Monthly Archives: February 2014

Snowshoes, Trail Blazing, and Being Confessional

confessional Well, it has been a snowy winter here in our newly adopted New Brunswick, and to help us enjoy it, my father brought us two pairs of snowshoes. Whenever there is a fresh fall of snow, Jonathan and I strap on the snowshoes and break a new sledding run for the children on the hill out back. We walk up and down the hill, slightly overlapping our tracks and pack down a run for the children.

The last time we embarked on this endeavor, I decided that I wanted to wander through the virgin snow on my own and try to photograph the trees on the border of the property we are renting. I set out across “country” on my snowshoes by myself and became aware immediately that this was a completely different adventure than walking side by side with my husband. With every step I sank down an inch or so and the snow would cover the frame and webbing of the snowshoes and my boot, causing a strange loping dance of step, lift, shake, step, lift, shake. I became so engrossed in just keeping track of my artificially elongated feet in the snow that I ended up no where near the sheltered curve of the meadow that had looked so picturesque from a distance. Instead, after what felt like a mile or so, I raised my head and found myself half way across and completely surrounded by, the sheet of snow that had looked like such a simple stroll ten minutes before.

Interestingly, as I stood there, trying to decide if I wanted to press on, or retrace my steps (the far easier route) back to my happily sledding children, it occurred to me that this difficulty in breaking my own trail across the snow was a picture of why Jonathan and I adhere to the Westminster Confession of Faith as a part of the expression and direction of our Christianity.

106I spent a lot of years believing that my Christian faith was about blazing my own personal trail through sometimes deep theological terrain. It created a strange Christian walk that was a lot of losing my way and asking the wrong questions and shaking that off and getting “back on track.” Sometimes I got so distracted by the depth of the theology I lost track of where I was headed.

At some point in the last ten years, I began to appreciate that these trails had already been blazed for me. Now all metaphors break down, and this one will too, but let me use it for a moment, if you will. If the questions of Christian truth are like a snowy landscape, then men and women of the faith have been walking that landscape for two thousand years, asking the same questions and seeking the same answers. Throughout history, the Church has blazed those deep trails together using scripture as their guide and asked the important questions that always begin with truth and move to action. That trail of orthodoxy has been trod down well for us, step by step, over the millenia. We are confessional not because we are enamored of a particular moment in British history. Instead we see the confession as the ongoing tracks over a well blazed trail. It is the way we can keep our eyes up, and fixed on the Author and Perfecter instead of getting our feet tangled in questions that have already been asked, and answered. Why break a new trail when a good, solid road is laid out before us?

I walked back to the children after snapping a few pictures, and eventually they were cold, and tired, and wanted to head back inside. Jonathan had gone in before us (the duty of study outweighing the laughter of snow play) and I trod my snowshoes in his tracks and encouraged the children to follow behind me, thanking the Lord for well worn trails.

 

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Book Review: Prophet on the Run by Baruch Maoz

prophetontherun Jonah. One of the most baffling books of the Bible, it begins with a prophet running away from God and ends with an unanswered question. It wasn’t until Jonathan wrote an exegetical paper, and then preached five sermons on Jonah that I began to appreciate this strange minor prophet. I was pleased to have the opportunity to review a commentary on Jonah having gained a fresher perspective. My enthusiasm was replaced with caution when I read Maoz’s introduction in which he explained that he had done his own translation of the book. I have some negative experience with people’s “personal, private, better” translations.

But I pressed on, because I said I would review the book. Boy am I glad I did. The personal translation of Jonah in Prophet on the Run was so much like the annotated translation that Jonathan included in his exegetical paper that I re-read Baruch Maoz’s biography to see if he, too, had studied Hebrew under Jay Sklar. He didn’t, but it would appear that when men who love the Lord and the Hebrew language come to the text of Jonah they think alike.

Prophet on the Run is first, and foremost, a devotional look at one of the seemingly least devotional books in scripture. Each section begins with the text of Jonah. I found this to be particularly helpful. When reviewing other commentaries and studies I find it difficult to go back and forth between the biblical text and the study. Here, the integrated text was very helpful to keep the reading flow. Following the biblical text is direct commentary on the passage. Words and phrases of note are pointed out. Context is given and the passage is explained. This is followed with application, and the entire chapter is wrapped up with several summary points highlighting the personal application of the passage. After a prayer on the subject matter, Maoz includes several discussion questions which make this very pastoral devotional book into an excellent small group study tool.

Maoz’s style is accessible, and pastoral but not soft. For instance, one of his summary points in chapter one is: “Sin makes us stupid.” This is true, and scriptural, but it isn’t warm and fuzzy. In the summary of chapter three, we find the quote: “. . .the scriptures are not designed to move us with wonderful stories of spiritual adventure. They are designed to teach us to think rightly about God. . .” and Maoz teaches Jonah in exactly that way.  The hero in this study is not Jonah, and it is not a big fish; instead every section points solidly to the one true God who is the true hero of all of scripture. The application points are pointed, but worded with grace, and are all rooted in the things the text has taught us about God. The study is not academic in tone or vocabulary, and would be useable by a broad audience in most churches.

If you have found Jonah to be a baffling book, Prophet on the Run would be a great way to discover the hope of redemption and promise of a sovereign God  in the story we all think of being about a large fish.

I received no compensation for this post. I was provided an electronic edition for the purpose of review. I was not required to provide a positive one. I keep a disclosure statement here.


Writing By Subtraction

In my ongoing goal to set aside some time each week for developing my writing, I took last Wednesday evening to experiment with something about which I have just learned. My high school English teacher often told us that words are like light, the more they are condensed, the deeper they burn. Poetry is, ideally, words condensed to their most potent form and being a wordy, wordy, gal, I have thus been a very poor poet. I discovered NewsPaper Blackout poetry on Pinterest (of course) and when my well loved copy of the Chronicles of Narnia (bound in a single volume) literally fell apart on my mackerdoodle’s head, I thought maybe I would give it a go.

The first few attempts were pretty bad. It is difficult to look at words individually instead of the context in which they are found on the page. So I don’t really know what this one is supposed to mean, but it sounds poetical . . . sort of.

around one heart a jagged path turned the beating into excitement

around one heart a jagged path turned the beating into excitement

This one is strange, and a little creepy, but better from a technical perspective.

when you disappeared the stranger popped its head out We're not safe We're afraid

when you disappeared the stranger popped its head out We’re not safe We’re afraid

I think this one was my best, but it made me so very sad that I just couldn’t let it be the last one I did:

there was a girl a boy and a girl like us the girl the boy I can't remember Trying to remember

there was a girl a boy and a girl like us the girl the boy I can’t remember Trying to remember

So this was the last of my effort, and it is far better than the first attempt:

the wind sank into silence and tickled a dream a lovely lovely dream and a sensation of music under the open sky

the wind sank into silence and tickled a dream a lovely lovely dream and a sensation of music under the open sky

It was an interesting challenge, and I think I will go back to it periodically as a reminder of the power of condensed words. If you give it a shot, I would love to see what you come up with, and hear how you felt about it.

 


Book Review: Romans 1-7 For You by Timothy Keller

It has been awhile, but I am back in the reviewing game, and I get to start out with another winner from the Good Book company. I have had the pleasure of reviewing Galatians for You and Judges for You by the same author, so saying yes to Romans 1-7 For You, another in the series, was a no-brainer.

As I have noted in each of the reviews, these books are not commentaries for serious academic study, they are, however, all excellent bible studies, and this volume on Romans 1-7 is no exception. Keller excels at unambiguously presenting the gospel, and this format showcases him at his best. From the challenge of Romans 1:26-27  through the much debated Romans 7, Keller manages to present difficult truth clearly and gently without compromising the truth itself. Despite his reputation in some reformed circles, Keller does a very strong study of Romans 6 and the balance of law and grace. In fact, the study of that chapter is some of the most balanced language I have ever read on the subject, walking the razor thin line between legalism and antinomianism in a faithful and biblical way.

Both this study and the study on Galatians would be excellent for small group studies with new believers or one-on-one discipleship. Keller’s gentle and engaging style is the “honey” that makes the sometimes difficult truths in these books a little easier to swallow. The studies are firmly rooted in the actual words of the text, and I think most believers would find them to be very worthwhile.

Keller will wrap up Romans for the Goodbook company, and then other authors will explore other biblical books for the remainder of the series. I hope that the addition of different voices and perspectives will still retain the excellent quality that these first three volumes have exhibited.

I received no compensation for this post. I was provided a hard cover edition for the purpose of review. I was not required to provide a positive one. I keep a disclosure statement here.


Just a Small Town Girl . . .

I grew up in a small town which I abandoned at the first opportunity because we all believed that leaving was the only way to make anything of ourselves, and it never occurred to us that we could be built into anything worthwhile within the confines of our pleasant valley. I believed that only in a larger place could I have the opportunity for greatness.

In the intervening 22 years I have lived in cities of millions and in a town of a few thousand and several cities in between. I have seen more of this continent than were dreamed of in my adolescent philosophies and indeed, there has been making in my life, though I was not the one doing it. I have genuinely loved everywhere we have lived, and would not trade a moment of the journey or the destinations on the way, but making a home here, in a small, (less) northern town once more I realize that I am a small town girl and I realize I am okay with that.

I look at my children as we traipse about the snow – Jonathan and I on snowshoes, and the children, elf-like walking on the surface – and I find myself eager for them to experience those things that were so wonderful about my childhood. Those things which at the time I thought we were only doing because we didn’t have anything “good” to do in our town are now fond memories and eager anticipation. In loving where I am I have also embraced the small town of my childhood and the memories of that place have taken on a sweeter aroma in my heart.

Lord willing my children will have a chance to step out beyond the confines of their own valley and breathe different air and eat different food and hear the same language spoken in a different way, as I have done. Lord willing they will each take their turns in some way out on the open oceans of life beyond the shallow streams in which we will raise them. I pray that when that comes, it will not take them 22 years to appreciate the gift of a small town upbringing.