I have never been too fond of book reviews; they tend to be written by people you have never met, and they frequently come accompanied with the author’s agenda that they fail to reveal up front. With this in mind I want to introduce myself and the reason I bought this book.
Change. Some people fear it. Some embrace it. Change happens, whether we like it or not. Sometimes things around us change the way we want. Other times we have no control over what or how we change. Often we want to change ourselves. Other times we want to change other people around us. Today Ben sent us a “blast form the past” that highlights how various people have changed (or not changed) the past seven years.
Look! Captivated: Beholding the Mystery of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection by Thabiti Anyabwile was a series of Easter sermons. Like the Bible that implores us to take a long look at Christ (Isa 40:9; Ps 34:8; Jn 1:29; Mt 11:29), Anyabwile’s book (95 pages) compels us to stare into the meaning/mystery of the cross and resurrection. The five chapters are five incisive questions that help us behold Christ:
Now that I’ve got your attention… I’d like to share the last puzzle piece of my recovery from my twenty-four years in University Bible Fellowship. This is the holy grail of my recovery, the last piece that makes the entire picture clear, the piece of the puzzle that explains so many unanswered questions.
This week I finished reading Steve Hassan’s latest book, published in 2012, entitled “Freedom of Mind: Helping Loved Ones Leave Controlling People, Cults, and Beliefs“. I found this book to be highly relevant and surprisingly comforting. Steve presents so many ideas and thoughts that describe what I’ve been going through before, during and after my commitment to University Bible Fellowship. I find solace in the fact that a cult expert who joined and exited a Korean-based religious group confirms that my recovery is real and on track. Steve writes in the opening pages: “In the Moonies, where Koreans are considered the master race, we sang Korean folk songs, ate kimchi [Korean pickled cabbage], and bowed or removed our shoes before entering a group center.” (pg. 28) “In the Jehovah’s Witnesses, I know a woman who was excommunicated because she sent a birthday card to a nonmember.” (pg 29) “In a legitimate church, if your mother is sick or injured, you go to the minister or pastor and say, “My mother is ill. I’m going to visit her in the hospital. Please say a prayer for her.” In a Bible cult, you are expected to humbly approach the leader or sub-leader and ask, “May I have permission to visit my mother?” (In the Moonies, when leaders didn’t want members to get emotionally involved with their families, we were told to “leave the dead to bury the dead.” All outsiders were considered spiritually dead. (pg.30)
Grace alone. Alternate perspectives and counter comments have previously been bantered about, but I thought it good to articulate in one article the (Reformed) perspective that best expresses my understanding and my faith. The key is that only the grace of God (never man’s merit) leads to redemption and blessing, both in the OT and NT.
Thanks so much Joe, Brian, Sharon, David, Chris, others for your liminal inducing comments on my sermons on Deuteronomy: Sin (chap. 1), Leadership (Dt 1:9-18), Faith (chap. 2-3), Obedience (chap. 4) and Law (chap. 5). This sixth sermon is on the Shema (meaning “Hear”). It is from the most famous chap. in Deuteronomy since Jesus chose the great command from Dt 6:5. My theme and thesis is that true spirituality is loving God, which arises from the heart and extends to all of life. I will likely begin my sermon as follows:
Your feedback on my first four sermons of Deuteronomy–Sin (Dt 4:1-46), Leadership (Dt 1:9-18), Faith (Dt 2:1-3:29), and Obedience (Dt 4:1-49)–compelled me into a state of liminality. It did not feel comfortable. But it was enriching and thought provoking. I believe it helped my extemporaneous preaching, following which I received interesting responses, which were unusual. With Sin, several people surprised me by voluntarily confessing their sins to me. With Leadership, I was told that my sermon did not connect with the text. With Faith, I was told that I was “intense” (I’m not sure if that’s good or bad). With Obedience, several people said that they felt free to come to God as they were from where they are (Dt 4:29), which was a most satisfying response. I thank God for your critique and for such feedback from my West Loop congregation.
As I continue on in the current ACT3 Network cohort class, I continue to be amazed at the beauty of God. One of the pivotal books for me has been James Danaher’s book, “Eyes That See, Ears That Hear: Perceiving Jesus in a Postmodern Context“. Here are my reactions.
(a sermon based loosely on Romans 1:18-32, delivered at Hyde Park on 9/22/13)
The topic for today is wrath. More specifically, the role of God’s punishment in understanding the gospel. This is a topical message, and I hope that you will bear with my ramblings, listen critically, and judge for yourselves whether or not I am being faithful to the witness of Scripture.
The gospel is summarized by John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16) The gospel is good news of love and life. But there’s a flipside to that in certain gospel presentations, that if you reject the good news, there will be “hell to pay.” Sometimes that flipside becomes the main story. As in that famous sermon by Jonathan Edwards, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” which depicts the non-believer dangling over a pit of hellfire, held up by only a spider’s web which can break at God’s whim. The message is that, unless and until we believe in Jesus, we are the objects of God’s wrath. ”For God was so ticked off at the world that he gave his one and only Son…” Now some people will say that the Church has gotten too soft, that we have become morally lax and ineffective in our witness because we’ve stopped confronting people with their sin and no longer warn them about God’s wrath. And others will say that we should stop up talking about wrath altogether, because it gives an ineffective and misleading picture of what the gospel is about.