Review – Devotions on the Greek New Testament

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As I make my way through this devotional (I received a pre-release electronic copy in exchange for an honest review), I find myself thinking, “I need a devotional like this.” I simply love this devotional. Part of why I like it so much has to do with my desire to keep my Greek language skills. Keeping my Greek skills has not been easy. At this point, my ability to use Greek is mixed at best. I am not a close to being a Greek scholar, but I am able to keep up with most commentaries that use Greek. I am not able to read the Greek New Testament without a lot of help and I struggle with Greek grammar. I certainly can’t read Greek well enough to gain insight into the Scripture. This devotional cultivates my desire to dive into the Greek New Testament and, concurrently, deepens my understanding of the text and my life of faith!

This devotional uses Greek in order to enhance one’s devotional understanding of the text rather than just gain more technical information. To reach such a goal the authors explain the, sometimes technical, grammatical details and issues, but they do so in order point out what English translations sometimes miss. The result is seeing passages with new eyes and also discovering how one can use Greek to recast familiar passages.

I highly recommend this devotional to those who are familiar with Greek and are interested in using Greek to give insight into Scripture and also strengthen their faith. This would be an excellent resource not only for pastors, but for students of the Greek New Testament as well. Each of the fifty-two readings gives insight both into the text and how one might approach the Greek New Testament devotionally. Various New Testament Greek scholars contributed to this work, so it is not the work of one or two authors. The only suggestion I would make is to have a closing prayer for each of the devotions, pulling the theme of the day’s (or week’s) reading into the prayer. I would also like to see more resources like this because it illustrates how Greek can be made practical and can deepen one’s faith and understanding.

Review – The Me I Want to Be by John Ortberg

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At one time in my life I believed that if I wanted to grow spiritually it meant praying for an hour each day. For a while I attempted this practice. Each morning I would arise with my outline and a watch. For a while I was able to successfully pray through the outline for an hour. Some days were all right. Other days I didn’t think the hour would ever end. Overall, I would say the practice was not helpful. It did not create more love, joy, or peace in my life. It did not open me up to God’s spirit in my life. In the end, I was glad I could check it off my to-do list. Even though it looked good (Hey! I prayed an hour!), it was not forming me into the person God had created me to be.
During that season of my life I needed a book like Ortberg’s. If I would have been able to read The Me I Want To Be, I would have discovered that because of my personality, such a practice probably wasn’t helpful for me. I had to discover that for myself, but it took much time, frustration, and guilt.

One of the most important points this book makes is that what we find helpful for spiritual growth is connected to who we are. In other words, there isn’t a one size fits all spirituality program. Some people will find praying through an outline for an hour something that causes the spirit to flow. I did not. What I have find helpful, others will not.

Ortberg does a wonderful job of removing guilt from our formative practices. Just because we can’t pray for an hour, or find other classic spiritual disciplines meaningful, does not mean we are bad Christians. It only means that certain practices are not aligned to our personalities. Once we can remove guilt and the practices that are not helpful, we are free to discover and engage in practices that allow the spirit of God to flow in our lives so we might flourish, or become who God has created us to be.

I feel the title is unfortunate however. To me, the title seems more in line with a self-help book, which this book is not. This book assumes that the “me I want to be” is who God created me to be. Spiritual practices serve to create space in our lives where God’s spirit can move, helping us to move closer to who we really are.

I recommend this book even though I view it more of a “first step” toward something greater. I wish Ortberg would have been able to discuss more spiritual practices and how they line up with various personality temperaments. Hopefully, after you read this book, you will have a greater desire to find practices that open you to God’s presence and love!

Review: Jesus: A Theography by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola

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I received an advance electronic copy of this book for an honest review.

I had looked forward to reading this book, but I had no idea what was in store for me. I’ve heard and read that all of Scripture can be read through the lens of Christ, but I had felt, at times, some of the observations were a bit stretched. I have to admit Sweet and Viola have not only convinced me that Jesus is the center, the point, and focus of both testaments, but they have also inspired me to read the bible differently. A few times I felt a bit overwhelmed by Jesus and Scripture.
Continue reading “Review: Jesus: A Theography by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola”

Light to my Feet, or Weight Around my Neck

  In Psalm 119, the writer shares his love of God’s word. He wants to learn it, be guided by it and meditate on it day and night. He views it as a light, and a comfort and in God’s word he places his trust. I have not always resonated with Psalm 119. Instead, I have found reading and studying the scripture…well…hard, difficult, and at times frustrating. I have used it as a sword against those who disagree, and have had the displeasure of having it used as a dagger against me. I have spent hours trying to understand it and at times have found myself shaking my head because it didn’t always make sense to me.

Someone posted a comment asking me to write a posting about Bible study. After thinking about it, I believe the best approach is to share some general principles more than a some kind of ‘how to.’

I’ve found that the root of much of my frustration with scripture was my approached. Our educational system teaches us that information is meant to be mastered. We are given textbooks and told to read, memorize, understand and then tested on how well we can regurgitate the information. So we grow up reading fiction, non-fiction, newspapers, pamphlets, brochures, and other material the same way. Our goal is to understand, manage and master it.

I’ve approached the Bible much in the same way. I viewed it as information that I needed to digest and understand. There were facts, figures, principles and rules to know and dissimilate. I felt that I needed to master this book more than any other because this book is important. So I would attend bible studies, buy commentaries, listen to various discussions and lectures all so I would be able to answer any question about this book.

There is nothing with this method. It is important to know what is contained in the pages of scripture. Paul tells us to do our best so we will be able to “rightly” explain the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15 NRSV). So studying scripture is something we are called to do.

There is another way to approach scripture though; formatively. When we approach the scripture this way, we are not trying to master the material. Rather, we are allowing the material to master us. There is a big difference. One can study scripture informationally and leave unchanged. One cannot read the scriptures formatively and leave unchanged. To read scripture formatively is to be changed. It is to be mastered.

How does one make the shift from informational reading to formative reading? Well, for one thing we slow down. Instead of trying to cover a chapter, or book, we are satisfied with a verse, or perhaps even a word. How much we study, or how much we read is no longer our concern. Our concern is that we ‘hear’ God through our reading and having our lives changed.

We begin by placing ourselves before God and reading a small portion of scripture. This can be a paragraph, passage, or a few verses. Some stop when something ‘jumps out at them.’ It is at that point that we meditate, wonder and pray over the scripture.

I would suggest doing a search for Lectio Divina which is an ancient practice of reading scripture. Lectio Divina slows us down and help us to listen more fully to God. Many who have started practicing Lectio have discovered how powerful scripture can be. They come away not with some tidbit of trivia, but with an invitation to more fully follow God.

Both informational and formational approaches are important. We need times when we study, gaining information and understanding. We also need those times of formation when we allow God, through His Word, to master and transform us. Yet, I believe that we have focused so much on informational reading that we could probably spend a greater amount of time in formational practices. There are countless bible studies, but is the result more love? We have the information, more information than we ever have, but do we care for our neighbors more? Our goal, after all, is to love God and others. If our current focus on bible studies move us toward that goal wonderful. I, for one, believe we need more transformation of the heart (which formational practices bring).