Japanese Minimalism, Jesus, and Black Friday

I just finished listening to a book by Fumio Sasaki entitled Goodbye Things: The New Japanese Minimalism. In a country (Japan) where space is limited and rent is expensive, there is a growing movement towards a new way of living. Sasaki and his minimalist friends argue a simple point: Less is more. The less you have, the happier you will be. As someone enslaved by his constant comparisons to others and an incessant insecurity, he finally stopped placing his identity in his possessions. He sold most of his stuff, downsized, and wrote a book about the ordeal. The idea, the man, and the movement are all quite fascinating, and worth our consideration. Minimalism has also made some inroads in the United States, like with the Tiny House craze.
In stark contrast, the average American shopper will spend an estimated $967.13 this holiday season ($682 billion total for all American shoppers). It’s ironic that Thanksgiving, the holiday encouraging thankfulness for what we have, is followed by Black Friday, a “holiday” focused on finding what we don’t have. And the problem isn’t just a holiday one, although it’s particularly prominent right now. The problem extends to the other ten months of the year as well, namely: Materialism, the importance a person attaches to acquiring and keeping material goods (not to be confused with philosophical/atheistic materialism, although the two might have some compelling connections).
Sasaki claims that there is no joy to be found in pursuing materialism. I think he’s right. But he’s far from the first to promote a “less is more” lifestyle. Consider Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:19-21: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (NIV)
Jesus’ words prophetically speak to us today in a far greater way that ever before in the history of the world. His original audience hardly had access to anything. They didn’t have Amazon, Ross, or the other temptations that take all my money. An ancient Israelite might have been tempted to acquire an extra rake, another cloak or staff, or to bury some extra gold coins. If an ancient Israelite were in danger of hoarding these seemingly inconsequential items, what would Jesus say to us today?
So as Black Friday approaches, I hope the words of Jesus (and Sasaki) remind us that storing up “early treasure” is draining, whether it’s for us or for others (presents). And sometimes, to help us to buy less, we need to get rid of stuff. I’ll conclude this post with twelve tips from Sasaki on how to live a more minimalist lifestyle (he has seventy in his book).

Some of Sasaki’s tips:


  1.  “Get rid of it if you haven’t used it for a year.” This has helped me think through what needs to go based on if I will use it in one of the four seasons.
  2. “Let go of the idea of ‘someday.’ ” If we’re constantly saying, ‘I’ll use it someday,’ get rid of it, because it’s taking up space and mental energy.
  3. “When you discard something, you gain more than you lose” (time, space, freedom, and energy). Less IS more, because you’ll have more to invest into the things that are truly important to you.
  4. “Discard something right now.” Habits start one step at a time (I just got rid of an air mattress while writing this).
  5. “It’s easier to revisit your memories when you go digital.” To use an example, it is easier to access pictures of your bowling trophy or a scan of that special love letter than to actually find it in your attic.
  6. “Our things are like roommates, except we pay their rent.”
  7. “Tackle the nest (storage) before the pest (clutter).” If you get rid of storage containers and places, then you are forced to deal with the clutter, instead of slowing discarding things.
  8. “Let go of the idea of getting your money’s worth. You never will.” Instead, think of what you’re losing by NOT getting rid of it.
  9. “Discard any possession that you can’t discuss with passion.”
  10. “If you lost it, would you buy it again? At full price?”
  11. “If you buy something, get rid of something else.”
  12. “Don’t buy it because it’s cheap; don’t take it because it’s free.” Cue the Ross shopper guilt. Just because you and I get a deal doesn’t mean there aren’t other hidden costs (on our space and energy).
How have you grappled with Jesus’ warnings about possessions? What are some practical tips that have worked for you in this area?

Paul’s Mysterious Man in Romans 7:14-25

I really enjoy detective stories and shows. Whether it’s Sherlock Holmes, Frank and Joe Hardy, or even Sheriff Hopper, there really are stranger things that need solving. One of these stranger things is Paul’s mysterious man in Romans 7:14-25. This perplexing passage has divided even the best biblical scholars and theologians. The great church father and theologian Augustine even changed his mind on this passage, which is really saying something, since most theologians and Bible scholars never admit when they’re wrong. So what’s going on in this passage?
Romans 7:14-25 describes a person in turmoil: “I am all too human, a slave to sin. . .nothing good lives in me, that is, my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. . .Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?” (Romans 7:14b, 18-19, 24 NLT). You could read the entire passage if you have time for a greater sense as to what is happening.
There are basically four or five theories as to the identity and experience of Paul’s mysterious man.
Theory #1: Paul is referring to himself, demonstrating a normal, (even mature) Christian experience. This was the interpretation of the Reformers (Luther, Calvin), John Owen, and those who follow in their footsteps today like J.I. Packer, R.C. Sproul, John Piper. This was also Augustine’s second position. The strongest argument for this view is probably verse 22: “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being (ESV).
Theory #2: Paul describes the experience of an immature Christian believer. This view points out the absence of the Holy Spirit in Romans 7:14-25, saying the believer needs to move from Romans 7 to Romans 8 as she learns the benefits of being in Christ. This view is not necessarily held in scholarship but is on a popular-level.
Theory #3: Paul describes the experience of every non-Christian person.
Theory #4: Paul describes his own experience as a non-Christian but as a devoted Jewish believer. Theories #3 and #4 were held in various forms by most of the early church fathers, Augustine (1st view), and by contemporary New Testament scholars like Gordon Fee, Douglas Moo, and Preston Sprinkle.
Theory #5: Paul isn’t necessarily describing a Christian or a non-Christian, but rather shows how the law and morality living is unable to transform us (Thomas Schreiner, Martyn Llyod-Jones, F.F. Bruce).
I personally find theory #4 the most compelling, that Paul is referring to himself as a Jewish believer before he met the risen Jesus. I used to hold to theory #1, that Paul is referring to himself as a Christian. The problem with this view is in the strong language of slavery, defeat, and death used. Is a Christian “sold under sin?” Is a Christian powerless to do good? Does a Christian live in a body of death? Romans 7 doesn’t seem to describe someone just struggling with sin but rather someone who is enslaved by sin. The contrast with the victorious life of Romans 8 couldn’t be stronger. The delight that Paul has for God’s law (7:22) means that he’s not just any non-believer (theory #3), but that he’s a Jewish believer who hasn’t met Jesus yet, until verse 25: “Thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (for his rescue).
I’m not married to this idea, and could also change my mind like Augustine. What do you think? Who is Paul referring to in this complex passage?

Rethinking the “Rapture”

The Apostle’s Creed briefly summarizes the Christian belief on where human history is headed: “[Jesus] will come to judge the living and the dead.” There’s little disagreement here among the billions of Christians on this point, Jesus is going to return to the earth. Only this time, his return won’t be in humility or weakness, it will be in power and justice, ridding the world of all evil and making all things new. Those who are “in Christ” (a favorite term of Paul’s to describe a Christian’s identity) will be safe from judgment, because we have trusted Jesus in taking away our well-deserved ‘guilty’ verdict. We believe, with tears, that those who reject relationship with Jesus will experience a second-death. There are all sorts of theories as to what this might look like, but the most important thing is that none of you reading  this reject Jesus’ offer for freedom and forgiveness.
Now, from this point, consensus crumbles into countless views on eschatology (eschat= the end, ology=the study of) and how everything will work out. One particularly popular doctrine (in America) is the pretribulation rapture. This view states that Jesus will return not once, but twice more. His first return will be only for his church, in what some have called a “secret rapture.” Think of the Left Behind books/movies. Then, after a literal seven year Tribulation, Jesus will return again in judgment. This doctrine is built on the theological system called Dispensationalism, which sees Israel and the church both as God’s chosen people, and tries to maintain a distinction between the two groups.
In today’s post, I want to briefly mention:
1) Three reasons why I no longer believe in pretribulation rapture of the church.
2) One thought on why this is not as important as you think, for my dismayed parents’ and grandparents’ generations.
3) And finally one thought on why this is more important than you think, for my jaded and doubtful generation.
Reason 1: Church History
One of the biggest factors in my moving away from the pretribulation rapture was the realization that this is a relatively modern doctrine. Popular views on the rapture can be traced by to the contribution of church leader and theologian John Nelson Darby (1800-1882). For over 1500 years, the church never taught anything close to the doctrine of a ‘secret’ rapture, as theologians always saw the second coming of Christ as a one-time event. It is almost indisputable that a pretribulation rapture is a modern doctrine. This doesn’t automatically disprove it, but it certainly should raise some eyebrows, especially if we value church tradition and history.
Reason 2: Theology
Much could be said about the theology that undergirds the pretribulation rapture. The biggest theological question I have about the position is this: Christians have frequently endured mountainous trials and tribulations ever since the day Stephen was executed by mob rock throwing in Acts 7. Even today, ISIS hunts down Christians all throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Why would we think that God would pull his church out of the earth during tribulation? He’s not done it before. And thankfully, none of these tribulations can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:35-39). Again, this does not disprove the pretribulation rapture, but it does undermine it.
Reason 3: Biblically
Dispensationalism in general and the pretribulation rapture in particular make logical sense. The system is built on a number of assumptions, usually starting with assumptions on how to interpret prophetic and apocalyptic literature (like Revelation). Sharing in the assumptions makes the system work flawlessly. But pull one assumption out, and (in my opinion) the system falls down like a house of cards. Let’s demonstrate this with the rapture passage itself, 1 Thess 4:17: “we who are still alive and are left will be caught up (Latin: rapiemur) together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” Some interpret this verse without any thought to the context and imagery that surrounds it. They see this verse teaching an exodus of the church from the earth. But, as N.T. Wright and other biblical scholars have argued, the image of meeting the Lord in the air is not one of escape, but rather escort. In ancient culture, when an emperor or king would visit a province, the people would go out an escort him into the city. Paul’s image here is of believers going out to meet Jesus, and then turning around to welcome him into the city. There’s also this idea of vindication and glory, particularly for believers under persecution.
Listen to what John Chrysostom, pastor and theologian (349-407AD) says about this passage: “If he is about to descend, on what account shall we be caught up? For the sake of honor. For when a king drives into a city, those who are in honor go out to meet him; but the condemned await the judge within.” Chrysostom’s image reminds me of my childhood, running down the driveway and road to meet my dad coming home from work. But if I ever got in trouble, I didn’t go out to meet him, because I was “condemned” to a spanking. I was typically hiding under my bed or something. God’s kids will meet him as he returns, but the condemned will stay put, awaiting whatever judgment looks like.
Why This Is Not Important:
“I can’t believe he hung up on me.” I had just gotten off the phone with someone who left my church after I preached on Mark 13, a complicated, apocalyptic speech of Jesus. He left after I shared some of the above-mentioned doubts I have about a pretribulation rapture. After making some off-color joke about cemeteries and seminaries, and saying that I need to get in line with all the good pastors, he hung up. For my parents’ and grandparents’ generations, I’m constantly struggling to show that there are multiple credible views on the end-times. Like this man on the phone, some emphatically assert their view is the only “conservative” or “faithful” or “logical” view and that all others are (gasp) “liberal.” It’s ignorance at best and arrogance at worst. In my view, no Christian group, community, or church should divide over a particular perspective on the end times. Other than the shared agreement that Jesus is returning, what more agreement do we need in this area to have Christian community?
Why This is Important:
My generation, frustrated by the dogmatic and domineering nature of the discussion, has far too often avoided it all together. We don’t preach, study, or write about it. I’ll confess that this is my temptation. Even writing this is a challenge, knowing that it will upset some of my friends. But we have to study this, because we love God’s Word. We love these God-breathed texts that are “useful for teaching, rebuking, correction, and training in righteousness.” Eschatology is not something we can avoid, but rather should be talked through and debated charitably, as I have had the privilege of doing with many of you. My hope is that my generation won’t be afraid to talk about Revelation and other sections of prophetic and apocalyptic literature, not afraid of ruffling feathers, and not afraid of having unanswered questions. Good study of the end-times frees us from being overly concerned by current events, but also helps ground our faith in the hope of Christ’s future return.

Lincoln’s Battle with God- Book Review

Lincoln’s Battle With God: A President’s Struggle With Faith And What It Meant For America- Stephen Mansfield. 279 pages.
I just finished this fascinating book on the faith of Abraham Lincoln. Before reading, I hadn’t known a lot about the President who usually tops the charts of “best presidents” polls. I had read a few of his speeches, as well as watched a few movies (the best of which was Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer, which was not as historically reliable as some might think). From the little that I had read, I naively assumed that Lincoln was a committed, church-going Christian. The truth is, like many of us, Lincoln experienced deep spiritual distress and doubt for much of his life.
Stephen Mansfield brilliantly belabors to show the complexity of Lincoln’s relationship with God. The task is no easy one, as the author needs to track down everything Lincoln ever wrote or said about faith. One of the biggest problems is determining which sources are legitimate and which are embellished. After Lincoln’s death, some were motivated to portray him as more religious, while others reacted against the hiding of Lincoln’s doubts and (probably) overly highlighted his skepticism.
Abraham was raised in a “Christian” home; the family went to church, read the Bible, and talked about it. Nancy Lincoln, Abraham’s mother, frequently sang spiritual songs. Although she couldn’t’ read, she would often recite long sections of scripture and Shakespeare in the home. She loved her children and encouraged Lincoln to go to school and read. Sadly, she died when Abraham was 9, leaving him with his harsh, simplistic, and legalistic father (Thomas). Thomas Lincoln had no tolerance for reading and school, since there was work to be done. Much of what Abraham rejected religiously probably came from what he disdained in his father.
The death of his mother was probably the beginning of Lincoln’s bouts with depression. Mental illness ran in the Lincoln family. After moving away from his hometown, as a young man, Abraham was put on suicide watch, with friends hiding knives and razor blades. He also believed he contracted syphilis through his occasional visiting of prostitutes.
Not only did young Lincoln reject the faith morally and emotionally, but he also began to reject it rationally. Due to the influence of Thomas Paine, and friends in the city of New Salem, Lincoln gained a reputation as an “infidel,” or an “unbeliever.” His skepticism and venom towards traditional Christianity culminated writing a little book “disproving” Christianity. Lincoln tried to get the book published, but a close friend named Samuel Hill, worried about Lincoln’s political future should the book be made public, stole and burned it. One wonders how our country might look today had that little book been published. Upon entering politics, even honest Abe lied repeatedly about his (past?) problems with Christianity, including whether or not this book had existed.
In light of all this, historians of Lincoln tend to view his future references to religion and faith as mere political pandering. Mansfield disagrees with this assessment, arguing that while Lincoln was no “cookie-cutter” Christian, his relationship with God was vital for leading this nation through its darkest days. There was something so sobering about the position in which he found himself, that he seemed to be driven to God in profound ways. Examples abound, but two will suffice for this post.
When Abraham’s three-year old son Eddie tragically died of pulmonary tuberculosis, Reverend James Smith conducted the funeral service. After this, the Lincoln’s began attending Smith’s First Presbyterian Church. Lincoln and Smith frequently talked for hours about life and religion. Not only this, Reverend Smith became a spiritual adviser to the President, constantly visited the White House to converse with and console Lincoln.
Lastly, the weight of the war and country seemed to give Lincoln a new appreciation for Jesus that he hadn’t had in his younger years. It’s reported that while watching the play in Ford’s Theater during that fateful Friday night, Lincoln turned to his wife and whispered: “we will not return immediately to Springfield. We will go abroad among strangers where I can rest. . .we will visit the Holy Land and see those placed hallowed by the footsteps of the Savior. There is no place I so much desire to see as Jerusalem.” And then John Wilkes Booth killed him.
While some doubt if Mary Lincoln told the truth about her husband’s last words, many historians believe them to be authentic. Even if they are not, the amount of research done by Mansfield in trying to truthfully reconstruct Lincoln’s complex faith is commendable. There are countless other examples of Lincoln’s life situations and statements that seem to share that while conflicted, Abraham Lincoln deeply trusted God, and perhaps even Jesus Christ as well. I wholeheartedly recommend the book.

3 Reasons You Should Go To A Church Community Every Week

I’m a pastor’s kid, so growing up, I always had to go to church. Not that I didn’t enjoy it, I usually did (except in middle school when you hate everything and everyone). But when I went off to college, I wrestled with the question that every young adult asks, every Sunday: “Do I want to go to church today?” My answer was typically “no,” followed by a litany of lame excuses: “I have homework; I’m busy. I need more rest, I don’t really know anyone; it’s not my home church.” Plus, I could always listen to way better sermons from way better preachers’ podcasts (like John Piper), from the comfort of my own pajamas. It wasn’t long, however, before I was challenged on this perspective, and I plugged in to a local church (shout out to Little Country Church: Haven. Miss you guys!)

More and more, I see this mentality among my fellow millennial Christians. It’s especially true for people who have relocated for work or school. And their parents aren’t a lot better. Sports games, messy houses, weekend outings, or simply sleeping in keep countless couples and families away from church community.

The Problem: Where there are sometimes small problems that keep us away from church community, like my lame excuses mentioned above, there’s really just one big problem. It’s something that has been slow-cooked and marinated inside of us for decades.

The problem: Individualism.

From childhood, individualism has been drummed into our heads, that we can be, or do, or accomplish anything, that we can pursue our dreams and our happiness at any cost. Think of Elsa in Disney’s Frozen, when she sings:

“It’s time to see what I can do//To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me//I’m free!

Let it go, let it go//I am one with the wind and sky
Let it go, let it go//You’ll never see me cry. . .”

For Elsa, life is about casting off the burdens and expectations of a community.
She reflects our culture well. However, in an age of individualism and self-expression, loneliness, depression, and anxiety are higher than ever. “Let it go” isn’t solving our problems; it’s creating new ones.

Christianity, while valuing the individual made in the image of God, does not see the individual as sovereign. The individual finds her identity not in her heart, dreams, or desires, but rather in Jesus Christ and his family.

With that said, here are three reasons why I think you should go to church (at least) weekly. By church, I’m referring to any consistent, intentional gathering where Christians participate in prayer, worship, and hearing God’s word. By this definition, this could be done in homes, in church buildings, or even in Dairy Queen (though the extra calories might not be good). Also, by this definition, not every building with a church sign is a true “church.”

1) It’s good for you. No, seriously, it will extend your life. From a secular perspective, one Harvard study found that “Joining and participating in one group cuts your odds of dying over the next year in half. Joining two groups cuts it by three quarters.” Provocatively, they conclude: “It’s a tough call. . .whether quitting smoking or joining a club. . .will improve your life expectancy more.” (Harvard Kennedy School, The Saguaro Seminar).

Dang! So bring your Bible and your cigarettes and commit to a church community.

2) You have a contribution to make. No, I’m not referring to tithing, though financial giving is an important part of worship. By contribution, I mean YOU. You are a valuable part of the church community. God has given every one of us gifts, gifts to be used to encourage other people and to live on mission for God.

When I played soccer, if sickness or studies kept a student away from a game, we were hurting. Each person had a part to play. Not everyone scored goals and not everyone played goalkeeper, but everyone had a role. It’s the same with the church community.

3) Love is a learned habit in church community. Again, in an age of self-expression, love is sometimes seen as whatever gives me the best feeling, whether it be pizza, a good movie, or a girlfriend. In contrast, commentator John Stott defines biblical love “not as a fleeting emotion, but a steady devotion of the will.” In other words, love is something you invest yourself in, something you commit yourself to, something you’re absorbed with.

Jesus says the greatest commandment is to love God with everything and to love our neighbor as ourselves. The loving ourselves is easy; we’re all born incredibly self-focused and self-absorbed. Even someone who “hates himself” actually loves himself by Stott’s definition because all he thinks about is himself. But to love God and to love others? That takes lots of practice, because it’s not natural.

We learn to love God through the weekly habit of coming to a church community. All throughout the week, our love for God cools off, and other things capture our heart’s imagination. But when we arrive on Sunday morning (or whatever day you meet), God works on us while we worship. As Martin Luther said: “at home, in my own house, there is no warmth or vigor in me, but in the church when the multitude is gathered together, a fire is kindled in my heart and it breaks its way through.”

As we are led in musical worship, and confession of sin, we’re reminded of our own weakness and of God’s goodness. As the Bible is read and taught for us, God speaks his loving comfort and correction to us. The action of actually sitting in the room instead of popping in our ear-buds trains us to humble ourselves and to relinquish control.

We learn to love people by being with them, by building relationships, praising and praying together. We learn to love by practicing forgiveness when we are been wronged, instead of finding a new community. We learn to love by opening our lives to other people who we would NEVER encounter anywhere else in life, had it not been for Jesus, people with political, socio-economic, ethnic, and generational differences.

Two Common Objections:

“You’re being legalistic.”

Maybe. But is it legalistic to eat daily? Is it legalistic to exercise frequently? Is it legalistic to regularly do things that make me a better, healthier person? You might call is legalism, but I see it as a “habit of love.” And I miss you.

“You’re a pastor, so you’re naturally more invested.

Ha, fair point. It’s like restaurant owner encouraging others to eat out more often. And I have to be at church each week for my “job.” So does that negate my whole post? I don’t think that it does. This post is actually coming from a heart of concern for spouses, singles, and families who aren’t plugged in anywhere. The church needs them and they need to church. Everybody loses when they don’t show up.

Concluding Verse

To conclude this longer post, no one says it better than the author of Hebrews:

“24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” – Hebrews 10:24-25

The Apocrypha: Why Do Catholic Bibles Have More Books In Them?

by Tyler Goens
Have you ever noticed that your Catholic friends have more books in their Bible than you do? Or if you’re Catholic, have you noticed that us Protestants have smaller Bibles? (Protestant = any Christian who is not Catholic or Eastern Orthodox.) Why is this? Is it just so we as Protestants can make our “Read the Bible in a year” plans more manageable?
Not really. The problem comes down to the Old Testament. Both Protestants and Catholics have the same number of New Testament books (27), but the Catholic Old Testament has seven more books than the Protestant one (as well as significant additions to the books of Esther and Daniel). One term for these extra books is the
Apocrypha, meaning “hidden” or “obscure.” We’re not entirely sure where this title came from, but it’s likely an antagonistic reference (fighting words). Catholics prefer to use the term deuterocanonical, meaning “second canon” (canon referring to authoritative books, not the weapon).
So why the discrepancy? It starts with this: the Hebrew Old Testament does not contain the Apocrypha, but the Greek OT (Septuagint) does. This is why Catholics call it “the second (OT) canon”, acknowledging that these books were not a part of Hebrew Old Testament.
As the early church was more comfortable reading Greek, these “deuterocanonical” books picked up some steam. Some Christians believed they were scripture, like Augustine and Clement. Others thought they were useful, but not on the same authority as divine scripture, like Jerome, Athanasius, and possibly Origen.
Although early Christians had their disagreements here, it never became too heated of a discussion. But then the Reformation happened, which made questions of authority and canon far more significant. This was especially true since it was thought that apocryphal books defended Catholic doctrines that Protestants weren’t real excited about (purgatory, for example). Whether or not they actually do is a topic for another time. So, Protestants typically follow the lead of Martin Luther (following Jerome) in rejecting the Apocrypha as scripture.

Three closing thoughts:

1) Because the Hebrew OT canon did not contain the Apocrypha, the evidence seems to suggest that Jesus’ “Bible” would not have included these books (although he would have probably been familiar with them). If Jesus did not consider these books scripture, then why should we?

2) The issue is, and always have been AUTHORITY when it comes to Protestant and Catholic disagreements. If we don’t understand this, we will never have productive dialogue and debate with each other. At the end of the day, Catholics believe the their canon exists because the (Catholic) Church determined it be so. Protestants would argue that the church doesn’t MAKE scripture, it just RECOGNIZES it.

3) We don’t need to hide from the Apocrypha. (Anyone get the joke?) I’m reading through these books right now, and I find them illuminating in understanding the perspective of those before the time of Christ. I don’t believe they are destructive or dangerous to the Christian faith, if you read them in their proper context. I would, however, be skeptical of any kind of doctrine that arises solely from these books (and can’t be backed up elsewhere in scripture).
Blessings to all my Catholic friends; please don’t throw things at me.


Favorite Five: My Favorite Books and Podcasts of 2016

by Tyler Goens
It’s that time of year! This year, I decided to highlight five of my favorite books AND podcasts in the past year. These are in no order of importance. It’s my hope that one or more of these would be an encouragement to you and help your thinking as we approach a new year. And maybe this will give you some ideas for Christmas presents as well!

My Favorite 5 Books This Year:

1) The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business- Charles Duhigg

This book is not necessarily “faith-based,” but explores the psychology and sociology of habits and habit-formation. Engaging and interesting, the book contain numerous examples the habits of real people. It was a hard book to put down!

2) Rose Guide to End-Times Prophecy- Timothy Paul Jones

I was a little bit skeptical when I saw that I needed to purchase this book in the last class for my Master’s Degree. Like many, I was a little dissatisfied and burnt out by the end-times theology of my upbringing. But, when I got this book, I realized it was not what I was expecting. First, it has lots of picture (an excellent plus). Second, Jones does an excellent job majoring in the majors in terms of what is essential Christian teaching, and what is non-essential, debatable perspective. Third, you don’t ever actually know his own position, because he does such a good job highlighting the arguments and strengths of the four millennial views. A must read for any believer wanting a broader perspective on the end!

3) Divine Sex: A Compelling Vision For Christian Relationships In A Hypersexualized Age- Jonathan Grant

You might laugh at the title. Sure, it’s provocative, that’s how you sell books. But, this book brilliantly traces the history of how we got to where we are now. In our radically promiscuous and sexualized culture, we have gotten away from “Divine Sex,” from God’s holy and healthy intention for it. Not only this, the church’s response has been wholly inadequate in addressing the problem, especially with our young people. A must read for parents, those working with youth, and young adults.

4) You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit- James K.A. Smith

For those of you who follow my reading and writing more closely (my mom?), you might roll your eyes at another inclusion of Jamie Smith. But I just had to include this book. Like the Power Of Habit mentioned above, this book explores the spiritual side to our habits and habit-formation. Smith argues that our habits form our loves, and that we might not actually love what we say we do.

5) Jesus The King: Understanding The Life And Death of The Son of God- Tim Keller

Our church went through the Gospel of Mark this year. This book was originally a series of sermons through this Gospel that Keller adapted into a book. I have to be honest, the book was so good that I found it extremely hard to not just plagiarize the whole thing during the sermon series. I hesitate to recommend it to my church, because everyone is going to know where I get all my good ideas. Okay, but seriously, this is a great book for those trying wanting to learn more about the life of Jesus.

My Favorite 5 Podcasts of the Year

1) Q Podcast

Hosted by Gabe Lyons, The Q (Questions) Podcast is a resource meant to help Christians think well in our increasingly post-Christian age. Critically yet lovingly, Gabe and his hosts interact with the toughest issues of our day, like homosexuality and race-relations. They also examine and reimagine the role of the church in address these questions while advancing good in our culture.

2) Unbelieveable?

Hosted by Justin Brierley, this podcast facilitates high-level dialogue, discussion, and debate around the Christian faith. Sometimes the discussions are between two Christians about a specific “in house” issue, like atonement. Other times, the discussion is between two totally different perspectives, like an atheist and a Christian. The show is excellent at moderating civil discussion and debate over controversial topics. For me, it has shown that the Christian faith is intellectually defensible and coherent. We don’t need to abandon our brains and tough questions to embrace the Christian faith.

3) Freakonomics Radio

Hosted by Stephen Dubner, this podcast explores “the hidden side of everything” from a statistcal and economical perspective. This podcast is not faith-based, but is incredibly interesting and enlightening. It critically examines assumptions that many of us carry, and undermines them with interesting facts and figures.

4) Kingdom Roots with Scot McKnight

I just started listening to this one, so don’t hold me to whatever I write here. Scot McKnight is a respected New Testament scholar, especially familiar with the background of the Bible (areas like Jesus’ upbringing, his education, and family prayer). A recent podcast about Jesus’ prayer life and own our today revolutionized my own prayer life.

5) New Persuasive Words

Hosted by Scott Jones and Bill Borror, this podcast dives deeply into church history, theology, sociology, and really any other –ology. The hosts are hilarious, but they really nerd out as well. Listening to this podcast makes me feel like I am in their living room, on the edge of my seat, engaged with every word. It requires a little bit of background to actually know what the heck they are talking about sometimes, but totally worth it if you are interested in the above-mentioned topics.


by Tyler Goens
It is obvious that our culture values activity and productivity, supremely. This has never been more obvious to
me than the month I spent in Mexico. In Latin culture, conversations and relationships are more important than “productivity.” With my conversational proficiency rivaling the three-year olds around me, I felt useless, unhelpful, and unproductive.
Recently, I read a brilliant, short book by Eugene Peterson, noted author of the 
Message paraphrase, entitled
The Contemplative Pastor: Returning To The Art Of Spiritual Direction. The chapter “The Unbusy Pastor” had
a particular impact. The principles within this chapter extend far beyond the busy pastor, all the way to every
busy person.
Eugene Peterson doesn’t like the word “busy.” He says that: “it is not devotion but defection. . .an outrageous scandal.” Why? He says that busyness arises out of two “ignoble” reasons.

The Vanity of Busyness

Peterson admits: “I am busy because I am vain. I want to appear important. Significant. What better way than to be busy? The incredible hours, the crowded schedule, and the heavy demands on my time are proof to myself—and to all who will notice, that I am important.” He continues: “I live in a society in which crowded schedules and harassed conditions are evidence of importance, so I develop a crowded schedule and harassed conditions. When others notice, they acknowledge my significance, and my vanity is fed.”

Ouch. I resemble that remark. Could it be that much of our busyness comes out of a place of insecurity?

The Laziness of Busyness

Peterson again confesses: “I am busy because I am lazy.” Laziness and busyness seem to be opposites. But they are not. He continues:
“I indolently let others decide what I will do instead of resolutely deciding myself. . .by lazily abdicating the essential work of deciding and directing, establishing values and setting goals, other people do it for us; then we find ourselves frantically, at the last minute, trying to
satisfy a half dozen demands on our time, none of which are essential to our vocation, to stave off the disaster of disappointing someone.”
Ouch again. Busyness can be a symptom of laziness when we let others unnecessarily determine our schedule. This is especially pertinent
to those of us that work in less structured environments and create our own schedule. If we don’t plan, we get planned.

The Battle Against Busyness: The Appointment Calendar

How do we battle busyness? We take the culture’s ultimate goal, productivity, and turn it on its head. The tool? The appointment calendar
(or whatever you call your scheduling planner). Peterson humorously and brilliantly expounds:
“The appointment calendar is the tool with which to get unbusy. It’s a gift of the Holy Ghost (unlisted by St. Paul, but a gift nonetheless). . .
it is the one thing everyone in our society accepts without cavil as authoritative. The authority once given to Scripture is now ascribed to the appointment calendar. The dogma of verbal inerrancy has not been discarded, only re-assigned.”
LOL. We Americans aren’t secular, we just worship our planners. The authority of the appointment calendar is exemplified in two examples:
“If someone approaches me and asks me to [be] at an event, and I say, ‘I don’t think I should do that, I was planning to use that time to pray,’ the response will be, ‘Well, I’m sure you can find another time to do that.’ But if I say, ‘My appointment calendar will not permit it,’ no further questions are asked. If someone asks me to attend a committee meeting, and I say, ‘I was thinking of taking my wife out to dinner that night;
I haven’t listened to her carefully for several days,’ the response will be, ‘But you are very much needed at this meeting; couldn’t you arrange another evening with your wife?’ But if I say, ‘The appointment calendar will not permit it,’ there is no further discussion.”
Mic drop, Eugene. What are some ways that you’ve walked the tension of not just being busy but being relationally present as well as productive?
Some further quotes to think about:

“How can I lead people into the quiet place beside the still waters if I am in perpetual motion?”

“Pastoral listening requires unhurried leisure, even if it’s only for five minutes. Leisure is a quality of spirit, not a quantity of time.”
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by Tyler Goens
Over the last couple of months, tragedy has struck our city, country, and world countless times. From motorcycle, car, and plane accidents, to the shooting of police officers and unarmed civilians, and vicious terrorist attacks, it’s difficult to process all the pain that people are feeling. Three simple thoughts are running through my mind today.

1) Life is short.

Tragedy reminds us that life is short. We will all die. Yet sadly, we spend much of our waking hours wasting time doing things that actually aren’t that important to us. What truly matters is the kind of person we are, and the kinds of relationships we foster. Time is flying by, and we may have less of it than we think.

2) God cares.

Psalm 34:18 says that: “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” We don’t always have the answers to why these things happen, but we KNOW that the answer is not: “because God doesn’t care.” All throughout the story of God, we see his endless love and concern for his creation in general and people in particular. Reading through the Psalms shows us that God cares and is always approachable and available to carry our burdens for us.

3) God suffered too.

You might be skeptical, wondering if God really does care. “He’s never proved it to me,” you might think. But he did. He did come and suffer; He did prove his care for us. He came and identified with our pain in the person of Jesus. He experienced the same kinds of sufferings that we do. The Christian story is that the Creator became a part of creation, to bring creation to restoration. 

And he promises to one day: “wipe away every tear from their eyes” and to “make all things new” (Rev 7:17; 21:5). I’m praying for all of you that are hurting, and please don’t hesitate to contact me for more specific ways that I can help.


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Timothy Keller on Genesis 15

By Tyler Goens
Last Monday, I tried to kill “three birds with one stone.” I exercised (1) by running to my nearby life group (2) while listening to a Timothy Keller sermon (3). By the end of the sermon, I was out of breath, and being out of shape had some to do with it. But not all, because a specific part of this sermon really rocked me on Lower River Road. Here’s an excerpt from the message:
“If you understand what happens in Genesis 15, you’re at the very heart of what the Bible’s all about. In Genesis 15, God has said to Abraham: “I will bless you.” But Abraham says: “How do I know, how can I be sure?” So God says: “Here’s what I want you to do. I want you to cut, to kill some animals, and to cut the animals into pieces, and to arrange the pieces in two rows, with an aisle, so you can walk through them.”
Now you and I are utterly confused by that. But Abraham wasn’t, because in those days, when a great Lord wanted to make a covenant with a peon, or a peasant, or a lessor vassal or servant, that’s how it was done. Animals were slain, the pieces were arranged, and when the servant took the oath of loyalty to the Lord, the servant did so as he was walking between the pieces. Why? He was acting out the curse of the covenant. He was saying: “I swear loyalty to you, o lord, and if I do not keep my promises, may I be cut into pieces like this.” So Abraham figured he was arranging a situation for a covenant ceremony, and so he cut the pieces up and he expect that he would be called to walk through, because lords never walked through the pieces. So he waited and he waited. And then all of a sudden, Genesis 15 tells us, incredible darkness came down; it was the darkness of judgment. And in the midst of the darkness, was God. He appeared as a smoking, fiery pillar just like at Mt Sinai later on. And he passed through the pieces as he promised to bless Abraham. Now Abraham was startled, and almost every commentator who has ever tried to come to grips with Genesis 15 is startled, because what that means is God is not just saying “I will bless you,” but he is promising to die if he doesn’t bless him, he’s promising to be torn to pieces if he doesn’t bless Abraham.
Well, that’s amazing. . .but that’s not all. Abraham had two shocks. The first shock is that God went through the pieces. But the second shock was that Abraham was never called to go through the pieces himself. The ceremony ended, and we’re told in chapter 15 verse 18: “And therefore God made a covenant with Abraham.” But this was unheard of, unheard of. It was amazing for the Lord to come and walk through the pieces. But for the servant to not even make the oath? Do you know that meant? Abraham knew what it meant, though he didn’t see how it could be. It meant that God was making the promise for both of them. And he was taking the curse of the covenant on for both of them. And what he was doing was he was saying:
“Not only will I be torn to pieces if I don’t keep my promise. . .I’ll be torn to pieces if you don’t.
“Oh Abraham, Abraham,” God is saying, and to all of us: “Oh world, I will bless you no matter what, even if it means that my immortality must become mortal. . .even if my glory must be drowned in darkness. . .even if I have to literally be torn to pieces.”And he was. . .
-Timothy Keller: A Covenant Relationship, October 9, 2013.
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