some of my counselors for 2017/2018


Without counsel, plans go wrong, but with many advisers they succeed. (Proverbs 15.22)

And so, I deliberately, and regularly, seek out good advice and counsel from others. Some of that counsel comes to me in the form of books; the authors of these books are my advisers.

With the start of a new year at hand, I plan to surround myself with a small group of wise men. A dozen published minds and a dozen months. In fact, my plan is a two-year plan, and so it is actually more like two dozen minds and two dozen months.

bonhoefferMy 2017 group consists of: Dietrich Bonhoeffer (pictured above), Shane Claiborne, John Climacus, Peter Enns, Richard Foster, Stanley Hauerwas, C.S. Lewis, Scot McKnight, Eugene H. Peterson, Christian Smith, Christopher J.H. Wright, and N.T. Wright.

My 2018 group will be comprised of: John Barclay, Richard Beck, Benedict of Nursia, Edward Fudge, John Goldingay, Michael J. Gorman, James Bryan Smith, Henri Nouwen, Richard Rohr, C. Christopher Smith, James K.A. Smith, and Dallas Willard.

Of course, my advice and counsel won’t be limited to these men – by no means – but, I will focus deeply on the words of these.

I foresee some benefit overflowing your way from this effort in a number of ways, one small way being that I intend to share snippets of their insight and wisdom in the form of quotes each day the next two years on my Facebook page, as well as perhaps, some posted here on occasion.

Two thoughts:

(1) Do you have a plan for what you feed your head in terms of reading (aside from Scripture), and if so, what is it?

(2) Who do you grant special access to the stimulation, challenge, and formation of your thinking, and why? That is, who do you seek out to sharpen you?

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. (Proverbs 27.17)

golden nuggets from Sirach (2)


Every few days now I’m posting five passages that have jumped out at me as I make my way through Sirach (aka: Ecclesiasticus) this time. Here’s the next installment. Read and consider.

Let those who are at peace with you be many, but let only one in a thousand be your advisor. (Sirach 6.6)

“Don’t seek political power from the Lord or a seat of honor from the king.” (Sirach 7.4)

“Don’t be timid in your prayer, and don’t neglect caring for those in need.” (Sirach 7.10)

“Don’t make fun of the uneducated, or your ancestors might be insulted.” (Sirach 8.4)

“Turn your eye away from a shapely woman, and don’t stare at beauty belonging to someone else.” (Sirach 9.8a)

this went thru my mind


Church: 17 Signs Your Church Might Be Dying by Trey Morgan

“Just a few days ago I visited with a man that was very concerned about the church where he was attending. … He and I got to talking about some of the signs they were seeing that pointed to their church dying out. We made quite a list, and of course a few were tongue-in-cheek. I thought I might share a few with you today.”

Criticism: Handling the Unknown Critic by Patrick Mead

“Elders are not doing their job when they just listen or when they just disregard. They weren’t called to take it – they were called to lead, and that means you might need to have a stern, firm talk with someone who was convinced they were the only one right… and that they were right because their fathers and forefathers were right. Do not allow those who claim to defend the faith cause it to shipwreck. And, while you’re thinking of it, write your minister and elders a love letter. Pray for them daily and tell them you are doing so. Lift up their hands so that they do not become weary and the battle swing against us.”

Doubt: Real Christians Don’t Have Doubts … Do They? by Tim Keller

“A faith without some doubts is like a human body without any antibodies in it. People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic. A person’s faith can collapse almost overnight if she has failed over the years to listen patiently to her own doubts, which should only be discarded after long reflection.”

Drugs: My Life With Drugs, Rock ‘n’ Roll and Addiction by Gary Stromberg

“My office, on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, was set up like a huge living room with couches, overstuffed pillows on the floor, rock star posters lining the walls and a coffee table, the centerpiece of which was a large crystal bowl, filled at all times with a generous supply of cocaine. The house rules were ‘help yourself if you’re here on business — but no take-outs!’ We were regularly visited by our clients, including The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, The Doors and Steppenwolf. As you could imagine, my office was a very popular place.”

Gambling: A Christian Understanding of Gambling by Albert Mohler

“The nationwide explosion of legal gambling may well be the most underrated dimension of America’s moral crisis. … According to some estimates, as much as one-third of the nation’s money supply now moves through the gambling industry each year … The Bible is clear on this issue. The entire enterprise of gambling is opposed to the moral worldview revealed in God’s Word.”

Google: How to Remove Your Google Search History Before Google’s New Privacy Policy Takes Effect

“On March 1st, Google will implement its new, unified privacy policy, which will affect data Google has collected on you prior to March 1st as well as data it collects on you in the future. Until now, your Google Web History (your Google searches and sites visited) was cordoned off from Google’s other products.”

Humor: HTTP 404 Error: Wall Not Found

Leadership: 4 Ways to Become a Leader Want to Follow by Michael Hyatt

“… what separates the leaders we want to follow from the leaders we have to follow?”

Marriage: Keep Your Marriage Out of the Ditch by Jim Martin

“As I write this particular post, I am thinking about couples in their 20s. Perhaps you’ve been married for a few years. You may even have a small child or two (but not necessarily).”

Parenting: Why Take Your Children to Church? by Lori Hadorn-Disselkamp

“Nothing matters as much as the souls of our children. If we can help them know God, have faith and live a selfless life to help them to heaven is there truly anything that should hold us back from that goal?”

Photography: The Praying Otter

“This ‘once in a lifetime’ photograph taken by photographer Marac Andrev Kolodzinski, waited patently in freezing cold weather at the Whipsnade Zoo in England.”

Saturday night services: Should We Start a Saturday Night Service? by Brian Jones

“I surveyed pastors for one full year about Sat. night services and decided to launch one … We killed it … four months later.”

Shepherding: 2 Things to Avoid in Shepherding by Bev Hislop

“Active listening is not a physiological ability, it is a learned skill.”

Sleep deprivation: What Lack of Sleep Does to Your Spirit by Lynn Casteel Harper

“I am talking to the segment of society with a measure of privilege (which includes me) that has a choice — whether we admit it — between adequate and inadequate sleep.”

Solomon’s temple: What Did Solomon’s Temple Look Like? Answers from Ain Dara

“The exact design of the Solomonic Temple as described in 1 Kings 6 and 2 Chronicles 3 has been illuminated by an important excavation at Ain Dara in northwestern Syria.”

Syria: Syrian Christians Ask for Prayer

“Syrian Christians say their greatest need right now is prayer, according to Open Doors, an international ministry supporting persecuted Christians and religious freedom around the world.”

Thankfulness: I Begin Every Day Telling God About Him by Terry Rush

“Each day begins the same. As soon as I awaken, I begin telling Him thank you. There is so much for which I am naturally thankful. We are instructed to tell Him so. We are to live so.”

Thinking: Don’t Attempt Serious Thinking On the Run: How to Think Seriously by Dave Jacobs

“Certain things are necessary for serious thinking to occur, they are …”

Worship, leading: Multiple Intelligences in Worship by Anne Perry

“Many personalities and levels of spiritual experience comprise a worshiping audience. What inspires some may be dullsville for others. The fact is that multiple intelligences make up each congregation.”

8 of my best habits for maximizing my understanding of the Bible


1. I bathe myself and the Scripture I’m reading or studying with prayer. I see Scripture as God sharing his will with me. That calls for me to prepare myself to meet him and to comprehend him clearly and correctly. Consequently, I pray before, during, and after my reading or study. If I fail to do so, I feel like I’ve disrespected God, raped the text, and deceived myself.

2. Reading and studying Scripture isn’t something I “do,” it’s my passion and great joy. What are some things that get your blood flowing, that you get truly excited about? Sports? Travel? Entertainment? Work? Exercise? I get fired up about pouring myself into a Scripture and pondering its meaning and teaching. How could I be otherwise when the God of the cosmos is addressing me, such an infinitesimally small portion of his creation?

3. I frequently compare different renderings of Scripture. There are a multitude of possibilities as to how is best to communicate the texts of Scripture. Men and women across the ages and across the world with far more wisdom, skills, gifts, and maturity in Christ than I will ever know have given their all to translate God’s words into a language I can understand. I am deeply thankful for them and I am desperately dependent on their labor for my enlightenment. Only at the expense of due respect to them and continued ignorance for myself could I ignore their efforts. And among those whose efforts I feel deeply indebted to are all who had a hand in the creation of the rendering I’ve most enlightening to me of late, the Common English Bible.

4. I avidly read and study what the Biblically learned across a wide spectrum have to say about Scripture. Biblical commentators are my ever present and wise counselors. I care not so much that I automatically or easily agree with their counsel as to what a Scripture seems to say so much as I care that they’ve truly wrestled with the text, “show their work,” and give evidence that they’ve sought the wise counsel of others themselves. What a fool I would be if I didn’t regularly consult the wise, particularly those who disagree with me!

5. I try hard to be aware of all my presuppositions when I approach anything in Scripture. Since my current understandings can hinder, as well as help, my grasp of any given text, I have two options when encounter Scripture. I can attempt to erase my mind and make it a blank slate, allowing the Scripture to write its truth within me as fresh as it did the first time I encountered it. Or, I can attempt to be deliberately mindful of what all I believe and what all influences me as I delve into the text. The former is an impossibility and those who attempt such engage only in a game of pretend. The latter, however, has real possibilities and strikes me as the truly honest course of action.

6. I enjoy challenging my current understandings of Scripture and pondering the mysteries. Scripture reveals God and if the infinite God is revealed at all to my finite mind then what is greatly revealed is how much of him I simply do not and cannot grasp. I must walk by faith and not by knowledge. Further, is not faith choosing to live without a great many certainties and to embrace and live with great mysteries? It is these very ponderings of God’s mysteries that have often opened the door of faith a bit more to me. And as faith’s door is widened, my understandings of God and his will sometimes rearranged. This is fine by me for my concern is not that my present understandings be underscored, but that God’s character and will would be made better known to me and through me.

7. I like to think I’m unafraid to change my mind as to how I understand any Scripture or teaching. And I’m not talking about relatively small details or matters of a secondary importance. Some of my most basic understandings of God and what he expects of his creation have dramatically changed across the years. Some of those changes have cost me friends and more, but here I stand. Where else would God have me stand but where his will and my conscience intersect?

8. I strive to simultaneously construct my interpretation of a text of Scripture with its surrounding textual context and my current understanding of the character of God in view. Who enjoys being misunderstood or misquoted? Who likes to have their remarks taken out of context? I strongly suspect my Maker cares far less for such himself than I do for myself. Whoever said “a text taken out context becomes only a pretext” not only hit the bullseye, but gave me one of my guiding lights for how to understand Scripture.

Question: What would you say you practice well for the sake of understanding Scripture well?

journey through James (4)

I hope you’ve found some of the book excerpts I’ve shared here this summer to be helpful and perhaps even enlightening. While my reading will continue of course, God willing, next week (Sept. 5-9) I’ll share some excerpts from just one more book before setting aside the sharing of book excerpts and resume the penning of daily devotionals on Sun., Sept. 11.

What will I be reading the rest of the year outside of Scripture? I hope to feed my head with the following by the year’s end:

The daily devotionals this fall will originate from every verse in the letter of James. They will parallel our congregational Scripture reading project through that portion of Scripture at MoSt Church and will assist in our study of James in our Sunday morning adult Bible classes there. Consequently, most of my reading the rest of this year will be in James and in resources related to it, among which the following will receive my closest attention:

I believe it’s wise to always seek good counsel and books by scholars who have truly wrestled with the meaning of the Biblical text function in that capacity to me. If you’re an average “Joe or Suzy in the pew” looking for an accessible work on James to help you in your study of this wonderful letter, I’d steer you toward either the first and last works on the preceding list (Niccum and Motyer). I believe every Christian ought to own and use a copy of The Transforming Word and Motyer‘s work is very readable while clearly based on deep investigation of the text.

faithful, though frustrated

Imagine the following scenario.

Over in the corner of the room, one of the Christians in this little house church, a young slave, has gotten the apostle Paul’s ear in a private moment. The young man is pretty wound up emotionally and is obviously frazzled with frustration. He says he wants to live like a Christian, but it isn’t at all easy for him given his day-to-day situation. From all outward appearances, this could be something of a “make it or break it” moment for this young Christian as he’s wrestling with his attitude about life, faith, people, and God.

What’s Paul doing? He’s not saying a word, he’s just drinking in everything the young man has to say. Occasionally we see him give the young man a knowing nod as if to say, “I understand. I feel your pain. I’m right here with you in all of this.”

Now it looks like the young man may be just about to wind down his little speech to Paul, and Paul will likely have something to say. Let’s gently ease over their direction and try to eavesdrop for a minute to see if we can pick up the gist of what’s going on and maybe glean a little wisdom from Paul for ourself.

I’m telling you, Paul, you don’t know what it’s like to serve the man I have to serve! I do the right thing and he doesn’t even notice. It’s like he takes for granted every good thing I do. In fact, it seems like the harder I work, the less he takes notice. Why should I knock myself out trying to do good by this guy?

And don’t get me talking about the others. He has other slaves, too, and some of them don’t do half of what I do! They only work when they know he can see them and then they fall all over themselves buttering him up. Come the end of the day, he looks at them and smiles with pride, and then when he looks at me, well, there’s no frown, but there isn’t a smile either! Half of the day they’re just slacking and they loll around in his good pleasure. I hit it all day long and hit the hay exhausted, and where does it get me? Nowhere! Nowhere, I tell you!

So you tell me, what I’m supposed to do? I’ve about had enough of this stuff! I’m starting to think, ‘Why don’t I just do like these other slaves do?’ At least they’re not completely spent when the day is done and they seem to make the boss man happier than I make him. So I ask yo again, what am I supposed to do? What am I supposed to do?!

And then, after a little pause, almost as if he had first filled the moment with a silent prayer, we hear Paul speak:

You’re a slave. That means you’re to always obey your master with fear and trembling. You’re a Christian. And that means everything you do should come from, and be an expression of, your real devotion to Jesus Christ.

What should you do? Don’t work to make yourself look good to your master or others. Don’t brown-nose your boss. Don’t become like the others, just working when you think your master’s watching. Remember who you are first, a slave of Christ. That mean’s your daily task is to do what he wants, to do it from your heart, and to do it as if it doing it to him personally. So summon up the heart to serve your earthly master that way. I know you know that we believe that the way we treat people, all people, is an expression of what we really think about our Lord.

I know you’re upset with the way your master shows others some favoritism. I know it’s like he’s almost blind to the good you do him. But let me remind you of what I know you already believe in your heart, and that is the fact that while your master here on earth might act that way, our Lord will never treat you that way. Your master here may be blind to you, but our true Master isn’t. He sees everything good thing you do, big and small, and ultimately, he will personally reward you for all of those things. He doesn’t play favorites, he knows what you’re doing and not doing, and he understands even better than you do what exactly you’re going through.

What I’m saying is, our Lord Jesus will do right by you when the end comes. It’s your place to do right by him here and now, come what may.

Now you might wonder where all of that came from. Actually, all I’ve really tried to do is to help you hear a piece of Scripture that’s still just as relevant to us today in a thousand different scenarios as the day the words were first penned and the ink was still wet.

As for slaves, obey your human masters with fear and trembling and with sincere devotion to Christ. Don’t work to make yourself look good and try to flatter people, but act like slaves of Christ carrying out God’s will from the heart. Serve your owners enthusiastically, as though you were serving the Lord and not human beings. You know that the Lord will reward every person who does what is right, whether that person is a slave or a free person. (Ephesians 6:5-8 CEB)

We should pray.

Lord, when I’m about at the end of my rope and I think I can’t go on, send someone or some situation my way to stir up within me what I believe now, namely that I’m here to be about you, not me. As I ask for wisdom in the way I should go, hear my prayer and answer. As I am tempted to give up and quit, pour new strength into me that I might be built up and not break. I love you, Lord, and long to honor you in every situation in which I find myself. I pray not so much that situations be made easier, but that I might be faithful to you within them. Amen.