2013: The Reading List

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Our family uses the new year as an opportunity to set goals for the next year. I assess my reading list, too, to wisely plan my scarce reading time. I am publishing this here as a way of building accountability and starting a discussion of these (and other) great books. Here goes:

1) Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels – Kenneth Bailey. I freely admit that I am a Bible geek. I am always intrigued by historical or cultural studies that aim to shed more light on the Scriptures. I don’t remember how I came across this book, but I put it on my Amazon wish list and received it for Christmas. I can’t wait to start this one.

2) The One Year Christian History – Rusten and Rusten. Another Christmas gift, this is a daily devotional using events throughout history to demonstrate God’s character and interaction with us. So far, I have been reading this each day and enjoying it. Some of the stories are familiar (Jim Elliot and Auca people), while some are new to me (J. Gresham Machen). In the fall, I am hoping to be teaching a class on Christian history since the New Testament. This is just fueling the fire.

3) Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church – N.T. Wright. I was introduced to this book on David D. Flower’s blog, The Centrality and Supremacy of Jesus Christ. I realize that Christians are often lazy or just wrong in our terminology and vocabulary of heaven and the life to come. I look forward to thinking theologically through this. I expect it to add the inspiring works on heaven and the new earth I have enjoyed by Joni Eareckson Tada and Randy Alcorn.

4) Hosea, NICOT commentary on Hosea (J. Dearman) and BST commentary on Hosea (Kidner) – our LifeGroup is studying Hosea, Jonah, and Amos in the coming quarter. I have just started my study on Hosea. I have already been touched and educated about this difficult prophet by these two writers. Looking forward to more!

5) Not a fan – Kyle Idleman. Our church is going to be reading and studying this book together in February and March. I don’t know much about it yet.

6) Out of the Silent Planet – C.S. Lewis. While I do not enjoy science fiction as much as the fantasy genre, I decided to at least try the first book in Lewis’ Space Trilogy. I am about half way through this relatively short first book. I have been distracted with other reading (and getting some sleep!), but it shows promise.

So, what are you reading (or planning to read) this year? Are the books above worth the time? How will God use the books you read to change you?

Horror Movies and a Little Theology of Fear

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Today is Halloween, an observance when much of our society celebrates fear, evil, darkness, and the paranormal/supernatural. While children dress up to rake in candy, many teens and adults search for the next scare. Hollywood obliges this year with these movies and themes: “Silent Hill: Revelation 3D” (demonic world), “Paranormal Activity 4” (demonic possession), “Sinister” (supernatural killer), “VHS” (gore, abandoned house), “#holdyourbreath” (serial killer and possession), and “Smiley” (serial killer). How lovely!

The Theology of Horror

When “The Blair Witch Project” came out (1999), I went to see what all the hype was about. The movie did a great job of creating an overwhelming sense of dread and fear. You never really saw or understood what was happening. All you saw were the fearful reactions of the victims as they eventually succumbed to an unseen evil. It was spooky and effective. It was the first time after a movie that I ever looked around the parking lot carefully before heading toward my car. Once in my car, I stopped to think about why I would be scared. Then it hit me, in the “Blair Witch Project” there was no God. It had lured me into creepy forest away from His light and truth.

This same theological assumption is the basis for fear in most scary movies: “There is no good God that can help you.” Evil is unrestrained, unstoppable (Jason, Michael, Freddy), and unredeemable. The unwitting victims are left alone in an uncaring universe. Most of them die. Look at the tag line from this year’s “Sinister”: “Once you’ve seen him, nothing can save you.” It is the absence of God that creates terror.

Healthy Fear (of God)

The Bible assumes that fear is a natural human reaction to the unknown and even the supernatural. When angels appear in the Bible, their first words to quivering humans are usually, “fear not.” Fearing God is a good thing. He is the judge of all people. His ways are often inscrutable. And His commands are absolute. Sometimes, we get so comfortable with our grandfatherly images of God that we forget He is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29). The writer of Hebrews reminds us that it is a bad idea to keep on sinning after knowing the truth: “For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge His people.’ It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:30-31)

Paralyzed No More

But this kind of reverential fear is far from what horror movies exploit. There the fear is of evil (not the holiness of a righteous God), uncertainty (not a sure judgment), helplessness (not God’s omnipotence), and being alone (not the continual presence of God). Horror movie fear paralyzes. Fear of God motivates us to change our direction back to Him. Proverbs 1:7 says “the fear of God is the beginning of knowledge.”

Still, God does not leave us paralyzed by earthly fears. He restrains evil, and Satan will not win. Jesus casts out the demonic. They have no authority over Him. He guides our future. He is always with us. He loves us more than we deserve or can understand. These are the truths that drive out the paralyzing fear. “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” 1 John 4:18

So, let’s walk away from those earthly fears fueled by Hollywood. (After my revelation about the theology of “Blair Witch Project,” I have not seen any more horror movies.) But, let’s recover a healthy fear of our Creator and Judge.

“I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!” Jesus in Luke 12:4-5

Psalms Project: Psalm 19 – From Venus to God

***BESTPIX*** Venus Transit Across The Sun

 “The black sky was underpinned with long silver streaks that looked like scaffolding and depth on depth behind it were thousands of stars that all seemed to be moving very slowly as if they were about some vast construction work that involved the whole order of the universe and would take all time to complete. No one was paying attention to the sky. Flannery O’Connor in Wise Blood, chapter 3 (emphasis mine)

Yesterday, millions of people around the world were focused on the transit of Venus across the sun (from our point of view). My son, Aidan, a would-be astronomer, wanted to watch it, too. So we turned on NASA TV and watched for awhile. Aidan got bored with just seeing the black dot of Venus against the solar backdrop.  It didn’t move fast. It didn’t explode or shoot off fireworks. It just kept imperceptibly moving. (He loved the solar flare pictures and other parts, though.)

However, I was in awe of the Creator of this universe. I am not alone. King David was often moved to worship as he observed God’s creation by looking up. Psalm 19 is a prime example. (Stop and read it before reading on here.) What is most interesting is that David moves from a poetic description of the stars and the sun to outbursts of praise for God’s laws and commands. How did he make that leap? I think the Venus transit explains it perfectly.

The transit of Venus was no surprise to us. Astronomers knew exactly when it would happen. Why? Because the motions of the universe are consistent and calculable. The laws of gravity, mathematics, and physics predict these astrological alignments. This order, understood by the ancients even before the descriptions of physics, points to a Designer and Sustainer. That is exactly how David reasons:

The heavens are telling of the glory of God;
And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.
Day to day pours forth speech,
And night to night reveals knowledge.

The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.
Psalm 19:1-2, 7 (NASB)

David does not stop with praise and wonder, though. In verses 1-6, he uses only the general name for God, El, one time. In verses 7-14, though, he uses the personal, covenant name Lord (Yahweh), seven times. He is getting more personal with Yahweh. In verses 11-14, he submits himself to this Creator and Lawgiver God:

Moreover, by them Your servant is warned;
In keeping them there is great reward.
Psalm 19:11 (NASB)

Finally, he ends with one of his most quoted prayers. His contemplation on the Creator has brought him to a powerful plea:

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Your sight,
O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Psalm 19:14 (NASB)

European Space Agency, NASA & Peter Anders (Göttingen University Galaxy Evolution Group, Germany)

A thousand years later, the apostle Paul argued similarly that God’s creation reveals God’s attributes. So no one can say they had no knowledge of the one, true God:

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. Romans 1:19-20 ESV

Yet, I wonder how many people watched the transit of Venus and missed the Creator God who designed all of this. Flannery O’Connor alludes to this same ignorance in the great quote above that I “happened” to read today. (Thanks, Jacob Willard, for the Top 100 Novel Challenge that got me into that book!)

The next time you look up into the heavens, stop to think what God is telling you. He is speaking, if you will listen.

(Yes, this post for the Psalms Project is out of order, but I decided this one was timely.)

Catching up with the Psalms Project?
Psalm 1: Planted or Seated?
Psalm 2:  Safe, Not Shackled