Category Archives: Bible Study

What an Open Heaven Means to You

Under an Open Heaven: A New Way of Life Revealed in John’s Gospel

Under an Open Heaven: A New Way of Life Revealed in John’s Gospel by John E. Jonson

When reading the gospels, do you ever wonder what it’s all about? What it means to you? If those stories from so long ago really have any impact on your life today? I think if we’re honest, we all feel that at least on occasion.

John E. Johnson tackles these questions in his new book, Under an Open Heaven: A New Way of Life Revealed in John’s Gospel.  In a conversational, almost irreverent tone, he takes thirteen of Jesus’ conversations with others in the Gospel of John and explains how in each, Jesus is demonstrating what an open heaven looks like and what difference it made to His hearers and to us.

Contemporary and Scholarly

Johnson weaves his language between 1st century commentary and 21st century vernacular, reminding the reader that yes, this applies to you. He takes pages out of today’s headlines with mentions of elections, human needs, and the #NeverJesus crowd. And he inserts his reader into the narrative with, for example, Jesus asking the disciples “what food stores remain open” or the disciples recognizing that “even at thrift store prices, there is not that much money in the deacon fund to cover the need” of feeding five thousand adult males, not to mention the women and children. Blended into this very real, very contemporary narrative is excellent scholarship, many quotes, and precise documentation.

Applies to Real Life

So what does an open heaven mean to an ordinary person pursuing splendor? I found myself engaged with Jesus, the human, the one who faced common everyday needs and opportunities in his setting which strangely had a lot in common with my setting. This book took Jesus from “way back then” to right now, from “I wonder how this applies to me” to “Wow, that’s just like my life.” More than any commentary I’ve read, Under an Open Heaven gave me actionable concepts. In addition, application questions at the end of every chapter helped to extend the concept of an open heaven to my everyday life.

This book is readable and penetrating. Well worth your time.

Control Girl: Lessons on Surrendering Your Burden of Control

"Control Girl: Lessons on Surrendering Your Burden of control from Seven Women in the Bible" by Shannon Popkin

“Control Girl: Lessons on Surrendering Your Burden of control from Seven Women in the Bible” by Shannon Popkin

What do Eve, Sarah, Hagar, Rebekah, Leah, Rachel, and Miriam have in common? According to Shannon Popkin, they are all “Control Girls.” And what is a “control girl?” It’s a girl (or woman) who, one way or another, believe that it is good, right, or necessary to take control. They take control over their husbands, their kids, their circumstances, and try hard to control God. Their motives and methods are different, but the result is always the same – tragedy.

In Control Girl: Lessons on Surrendering Your Burden of Control from Seven Women in the Bible, Popkin has taken a topic I’ve seen little written about and tackled it well. She is an excellent writer, skillfully blending solid biblical study with personal examples. She goes deep by lesson 2, which I appreciated. And every lesson was peppered with good strategies, penetrating application questions, and depth I seldom see in a women’s book. Great job for her first book. You’ll want this book for yourself, your women’s group, or for someone you love.

My only complaint about this book is that she aimed it squarely at and for women. Sure, we need it. But her points are equally pertinent to men, and I’m sure she could have found a half dozen men to write about. I would love to use a book like this for a co-ed Bible study or in ministry with male clients. But hey, let’s get the women in line and pray for the men!

 

Waiting for Wonder

Waiting for Wonder: Learning to Live on God's Timeline by Marlo Schalesky

Waiting for Wonder: Learning to Live on God’s Timeline by Marlo Schalesky

Full disclosure: Marlo Schalesky is not only a friend, but also one of my favorite fiction authors. She and I attended the same seminary, although not at the same time. I’ve know her for many years and have watched her live out an amazing Christian life. But I must say, Waiting for Wonder: Learning to Live on God’s Timeline is a giant leap forward in her writing. In this book, Marlo has combined her remarkable fiction skills with her academic prowess – a Master of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary. That may sound like an odd combination – and it is. But Marlo pulls it off with aplomb. The result is an engaging read, peppered with historical and theological facts. And then she tops it all off with personal application and challenging questions.

Waiting for Wonder: Learning to Live on God’s Timelineis the story of Sarah. I’ve heard many sermons and read a few books on Abraham, but few on Sarah. Who was she? What was her world like, and how did she navigate it? How did she respond to being essentially a pawn in Abraham’s drama? How did she manage the twenty-five year wait between the promise and the fulfillment?  And so what? Why do I care?

A Compelling and Scholarly Saga

Marlo weaves a compelling saga, laced with insights from scholarly authorities. Her theme is, of course, waiting – and finding God in the wait. Imagine being infertile and then in your old age, being promised a son. A son from your womb! Imagine the roller coaster of emotion as month follows month, year follows year with no son. Imagine the frustration of being a woman in that culture, a woman whose husband leaves home, family, and a good life behind and becomes a nomad to chase a promise from his God. His invisible God, by the way. Did Abram really hear God? Is this invisible God really able to pull off his promise? If so, what is taking so long?

Admit it. Sarah’s story is all too often our story. Sarah’s wait reflects our seemingly endless wait. Sarah’s flimsy faith and attempts to help God out – well, yeah…..

This book is well worth the read. It’s an excellent devotional and would also be a meaningful book for a small group.

Marlo Schalesky’s ‘Waiting for Wonder’ Giveaway (12/6-1/23)

Waiting for Wonder Marlo Schalesky

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Anointed … And Stupid

We see it in Scripture—and unfortunately, in real life—all the time.

A person is highly gifted. Anointed. Being used by the Lord. But then they get stupid and everyone is left scratching their head.

Samson's Final Vengeance

Samson’s Final Vengeance                                                     Photo Credit: Kurt Cope (BPECA)

Samson’s Final Vengeance

Take Samson. Called and chosen before conception. A Nazarite from birth. Called to judge Israel and save them from the Philistines. But his downfall was women. After living a pure, set apart life, he hits young adulthood and lusts after a Philistine woman (Judg. 14:3). He took her as his wife (in clear violation of Deuteronomy 7:3), and in his youthful arrogance, baited his 30 Philistine “companions” with a silly riddle. He then allowed his wife to manipulate him into divulging the answer to his riddle. So he seized the prize from 30 men of Askalon, a Philistine town 20 miles away. Scripture says the Spirit of the Lord came on him in power (Judg. 14:19) and he conquered these unsuspecting men.

Yes, he was anointed. He had the Spirit of God. But was he fulfilling God’s call on his life? Then adding injury to insult, he abandoned his wife in a huff. Her father gave her to one of the friends. When Samson decided he wanted her back but her father refused, he tied torches to the tails of 300 foxes and burned the grain of the Philistines. This, of course, caused even more ire among the Philistines, who threatened the Israelites. His response was neither wise nor politically correct. “I merely did to them what they did to me” (Judg. 15:11).

The Israelites tied him up to turn him over to the Philistines, but Scripture says that the “Spirit of the Lord came upon him in power. The ropes on his arms became like charred flax, and the bindings dropped from his hands” (Judg. 15:14). He grabbed the jawbone of a donkey and killed another 1000 Philistines (Judg. 15:16), violating the prohibition against touching anything dead (Lev. 11:39) and possibly compromising his Nazarite vow.

Did Samson learn his lesson? No way. He went to the Philistine seaport of Gaza and slept with a prostitute, again becoming a target the Philistines (Judg. 16:1-3).

Lesson learned? Surely, you say. Nope. “Sometime later” he fell in love with yet another woman – Delilah, who collaborated with the Philistines. And once again he was snared by her pleadings to learn the source of his strength. It took a while as they toyed with one another, but in the end, Samson caved to her wiles and divulged the source of his strength. He was captured, blinded, and imprisoned.

Stupid, stupid, stupid! It’s easy to criticize Samson. His weaknesses are so obvious. Maybe ours aren’t quite as glaring. Or are they? But how is it that we are so willing to test the grace of God by giving in to our individual weaknesses and expecting Him to work through us anyway? And why does God continue to honor the anointed when they (we) give in to sin? I don’t know the answer to these questions, but personally, I am committed to pursue splendor and try my best to avoid stupidity. How about you?

Synced: Living Connected to the Heart of Jesus

Synced: Living Connected to the Heart of Jesus by Jennifer Kennedy Dean

Synced: Living Connected to the Heart of Jesus by Jennifer Kennedy Dean

Author Jennifer Kennedy Dean believes that the way to live synced to the heart of Jesus is to understand and base our lives on the model prayer Jesus gave us—the Lord’s Prayer. As a nationally respected writer, speaker, and executive on prayer and spiritual formation, she should know. And Synced: Living Connected to the Heart of Jesus is indeed a well-researched, easy-to-read book on this popular topic. Using the model prayer as an outline, she ventures far and wide with a combination of some good scholarship and some interesting stories.

And yet, as I read this book, I continued to feel uneasy. I couldn’t put my finger on the problem, and wondered if I’ve just read too many books on the Lord’s Prayer. Perhaps. I have read many. Unfortunately, this book didn’t rise to any level of significance. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the book; it’s just tired. I didn’t see much that was new, much that rose to a level that made me want to share the book. To quote the book. To teach the book. And most of the book focused on “what” rather than “how.” I didn’t come away with an increased ability to sync to Jesus.

In fairness, if the promotion on the book had indicated it was focused on the Lord’s Prayer, I probably would have passed on the blog tour because I recognize that the topic is so overdone that such books need to rise to a high level of excellence to stand out. So if you haven’t read a lot on the Lord’s Prayer, this book is well written. But if this is a topic you’re familiar with, you won’t learn much new in this book.

 

 

The Christmas Story in 40 Days

The Christmas Story in 40 Days

The Christmas Story in 40 Days

Although I’m a little late for this year, if you’re looking for a Christmas devotional, this might be the one. The Christmas Story in 40 Days is a simple little book that slows down the familiar story and bridges the gap between the past and the present.

Each day begins with four to five verses, followed by a text box with a comment or a historical note. On the facing page is a devotional thought and often a couple of interpretive questions, and then space for your personal thoughts.

I especially like the historical notes. The story is so familiar, but the notes sometimes added a new dimension for me. On the other hand, I found the book quite simplistic. It seems to be written at about a sixth grade reading level, and there are few deep concepts. However, that would make it a good book for a high school group or perhaps new Christians.

Aneko Press has provided a copy of The Christmas Story in 40 Days for me to give away. If you would like to win a free copy, leave a comment below. I’ll select a winner on Wednesday and ship it out to you right away.

Giving Thanks in All Things

How do you face adversity and frustrations? Do you complain or give thanks? 1 Thes. 5:18 commands – yes, commands – us, “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” As a young Christian, this concept really confused me. How could I give thanks for everything?

Praying hands In everything give thanks...

In everything give thanks…
Photo Credit: Irina Patrascu

But note that Paul doesn’t say to give thanks for everything, but rather, in everything. Yes, there is a huge difference. We may not be grateful for the thing that is happening to us, and that often makes sense. There are a lot of awful things happening in our world and our individual lives today. But when those things happen, we have a choice. We can complain and whine that God is being mean to us. Or we can assume that he is our good father, caring for us even better than the best of earthly fathers. And if we can believe that, we can give thanks in those circumstances for this care, even if we don’t like the circumstances.

How do we do that?

  • We can thank him that he is carrying us in the midst of the adversity.
  • We can thank him that it isn’t worse than it is. (Yep, it could always be worse).
  • We can thank him for what we are learning — or are going to learn when we calm down.
  • We can thank him that as others see our thankful reaction, they will be amazed at how good our God is.
  • We can thank him that we are being strengthened for the next trial.
  • We can thank him that we are being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ.

So take a minute right now and thank God in the middle of your circumstances. Praise him. Trust him. Then you will see much more clearly.

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Do You Have Hezekiah Syndrome? | Protecting the Next Generation

Head in Sand

Do You Have Your Head in the Sand?
Photo Credit: John VanderHaagen

War in Israel. Christian genocide in Iraq. Children flooding our borders. A flaccid economy. Ebola in Africa. Every day our senses are assaulted with trauma in our world. It’s terrible, and yet I confess that all too often I find myself wondering if things will hold together for another 30 years? Another 20 years? I read this week that the Medicare trust fund is calculated to survive until 2030 – 15 years. I found myself calculating my age and wondering if I’d still be alive.

I have to fight this tendency to look out for myself. I have to deliberately force myself to stop and pray for my kids and grandkids. I call this the Hezekiah Syndrome, from 2 Kings 20. The dying Hezekiah had just been granted a stay of execution from the Lord. Another 15 years. But in his excitement, he showed the Babylonian emissaries all the treasures of his storehouses, boasting of his great wealth.

This didn’t please the prophet Isaiah, who then issued this dire sentence:  “Hear the word of the LORD: Days are coming when all that is in your house, and that which your ancestors have stored up until this day, shall be carried to Babylon; nothing shall be left, says the LORD. Some of your own sons who are born to you shall be taken away; they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” (2 Kings 20:16-18)

Think about it! Hezekiah had just been told that not only his wealth, but also his own sons, would be taken into captivity! And what was his response? “Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, ‘The word of the LORD that you have spoken is good.’ For he thought, ‘Why not, if there will be peace and security in my days?’” (2Kings 20:19)

Seriously? He had just seen the Lord answer a pretty serious prayer for healing, but now he’s willing to allow his sons—who, by the way, were innocent in his sin—bear the brunt of this punishment! I’m appalled, but hey, I do almost the same thing when I wonder (and even whisper a prayer) that the world will hold together through my lifetime. Then I need to repent and pray all the more diligently for my kids, my grandkids, and the world that I am at least a little bit complicit in messing up.

Folks, we are the matriarchal/patriarchal generation. The responsibility is ours. We must pray and never, ever, give in to the temptation of short-term gain with the risk of long-term loss. Will you join me in praying for the world we are leaving to our kids?

Where Does Depravity Come In When Dealing With Guilt And Shame?

A Divided Heart

A Divided Heart
Photo Credit: Windell Oskay

People who suffer from guilt and shame seem to major on the “wretched man” type Scriptures  (Rom. 7:24), insisting that the heart is deceitful (Jer. 17:9) or we are sinful (Isaiah 1:4). Yes, of course, Scripture says we are sinners, but sinners saved by grace! It’s when we insist on our own way and walk in our own understanding that we are corrupt. Once we accept Christ, we are the righteousness of God by faith (Phil. 3:9) and we have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16). Sure, we can still sin and walk in self, but that’s where sanctification comes in. What we must remember is God’s character—his gentleness, loving-kindness, and mercy.  We must remember Romans 8:1!  If you are a believer, God’s intention is to conform you to the image of Jesus Christ  (Rom 8:29), not to condemn you. And frankly, he’ll stop at nothing until he accomplishes this goal. He’s on your side! Romans 8:31 is the best news ever!

So if you’re struggling with either guilt or shame, the good news is that God has an app for that. He’s on your side. Make the correct diagnosis and apply the correct remedy. Apply it over and over until your thoughts and feelings are in alignment with God’s word. You’ll be amazed at the change in your behaviors. Let me know how it works for you.

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