Monday, December 29, 2014

Books I Read in 2014

Each year, I offer the list of books that I read in that calendar year.  In keeping with this tradition, here is the list of books that I read in 2014.  For reviews of most of these, you can check out my Goodreads page or past posts on this blog.  Hope these may inspire your reading habits in 2015!

Books I Reviewed in 2014

  • Henry Cloud, Never Go Back: 10 Things You'll Never Do Again
  • Sharmila Ferris and Hilary Wilder, The Plugged-In Professor: Tips and Techniques for Teaching with Social Media
  • Randy Harris, Life Work: Confessions of an Everyday Disciple
  • Marybeth Hicks, Teachable Moments: Using Everyday Encounters with Media and Culture to Instill Conscience, Character, and Faith
  • Bob Hostetler, Life Stinks...And Then You Die: Living Well in a Sick World
  • Mike Neary, Howard Stevenson and Les Bell, Towards Teaching in Public: Reshaping the Modern University
  • John Ortberg, Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You
  • Robert Pazmino, A Boy Grows Up in Brooklyn: An Educational and Spiritual Memoir
  • Glenn Pemberton, After Lament: Psalms for Learning to Trust Again
  • Carl Prude, Anchored in Light: Understanding and Overcoming the Five Deadliest Threats to Your Faith
Books I Read for Classes I Teach

  • George Bullard, Every Congregation Needs a Little Conflict
  • Dave Hansen, The Art of Pastoring: Ministry Without All the Answers (revised edition)
  • Timothy Keller, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering
  • Thomas G. Long, What Shall We Say? Evil, Suffering, and the Crisis of Faith
  • Daniel Overdorf, One Year to Better Preaching
  • Andy Stanley and Bill Willits, Creating Community: 5 Keys to Building a Small Group Culture
Books I Read for My Last Doctoral Class

  • Dave Bland and David Fleer, Performing the Psalms
  • David Brooks, The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement
  • Roger Fisher and Daniel Shapiro, Beyond Reason: Using Emotions as You Negotiate
  • Glenn Pemberton, Hurting with God: Learning to Lament with the Psalms
  • Fleming Rutledge, And God Spoke to Abraham: Preaching from the Old Testament
Books I Read to Strengthen My Ministry

  • Mark DeVine and Darrin Patrick, Replant: How a Dying Church Can Grow Again
  • David Helm, Expositional Preaching: How We Speak God's Word Today
  • Timothy Keller, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God's Work
  • Erwin McManus, The Artisan Soul: Crafting Your Life into a Work of Art
  • Thom S. Rainer, Autopsy of a Deceased Church: 12 Ways to Keep Yours Alive
  • Philip Yancey, Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?
Books I Read Because I Like a Good Story

  • Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
  • Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl
  • Gayle Forman, If I Stay
  • John Green, An Abundance of Katherines
  • John Green, Paper Towns
  • Lois Lowry, The Giver
  • Yann Martel, The Life of Pi
  • Cormac McCarthy, The Orchard Keeper
  • Cormac McCarthy, The Road
  • Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman
  • Frank Miller, The Dark Knight Returns
  • George Orwell, Animal Farm
  • Ayn Rand, We the Living
  • Rick Riordan, Percy Jackson and the Olympians 1: The Lightning Thief
  • Rick Riordan, Percy Jackson and the Olympians 2: The Sea of Monsters
  • Rick Riordan, Percy Jackson and the Olympians 3: The Titan's Curse
  • Rick Riordan, Percy Jackson and the Olympians 4: Battle of the Labyrinth
  • Rick Riordan, Percy Jackson and the Olympians 5: The Last Olympian
  • Thornton Wilder, Our Town
  • Sun Zhu, The Art of War

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Teaching Notes: What I've Learned (So Far) from Teaching a Course on the Pentateuch

A couple notes of context: I teach at a private, faith-based university.  It is a university that was once a "Bible college," a school that specifically trained ministers.  That changed a few years ago when my university adopted more of a liberal arts approach, offering degree programs in various fields while offering said instruction from the perspective of a Christian vocational worldview. 

Thus, along with the expansion of our athletic programs, our student body began to change.  Previous student bodies were predominantly Christian.  Over the last several semesters, at least since I have been employed by the university, the demographics have changed.  As the programs that the students study have diversified, the level at which our students engage in spirituality has diversified.  Mine is still very much a Christian, faith-based university, although how we engage in that mission is changing

Additionally, I am primarily a ministry professor, specializing in homiletics, pastoral care and leadership.  My first couple of forays in university teaching were by teaching Bible courses.  In fact, my first semester at my current university was spent teaching courses on John's gospel and the Pastoral Letters.  That was in 2009.  The next time I taught a Bible class was in the summer of 2013 when I taught a course on Luke's gospel.  It was online. . .as were the next couple of Bible courses that I taught.

Until this semester.  This semester, I am teaching a traditional, in-seat course on the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament [or Hebrew Bible]) to 40 students from across our various academic programs.  As a preacher, I have spent several years teaching the Bible to various groups, both Christian and non-Christian.  I have spent years trying to discern contemporary meaning from ancient texts.

Teaching a course on the Pentateuch has proved to be no different.  There are several students in my class who come from strong Christian homes.  They have learned the stories contained with the Pentateuch over and over again in Sunday school and through sermons.  Some of them are even courageous enough to engage in classroom discussion about the morality, history, mythology and literary contexts of these wonderful and winsome stories of faith.  At one time the majority of students on our campus, their percentage is moving closer and closer to the center with each consecutive semester.

Other students come from moderately to less-moderately religious homes.  They have wandered in and out of church for most of their lives.  They wonder why people like me get so giddy when talking about Adam and Eve or Abraham negotiating with God or Moses striking rocks, yet they wonder if they are not missing something by not knowing the stories better than they do.  They have heard of Noah and Joseph.  They may have seen a Bible-based film on documentary on television.  They are at our school for a variety of reasons, too many to go into hear because they reasons are as diverse as the students themselves.  However, when class begins, they perk up in attention because mysterious is being discussed.  As in most religiously-affiliated schools across the country, these students are quickly becoming (or may already be) the majority.

A smaller yet growing number of students in my class are hearing these stories for the first time.  They come because of the chance of leaving a difficult life behind.  Maybe their expectations are too high; maybe they just want to do something different.  Whatever their reason, they are sitting in a Bible class in eastern Kentucky and listening to a young professor ramble on about ancient stories of heroism and tragedy.  Maybe they become interested like some of the students at my last university appointment who decided to give this religious stuff a chance.  Maybe they don't.  The point is that they are there and they must be taught something.

So, with all of this in mind, here are a few tips that I have picked up this semester from teaching a course on the Pentateuch.  Maybe you'll find them useful; maybe you have some of your own to offer.  I do not offer these as professional standards for teaching this subject.  Despite my rating (it's only 1 score), I am not asserting myself as the guru on teaching Biblical studies.  [That honor should go to Harding University's Kevin Youngblood or Hendrix College's Robert Williamson.]  Please feel free to leave comments below, tweet me ideas of email me for a lengthier
  1. Make them read from their Bibles.  This one is hard to accomplish in class.  I know it seems strange to say this, yet I have found it to be true.  It's like asking for volunteers at church.  You can hear the crickets already.  So, how do I accomplish this?  I assign a portion for them to read each week.  "Sure, but are they are actually reading?" you may ask.
  2. Require a reading journal.  "Yes, they are," I would respond.  I know because I require the students in my Bible classes to keep a reading journal, regardless of subject.  It is a simple guided journal, asking questions about the content of the passage assigned, what the learned from the assigned commentary reading and how it relates to the passage assigned, and what spiritual truths or devotional practices they may have picked up from the passage assigned.  "So, you just teach the Bible, then?" is probably your next question.
  3. Don't get lost in mythology or history.  "Well, mostly.  It is a Bible class, after all," would be my response.  There is certainly a place for walking through the Epic of Gilgamesh when discussing the creation and flood stories, just as the story of Exodus loses some of its cultural relevance when we avoid looking at the connections between Moses and Sargon the Great.  However, in my context, I think I do my students a disservice if I focus most of our attention on ancient mythology and cultural history rather than looking at the Old Testament text.  Connections must and should be made to other ANE cultures, but not at the sacrifice of God's story.  "So, you just preach then, don't you?"
  4. De-sanitize the Sunday school lessons.  "Yes and no," I would respond.  Yes, I have a tendency for "preaching" in class.  I am, by nature, a preacher.  However I am also a scholar.  As a preacher, I tell stories, yet I am not glossing over them as we may do in church.  Notice how Abraham and Isaac's relationship changes after the sacrifice.  Notice that Jacob does not punish his sons after they slaughter an entire family.  How do we rationalize the plague of the death of the firstborn?  These are the questions that fuel the conversations and content of my course.  "Huh," you might say.
  5. Liberally use technology.  My last tip is an "easter egg" in that it is simply something that I would recommend for any teacher in today's techno-friendly culture.  There is a lot of really good stuff that is easy to find on the Internet that will benefit any Pentateuch teacher.  Whether it is a breakdown on the Documentary Hypothesis (I NEVER thought I would ever teach this), a map of the various Exodus routes, a to-scale rendering of the tabernacle or stacks of high-quality classic Christian art, the Internet really can be your friend.  Also, see how you LMS can enhance your teaching outside of the traditional lecture material format.  My students broke up into groups and are writing Wiki pages on each book of the Pentateuch rather than writing research papers.  And they, mostly, seem to be enjoying the challenge.
I am looking forward to the rest of the semester.  Putting this course together week-in and week-out has been one of the more challenging courses that I have ever taught.  Yet engaging students in hearty discussions and learning their stories of faith has been worth it.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Review: Life Stinks...And Then You Die (ACU Press Book Club)

Bob Hostetler.  Life Stinks…And Then You Die: Living Well in a Sick World.  Abilene, TX: Leafwood Publishers, 2013.  240 pp.  $14.99.

There are two areas of study in theology that I absolutely love—the Wisdom Literature and spiritual formation.  To be honest, their studies often dovetail nicely with one another.  This is what Bob Hostetler offers in his newest volume Life Stinks…And Then You Die—a study of Ecclesiastes that instructs the reader on how to live faithfully in a “sick” world.  Thus, when I saw this volume on the review list for ACU Press and Leafwood Publishers’ Book Club, I knew that I needed to read it (even if I did not get the chance to review it for the club).

There were a couple of times, as I was reading it, that people would look at the cover and ask me something like they hoped that I did not feel that way or did I actually like the book because the title bothered them so much.  To both questions, I affirmed that I did think life stinks and that I was enjoying the book. 

Now, let me address what I mean by this: Hostetler’s argument is that life , at least in the mind of the writer of Ecclesiastes (whom Hostetler believes to be Solomon), does, in fact, stink.  We do live in a broken, messed-up, polluted, hazardous, imbalanced world.  We can point to all kinds of groups and pass the blame unilaterally to them for why our world is the way that it is.  Yet, as Hostetler demonstrates, each and every human who has ever lived is to blame for why our world “stinks.”  Our choices, often influenced by folly and greed, led to disease, disaster, destruction and death.  The result of millions of bad choices over thousands of years leads the writer of Ecclesiastes (and Hostetler as interpreter) to one unarguable conclusion—life does stink.  Living in this world is difficult and dangerous.

However, just as the writer of Ecclesiastes discovered, this does not have to dictate how each one of us lives in this “sick world.”  Yes, we will experience disaster and heartache.  Just this morning, I received a text from a student who asked me to pray for a member of his family that was experiencing a tragic loss.  Last week I visited with a former minister who has suffered great illness and loss, both personally and professionally, yet he lives with contentment in his heart because his trust is not found in this world but in God.  Life does stink; yet, with God’s grace, we can endure. 

The cover of Hostetler’s book is a great image for the message of the book.  On the cover is a profile of a young woman with a clothespin clamping her nose closed.  Life stinks; yet we do not have to be influenced by the smell.  If we remember our Creator and seek after the Creator’s ways, then we can live well in this sick world. 

Overall, I enjoyed Hostetler’s book.  I thought his study approach was thoughtful and well-developed.  I thought his prayers at the end of each chapter were poignant and the study guide at the end of the book will prove useful to classes or study groups.  This is not meant to be a scholarly study of Ecclesiastes, so I will reserve any technical comments.  In general, this is a great read for anyone wondering what Ecclesiastes has to say to us as we continue to live in this “sick world.”

Rob O’Lynn, ABD
Assistant Professor of Preaching and Ministry
Kentucky Christian University

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from ACU Press/Leafwood Publishers as part of their ACU Press Bookclub Program.  I was not required to write a positive review.  The opinions I have expressed are my own.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Thursday, August 21, 2014

2014 KCU Convocation Invocation

Opening Convocation, Fall 2014
Nash Chapel; Kentucky Christian University
19 August 2014

Almighty God, creator of the universe and provider of grace and mercy, we come before you this morning to ask you to bless our upcoming school year.  We thank you for bringing us to this holy place to share in the radiance of a new academic year. 

However, before we pray for ourselves, we pause for a moment to entreat you to intervene with peace, justice and reconciliation in places like Ferguson, Missouri, Iraq, Syria, and Indonesia.  We pray for those who are suffering as a result of turmoil, for those who stand to protect the innocent, and for those who profit from violence.  May your people courageously rise up to bring restoration the broken and the despairing.  Sustain them with your grace and strengthen them for their mission.

Now, as we turn our thoughts to this new academic year, we pray that we do all things to bring you glory and expand the borders of your kingdom.  We pray that we will seek your presence in and your will for our lives.  Whether in the classroom, on the athletic field or in the professional context, may we strive to be people of courage, compassion and conviction.  Fill us with joy in our learning, joy in our service, and joy in our relationships.

In the name of Christ Jesus, our savior and redeemer, we pray.  Amen.

Rob O’Lynn, ABD

Assistant Professor of Preaching and Ministry

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Book Review: Teachable Moments by Marybeth Hicks

Marybeth Hicks.  Teachable Moments: Using Everyday Encounters with Media and Culture to Instill Conscience, Character, and Faith.  New York: Howard Books/Simon and Schuster, 2014.  274 pp.  $24.00.

To be honest, I am conflicted in how to review Marybeth Hick’s most recent book Teachable Moments.  When I accepted the review, I recognized the name although I was not completely sure why I recognized it.  Hicks is a media columnist for various Fox News programs, generally commenting on topics such as media, parenting and culture.  To this end, Hicks, in our media-statured culture, is therefore qualified to write a book on media, parenting and culture.  As one who is a parent and spends a great deal of time engaging media and culture, I launched into the book with excitement.  Unfortunately, for me, the excitement did not last long.

I still know almost nothing else about Hicks, such as why she is considered qualified to author a book on media, parenting and culture other than being a parent of four children.  I do not run in social circles that watch Fox News.  [I feel the need to qualify the rest of my remarks.  Neither do I get my news from CNN.  I get my news from the WSJ, the NYT and HP.]  This, then, is why I find myself conflicted on how to offer this review.  On one hand, I was less than impressed with the book.  I found myself scratching my head, shaking my head and simply dropping my head at several points.  On the other hand, I can see how the ultra-politically, religiously, educationally and culturally conservative segment of society would rave about this book. 

In terms of criticism, I have three major points of concern with Hicks’ book.  First, Hicks routinely confuses conservative Christian doctrine, classical Greek philosophy and traditional American values as equal instructional material.  Bible verses are pulled from their context and massaged to fit Hicks’ goals.  This stems from Hicks seeing the Bible as simply an educational compendium that serves to teach us how to live ethically.  The ironic thing is that she does not use passages that actually deal with parenting, teaching or culture (i.e., Prov. 2-8; 1 Cor. 8; Eph. 6).  Instead, she uses passages that deal with Jesus talking about economics to discern how parents can teach their children about buying video games. 

Second, examples are too specific.  Each chapter contains ten “teachable moments” scenarios that Hicks believes are relatable to parents.  On a positive note, the scenarios are quite diverse in terms of the ages of the children involved, the scenarios that the children are involved in, and how parents can address the situations.  On a critical note, however, I found the scenarios to be too specific.  Readers may be led to think that their child may not run into certain situations, such as dealing with sexuality or handling finances, until they reach a certain age.  However, only those who live in the cultural bubble that Hicks lives in will believe this.  Our culture is constantly changing, and parents must always be ready to engage any and all situations. 

Third, her approach to dealing with media is more reactive than proactive.  I think this is what bothered me most of all.  Hicks works under the assumption that parents have no idea how to be proactive in engaging culture (or, perhaps, that parents should be as culturally-naïve as she appears to be).  As a result, parents who follow Hicks’ model will always be scrambling behind their kids in order to keep up with their Facebook posts and Xbox Live accounts.  Instead, a more appropriate approach to parenting, in my opinion, would be to be in constant conversation with our kids about media and culture and allow them a bit of supervised freedom as they make decisions.  It gives them a certain amount of responsibility while still keeping the parent(s) involved.

Again, I realize that there are those who will absolutely adore this book.  For those who read this review, I apologize for not enjoying it as much as you will.  For you, I would give this book a rating of 4/5.  You will find her approach helpful (especially her curriculum at the end of each of chapter), and you will feel more involved in your child’s life (although you will constantly be frustrated and often find yourself on the losing side).  For those of you who were curious about my opinion without investing in the book, I give it a 2/5 for the reasons I mentioned above. 

Rob O’Lynn, ABD
Assistant Professor of Preaching and Ministry
Kentucky Christian University

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the Publisher and was asked to review it.  I was not required to write a positive review.  The opinions I have expressed are my own.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Book Review of "Never Go Back" by Henry Cloud

Henry Cloud.  Never Go Back: 10 Things You’ll Never Do Again.  Secrets Things of God Series.  New York: Howard Books/Simon and Schuster, 2014.  xviii + 249 pp.  $24.99 (hardcover).

Known primarily for the Boundaries series and How People Grow (his collaborations with John Townsend), one may wonder what else Cloud has to offer.  Cloud now finds himself a citizen of an authorial stratosphere that also boasts John Maxwell, Charles Stanley, Chuck Swindoll, Max Lucado, James Dobson and Dallas Willard.  How many different ways can one author write about the same subject?  (One could claim that John Ortberg and Timothy Keller could be on this list, although they vary what they write about although they continue to churn books out at a dizzying speed.)  Each of the author listed above have contributed significantly to our reading lists, and they books sell like hotcakes at a monthly VFW breakfast.  However each of them, including Cloud, have come to a point where their influence has become polarized—you either like them or you don’t like them. 

This, then, is problematic for an author such as Cloud who typically deals with psychological topics from a spiritual perspective, as he does in Never Go Back.  A seminary-trained psychologist, Cloud has never been afraid of hiding his faith nor has he ever backed down from operating out of a faith-based approach to therapy.  He talks about this in the preface as he recounts a time of meeting with a television executive who was afraid that Cloud was a closet religious fanatic.  Cloud reassured the executive (and the reader) that a person of faith can talk about matters of psychology and culture without sounding like a nut job.  This is an important realization because of the theme that Cloud seeks to treat in this book.

The volume is divided into two major sections, following a preface and introduction.  In the introduction, Cloud sets forth his purpose in writing this particular volume.  When I agreed to review this volume, I thought it would be more along the lines of Boundaries—a popular-level treatment on overfunctioning, a controlling nature or the addictive personality.  I was thus surprised when Cloud revealed that this book is actually on repentance.  I have always heard (and, thus, taught) that we repent when we make a conscious change in our lives to walk in a different direction (stop an addiction, leave an abusive relationship, ask forgiveness for gossiping or cursing, etc.).  Cloud argues that part of being a successfully spiritual person is to practice repentance, to realize things about our lives that are weighing us down or keeping us from achieving our goals and deciding not to continue living that way (i.e., stop trying to be someone you’re not just to please another or continue to use failed processes to accomplish tasks).  To Cloud, this is what it means to “never go back.”

This book is certainly written with individual readers in mind, although Cloud argues that it is not to be considered “self-help” because there is no such thing.  We must allow God to work the changes in our lives.  However this will be a valuable resource for preachers and teachers, counselors and spiritual directors because it will help us guide those who come to us for counsel about their spiritual lives.  One of my biggest critiques of sermons is what are we supposed to do with it.  Don’t just preach on repentance; give direction on how people can implement repentance.  This book provides practical, spiritual applications for how we can change our lives. 

I really enjoyed this book, and I would highly recommend it.  If you were to read anything by Cloud, I would heartily recommend this and Necessary Endings.  I think Never Go Back might actually be better than Boundaries simply because he has twenty more years of experience under his belt. 

Rob O’Lynn, ABD
Assistant Professor of Preaching and Ministry
Kentucky Christian University

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the Publisher and was asked to review it.  I was not required to write a positive review.  The opinions I have expressed are my own.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Book Review: "Expositional Preaching" by David Helm

David Helm.  Expositional Preaching: How We Speak God's Word Today.  IX Marks Series.  Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014.  128 pp.  $14.99.

My conclusion, once I finished reading this little volume from the highly-touted IX Marks series, was simple--this is the book that I would write if I were to write a book about preaching. . .and I strongly disliked it.  I received the book to review for potential course usage, which would have been perfect since I am teaching Expository Preaching this fall.  However, after reviewing the book, I can safely say that I will not recommending this book to my students other than informing them of something that is available that is going to be promoted as the book on preaching.

 At its core, this is the book that I would (maybe still will) write on preaching.  My basic understanding is that the ministry of preaching is a process that leads to spiritual transformation that follows three stages: instruction, reflection and application.  Instruction focuses on what the text says.  What is going on in this passage (exegesis).  Reflection focuses on what the text means.  What does this text mean for us theologically (interpretation)?  And application focuses on what the text does.  Here we try to discern what this text is claiming on us (implementation).  Chapters 2-4 of Helm's book pretty much follow this same formula.  I believer there is a difference between preaching and sermons, with preaching being a continual action of ministry and sermons being individual presentations.  If Helm and I were to sit down and talk, we may find ourselves at a similar understanding.

The problem is, however, with his first chapter.  Well, I should say that this is the major problem with this book.  Some of the smaller problems come from misunderstandings on Helm's part, such as his blatant misrepresentation of lectio divina (do we really still think that Catholics are the theological bad guys?) and his apparent misreading of Karl Barth's theory of preaching (which, if he had actually read Barth, Helm would have realized that he is espousing the same approach).  There are a few other minor points of issue that I have with this volume, however I think that I make my case.

Moving on to the larger problem.  My book would start with defining a theology for preaching.  Helm starts with a discussion on contextualization, a discussion on why contextualization is a bad idea.  To Helm, contextualizing the Gospel for contemporary communication is bad theology and spiritually unfaithful.  Granted, Jesus preached to agrarian people using agrarian imagery, Luke used Greek mythology to describe the afterlife in the parable of "Lazarus and the Rich Man," and Paul quotes Greek poets in his Acts 17 sermon, not to mention the highly contextualized language found in Psalms and the Prophets.  So, perhaps Helm is correct and contextualizing God's message is completely unnecessary.  However, the Bible does not come to us as simple black words on white paper, a collection of writings disconnected from history and culture.  It is full of culture and contextualized rhetoric, something Helm is blind to which almost completely nullifies his argument.

And if that were not enough, Helm returns to the conversation in his final chapter.  Only this time, it seems that he has completely forgotten about his earlier argument that contextualization is an unfaithful practice because he spends the last chapter on how to contextualize the Gospel (within a certain amount of reason).  In the end, Helm undoes his own argument with this sharply distinct contradiction.  As a result, his book is disqualified from whatever place in the homiletics literature that it was intended for.  Further, if the IX Marks series intends to promote the best literature for church leaders, they have failed with this volume.  As a result, preaching, if this volume is promoted as the one to read, will continue to fail the church.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Book Review: Life Work by Randy Harris

Randy Harris.  Life Work: Confessions of an Everyday Disciple.  Abilene, TX: Leafwoord Publishers, 2014.  157 pp.  $13.99.

Ethics is rarely a fun subject.  Regardless of whether it is at a state university or a seminary, there is something inherently dreadful about having a discussion with other members of humanity about living well.  This is not simply a matter of living in a pluralistic or secular society; it is genuinely difficult to tell someone else how to live.  Why?  This simple reason: none of us are completely capable of being ethical 100% of the time.  We break our own rules, not to mention how often we break the ethical imperatives of scripture.

Randy Harris, in this final volume of his “work” trilogy (Soul Work, God Work and now Life Work), lets us in on a little secret about why we dread ethics so much—we get wrapped up in keeping the rules than focusing on how to life ethically.  He says that the problem is that we have made living ethically too difficult, and his goal in Life Work is to offer “a particular way of doing ethics from Scripture that makes sense” (p. 13).  That particular way, according to Harris, is pluralistic deontology, which is basically an approach that says there are some actions that are always right or always wrong and that we have multiple duties to fulfill.  The problem, Harris says, occurs when these “duties come in conflict with each other” and we “have to decide which of those duties is going to trump the other one” (p. 31).  However, Harris believes firmly that this approach to ethical living and Christian practice can be accomplished and lead to a meaningful life.

Harris sets forth his argument in four units of thought—ethics (chapters 1-4), cruciformity (chapters 5-9), learning from other Christians (“fellow travelers,” chapters 10-12), and shalom (chapters 13-14).  The chapters in the book, according to Harris, are presentations that have been reworked for this volume.  As such, Harris’ folksy, humorous speaking style flows through the pages of each chapter.  If you have ever heard him speak, you can close your eyes and almost see him in his black t-shirt and black jeans with his pocket Bible in hand speaking with a big smile on his face.  The opening chapters look at various approaches to ethics, boiling relativism and utilitarianism down to their base parts and then discarding them in favor of the basic principles of what Harris calls “a minimally decent ethic.”  He then unpacks his concept of pluralistic deontology in the next section by focusing on how Christians can live a “cruciformed” (or cross-shaped) life by practicing the disciplines of not being easily distracted, not reacting, and dying happy.  This section is followed by a series of examples of both living and dead Christians who have lived according to these various principles.  I found chapter 12 especially challenging because Harris lays himself bare for the reader by giving us his personal ethic.  The book concludes with a couple of chapters devoted specifically to developing and implementing the Old Testament concept of shalom in contemporary culture.  The book is marvelously engaging at every turn.  You may not always agree with Harris, however you cannot ignore his ardent devotion to his faith.  As a result, you will be enriched by reading this volume.

As fine as this volume is, there are, however, a couple of minor flaws that need to be highlighted.  As a reviewer, it is my responsibility to point on problems, great and small, that I see with the volume.  In some cases, the theological argument is so flawed it is almost heretical.  In some cases, the research conducted does not justify the author’s conclusions.  In the case of Life Work, my critique comes more on the technical side.  His content, as noted above, is marvelous engaging.  His comments are challenging and pastoral at the same time, much like his preaching (and I would imagine his work with college students).  My issue, then, is small yet necessary: there’s no bibliography!  There are several places where Harris will reference an author or a work (without naming the author), tell us how wonderful the book is and how it relates to his discussion, then move on to his next topic without even so much as a footnote.  For example, Harris writes, “One of my favorite recent books is Punk Monk by these guys in England who have a prayer renewal think going among young people” (p. 128).  As one is always looking for something good to read, it would have been helpful if just a simple list of cited works had been included. 

Other than this technical matter, I thoroughly enjoyed Life Work, and would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a good book on Christian spiritual formation.  Specifically for college educators, I think this would be a wonderful addition to either a college-level spiritual formation or basic course in Christian ethics.  It would also make an excellent resource for a small group study (to which I would also add Harris’ previous book Living Jesus, from ACU Press).  There is plenty here to have a good discussion on.

Rob O’Lynn, ABD
Assistant Professor of Preaching and Ministry
Kentucky Christian University

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from ACU Press/Leafwood Publishers as part of their ACU Press Bookclub Program.  I was not required to write a positive review.  The opinions I have expressed are my own.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Monday, April 14, 2014

Review: Soul Keeping

John Ortberg.  Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You.  Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014.  207 pp.  $22.99.

Peter the Apostle once wrote of his fellow apostle Paul that Paul wrote to Christians out of “the wisdom given him” although some of his writings are “hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:15-16).  I feel this way about the writings of Dallas Willard.  Willard was such a wise Christian, a man full of immense learning and inscrutable humility.  However, I have struggled to finish any of his books—let alone understand what he is writing about.  Yet, as with Paul the Apostle, I am immensely thankful for the life of Dallas Willard.  For one thing, Willard mentored John Ortberg. . .and I love Ortberg’s writings.  Like Peter the Apostle, Ortberg communicates the deep teachings of Christianity in a way that the majority of us can understand.  In many ways, Romans and 1 Peter communicate similar theological messages.  In like fashion, Willard and Ortberg communicate similar messages regarding the spiritual life.  The Life You’ve Always Wanted (Ortberg) is the layman’s version of Spirit of the Disciplines (Willard); When the Games Is Over, All the Pieces Go Back in the Box (Ortberg) is the layman’s version of Revolution of Character (Willard); Soul Keeping (Ortberg) is the layman’s version of Renovation of the Heart (Willard).  In reading Soul Keeping, I was able to listen in on conversations between pupil and teacher and also to see the mantle of spiritual director move from Willard to Ortberg.

However, if this is all that Soul Keeping is about, then I cannot honestly recommend it to anyone except those who are practicing spiritual directors.  Thankfully, as is common with Ortberg’s works, there is always much more going on beneath the surface.  The volume does serve as a form of extended eulogy for Willard.  It is evident that Ortberg’s extensive ministry that has impacted the lives of so many (including myself and my students who have read Ortberg’s books in their classes) was shaped by the ministry of Dallas Willard.  Willard demonstrated how to care for one’s soul.  Through a lengthy relationship, Ortberg picked up on these lessons and implemented them into his own life, and now communicates those messages in his own books, sermons and workshops. 

In this volume, Ortberg tackles the topic of the soul and how to care for it.  His volume is divided into three major sections.  In the first section, he asks and answers the question of what defines a soul.  According to Ortberg, the “soul is what integrates your will (your intentions), your mind (your thoughts and feelings, your value and conscience), and your body (your face, body language, and actions) into a single life” (p. 43).  A healthy soul, Ortberg argues, is connected with God and functions with integrity.  The challenge, then, is how to develop a healthy soul that functions with integrity.  This is the focus of the second section.  In this section, Ortberg outlines nine “needs” of the soul (e.g., a keeper, a future, rest, freedom and gratitude).  This section is the heart of Ortberg’s book.  Delivered in his classic narrative style, Ortberg clearly defines each “need” and then succinctly delivers avenues that the reader can take to develop a healthy soul.  For example, in the chapter entitled “The Soul Needs Rest,” Ortberg outlines a “cycle of grace” that flows from Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 11:28-30 about his yoke of discipleship (p. 126-127).  The cycle flows from acceptance to sustenance to significance to achievement.  Each movement is centered within grace, which allows us to let go of the need to prove ourselves so that we can find spiritual rest in Christ.  At the end of the chapter, he talks about “doing nothing” and simply enjoying God’s presence.  Throughout the volume, I kept coming to the same conclusion: simple yet profound.

In my humble opinion, the mantle of spiritual director has passed from Dallas Willard to John Ortberg.  Willard will continue to influence us through his books, as he has now gone to receive his eternal reward.  Ortberg continues the legacy of thoughtful, practical spiritual direction through writing in Soul Keeping.  It is likely his best work on spiritual formation, and that is saying something.  However, this does not mean that the volume is perfect.  There are portions of the book where simple prose falls into syrupy simplicity.  However Ortberg does not stay there too long.  Additionally, his views regarding the original sin come out in the chapter on freedom (specifically on p. 151).  While this is certainly not the place to debate the various points of the determinist doctrine, I do believe that it is important to highlight this for potential readers.  Fortunately, Ortberg does not dwell on this, although it central to his belief structure on sin.  Despite these concerns, however, I heartily enjoyed reading Soul Keeping and drinking deeply again from Ortberg’s (and, conversely, Willard’s) well of spiritual wisdom, and gladly recommend it. 

Rob O’Lynn, MDiv
Assistant Professor of Preaching and Ministry
Kentucky Christian University

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the Publisher and was asked to review it.  I was not required to write a positive review.  The opinions I have expressed are my own.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Book Review: After Lament (ACU Press Book Club)

Glenn Pemberton.  After Lament: Psalms for Learning to Trust Again.  Abilene, TX: ACU Press, 2014.  220 pp.  $17.99

Thirty years ago, OT scholar Walter Brueggemann, in his book The Message of the Psalms[1], developed the labels of “orientation” (a time of praise), “disorientation” (a time of suffering) and “new orientation” (a time of restoration) as an approach to studying Psalms.  Since its publication, Brueggemann’s cycle of orientation has become the standard paradigm for interpreting and preaching the psalms.  Pemberton has already followed in Brueggemann’s footsteps by focusing on psalms of “disorientation” in his previous volume Hurting with God.[2]  Now, in this new volume, Pemberton indicates that he will be moving on to psalms of “new orientation” to demonstrate how lament moves us toward mature faith in God through the image of a wagon wheel.  With lament at the center, each chapter focuses on a different “spoke”—a different type of psalm—that comes out of lament and brings about that “new orientation” (e.g., psalms of trust, thanksgiving psalms and wisdom psalms).  The volume concludes with a look at some of Pemberton’s “case studies” that he has examined in both volumes.

In terms of evaluation, Pemberton’s volume has both strengths and limitations.  In terms of strengths, this volume speaks with the same pastoral voice as his previous volume Hurting with God.  Pemberton has experienced an immense amount of suffering in a short time, and he shares his suffering in such a way that we find a kindred spirit in these pages rather than a disconnected scholar who has never experienced a moment of anguish.  Additionally, this volume effectively compliments Hurting with God in that Pemberton spends most of this volume focusing on the psalms of “new orientation.”  Although he continues to look at the lament psalms in an effort to bring these texts back into the church’s language and to make us comfortable with them, he does focus a great deal on the prayers and hymns of bygone saints who have emerged from their suffering more confident in their faith.  He is quick, though, to note that “happily ever after” is not a guarantee of “new orientation.”  The sickness or sin is still present; however our hope in God has matured.  Lastly, the general strength of this volume—as with Hurting with God—is the practical approach that the volume takes.  Pemberton has not written for the scholar but for the student, everyday church member and preacher.  His exegesis, if not slightly tinged by his new normal of daily suffering, is solid and communicated with the care and creativity of a veteran preacher. 

However, this does not mean that this volume is free of critique.  There are a couple of minor technical issues that I must address: 1) The boldfacing of selected Psalms is not consistent throughout the volume, and 2) not all of the referenced material makes the Works Cited or Recommended Bibliography sections.  These are minor points of critique, yet I think their mention is warranted.  Now, on a larger scale, there are three major points of critique that I have with this volume.  First, while I appreciate the personal nature with which he writes, I fear that Pemberton borders on using his writing as a form of self-medication.  As someone who has endured a different type of suffering, I can resonate with Pemberton.  There needs to be a place for people of faith to address our concerns to our God.  Yet, drowning in our own sorrows only perpetuates our sorrows.  Second, although the title indicates that he is going to move beyond the psalms of “disorientation,” Pemberton continues to focus predominately on such psalms.  The bulk of this volume rests in that unsettled upward curve between crisis and stability rather than fully moving to “new orientation.”  Third, his “spokes” paradigm is disconnected.  Pemberton envisions the psalms of “disorientation” as the center of a wheel and the psalms of “new orientation” as the spokes that come out of the center.  Taken collectively, he argues, these spokes form a wheel of faith that allows us to continue moving spiritually.  However, the spokes operate more like fan blades.  They are certainly connected to the center, yet they are not connected to one another.  Lament can lead this way or that way, however there is nothing that connects them to one another.  

Still, despite my concerns, this is a solid study and a needed pastoral voice in our religiously shallow world.  If you are not hurting, someone close to you is.  These texts can be your words of solace to them.  If you are hurting, Pemberton gets you.  He understands your pain and wants to help you discover the words you need to offer to God.  This book, along with Hurting with God, would make for a great Bible study (discussion questions are included).  I would also recommend both volumes to the undergraduate instructor who is teaching a text course in Psalms.  That being said, I hope that Pemberton writes a third volume, an “orientation” volume, that will complete the cycle.   

Rob O’Lynn, MDiv
Assistant Professor of Preaching and Ministry
Kentucky Christian University

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from ACU Press/Leafwood Publishers as part of their ACU Press Bookclub Program.  I was not required to write a positive review.  The opinions I have expressed are my own.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

[1]Walter Brueggemann, The Message of the Psalms: A Theological Commentary (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984).
[2]Glenn Pemberton, Hurting with God: Learning to Lament with the Psalms (Abilene, TX: ACU Press, 2013). 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Why I'll Miss "Good Luck Charlie"

One of the mainstays of the television arm of the Disney empire over the last four years has been Good Luck Charlie.  As a child of the 1970s and 1980s, I remember fondly watching The Cosby Show.  Dr. Cliff Huxtable (Cosby) dealt with normal, suburban, middle-class problems in normal, suburban, middle-class ways.  There was really nothing special about the show other than the relatability of the cast to its market audience.  In many ways, Good Luck Charlie followed the same concept.  This show was not about wizards running a sandwich shop or single moms living in penthouses.  It was not about prep-school protégés or talking animals acting like people.  It was about a regular family—mine and yours.  And it dealt with regular problems—just like the ones you and I encounter each day.
The show centered on Teddy (Bridgit Mendler), a high schooler who decides to make a video diary to help her recently-born sister Charlie (Mia Talerico) “survive their special family.”  Teddy’s parents are Bob (Eric Allen Krammer), an exterminator (sounds magical, right?), and Amy (Leigh-Allyn Baker), a nurse who aspires to be a TV personality (admit it, you know someone like this).  The family is rounded out with older brother PJ (Disney veteran Jason Dolley) and Gabe (Bradley Steven Perry).  (A fifth child is added at the end of the third season to coincide with Baker’s real-life pregnancy.)  Bob and Amy go to work and manage tight bank accounts.  They discipline their kids when they misbehave and celebrate their kids with vacations.  And they offer their advice when asked (or not when asked) and then work with their kids to clean up the messes of life.  PJ is a good kid, although not outstanding, until he discovers that his passion is cooking.  Teddy is the shining star of the family (she is accepted to Yale in the final season), although she occasionally schemes against her parents only to find out that they are right about whatever Teddy didn’t like.  Gabe is the stereotypical “lost child,” a troublesome prankster who eventually matures when he hits his teen years.  And Charlie has no filter, just like a young child.
Living in a Denver suburb, the Duncans faced problems like annoying neighbors, first crushes and first break-ups, getting a driver’s license, deciding where to go to school, and lying to cover up mistakes or the breaking of a rule.  The oddest problem this family faced was when termites destroyed their house ... on television.  Mostly, the problems faced were relational.  How do we get along with people in our own families?  How do mom and dad live together and raise a family?  How do these completely different children who share a last name live together in harmony?  In truth, this show never promised to be anything more than a comedic look at a fictitious family that looks a lot like your family and mine.  Bob, although he tries to be aloof, cares deeply about his family and is willing to work hard to support them.  Amy, although she is a little controlling and preoccupied with her own dreams, serves as a good example of the fun-loving mom who makes sacrifices for the good of her family.  And the kids really do love each other and are willing to help one another out.  In many ways, Good Luck Charlie is what reality television would actually look like if a real family were followed. 
Remember the one controversial thing that happened on The Cosby Show?  One of Bill’s adult daughters decided to marry a man who had already been married and was raising a daughter.  Remember the one controversial thing that happened on Saved by the Bell?  Jessie took caffeine pills.  What about this show?  Well, this show had two touchy subjects.  In one middle episode, Charlie starts “using” bad language.  It is discovered that Amy says that same thing when she gets upset.  Obviously the lesson was for parents to be careful about what they say in front of their children.  The actual controversial thing that happened was saved for the next to last episode when Charlie’s playdate shows up with two moms.  At first, I cringed at this.  Then the initial moment wore off and I realized the producers were not making a big deal out of this.  The actresses did not kiss or even hold hands.  It was seven minutes of reality.  The two moms were just as awkward in relating to a traditional family as Bob and Amy were in relating to them.  Yet, they all got through it and taught us an important lesson in a more subtle way than Modern Family is capable of doing—community is formed through kindness and acceptance, not sarcasm and manipulation.  As a person of faith, it reminded me that I cannot avoid certain issues just because I do not like them.  It also taught me that forcing people into a certain mold is not going to open doors for community. 
I will miss Good Luck Charlie.  On one hand, Disney’s four-season rule is too long to allow a show to prove itself.  On the other hand, Good Luck Charlie proves that four seasons is not long enough to enjoy a program.  It was not as serious as the lesser-known, more mature Canadian import Life with Derek, yet it was a family worth watching.  The show was light-hearted yet provided an endearing glimpse into the life of the average American family.  During a time of oppressive recession with all of the other political and social fallout that has occurred, Good Luck Charlie gave my family something we could watch together as a family (and something we enjoyed watching together as a family).  My wife and I never questioned the show’s motives or morality (we have done this with a number of other programs, even Disney programs).  We also never groaned in disappointment when the entertainment value was found lacking. 
The Duncans were family friends for four years.  We watched their kids grow up, and they taught us a few things about marriage and parenting.  Yet, as friends often do, the Duncans have moved away, taking their comedic laughs and familial insights with them.  With all of the other options available today, there were no others that equaled Good Luck Charlie.  It never intended to be spectacular; it only promised to be a funny show about a normal family.  And this is what made it spectacular.  I hope that Disney (and other networks) will consider bringing us into the homes of families like the Duncans in the future.  If we are serious about making this world a better place for our current and future generations, then the place to begin is the family.  Whatever shape it takes, the family is the starting place for community building and citizenship development.  Thus, I will miss Good Luke Charlie because it showed how much better the world can be with some nice, average families in it.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

BE: Persecuted (2014 KCU Faculty Sermon Series)

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.  Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.  Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.  Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.  Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.  Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:1-12, NRSV).

Of all the sayings that open this sermon, this really ought to be the one that shocks us the most.  It is shocking for two reasons: First, this is the opening of Jesus’ public ministry in Matthew’s epic narrative.  If you are trying to convince people to follow you, this is probably not the altar call that you would want to offer.  Yet, Jesus is unconventional is all that he does.  Remember John 6, when Jesus says that we have to embrace cannibalism to be a disciple?  Okay, cannibalism might be a bit extreme.  However, Jesus’ claim to embrace persecution as a result of faithful practice is not.  Second, who’s being persecuted here?  No one really knows of Jesus yet.  His popularity is in its infancy.  He has not stirred up any ire with the religious or political leaders.  So why would he be talking about persecution?  Scholars point to the contextual situation of Matthew’s audience, a time when Christians were being persecuted (either by the Jewish leadership or the Roman government).[1]  These first (and maybe second)-generation Christians are enduring great suffering because of their commitment to Jesus’ mission.  And for that, Jesus says they are blessed.

Most of us will never experience persecution because of our faith.  Thankfully, this is not a requirement to enter into the kingdom of heaven.  As we have said throughout this series, these are descriptions of—not prescriptions for—citizenship.  Therefore we should not seek out persecution.  It is said that Justin Martyr, the second-century apologist, got his nickname because of his burning desire to fulfill Matthew 5:10-12.  However, Justin has a phobia about being naked in public.  To keep him safe, his mother would often hide his clothes, for fear that Justin would find a way to become a martyr.  Eventually, of course, he did find a way to die for his faith.  Now, this is not to disparage Justin’s sacrifice, only to note the general appropriateness of what Jesus is talking about.  Persecution is not a mandate for entrance into the kingdom.  Yet, we should always be ready to publicly confess Christ before others (Matthew 10:32; Luke 12:8; cf., 1 Peter 3:15-16).  Tweeting a picture to demonstrate our support for a particular hash-tagged cause is helpful, however “raising awareness” is a far cry from missional faithfulness.  Again, this is not to disparage such actions; they are good and useful.  Yet, we must always be willing to go a step further.  For how would we be persecuted for our faith if we never publicly proclaim our faith (cf., Romans 10:14)?

  1. Read 1 Peter 3:8-22.  For the next two weeks, knowing that you may encounter rejection and may even endure suffering as a result, pray that God will provide you an opportunity to proclaim your faith in a challenging situation.  How did the opportunity arise?  What did you say?  Did you feel comforted during the encounter?  What was the outcome?
  2. Read the “Prayer to St. Justin” ( and then pray for those who are enduring suffering for their faith in danger places across the globe.  You may want to visit the Voice of the Martyrs website ( and select a specific area to pray for.

[1]Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 1-13, Word Biblical Commentary 33a (Dallas: Word, 1993), 94-95; Thomas G. Long, Matthew, Westminster Bible Companion (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1997), 50-51. 

Friday, February 28, 2014

BE: Pure (2014 KCU Faculty Sermon Series)

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.  Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.  Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.  Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.  Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.  Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:1-12, NRSV).

In his sermon, Tim Stamper challenged the traditional notion of what it means to be “pure in heart.”  Purity is a popular topic, especially among Christians.  However, this is not just talking about sexual purity.  As NT scholar Robert Mounce notes, “The primary reference is not to sexual purity, although this is mentioned in 5:28, but to single-mindedness. . .”[1]  James talks about this.  He says that the person who is not pure in heart is “double-minded” and “unstable in every way” and should “not expect to receive anything from the Lord” (1:8).  It means that we have a singular focus in life—God.  Tim pointed to the criticism that Jesus leveled against the religious leaders a little later.  Jesus challenged his disciples to strive for righteousness that “exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees” (Matthew 5:20).  But shouldn’t religious leaders be emulated?  Yes, unless they are living hypocritically.  Just before his execution, Jesus slammed the religious leaders as “whitewashed tombs,” burial chambers that are beautifully ornate on the outside yet are full of rotting bones and the stench of death on the inside (23:27-28).  The religious leaders were notorious for calling attention to themselves when they prayed and mutilating their faces when they fasted (6:5, 16).  These displays of “religion,” Jesus says, receive their award in applause.  However, they “will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (5:20).  Only those who are “pure in heart. . .will see God” (5:8).

So how do we become “pure in heart?”  Bonhoeffer says that the “pure in heart” are “those who have surrendered their hearts completely to Jesus.”[2]  In some ways, we have returned to that child-like innocence that Jesus talks about (Matthew 18:2-4).  We do not look for admiration from our fellow earth-walkers; we look for God in the hidden corners and in cloudy eyes.  As Tim mentioned, the reward of being able to see God is immediate.  Sure, the “pure in heart” will see God when time is no more.  However, when we live lives of spiritual purity, we will see God all around us because we live with a “kingdom perspective.”  We see the world as God sees it, and for that we are blessed.

  1. Read Psalm 24.  Pray these words before you attend your next worship service.  How did this experience help prepare you for worship?
  2. Think about all the stuff you see each day.  Bonhoeffer says that the “pure in heart” are not immune from seeing sin and evil in the world, yet they are “free” from the intoxicating effects of sin.  What is one area of your life that you need to develop a more attuned “kingdom perspective?”  Where do you need God to refine your spiritual vision so that you can become “pure in heart?”

[1]Robert H. Mounce, Matthew, New International Biblical Commentary, New Testament Series 1 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1991), 40.
[2]Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (Reprint: 1959.  New York: Touchstone Books/Simon and Schuster, 1995), 112.