Bearing Witness: Stories of Martyrdom and Costly Discipleship, Charles E. Moore & Timothy Keiderling, editors, Plough Publishing House, 2016.
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” -Jesus of Nazareth
This quote is an appropriate one to begin a collection of stories featuring those who were persecuted because of their faith. And not talking about the elected public official who cried persecution when they refused to do their job. Nor the company that cries persecution because the law requires them to provide services to a gay couple. Nor do I mean the white man who cries persecution when a woman chooses to get an abortion.
Studies have shown that the most influential person for a young person’s faith is his or her parents. The ESV Family Devotional Bible aims to help families read and study scripture.
This hard back Bible includes the entire English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible. A fairly new translation, in the midst of quite a few to choose from, the ESV is not all that different from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). The ESV seems to have been presented as an alternative to the traditionally used King James Version.
The ESV Family Devotional Bible includes 130 key stories retold, along with questions and a key verse. There are colorful illustrations for each devotion as well. At first the illustrations were a bit nostalgic, as they reminded me of the pictures in the story Bible at my grandparents’ home. I’m not sure, however, they would be the most kid-friendly today.
Fear of the Other: No Fear in Love, William H. Willimon, Abingdon Press, 2016.
True to form, Bishop Willimon approaches theological themes in a no-nonsense and gutsy matter. This little book (less than 100 pages) is the Bishop’s response to the rhetoric of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. “If not for them,” Willimon writes, “I would not have been asked to write this book.”
Willimon shows no fear in addressing current social topics. He covers it all. The desire for a bigger wall across the border to keep out Hispanics. The call to keep Muslims out of the country. The exclusion of LGBT individuals in the life of the church. And, he even takes on Jerry Falwell, Jr.
Under Our Skin: Getting Real about Race – and Getting Free from the Fears and Frustrations that Divide Us, Benjamin Watson with Ken Petersen, Tyndale Momentum, 2015.
“What is under our skin, and under the skin problem in America, is a spiritual problem. Every time we point at someone else or an entire race—reducing them to a single story, diminishing them by stereotypes and assumptions—we overlook our own failure.” (Benjamin Watson)
After the deaths of young men like Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, the issue of race in America has resurfaced. Arguably, it has never gone away. Yet with new voices like Bree Newcomb and the Black Lives Matter movement, we are being reminded that racism has not been buried.
Among the many books that have come out since the events in Ferguson, Benjamin Watson’s Under Our Skin seeks to address these contentious issues from a spiritual perspective. What started out as a Facebook status, wrestling with the events in the aftermath of Brown’s death, Watson’s first book uses that Facebook post as a springboard to further explore his thoughts, feelings, and wrestlings with race in America.
Love Kindness, Barry H. Corey, Tyndale, 2016
“We need to keep remembering that we don’t beat an idea by beating a person.” (Barry H. Corey)
There is a deep polarization in Christianity today. Thankfully, it is not around the doctrine that Jesus Christ is Lord. It mostly centers around social issues, and how we respond to them. Barry Corey, the president of Biola University, has a suggestion: Love kindness.
He writes in his Introduction:
In today’s polarized culture, we are often pulled toward one extreme or the other, soft centers or hard edges. I’m proposing a different approach, a third way. Rather than the harshness of firm centers and hard edges, and rather than the weakness of spongy centers and soft edges, why don’t we start with kindness? Kindness is the way of firm centers and soft edges.
I recently learned about a new project to get a study Bible in the hands of Africans with commentary and notes from African pastors and scholars. It is called the Africa Study Bible.
Imagine using a study Bible with the notes from another country, with images and illustrations from that context. It would be difficult to understand. This is the case for many in Africa, with their study Bibles written from the viewpoint of the United States and United Kingdom. The Africa Study Bible project aims to close that gap and provide a resource designed by Africans for Africans.
How Jesus Saves the World from Us: 12 Antidotes to Toxic Christianity, Morgan Guyton, Westminster John Knox Press, 2016.
I first met Morgan Guyton about five years ago at a required event for soon-to-be clergy in the Virginia Conference. We, and dozens more, were gathered at a college campus for a week for what I like to refer to as “Pastor Bootcamp.”
The distinct memory I have of Morgan was from an evening at a Mexican restaurant (one of many during the week). Over beer and chips and salsa, a group of us found ourselves in a deep theological conversation. For anyone who knows Morgan, you will not be surprised that he was at the helm of this conversation. In between scoops of salsa, Morgan would raise yet another question. Not to be argumentative, but to authentically seek more knowledge.
When I was in high school, our senior high youth group were gathered together up in the youth room on a Sunday night. The group was planning an upcoming Youth Sunday. We were making decisions regarding scripture passages, hymns, and prayers to use. Then, the question was asked, “Who will do the sermon?”
Everyone avoided making eye contact with anyone.
Honestly, I had spent the bulk of the time avoiding eye contact. I was one of the youngest in the room. What did I have to contribute?
Then, from the other end of the table, one of the seniors spoke up and said, “I think Jason should do it.”
It was one of those moments where I was thrilled to be thought of, yet scared to death that they thought of me! I would accept and began working on the “sermon.” When I finished it, I gave it my youth leader to look over. She made some suggestions, among them, “Be careful not to put God in a box.”
by Rev. Andrew Taylor-Troutman, author of “Parables of Parenthood”
Good Friday darkened March 25 this year, a date that marks the Feast of the Annunciation when the archangel Gabriel, also known as the voice of God, announced to a young peasant girl that she was highly favored among mortals. Conception and crucifixion. Joy and grief. Feast and fast, together on a single day.
My second son was born at 10:28 AM. He did not make a sound. The cord was wrapped once, twice around his neck. Even before I had a chance to be fully alarmed, nurses flew into action, their six hands a whirlwind over his body. And the oxygen mask to my son’s face. Once, twice. And Asa, whose name means healer, let out a short, staccato burst of a cry, as sure an amen as I have ever heard.
Here is the audio of my sermon from Palm Sunday, March 20, 2016 at Peakland United Methodist Church. The text was Philippians 2:5-11. You can listen on the Podcast app by subscribing here.