Friday, August 28, 2009

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness-Book Review

The old stories tell that when the first person woke up on the first morning in the world where this tale takes place, he yawned, stretched, and said to the first thing he saw, “Well, here we are.” The man’s name was Dwayne, and the first thing he saw was a rock. Next to the rock, though, was a woman named Gladys…the first sentence was taught to children…all speaking creatures referred to the world around them as Aerwiar.

So begins On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, Book 1 of The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson. The story focuses on the Igiby children (Janner, Tink, and Leeli) who live with their mother and grandfather in the Glipwood Township that sits next to the Dark Sea of Darkness. Apart from the annual Dragon festival, Glipwood is a town just like yours and mine, with the exception of being completely unlike anything we have ever known, with the lizard-like Fangs of Dang lording over the townsfolk and the fear of being eaten by the toothy cows or being carried away at night by the Black Carriage. Then, of course, there is Peet the Sock Man walking on his hands and Zouzab the ridgerunner sitting atop Books and Crannies, the kids playing Zibzy, and the secret talk of the Jewels of Anniera. Other than these minor differences (and a few more), it is just like the world we have come to know. All of these elements are skillfully crafted into the beginning of an adventure that will have you longing for a world that used to be and that your heart tells you one day shall be again.
Peterson has created a world in which the young and old alike will want to get lost and wander freely for a while, a world that will help each of us discover who we truly are. Fans of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis will feel at home here, curled up in front of the fire with a hot bowl of cheesy chowder. Buy it here and read it to your students (if you’re a teacher), or read it to your children (if you’re a parent), or read it to your parents (if you’re a child). If you’re none of these, just read it to yourself. It will be time well spent.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Crazy Love by Francis Chan: Book Review

I had picked up Francis Chan's Crazy Love several times in different stores, wondering if it worth the time or is Chan going to be another "cool" young preacher wanting to redefine Jesus and God, not that either can be defined adequately in human terms and language. So I didn't get it. Not long ago, I saw the audio book offered free of charge and took advantage of it. It rested on my hard drive for a while, then one day I started listening. Three days later, I was done.

I was pleasantly surprised at the content of this book. Chan effectively interweaves scripture with stories from ordinary people outside the Bible to illustrate his point of Crazy Love, God's crazy love for us and the crazy love we are to have of Him. For those who are engaged by the visual, Chan has video clips that can be found on his book website( to accompany the book. This book can start anyone thinking about the bigger things in life. Even if you are not a Christian, there is much here to be considered. Each reader (or listener as was the case with me) will take away different points of impact, so I will focus on what captured my heart and mind.

Early in the book, Chan reminds us that in 50 years no one will remember you or me and they will not care what jobs we had, what car we drove, etc. This is a point that is terrifying (what am I doing that matters beyond my years of life?) and reassuring (I can be free to live differently and radically for God). In talking about the parable of the sower in Matthew 13, Chan makes a stinging statement: "Don't assume you are the good soil." Like many of you reading this, I immediately want to assume the best of myself even though I know I display many traits of the unfavorable soils. Chan dedicates a chapter to a lengthy discussion of lukewarm Christians and what characterizes their lives. Again, this was hard to read, since I saw my face in more of these than I am comfortable admitting, though I just did. Oops! The point Chan is trying to put forth is living in radical obedience and following of Christ.

Here are just a few statement and questions to give you a taste of the book:

  • Half-hearted following is not following at all.

  • We are comfortable with the little bit of God we have.

  • Are you really willing to say to God that He can have anything He wants?

  • Actively running to Christ is getting fulfillment in Him alone; Wholehearted surrender is the only way to please God.

  • Something is wrong when our lives make sense to unbelievers.

  • Allow God to be creative with you.

  • What are you doing right now that requires faith?

  • Would anything you are doing now be different if you didn't believe in God?

Chan states his purpose toward the end of the book : "I wrote this book because much of our talk doesn't match our lives." Ouch!

I was pleased that Chan addresses the importance of how believers live without embracing a gospel that makes Jesus to be just a social worker. The book is a call to radical love for God. I recommend this book because of it's ability to get you thinking about the daily living of the gospel with others. Crazy Love will be helpful for individual growth or group study.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Is Jesus only loving?

The topic of hell has grown so unpopular these days tha people either ignore it or make attempts to redefine it. There is a question that always comes up in "religious" conversations and it goes like this: How can a loving God send someone to a place of eternal punishment? or Wasn't the message of Jesus love and not condemnation? The need for these questions is totally understandable, but what I am interested in is the presuppositions found in the question and the motivation behind the question.
In having these types of discussions with people, I have discovered that what people want is for God or Jesus to be fair and just. That makes sense and is perfectly reasonable. The apostle Paul wrote in the book of Romans (3:23) that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."
I agree with that because I have yet to discover a single person, including myself, that is completely righteous. In fact, there is not a single thing we do or say that is not tainted with sin in some way, whether it be a hidden selfish motive, pride, or whatever. Since we are all sinners and can't measure up to the standards of God, do we really want God to be fair and just? Justice would be for the wrongdoing to be paid for, a punishment to make amends for the crimes against God that have been committed. We all want guilty parties to pay for their crimes, especially when we are the victims of the crimes. But we want God to just look over our crimes (or sins) against Him and make Him out to be some villain if he stands for justice. This is justice as we define it: We are sinners and guilty and are deserving of Hell, every one of us. This is justice on our terms.
But God is loving, just as we would hope he would be. But He is loving in the greatest of ways. He knows we are sinners and utterly incapable of doing anything righteous (even our righteousness is filthy rags), so he provides the payment for the crime. He offers to come down and live through the treachery and sin-filled world we inhabit. He offers himself as payment. That is not justice, that is Grace. Those that belive in Him on His terms will be saved. "..whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son."(John 3:18). These are the words of Jesus, not mine. It is amazing to me that this follows the famous John 3:16 passage that "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son." My generation of church attenders memorized this as a child, but never discussed the condemnation passage that followed. Now the most quoted passage by people is Matthew 7:1 when Jesus says,"Do not judge, or you too will be judged." Many use this to prohibit any judgement, but this refers to men judging men, not Jesus judging men which is the case in the John passage.
What I am trying to make plain is that Jesus is loving, but he is also wrathful. It is not necessary to choose one over the other when it comes to God. He loves us so much that he provided the way to avoid His wrath which is in faithful belief in his Son, Jesus. It really doesn't get any more fair than that. It's like a man guilty of murder being given the information to share that will bring a verdict of not-guilty. He is still guilty , but will be free because he had someone provide the means necessary for freedom from wrath. Another illustration: Suppose you are backpacking on a trail and come to a place where the trail forks and you have to make a decision of which path to take. Another hiker points one direction and says, "That path takes you to a dangerous cliff-edge that few make it past." Pointing to the other,"That one takes you back to town and safety." If you take the first trail and it ends in destruction, is it the other hiker's fault? Couldn't it be that you were told and just chose to deny and do it your way regardless of the consequence?
Jesus is loving, but not only loving. Jesus is wrathful, but not only wrathful. Jesus is loving, by providing the grace for all of us to enjoy eternity with Him, beginning today. He is also wrathful, by letting unbelief have it's just punishment which is eternal separation from Him (John 3:36).