Going Back to the Beginning

I reviewed volume 3 of Allen Ross’s commentary on the Psalms some time ago. It seems a bit backwards, starting at the end and only then going to the beginning, but I was so thoroughly impressed with volume 3 that I thought it would be worth my time to work through volume 1 and 2 as well. Volume 2 is waiting for me to crack open its spine, and as each volume comes in at around 930 pages, it might be waiting for a while yet.

41RK4MMfRgLThe style, layout, and approach in this volume is the same as in volume 3, so I don’t feel the need to revisit it is great detail. In my previous review, I highlighted the ease of interacting with the structure of Ross’s work, and the treasure trove of information that he provides for each Psalm. What sets this volume apart is the lengthy introductory essay in the front.

Composing almost 200 pages of the first volume, it covers the necessary explanations of Ross’ approach, and how to make the most of these commentaries. While the essay was not necessary for my reading of volume 3, having now spent some time with it, I dearly wished I had read, at the very least, “Literary Forms and Functions in the Psalms” (p. 111-145). Ross handles the minutiae of this section throughout his exegesis, but I found his summary and his presentation of the big picture to be a great help as I worked through volume 1. For instance, while I had read about royal and lament and wisdom psalms previously, enthronement psalms were new to me. The general concept, and its conceptual history, fascinated me, and gave me refreshed perspective when looking at Psalm 41 or 99. And there were additional categories in this section to consider, such as the Songs of Zion, which greatly added to how I interact with the Psalms as I read them now.

Of course, saying that a commentary changed one’s perspective is not new, nor is it limited to Biblical studies. But the nature of Ross’s writing is different from the commentary one picks up on Hemingway or on the Iliad. The point of understanding the Psalms better is to approach God’s revelation and purposes with eyes open wide. Here, though the poetic form of each psalm provides challenges, exegesis is so helpful in grappling with texts that can be difficult or even opaque at times.

As Ross nicely summarizes the issue: “the exegetical exposition . . . is the one method that guarantees the entire psalm will be explained, correlated and applied in a clear, interesting, and meaningful way” (179). Ross certainly approaches this goal in his commentary, and his observations and study will benefit any Christian wishing to better understand these worship “essentials”, both of the past and for today (147).




A Little Bit of Hospitality


The Paraclete Book of Hospitality is a wonderful, little gem of a book. It’s short 117-page exposition regarding the Christian virtue of hospitality is littered with insights from Scripture, saints, and a host of experiences. While not a theological diatribe about the doctrinal status of being a hospitable person, the editors over at Paraclete Press have none the less put together a brilliant introduction to what it means to exhibit this oft overlooked spiritual discipline.

Perhaps my favorite element of this book was the frequent connections made between Christians of the past, and those living in the world today. The theme of being welcoming is clearly woven throughout Church history, and this little tome does a marvelous job of highlighting that without inundating you with dates and places and hard to pronounce names. If you’ve ever wondered it means to have an open home, or if your curious as to how monastic practices can still serve as relevant tools in this technologically addicted society we call home, this is undoubtedly the book for you!

Of all the portions in the book, there was one chapter which stood out to me.

“Everyday there are occasions, simple moments when we can show hospitality to another person by giving ourselves away. But like every valuable spiritual lesson, this one takes practice and focused attention on our part,” (p. 38).

I had always thought of hospitality as “one of those things,” which if you had a natural inclination towards, could serve God’s purposes. I did not see it something to cultivate, a habit that needed to be formed. However, after reading this book, I am convinced that this practice is essential to living the Christian faith. One does not have to join a monastery to carry about the kind of things mentioned in this book, and I think that is exactly why Jesus talked about it as often as He did. There are no geographical limits on being hospitable.

Sunday Morning Again

I’ve been thinking a bit about Kristofferson’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” (I really dig the Shawn Mullins rendition). There is something about the song that resonates within me on one hand, reminding me that I have not always lived out the faith God called me to. However, it is very frustrating on the other hand.

How do we continue to live in sin? How do we say we love Jesus, and then divorce our wife over something petty? How can we tell people they need the Gospel, and then ignore the homeless man at the intersection? There seems to be such a disconnect sometimes. We say it, we pay it lip service, but we don’t live it out. For some of us, we want to but no matter how badly we want that life…if just never seems to work out. For others, living it out doesn’t even matter. “I’ve got my seat on the first plane to heaven, so leave me alone!” Sound silly when you read it out loud, but boy, it doesn’t seem silly to the folks who live it.

When I first drew close to God (or was drawn close for all you Calvinists out there), the Spirit constantly brought me back to the Book of James. I have read that book more than any other, without a doubt. Every time I pick up a new Bible, be it a new translation like the Voice or simply a different study version, I read James first. It’s my standby.

And there’s this one verse I always come back to: “Without actions, faith is useless. By itself, it’s as good as dead. I know what you’re thinking: ‘OK, you have faith. And I have actions. Now let’s see your faith without works, and I’ll show you a faith that works.’” For all of the beauty and mystery found in John’s Gospel, my second favorite book in the Bible, this tiny section constantly calls to me. And just in case I was inclined to treat this as some vague notion, James doesn’t leave me the option: “Real, true religion from God the Father’s perspective is about caring for the orphans and widows who suffer needlessly and resisting the evil influence of the world.” Faith should result in something practical that goes beyond our basic duties.

I don’t know how else to read this. It’s not meant to sound judgmental. Nor is it meant to beat someone down. If anything, this is an encouragement. When I don’t know where to start living my faith out, God gives us direction: start with the poor.

There are so many different aspects to our faith, and each of them helps us to be truly alive in Christ. We aren’t called to be activists. We’re called to be colonists (to borrow a phrase from N.T. Wright). We’re spreading God’s kingdom in this world. Through prayer, reading, relationships, writing, serving, singing, feeding, worshipping…these are how we let other know our King is real.

Its an awesome responsibility. Don’t waste it.

Creation Science

As always, I encourage you to download the handout and fill it out as you watch the video above.

This past week’s lesson was a good one. The PowerPoint didn’t work. We ran out of time. And multiple people expressed disappointment that we didn’t get to have more of a discussion.

What made it good had nothing to with the decent lecture I had prepared. And it wasn’t because we had a pretty amazing time of praise before we got started. Our lesson this past Wednesday was awesome because fellowship happened.

People volunteered to help bring food and drinks for next week. People hung around and chatted afterwards about life and all the in-between stuff. People were open, even if it made them a little but uncomfortable.

This is really what I love about teaching. Take all the fancy lectures and intelligent words and just throw into the ocean for all I care. Church gets real when people fellowship with one another.

So while I had some thoughts I wanted to post about Creation and Evolution, I’m not going to. Instead, I’m just going to say, man we had a good time this week.

Science & Faith: A Primer

The small group I teach is embarking on an 8-week journey this Spring. As many of those in attendance are college students, we are endeavoring to dig into God’s Word and wrap our minds around the correlation between science and faith. Since I am learning as I prepare for these lessons, you can expect some further blog posts to help me work through the material, and hopefully get some good discussion going.

Our first lesson was a basic introduction to apologetics, and laid the four main foundational ideas that I think are necessary to this study:

  1. Christ must always be our foundation.
  2. The Bible is not a science book.
  3. Science does not determine meaning in life.
  4. We must always keep in mind what the Bible defines as true wisdom.

If you’re interested in knowing what was discussed, you can watch the video of our PowerPoint below. You can also click here to download a copy of the blank handout waiting for you to fill it in (or, for the less initiated, you can download a completed handout here).

I hope that you will join us, online or in person, as we draw closer to our Creator, and recognize the role science can play in our understanding and proper attitude towards His Creation.

Bad science and worse logic

Tonight, I am tired. Perhaps a bit frustrated too. And still, even with a weary body and distracted mind, I can spot bad science from a mile away.Hubble - Pillars of Creation

This article came out recently and, quite frankly, it makes me borderline angry. Why? Because it’s misleading, for one. And two, it demonstrates just how lost so many are in this world.

Let me briefly explain.

We’ll start with bad science:

Two hundred million years earlier, during the violent throes of planetary formation, Earth was a mass of molten minerals set afire by collisions with planet-sized heavenly bodies.

These Olympian crashes probably threw up the Moon and also caused billions of tonnes of liquefied gold and platinum — enough to cover the planet with a crust four metres (13 feet) thick — to sink to centre, creating its core.

And there the precious metals lie, forever beyond the reach of grasping human hands.

This much was known.

How do we knowsomething like what is described in this passage?

Can we verify this through any of our five senses?

Can we read the account, or at least speak with someone who witnessed these events?

Can we in any way possible visually (or in any other way) confirm that these ideas are indeed KNOWN as opposed to believed?

The overwhelming response to those questions is…no. This is bad science because it states as fact what is actually theory because it cannot be verified as fact through the scientific process.

What’s worse is that most people (not all) will read that article and simply assume that what it claims is true. Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and everyone else. They won’t take the time to logically reason to themselves that this concept is based on all kinds of preconceived notions that they [the readers] may or may not agree with. No, they will read it, accept it, and add it to their mental piggy bank of “facts.” Such an article is irresponsible from a media standpoint (and a scientific one as well), but it is also manipulative because it does not leave room for the reader to question it’s validity.

To talk about these things is to delve into the realm of faith. And I have no problem with someone who wants to believe that science has the right idea when it makes claims about trillions of years ago and what have you. But I want them to be honest about it. I want them to call it faith, not science.

This is the perfect example of how bad science leads into worse logic.


My life group had an interesting discussion this past Sunday. We’ve been going through John, and we were looking at the Bread of Life discourse during this particular meeting. We observed how simple the message of Christ is: “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the One He has sent.” In the course of talking about the different ways we add to this Gospel, we began discussing the whole “works versus faith” issue that often arises in Christian circles. Theologians have been dealing with this for  a long time (St. James, St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Karl Barth, Francis Schaeffer, James W. Sire, N.T. Wright, to name a few) and there are still a variety of opinions.

In my life group, there seemed to be two main thoughts (well, two were voiced anyways): 1) When you’re saved, you desire to have the character of Christ, and this desire produces the works James wrote about. 2) Works that are forced are bad, because works should come naturally from our salvation.

This sums up the perspective of many Christians that I have met over the years. They often cite amazing transformations (like those of Paul, or the brother of Jesus, or even Constantine) as examples of how the power of the Holy Spirit comes down and just changes a person overnight. While there is some truth to these examples, this kind of thought offers an incomplete picture for a few reasons.

1) Powerful transformation does not happen overnight. The few (and I stress the word, few) examples of this kind of thing that we find in Scripture should serve as a stark warning. For most people in the New Testament, change is difficult and slow. The Disciples are perhaps one of the most prime examples of this, and Christians should keep in mind that while the Spirit does indeed give us a new nature, that does not mean we will be sinless from that point on.

2) The Christ-like character of people like Paul came with effort. Immediately, people will want to point out errors in this thought. So perhaps an example will help. As a Christian, it is our business to help point people to God, in effect saving their life. A person trained in CPR is very similar. Both desire the best for those in need, and have a sincere desire in their heart to help people. However, if I am choking, I would rather have the CPR-trained individual nearby than the Christian with well-meaning intentions. In order to be of any use in the business of saving lives, we must practice the habits that will be used in this process. This leads into the next point.

3) Being kind by nature is not the same as being transformed. The person who was gentle before they were saved will continue being gentle. So when this individual reads that gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit, they think to themselves, “look at how easy this comes!” This is a deception though. Some people will have gentle natures, while others have the nature of a thief. And yet, no one is exempt from needing God. We have to understand that in some aspect, we will fall short of God’s standards. If kindness comes natural, perhaps honesty does not. Of maybe we fail in our sexual ethics, but stand strong in our generosity. Regardless, in order to exhibit the fruits of the Spirit, we will have to practice some of them.

C.S. Lewis often spoke of the importance of doing something in order to really feel a certain way (he touches on this in Mere Christianity, The Four Loves, and The Weight of Glory, which are all books I recommend). The idea is this: if we treat someone like we love them, because we desire to love them as Christ does, our hearts will be transformed. Eventually we will find ourselves loving this person without effort. It becomes natural because we made it a habit.

In the end, the Christian who does not live the Christ-like life is not fulfilling their purpose. And that, sadly, seems to be the case in much of the American Church. Perhaps, we are just out of practice.

Lord, as we seek to really be Your body here on this earth, soften our hearts to the wounds around us. Open our minds to the truth found in Your Word. And give us the hands to carry out Your will, just as You would have it done. May Grace and Peace characterize Your people. Amen.

Day Eleven

This is a post from a prayer journal I’m keeping as part of one of my classes. I wanted to post this because I’m curious about other people’s thoughts. Have you felt this way? What did you do about it? What did God teach you?


Today was, odd.

I didn’t read my Bible. I didn’t pray, so to speak.

I sat outside in the breeze, and just talked with God. That sounds so cliché when I write it, but I don’t know any other way to put it. I guess it started yesterday. I had a sort of crisis concerning life. Minor, to be sure. I thought about what God wanted from me and where He wants Sarah and I to go, and felt as though I wasn’t trusting Him enough. I wasn’t sure what that meant, but since I have believed for a while that He is calling me to open a Bible School, I thought maybe that’s where I was lacking faith. So I started dwelling upon it.

This morning, when I sat down outside to have some communion, I got through Chambers and just stopped. “Why am I doing this?” I read Ravi Zacharias this morning before my quiet time. His Rebirth or New Birth? is small and an easy read. But all the similarities he pointed out between Hinduism and Christianity really got me thinking (which is the opposite of his goal I think, because he does point out that it’s the differences that we need to concentrate on). What makes Elmer Towns’ faith different from a Hindu’s? The easy answer is: the Living God. But that didn’t satiate my question. Because my question isn’t so much about “is Christianity true?”, blah, blah, blah. I don’t doubt Jesus. I do doubt what the Church prescribes as habits and practices of true faith.

I started wondering why I read my Bible every morning. Am I clinging to something I was taught long ago? Why do I pray the way I do? It’s not the way Jesus instructed, so where did I get it from? Why don’t I get books of prophecy? Am I missing something? Is the issue my doubt?

And it hit me: I doubt. I doubt God frequently. Not His Saving Grace. But His daily interaction in my life? Oh yeah. I believe He wants me to open a Bible School, and that He has ever since He changed my life at Ravencrest in 2001. Yet, I’m only now really considering it. And skeptically, at that. “I need $5,000,000 to get it going, Lord.” But I don’t believe He’s gong to give me any money. And if He did, I fear what would happen if I’m wrong or the School fails. I feel like a borderline Deist right now.

I’m not. But I feel that way.

I don’t live my life as though my God is alive and moving in this world. And that’s sad. More than sad, it’s tragic. What’s the point? If all God did was give me a pass to heaven, why would anyone on this earth want to live a life like mine? Because I’m a good person? I hate when people say that. I’m not a good person. I have good moments, but deep down I’m as wretched as they come. It’s a constant struggle to keep the monster at bay. And it gets harder every day right now. I look for confrontation. I want it. I hide it under the guise of doing what’s right. But that’s not what I’m really after. I want to fight. Something inside is prodding me to look for that perfect window to just slam somebody and watch it all fall apart. I’ve been like this before, and I remember what changed me. God. Jesus. However you want to phrase it. He changed me. And even though the following couple of years were so hard, I came out of it stronger. I came out of it knowing exactly Who saved me. But now, I hardly ever think like that.

Maybe it’s a different stage in faith. Maybe it’s just selfishness taking hold. Whatever it is, I hate it.

But in the midst of that, my conversation with God was good. Maybe He’ll show me what it all means. Or maybe He’ll smack me into some sensible behavior.

I probably owe some people an apology.

And I should make that right.