I mentioned the other day about the Jesus Storybook Bible and recently came across another family devotion resource called Long Story Short. This one seems aimed at kids a little older than Jackson (who’s not even 2 yet). But it focuses on being helping facilitate discussion based on the Bible.
Here’s the author’s description:
Transform Your Family with Ten Minutes a Day in the Gospel Story Christian parents know the importance of passing the gospel story on to their children, yet we live in a busy world filled with distractions. Schedules collide, there is homework and yard work and dishes and laundry, the car s oil should be changed, there are phone calls to make…and before you know it, everyone is getting to bed late again. The Bible can seem like a long story for an active family to read, but when you break it down into short sections, as Marty Machowski does, family devotions are easy to do. Long Story Short will help busy parents share with their children how every story in the Old Testament points forward to God s story of salvation through Jesus Christ. You won t find a more important focus for a family devotional than a daily highlighting of the gospel of grace. Clever stories and good moral lessons may entertain and even help children, but the gospel will transform children. The gospel is deep enough to keep the oldest and wisest parents learning and growing all their lives, yet simple enough to transform the heart of the first grader who has just begun to read. Ten minutes a day, five days a week is enough time to pass on the most valuable treasure the world has ever known. Long Story Short is a family devotional program designed to explain God s plan of salvation through the Old Testament and is suitable for children from preschool through high school.
I hope that description captured you like it did me. “Clever stories and good moral lessons may entertain and even help children, but the gospel will transform…”
One of the best decisions we have made since Jackson was born was making reading the Bible as a family a priority every night. Even when he was an infant, we started reading the Bible every night. We first used My First Messagebut as soon as we were given the Jesus Storybook Bible (thanks Aunt Kara!) we were hooked. I think Whitney and I look forward to this time every night even more than Jackson. The stories are Biblically accurate, theologically sound, and convicting. The gospel is always in view whether the story is an Old Testament Narrative or a New Testament epistle. Take this excerpt from 1 Samuel 16 when God chose David to be Israel’s King:
God chose David to be king because God was getting his people ready for an even greater King who was coming. Once again, God would say, “Go to Bethlehem. You’ll find the new King there.” And there, one starry night in Bethlehem, in the town of David, three Wise Men would find him.
I’d dare to recommend that everyone (kids or not) get this wonderful book and read it. You could use it as a daily devotional or just to help focus you on the central focus of Scripture.
I finally finished reading Rosaria Butterfield’s fascinating autobiography. Her writing is full of wisdom, flavor, and honesty. More importantly, her story of conversion is God-magnifying and very insightful. She details the very interesting path she took to find Christ. She truly was an “unlikely convert.” An atheist-agnostic who prided herself in an openly homosexual lifestyle, she disdained ignorant evangelicals. She was a tenured professor at a research university and was quite popular in her community. However, despite her opposition to Christianity, she eventually became a follower of Jesus.
Her story is full of insight, perspective, and wonder. She is able to analyze her own sin struggles, idolatrous thoughts, and search for God in a way that avoids oversimplification.
Christians would do well to learn from her experience to see how they can reach the “unlikely” people in their lives with a message that is honest, patient, and life-changing.
The first few chapters are riveting. The last few are denominationally specific and might not appeal to a wide audience. However, it’s her story and she can tell it how she wants.
An extended interview with the author can be found online:
“It has always seemed to me that without the proper response to failure, we don’t grow, we only age. So I was and am willing to take the risk of being wrong for the hope of growing in truth.”
“The truth is, feminists have been more successful rhetoricians at the core of major U.S. universities than have Christians, even though most of these universities have Christian origins.”
“Here’s what I think happened: since all major U.S. universities had Christian roots, too many Christians thought that they could rest in Christian tradition, not Christian relevance. Too often the church does not know how to interface with university culture because it comes to the table only ready to moralize and not dialogue.”
“During one sermon, Ken pointed to John 7: 17, and called this “the hermeneutics of obedience.” Jesus is speaking in this passage, and he says: “If anyone is willing to do God’s will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from myself.” Ah ha! Here it was! Obedience comes before understanding.”
“…repentance requires greater intimacy with God than with our sin.”
“I had to lean and lean hard on the full weight of scripture, on the fullness of the word of God, and I’m grateful that when I heard the Lord’s call on my life, and I wanted to hedge my bets, keep my girlfriend and add a little God to my life, I had a pastor and friends in the Lord who asked nothing less of me than that I die to myself. Biblical orthodoxy can offer real compassion, because in our struggle against sin, we cannot undermine God’s power to change lives.”
“How do I judge my own sincerity? The saving grace of salvation is located in a holy and electing God, and a sacrificing, suffering, and obedient Savior. Stakes this high can never rest on my sincerity.”
“Learn how to glean good lessons from bad teachers in an effort to be a good teacher to those undergraduates under your care.”
“It’s better to be wrong on an important subject than right on a trivial one, as long as you are willing to learn from your mistakes.”
“This experience taught me a powerful lesson about evangelism: the integrity of our relationships matters more than the boldness of our words.”
“It took me a while to figure out how I felt about the Bible verses on the placards. On the one hand, the Bible had become my life, my guide for life, my paradigmatic mirror in which I found meaning and direction. I loved (and love) the Bible, gorging on huge chunks at a time. But these skinny verses, taken out of their rich and complex context, were just sitting out there on placards, naked and rude. I felt an immediate aversion to the aesthetic even as I identified with the message. For example, John 3: 16 without John 3: 17 seems to balance itself in the wrong place.”
I have said for some time that my favorite book on pastoral ministry is John Piper’s Brothers, We Are Not Professionals. While every point may not be exactly in line with my own pastoral convictions, it gets the essentials right, puts the focus in the right place, and is never short on challenging statements.
The second edition of this book was just released. The pastors at our church are working through this book at our monthly meeting. With the new edition came a few new chapters. I wanted to share a portion of one such chapter. The author is trying to explain how God can be for his glory and for us. In defending why he as (over?) emphasized God’s self-glory he describes the plight of many Christians (so-called):
I feel a special burden for the millions of nominal Christians who are not born again who believe God loves them and yet are on their way to hell. And the difference between them and a born-again believer is this: What’s the bottom, the decisive foundation, of their happiness? As you penetrate down deeper and deeper to the core, or the bottom, of what makes you happy?
Millions of nominal Christians have never experienced a fundamental alteration of that foundation of happiness. Instead, they have absorbed the notion that becoming Christian means turning to Jesus to get what you always wanted before you were born again. So, if you wanted wealth, you stop depending on yourself for it, and by prayer and faith and obedience you depend on Jesus for wealth. If you wanted to be healthy, you turn from mere human cures to Jesus as the source of your health. If you wanted to escape the pain of hell, you turn to Jesus for the escape. If you wanted to have a happy marriage, you come to Jesus for help. If you wanted peace of conscience and freedom from guilt feelings, you turn to Jesus for these things.
In other words, to become a Christian, in this way of seeing things, is to have all the same desires you had as an unregenerate person — only you get them from a new source, Jesus. And He feels so loving when you do. But there’s no change at the bottom of your heart and your cravings. No change at the bottom of what makes you happy. There’s no change in the decisive foundation of your joy. You just shop at a new store. The dinner is still the same, you just have a new butler. The bags in the hotel room are still the same; just a new bellhop.
For those interested, my Dad and I just completed bookshelves in the office at my house. Six months seems like a good pace if you ask me! Other bibliophiles will share in my joy. For our first major carpentry project, I think it was a success.
If you have ever struggled with sinful habits or negative patterns of living, then this book is for you. This is the best book I have read in regard to overcoming sin.
This book is not some sort of self-help manual but a reminder of how the gospel can change us:
I want to be like Jesus. I can observe him in action as I read the Gospels. I can study the life he lived and the love he showed. I could try very hard to imitate him. But at best that would lead only to a small, short-lived improvement, and indeed even that small improvement would probably only make me proud.
I need more than an example. I need help. I need someone to change me. Trying to imitate Jesus on its own only leaves me feeling like a failure. I can’t be like him. I can’t match up. I need sorting out. I need rescuing. I need forgiveness.
The great news is that Jesus is not only my example but also my Redeemer.
I could tell that Chester was on to something, particularly in Chapter 2, when he described three wrong reasons to change: 1) to prove myself to God, 2) to prove myself to other people, or 3) to prove myself to myself.
At the heart of any advice that Chester gives is the theological reality of God and the gospel. For example, he talks about some “reminder phrases” that he uses to help others stay focused on the gospel in the midst of fear:
God is greater than your thought.
Not what if? but what is, and what is, is that God is in control.
The reality of the gospel is that behavior does not justify us before God and, therefore, only changing behavior will always be short-lived and misguided. At the heart of behavior are the affections that motivate those behaviors. To overcome sin I not only have to purge it from my life, I have to replace it with an affection for Jesus alone.
When it comes to Lyons’ basic premises I think he is right on target. First, any notion of America as a Christian nation is quickly coming to an end. Greg Boyd and others have been banging this drum for some time now. The idea that America is, should be, or ever was a truly Christian nation is essentially over. Second, the loss of Christian America is a (gasp) good thing! With the end of cultural Christianity the gospel is able to flourish in an environment where it can be heralded without the false assumptions and blatant hypocrisy’s of those who claim Christianity but have no resemblance to Christ.
Whether for reasons of misplaced nostalgia or poor historical recollection, there is a tendency for some, as they grow older, to glorify the past and pessimistically evaluate the present. Lyons provides a lot of hope in his description of the state of Christianity. He is able to point out the current struggles of modern evangelicalism while still observing a number of younger evangelicals who are sacrificially and whole-heartedly communicating and demonstrating the love of Christ at home and around the world.
It can be uncomfortable to hear traditions being challenged but in the midst of such challenges is the opportunity to evaluate what the Bible has to say about the gospel, the church, and the mission of God.
Lyons is well-read when it comes to scholars who have studied Christianity and culture. In addition he is particularly well-connected within evangelical circles (though his name-dropping verges on annoying). I felt that Lyons had a great grasp on how to influence culture (e.g., education, media, etc.) but might have been lacking in some areas of Biblical studies. He emphasizes key concepts in the Bible such as redemption, community, and charity. In his emphasis on more relational aspects of proclaiming the gospel he deemphasizes other equally valid Biblical models such as public proclamation of the gospel or vocal opposition to sin.
All-in-all Lyons book is easy to read and provides an optimistic look at younger Christians and the way they can shape culture by proclaiming and living the gospel. Lyons doesn’t say much that is new but his voice is well-respected among younger leaders and, therefore, his influence will be felt. I would still recommend the authors he cites (e.g., Niebuhr, Lewis, Schaeffer, Guinness, Newbigin, Carson) as more comprehensive, thoughtful, erudite, and profound but Lyons serves as an interesting entrance into the discussion of Christianity and culture.
Beyond doubt, the Bible for many Americans is, as Martin Marty phrases it, an “icon” as well as an object of study. With no American group is this more the case than with evangelicals… Evangelicals, by reputation and self-definition an antiliturgical folk, have nevertheless made a formulaic phrase, “the Bible says” (or its variants, like “my Bible says”), an all but essential part of the sermon. The iconic place of the Bible accounts for the fact that so many evangelicals profess belief in scriptural inerrancy, yet know little about the book’s actual content. It also helps explain why many different bodies of evangelicals continue to insist that they follow “the Bible alone” and are not influenced by historical or cultural conditioning, as they go their mutually exclusive ways in doctrine and practice.
“It seemed to me,” Franzen says, “that if we were going to be elevating freedom to the defining principle of what we’re about as a culture and a nation, we ought to take a careful look at what freedom in practice brings.” The weird thing about the freedom of Freedom is that what it doesn’t bring is
happiness. For Franzen’s characters, too much freedom is an empty, dangerously entropic thing… No one is freer than a person with no moral beliefs. “One of the ways of surrendering freedom is to actually have convictions,” Franzen says. “And a way of further surrendering freedom is to spend quite a bit of time acting on those convictions.”
These are provocative and jarring statements for those of who are rapidly devoted to our independence. As a nation we often centralize the virtue of freedom. After all, it is our freedom that is central to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
I can anticipate the objection from my Christian friends: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1). No matter that such a verse is often taken out of context. Remember that Paul urges everyone to use their Christian freedom as a means to sacrificial service (Galatians 5:13).
Freedom for most Americans means freedom from — from responsibility (e.g., marriage, family, employer, rules, etc.), from tyranny, from authority. As American Christians most of us have uncritically imbibed this idea that freedom in the Christian life is freedom from sin, freedom guilt, and freedom for fear. All of these things are true. As Christians we are free from many things. However, to define freedom as merely from is incomplete. We are free for.
You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness… But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life (Romans 6: 18, 22).
How can freedom lead to slavery? Freedom from sin leads to willing submission to God. “I have been bought with a price” and, therefore, am willing to serve God. I am free to serve God and to serve others. Jesus willingly sacrificed his heavenly status and comfortable position for my redemption (Philippians 2). Am I willing to sacrifice my freedom for him? Am I willing to sacrifice my freedom for others?
Self-sacrificial love that values the gospel above all personal fulfillment and comfort is the greatest testimony of the self-sacrificial love of Jesus.