeated and has to muster up the courage to tell Ballet Cat the truth that 'Sometimes [he doesn't] want to play ballet!'  His other fear is that in telling the truth to Ballet Cat he might lose his friend. In the end, however, Ballet Cat is a gracious friend and reveals to Sparkle Pony that he is more important to her than playing Ballet every day. (I'm using 'he' and 'she' carefully since it could be that Ballet Cat and Sparkle Pony are not, in fact, 'she' and 'he'. I don't think the identity of their sex is of particular importance in the story.)

The author makes it clear that friendship involves two things: compromise and honesty. Ballet Cat must learn to compromise; Sparkle Pony must risk friendship by being perfectly honest. It's also important to learn that we can have differing opinions, differing likes, differing opinions and that in the end these differences, and our honesty about these differences, do not have to spoil a good friendship. This is a helpful book and I think it would serve its purpose well in the midst of a classroom and especially in a special education classroom such as mine.

The only problems I had with the book are 1) that I didn't particular care for the way it rendered on my NOOK reader. It read like a comic strip. It's supposed to be 56 pages, but rendered as 30 on my NOOK. 2) I'm not sure why Sparkle Pony is called Sparkle Pony. There's nothing about the Pony that sparkles. He is covered with three giant polka dots, but no sparkles. Perhaps this will change, but in my review copy it was kind of strange. Otherwise, I very much like the art work and I like how the dialogue is printed in call-out boxes–which may lend itself to a reader's theater type reading of the story. The artwork is happy and, I think, conveys the proper emotive feel at just the right times. The color palette is simple, but captivating.

Really I like this book very much, exceptions noted, and will most certainly purchase a copy for my classroom. It is designed for younger readers–the inside cover says ages 6-8, grades 1-3. That might be appropriate, but I think by the time a student is in third grade they are beginning to understand these things and this book may not be age appropriate. I might actually lower this to say Pre-K-K as it might be too 'babyish' for a second and/or third grade student. That's my opinion and it is not necessarily a statement of scientific accuracy. It's a statement of my experience working with boys that age and raising three of my own.

5/5 Stars

Dear DragonTitle: Dear Dragon Goes to the Aquarium

Author: Margaret Hillert

Illustrator: Jack Pullan

Publisher: Norwood House Press

Year: 2015

Pages: 32

[Disclaimer: I was provided an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for my fair review of this book. I was in no way compensated or asked to write a positive review. I was asked to write a minimum number of words and to be honest. Done.]

One thing I did before writing my review of this book was I read it to my nephew who is now in the second grade. I also let him read it to me and when we were finished we talked about the pictures, the words, and whether or not he actually enjoyed the story. 

So on a cold, Sunday afternoon me and my nephew sat on the couch together and read the book. He snuggled up to me and we enjoyed the whole 7 minutes together reading about Dear Dragon's trip to the aquarium–alternating who read between the pages. Of course he enjoyed the story and he enjoyed the artwork. I asked him what he didn't like and he said 'the sharks'; I asked, 'why?' And he replied, 'Because they eat people.' His favorite part was the goldfish–but I was unable to get out of him exactly why he liked the goldfish. It could be that he's 7 and just liked the goldfish. Finally, he was able to read it with little effort. So if this book is rated for K-2, it might be too low for those at the high-end of second grade. In some instances, this might be too low for those more advanced first grade readers also. I think each teacher will need to assess if the book is appropriate for a student; although, to be sure, one can't practice too much even with 'easy' books.

Personally, I like the artwork. It depicts happy people at an aquarium enjoying and afternoon or morning looking at various animals that might live at an aquarium including penguins, catfish, sharks, and more. I like very much that there is an adult guiding the children through the aquarium and teaching them about all that they are seeing and I also like the play on words with the various names for fish: cat, clown, gold, and star. This is a fun way to involve the student and help them make predictions and also requires a bit of pre-knowledge in order to make such predictions. Students shouldn't have too much trouble with this exercise. Finally, this book will be helpful in practicing sight/high-frequency words.

At the end of the book there is a section featuring Reading Reinforcement practices for teachers to use in group work or for students to practice on their own with a parent or other. Some of the exercises are phonemic awareness, fluency, and comprehension–all important things for young and emergent readers to practice. I am glad this section is included because, personally, I love to build curriculum and academic games around literature. Having some ideas built into the book is helpful in that regard.

I have two small complaints about the book that I am, frankly, not sure how to handle. First, on page 22 there is a picture of dolphins and the text says, "Look at these fish." Well, in fact, dolphins are not fish. It bothers me that I am clearly looking at dolphins and the text calls them fish. I think this should be corrected. Second, on page 26, the text says, "Oh, I see. I see gold fish." This one is sketchy because I am not sure if the author is saying, "Oh, look at the gold fish" or if the author is saying, "Oh, look at the goldfish." If students are being asked to look at a particular species of fish then it should be written 'goldfish'; if, on the other hand, students are being asked to look at fish that are gold, then it's fine. So I'm not sure what to do about the second issue because I'm not sure the author's intent (even though the teacher in the story is looking at a school of goldfish. The first issue, though, is clearly wrong: dolphins are not fish.

The story reminds me a little of The Magic School Bus which is a good thing. Overall, I enjoyed the story and the useful text and the play on words. It's a good thinking book and the reading is easy enough (although I think it's rated too low for higher readers who may not enjoy the textual simplicity. I should also note that this story is part of a larger series of stories featuring Dear Dragon–when I checked it was 14 stories.

4.5/5 Stars.

The following information is excerpted from the Norwood House Press website:

Grade level: K-2
Dewey: E
Subject: Dragon, Fiction, Aquarium
Accelerated Reader Reading Level: 1.0
Accelerated Reader Quiz #: 171090
Lexile Level: BR
GRL: E

*You can also read my reviews at Amazon.com, Goodreads, and occasionally I will also post at Shelfari. Visit NetGalley also for more reviews.

***UPDATE***

I received this email from the publisher concerning my complaint about the word 'fish' being used to describe a dolphin:

Hi Jerry,

Thanks for your feedback on Dear Dragon Goes to the Aquarium.  We recognize your comments about dolphins not being fish. Although we were going for simplicity there, we could have chosen better words and will change the word fish when referencing that illustration.

Thanks for your input!

Sincerely,

Patti Hall

President & Publisher

This is awesome. A publisher actually listening to a reviewer!!