Review: Searching For The Pattern

Searching for the Pattern: My Journey in Interpreting the BibleSearching for the Pattern: My Journey in Interpreting the Bible by John Mark Hicks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Searching for the Pattern is both a challenging and enlightening read. My friend Dr. John Mark Hicks has presented an interesting approach to interpreting the Bible that is rooted in the story of the Bible itself.

I wonder if anyone who did NOT grow up in the Church of Christ will be able to identify with the spiritual journey that Dr. Hicks presents. I suppose every denomination has its extremes, and maybe if one changes the names, the story would remain the same. But I don’t know. As a lifelong member of the Church of Christ, I know all too well the journey he has taken. But I know I couldn’t have put it in the kind of words / framework that he has. I do think that any Christian who is committed to studying the Bible would benefit from the approach that is most clearly outlined in the second half of the book – a theological hermeneutic.

I will say that I am very very appreciative of the tone that Dr. Hicks sets as he talks about those with whom he knows will disagree with him. He is no stranger to how churches treat those who think outside of the box and arrive at different conclusions. Even so, he is kind as he speaks about those who still retain a sturdy tripartite hermeneutic of command/example/inference and who search the scriptures for a blueprint for today.

Along the way there were a few times where I felt very uncomfortable reading this book. It does address, after all, the kind of approach to interpretation that I grew up with, was trained in, and exercised for many years. Still, my discomfort was evident as I continued to read and soak in the approach he suggests. To my relief, as I read, I understood that he had the same discomforts as he described his journey and addressed the very concerns that were running through my mind.

I highly recommend this book, primarily for those who are familiar with the Churches of Christ and the approach to the Bible that is common among us. I think ministers and studious Christians would gain much from this book. I would hope and pray that it is influential in the minds and studies of young men who are entering the ministry. Maybe they won’t be like me, with many sermons presenting 2+2=5 (because a ‘necessary’ inference became larger than the text itself!).

I’m grateful to John Mark Hicks for this book and his friendship and the scholarship he brings to the table.

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Review: A Little Handbook for Preachers

A Little Handbook for Preachers: Ten Practical Ways to a Better Sermon by SundayA Little Handbook for Preachers: Ten Practical Ways to a Better Sermon by Sunday by Mary S. Hulst
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After preaching almost every Sunday for 35 years, it’s easy to fall into old habits and familiar ruts of preparation and delivery. These not only make the message seem stale, but also rob the process of creating a sermon of the inherent joy that is possesses. So, for a good while I tried to read at least one book about preaching each year, but the past few years I have failed to do this.

I don’t recall how I heard about Mary Hulst’s ‘Little Handbook for Preachers’, but I am so glad that I did. I gave this book five stars, with the caveat that this is from a preacher and for preachers. I was encouraged by this book and found many blessings within. I was also challenged and reminded, which is what I would hope.

I could encourage anyone in the preaching ministry to spend a little while with this book and absorb some of the encouragements here. Not only is there very specific and interesting instruction about the preaching event, I found Hulst’s spirit to be energizing, positive, and realistic. There is a perceived camaraderie here, a humble approach that isn’t “above” the reader.

You might not engage all ten of Hulst’s “practical ways to a better sermon”, but you will certainly consider some of them and I believe it will be a “better sermon by Sunday”. I loved a thought that comes at the end of the book. I think it gives you a taste of the kind of encouragement and appreciation for preachers/preaching to be found in this book:

“I hope this book cheers you on in the beautiful, hard work of writing and delivering sermons. Preaching is a great privilege, holy work, and I believe that God uses it to change people, change the church and change the world. Keep it up.”

I highly encourage this as a great guide for new preachers, and great reminders for old preachers, and some well-grounded advice for all preachers.

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Review: Until Unity

Until UnityUntil Unity by Francis Chan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I can see from other reviews that I’m definitely in a minority in not loving this book. I think highly of Chan. In addition, I do not doubt his genuineness whatsoever. I also do not doubt his premise – Christianity is divided and God hates division. He uses a lot of Scripture in this book, which I respect. He even says many strong things that are needful. So why do I not love this book (like everyone else)?

Chan leaves us holding the bag, in my opinion. Where do we go from here? I think he tries in the last chapter to sew it all up into something we can practically do, but in the end we are left with a feeling that there’s nothing we really can do about division except really love people (a great point!). That is, except people who continue to be divided – whom we should reject as not even Christian (really?). I did not get this point at all. Chan admits to divisive attitudes in the past (kudos for recognizing this in self, something we all need to do), but then basically says we have to reject people who are divisive as if they are not Christian at all. What I sense in this mixed message is that he is still struggling with unity/disunity and how to deal with it – but hasn’t arrived at some substantive approach yet.

Much of his urgency centers around an emphasis on hell, judgment, and fear of God (themes from an earlier book). And there’s plenty of angst around the people who aren’t viewing these with the emotion that he presents – why aren’t you feeling like I’m feeling about this? I do think that he paints with broad brushes and writes as if he alone understands what real unity is. I did not come away with a clear understanding of what he thinks unity is nor any process as to how to come together as believers. Maybe that’s not his purpose? I don’t know. Maybe he did, and I just missed it.

Another criticism is his insistence that the church was united for a thousand years but then suffered a big schism. As I read through the New Testament, I do not even think the first century church was immune to division, much less the first thousand years. He references the church councils and creeds as examples of how to come together, but many of those were called to excommunicate and power-grab. The creeds have value and teach us much about efforts to centralize the core of Christian belief, the church fathers do not really give us a case study for Christian unity, in my opinion.

I wanted to like this book because I like Chan. I am in favor of Christian unity. I do realize that there are many obstacles to overcome to grow toward greater unity. My own faith tribe’s heritage is a testimony to a unity effort that fell apart. So, there’s a lot to learn.

For this book, on the plus side, Chan has written some powerful statements and presented some excellent ideas. He rightly emphasizes that God desires unity. He is passionate about loving one another beyond our differences. He gives some good guidelines for individuals in how they regard other believers who may be quite different in living out their faith but who shouldn’t be rejected. I’m glad I read the book. I hope there’s a sequel.

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Review: Surviving Ministry

Surviving Ministry: How to Weather the Storms of Church LeadershipSurviving Ministry: How to Weather the Storms of Church Leadership by Michael E. Osborne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After 35 years of ministry, I have certainly experienced some ‘storms of church leadership’. Osborne uses the strength and destruction of Katrina to talk about the kinds of storms that pastors go through. It is an apt comparison.

This book would be most valuable to someone in their first five years of ministry, in my opinion. It has both story elements and practical lists of ‘what to do’ in certain situations. I didn’t read anything in this book that I would disagree with, as it is written from the perspective of experience and faith. I also think that someone preaching for a smaller congregation would find help here, as well as those who work with larger churches.

Osborne fills the book with extensive quoting from various resources. In a way, this is endearing, as it reflects that he is wider perspective shared by the wisdom of others who have weathered the storms. In addition, he points out mistakes along the way that can be avoided and that will create deeper ministry relationships.

The book begins with a startling admission that rings true to me. This admission is the foundation of the book and gives reason to spend some time with it:

“It may be unjust, and it won’t be this way after Jesus comes back, but right now, storms of controversy, rejection, discord, betrayal, and opposition are inevitable. They are part of shepherding broken people in a broken world out of your own broken condition.”

That’s a good starting place.

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Praying Through the Holidays

This is the hectic time – just days before Christmas – so much planning, so many traveling, so many children itching to open presents. We suffer a kind of uncomfortable exhaustion mixed with expectation. It reminds me of how Garrison Keillor described Christmas once, “A lovely thing about Christmas is that it’s compulsory, like a thunderstorm, and we all go through it together.” It is a time like no other in our year, and it carries with it so many needful reminders. One of those reminders is to be open to an awareness of God’s presence throughout all of the festivities. One important reality of God’s presence is the promise of peace that is woven throughout this season.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6

In prophecy Jesus is called ‘Prince of Peace’. After his death and resurrection, he entered the room where some of his disciples were present. His word to them at that crucial moment?

Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

Luke 24:36

Praying through the holidays should center on prayers for peace. Here are some guides and Scriptures to help you pray through the holidays.

Pray for Peace in the World. No one would deny, we need peace in the world. With the 24 hour news cycle, we know everything all the time – and that’s not a healthy and peaceful way to live. Most of the things we learn can do nothing but rob us of peace. True world peace awaits the return of Jesus. Until then, the people of God can administer peace all around them, giving testimony to the coming world. Peace was a part of the message at the crucial moment of the birth of Christ, as the ordinary and unknown shepherds in the field heard the angelic voices.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Luke 2:8-14

Pray for Peace in our Hearts, Especially for the Hurting, Ill, & Lonely. Peace in our world is one thing, but so is peace in our private, personal world. It is no secret that the holidays are especially hard for those who are hurting. The contrast with expectations of joyous celebration and the inner pain and hurts, can be hard to bear. Illness can lead to isolation. Loneliness is the true epidemic of our time. We need to pray for peace in our own hearts.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Philippians 4:4-8

Pray for Peace in our Families. The holidays are a time for family gatherings, and that can be both a blessing and a challenge. We pray not only for peace among our family members, but for that peace to lead to kinder and sweeter relationships. We pray for those who travel to be with family, that they not only have safe journeys but create wonderful memories.

Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. 13 All God’s people here send their greetings.14 May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

2 Corinthians 13:11-14

Prayer for Peace for those burdened with the cares of life. In the previous two passages we read references to the peace of God and the God of peace. So many people enter into the holiday season carrying heavy burdens of grief, care, concern, and worry. Anxiety about the year to come is common. What big decisions are you facing this week or this month? Worries about finances – especially if we have over extended ourselves in purchasing gifts – can wear us down in spirit. We pray for the peace of God and the God of peace to be close to us in these days of heavy burdens.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

Pray for Peace to Be found in Jesus. Ultimately the only source of peace we can find is a central part of the Christmas season: Christ. It is his birth that we recognize and think about as we go through these days of carols and nativity scenes. Making the Prince of Peace the King of your heart will help you through the darkest and brightest of days.

For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family[a] in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious richeshe may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being,17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. 20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Ephesians 3:14-21

In the 1927 Presidential Christmas Address, Calvin Coolidge spoke to the nation.

“To the American People: Christmas is not a time or a season but a state of mind. To cherish peace and good will, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas. If we think on these things, there will be born in us a Savior and over us will shine a star sending its gleam of hope to the world.”

I think that’s a beautiful expression of faith and hope to be found in Jesus. As you make your way through the holidays, make sure to keep Christ in your thoughts. Keep your prayers focused on peace.

I thank you for reading this and I have great gratitude for those who share it. I hope it helps give you a format and structure, as well as inspiration, for praying through the holidays. Merry Christmas!