Friday, October 28, 2011

Rangers Game 6 loss: I'm done

I'm a die-hard baseball fan, but after last night, I'm done for the year. This thing traumatized me. I'm frustrated, deflated, and demoralized. I had to put my kids to bed while one was in tears. I barely slept. I tossed and turned, then when I woke up, I was still shaking. No sport is worth this.
Game 7 is tonight. I thoroughly expect the Cardinals to win handily. But I won't be watching. I'm taking my wife out to a movie. The emotional investment I am making in the Rangers is not worth it; an investment in my marriage is a much better one.

Monday, October 24, 2011

3 Weeks of TV is just about enough

Unlike when I was growing up, we don't watch much TV in our house these days.  As a kid, I watched so much TV I actually had the schedule memorized. You tell me a network and time slot, and I'll tell you what's on, even if it's a show I don't like. 

But by my 30's, I had narrowed down my TV interest to just a couple of shows, and then when the kids came, we thought it best to keep it turned off. They still watch videos, of course, and I may watch a late-night rerun here or there. But for the most part, we keep it turned off.

The one exception, since the kids turned 5 or 6, is sports. We watch some football and some baseball, especially when the beloved Texas Rangers are on. Mostly, they play on Fox Sports Southwest. Because we don't have cable or dish, we don't get FSSW, so watching a Rangers game is a rarity. A few Friday night games during the regular season, and then the playoffs. For the second consecutive October, the Rangers are in the third round of the playoffs, also known as the World Series. Throughout the 3 rounds, we've watched most of the games, and it's been a weird experience for us.

I say weird because we're spending 3 hours on the couch, focusing on the TV screen, 5 nights a week. We're seeing commercials we need to mute (or even change the channel from). We're not interacting. We're looking at the screen rather than each other. We're not enjoying the perfect weather outside. Honestly, I don't see how people can watch the screen night after night. I don't understand how we did it when I was growing up.

Don't get me wrong: I'm loving that the Rangers, after 4 decades of futility, are in a position to be the champions. I badly hope they win. I think it will provide some great memories that will be with us as a family that, 30 years from now, we can look back on. But I've had enough of TV, and I'm glad there are, at a maximum, only 3 games left. I'm ready to turn the television off.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Book Review: Beautiful Outlaw by John Eldredge

John Eldredge's latest title, "Beautiful Outlaw" is his first since switching publishers. After a longtime association with Thomas Nelson, he's now writing for Faithwords, home of the great Billy Coffey . [Disclaimer: I was given a copy of the book for review purposes] The subject of "Beautiful Outlaw" is none other than Jesus Christ Himself. Eldredge feels that many (most?) Christians have a distorted, incomplete, or one-dimensional view of Jesus, and he feels so strongly about this that he wants to set the record straight for all believers.

My take on this book is mostly positive. It's well-written, engaging, and anything but boring. The reader will be enlightened and encouraged to love Jesus more, because once you know Him, you can't do otherwise.

Eldredge takes many familiar stories about Jesus and expounds on them in an informative and inspiring way. I am praying my way through this book, asking God to reveal Himself to me, and, while I think there's more to be revealed, this book has done wonders so far in the two weeks since I received it.

Longtime Eldredge readers will find many ideas familiar. At various times while reading "Beautiful Outlaw", I was reminded of "Wild at Heart, "Epic", and "Waking the Dead", among others.  But this book stands on its own. It's not a rehash of the same old ideas.

Now, the concern I have: There is a common thread among many books I've read over the past decade or so, despite coming from authors with very different perspectives. It's amazing that writers as diverse as Mark Driscoll, Donald Miller, John Eldredge, Matthew Paul Turner and Frances Chan, among others, find common ground. But in this case, they do.

Here it is: those writers, and many others, deliver messages which contain--although conveyed in different ways--the idea that  "most of Christianity is getting some major things wrong, and I'm here to set it straight. If Christians will see things as I present them  here, then the Church will finally be what it should be."

Of course, that's not an exact quote from anyone; it's my paraphrase. But here's Eldredge's own words from a recent promotional email about "Beautiful Outlaw":

"Jesus is beautiful and the church is a train wreck. What I mean is, the religious fog that has so long veiled Jesus is one tough veil to cut through. Even among our friends and those who love Jesus there is this sense of 'Really? Really? Can this be true? Can Jesus be this good? Why haven't I heard this before?' "

In a way, I can't argue with Eldredge (or the other authors mentioned above) on this point. I've been a believer for 35 years, and have seen more distortions, false beliefs, harmful mindsets, groupthink, and general untruthfulness than I can list for you here. I think back to what I was taught, and what I have taught others, and I can only shake my head and pray that God will undo the damage already caused.  There are some ideas out there, shared among Christians, which badly need to be addressed.

That said, there's a right way and a wrong way to do so.  I think Frances Chan has it most right: he simply says, without bashing others who disagree "let's open our bibles, and see what God says about this topic with as little bias as we can." He remains respectful of those with whom he disagrees even as he says specifically why they get it wrong. Chan's heart is for the Church to be as good as it can possibly be.

Eldredge, too, has a heart to see Christians see Jesus correctly, but in doing so, he insults most Christians who have differing perspectives. To hear Eldredge tell it, most Christians have not been walking with Jesus well for decades, possibly even most of Church history. They haven't even come close. See this video clip for an example.  He minces no words.

Sometimes, incorrect perspectives do harm, and they should be pointed out. But there are times in "Beautiful Outlaw" when he goes a little too far. For example, the first chapter has a section titled "The Poison of Religion", then refers to some beliefs, such as Jesus being primarily a peacekeeper, as "nonsense".  Well, it is and it isn't. If someone thinks Jesus is only a peacekeeper and nothing else, then Eldredge is right to call him out. But who really thinks that Jesus is only about one and only one thing?  This paragraph, which is near the very beginning of the book, sets the tone for the rest of it: he's dismissive of any who see this, or other topics, differently.

Because of my diverse church experience, I have come to the conclusion that most denominations, while flawed, carry with them an expression of God that He has ordained for them to have. Pentecostals worship God in ways that make non-charismatics uncomfortable, but most likely we will all worship God in heaven in ways we currently think to be undignified. Presbyterians may come across as "the Frozen Chosen", but their adherence to, an insistence on, correct doctrine is valuable and necessary. The Social Justice types are often deemed by conservatives as too light on sin, but their caring for the marginalized who struggle with sins, poverty, and addictions are reflective of a merciful God. The fundamentalists who are derided for their unwavering commitment to preaching about God's wrath, and judgment, are proclaiming a message that Jesus Himself proclaimed in several occasions.

The bottom line is that just as a bouquet looks best when it's represented by different flowers of varying colors, so also is the Church beautiful because of its diversity.  God gives different characteristics and passions to different believers; passions for causes which are important to Him. He doesn't give any one person--or denomination--the full load. Why can't we look at the Church, flawed as it is, and celebrate the different variations? Why not give God credit for being able to work through His church despite our shortcomings?

Too many Christians take their "thing" and try too hard to make it everyone else's "thing."  By doing this, and by disrespecting those who see Jesus from different perspectives, we set ourselves up to be used by Satan (the word "devil" means "one who divides") to harm the cause of unity among Christians.

John Eldredge is onto something here: people lose out when they miss the personality of Jesus, or only focus on one part of His personality. Eldredge absolutely should share that message. But I wish he would have shared that without spending so much time focusing on how much other Christians don't get it right. In doing so, he's lifting himself up as the one who has the answers everyone has been searching for.

“Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, let not a rich man boast of his riches, let not a mighty man boast of his might, but let him who boasts, boast of this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the God who exercises lovingkindness and righteousness on the earth for I delight in these things.” Jeremiah 9:23-24

Bottom line: "Beautiful Outlaw" contains a very helpful message, and I recommend the book. I only wish Eldredge would have toned down, or left out completely, his attacks on those who have presented different perspectives about Jesus to us over the years. We're all on the same team, John.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Book Review: Jesus Calling Devotional Bible

If you're not familiar with Sarah Young's "Jesus Calling", I highly recommend it. It's a collection of many of her journal entries where she felt God was speaking directly to her. The words are presented to us in His voice, from His perspective, and contain wisdom which pertains to all of us.

As part of their Booksneeze program, Thomas Nelson recently sent me a copy (free for review purposes) of their new "Jesus Calling" devotional bible.It's the New King James translation, and the "devotional" portion is quite extensive, and very well done. A friend saw it at my house the other day and called it a "bible plus", an appropriate description, if you ask me.

A "devotional" bible can sound like a great idea, but result in something not so great. Bookstore shelves are full of devotional bibles which consist of the personal opinions of authors, or which seem to be a blatant attempt to capitalize on the popularity of some recent book, movie, or popular author. It appears that some were dreamed up by someone in the Marketing department rather than an attempt at truly benefiting the reader.   ("The Toy Story 3 Devotional Bible":  it's only a matter of time.)

The "Jesus Calling" bible, however, does not fall into such traps. The "plus" part of this "bible plus" is very well done. It supplements the surrounding Scripture, rather than trying to drown it out. For example, at the end of Job, the devotional calls to mind Romans 8:28, reminding us that God will cause all things to work together for the good of those who love Him. How many bibles or commentaries have the good sense to tie Job with Romans 8:28? How many preachers do that?

If you are in the market for a new bible, I recommend this one.