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Category: Bible Study (page 1 of 19)

Asleep In The Storm

There are a couple of different instances recorded in the gospels where Jesus and His disciples are caught up in a storm while on the Sea of Galilee. Both of these are fascinating stories, and they have a way of captivating the imagination.

Matthew 14 recounts the story of Jesus walking on the water and Peter’s stumbling efforts to walk towards Him. He succeeds for a moment, but then, overwhelmed by the waves and the wind around him, takes his eyes off of Jesus and begins to sink. Jesus rescues him, rebukes his faith, gets into the boat, and the storm ceases. It is a fascinating event from the life of Jesus, and one from which we can undoubtedly learn much, but it is actually the other “storm” story I want to focus on.

This one drawn from Luke 8/Matthew 8/Mark 4 is likely familiar to you as well. Jesus and His disciples are out on the sea when a storm arises. The disciples are alarmed, and seemingly with good reason—the waves were breaking into the boat so that it was filling (Mark 4.37), swamped (Matthew 8.24), and they were in danger (Luke 8.23).

But Jesus was unconcerned, even unaware (or so it seemed) of their plight—He was asleep on a cushion in the boat. Asleep in the storm.

In such circumstances, the apostles do what seems sensible to them in the moment. They awaken Jesus, and in the face of His seeming lack of concern, ask, “Do you not care that we are perishing?”

In light of the life, teachings, service, and, ultimately, the sacrifice of Jesus, it seems like a ludicrous question, but imprisoned in the circumstances of the moment, it seemed like a fair question to the disciples. Jesus was asleep; He didn’t seem to care. He seemed absent from their sufferingOf course, we know the truth: He was there all along.

•  •  •

If I am honest, I can identify with the apostles here more than I might like to admit. As I have written recently, this has been a tough year for my daughter. She has experienced seizures for most of her life, but this year they have gotten worse, and we have struggled to control them. What’s worse, the frequency of the seizures and/or the many medications she is on to try to control them has led to a lessening of her energy, a muting of her (delightful) personality, and even some regressions in the abilities she has worked so hard to develop over the last few years.

Some days are better, with fewer seizures, more energy, and more personality, but other days are really hard. The emotional roller coaster is exhausting. This has been our situation for several months, despite the constant prayers of Caroline and myself and the faithful intercession on her behalf from countless friends and family (both physical and spiritual). You could say that we are experiencing our own “storm” right now, and have been for a while.

At times, it feels like we are drowning with grief, about to capsize, and the question the apostles asked Jesus seems like an appropriate one: “Lord, do you not care that we are perishing?” It can seem that God is absent.

The other day, I read through Luke’s version of the story recorded above, and it struck me in a way I had never thought of before (which, by the way, is one of the remarkable things about Scripture—as you read it and reread it, new insights constantly avail themselves to us; it is a transformative book!). So often in life, when we are living through a storm, we ask God to take it away from us, and when He doesn’t, we are left to wonder whether He cares about us at all.

But I think Luke 8 offers us a different perspective—in the midst of the storm, Jesus is neither distant, nor uncaring. He is right there with us, in the boat, riding out the storm. His seeming absence obscures His glorious presence. And while He certainly has the power to take the storm away (and we earnestly pray that He does so!), He asks us for faith, faith that His presence will protect us from being overwhelmed by the storms of life.

(Not) Praying in the Garden

On the night Jesus was arrested, the Gospels tell a familiar story (Matthew 26.36-46; Mark 14.32-42; Luke 22.39-46). Jesus, in great distress about what He knows will soon happen to him, takes Peter, James, and John with Him into the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus asks them to be in prayer and then withdraws to pray by Himself.

Jesus’ prayer is famously filled with agony and desperation: “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” He comes back to check on his friends, and finds them all asleep. He rebukes them, and withdraws again, praying the same prayer. Then He returns to find them asleep again, and the pattern repeats again a third time.

After the third time, a mob arrives and arrests Jesus, and as He predicted, His disciples flee in fear.

Conjecture: might it be that Jesus was strengthened by His night in prayer with the Father, and was thus now steeled to face the ordeal of mockery, torture, and death that loomed before Him? And as the same time, could it be that in their slumber, the disciples deprived themselves of the means to remain faithful to Jesus during the hour of trial?

As Christians, we pray to change circumstances and events around us, but we also pray (or maybe even, we primarily pray) to change us. Prayer helps to bring our wills in line with God’s will, to strengthen our resolve, and to quiet our fears. I have a hunch that if Peter, James, and John had heeded Jesus’s request to pray with Him on that fateful night, their behavior during the trying times that followed might have been very different.

James A. Harding once said, “[Prayer] is an enormous power, the mightiest that can be used by a mortal, that few of us use as we could and should.”[1] When we sleep (literally or metaphorically) instead of pray, what transformation do we miss out on? In what moments of trial do we desert our Lord because our resolve has not been strengthened in prayer as it could be?


[1] James A. Harding, “Does God Answer Prayer?” Christian Leader and the Way 19 (September 19, 1905), 8.

Sacred Moments, Holy Ground

In Exodus 3 we encounter the famous story of God appearing to Moses for the purpose of recruiting him to liberate the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt. One of the most interesting aspects of the story is the way that God appears to Moses: in the form of a fiery bush that is not consumed by the flames that engulf it. As Moses draws near, God tells him to remove his sandals, because he is standing on holy ground. What made the ground holy? It was not that there was something inherently special about the bush. As a shepherd, Moses spent a lot of time leading his flock in the wilderness, and I think it’s possible that he had been by this same spot before, and had maybe even seen the same bush.

There was nothing particularly holy about it at those other times, but it was different now: it was a sacred moment…it was holy ground.

God’s presence made it that way.

We have had a rough time at our house for the last several weeks. Over the last several months, Kinsley’s seizures have gotten more difficult to control, which has led us to trying additional seizure medications and a special diet (you can read more about Kinsley’s story here and here). These efforts have not led to long-term improvement, and at the same time, Kinsley has been more withdrawn: she is often lethargic, sleeps a lot, and plays and interacts with us less. It is difficult to discern if this is caused by the many medications she is on, her seizures, some other factor, or some combination of all of the above.

Even more recently, Kinsley, who has always been a champ at taking her medicine, has become very stubborn about doing so: she will hold it in her mouth for a long time, sometimes eventually swallowing it, and at other times spitting it out. Obviously she does not get any benefit from seizure medicine that she refuses to take, so this aggravates the problem.

Last night as I was getting her ready for bed, I broke down. Kinsley again spit out one of her doses and I got incredibly frustrated and spoke to her in an exasperated tone. She just looked at me, with her beautiful, innocent, loving eyes. Immediately, my emotions changed, and I told her how truly and deeply sorry I was that she has to deal with all of the stuff and difficulties that she does, more than any little girl should ever have to.

And my nonverbal little princess, who has hardly communicated at all over the last several days, looked at me, put her hand on my chest, laid her head against me to snuggle, and reached out and held onto my arm.

What a powerful message she communicated! Even now, I can hardly write about it without becoming overwhelmed by emotion.

There we were, sitting on the floor by her bed, a place I have been countless times. But it was different now: it was a sacred moment…it was holy ground.

God’s presence made it that way: in His grace, God reached out to me and used my infirmed daughter as an instrument of healing.

P.S. We are going to Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock tomorrow to consult with a neurosurgeon about a procedure that could potentially help with Kinsley’s seizures. We would greatly appreciate your prayers as we continue to look for ways to help our little girl.

Creation and New Creation: Connections Between Genesis and Revelation

Introduction: The Bible as Literature

I recently preached a sermon in which I was discussing literary techniques that we see in Scripture. Sometimes people read the Bible in a flat, wooden sort of way, almost like they were reading a police report or something similar, where all you have is a list of facts and no sort of interpretation.

I think that is unfortunate, because the Bible is really a library of books all telling the same grand Story, and within that library, there are various types or genres of literature, and different genres of literature need to be read in certain ways if we are to understand and apply them faithfully. Much could be written both about different types of literature that we see in the Bible—wisdom literature, history, ancient biography, prophecy, poetry, apocalypse, epistles, etc.—and also different types of literary devices that biblical authors used to tell their stories in more powerful ways.*

Examining either of those in detail is beyond the scope of this post, but one literary technique that I do want to focus on here is what I call echoing, or the frequent practice of the authors of Scripture to refer back to an earlier event in the Bible by repeating certain language, or telling stories in similar ways, or comparing certain characters.

Creation and New Creation

One powerful example of echoing can be seen in a comparison between Genesis 1-3, which talks the Creation of the heavens and the earth, and Revelation 21-22, which talks about the New Creation of the New Heavens and New Earth. I shared this particular example in the sermon that I mentioned above, and considering the feedback I got from people who had never noticed these strong connections before, I thought it would be worth sharing here.

Simply put, in the description of the New Heavens and New Earth in Revelation 21-22, over and over again you have echoes of what occurred in the creation of the heavens and earth  Genesis 1-3:

  • In Genesis 1.4, there is a division of light and darkness; in Revelation 21.25, there is no night.
  • In Genesis 1.10, there is a division of land and sea; in Revelation 21.1, there is no more sea.
  • In Genesis 1.16, the rule of the sun and moon is described; in Revelation 21.23, we learn that there is no need for the sun or moon.
  • In Genesis 2.10, we are told about a river flowing out of the Garden of Eden; in Revelation 22.1, we are told about a river flowing from God’s throne.
  • Genesis 2.9 describes the Tree of Life in the midst of the garden; Revelation 22.2 describes the Tree of Life throughout the city.
  • Genesis 2.12 tells us that God and precious stones are in the land; Revelation 21.19 tells us that gold and precious stones are throughout.
  • God walks in the garden, among His creation as described in Genesis 3.8; Revelation 21.3 states that God’s dwelling will be with His people.
  • Following Adam and Eve’s sin, Genesis 3.17 states that the ground itself will be cursed; in the New Creation, there will be no more curse (Revelation 22.3).
  • As a result of sin and the curse, life in creation is characterized by pain and sorrow (Genesis 3.17-19); in the new creation, there will be no more sorrow, pain, or tears (Revelation 21.1-4).
  • Additionally, the sin results in death, described as a returning to the dust (Genesis 3.19); in the New Heavens and New Earth, there is no more death (Revelation 21.4).
  • Adam and Eve are banished from the garden, and cherubim guard the entrance to it (Genesis 3.24); angels actively invite into the city in Revelation 21.9.

There are actually many more points of comparison that could be made, but I think these are sufficient to prove the point: in Revelation, John is clearly describing the eternity that God’s people will spend with Him in the New Heavens and New Earth in language that echoes back to the story of creation and fall in Genesis 1-3.

In making these connections between Revelation and Genesis, John is making a significant and profound theological point: the creation that God created good but that was tainted by sin, He is going to redeem, recreate, and perfect!


*When I discuss Scripture as literature or as story, I am not suggesting that these characteristics somehow diminish its truth. I believe the Bible relates the truest Story of all, but it is still told as story, and employs a variety of literary techniques in the telling of it.

Reading in 2016

A quirk of my personality is that I like to keep track of certain things in my life, and for several years, one of those things is the list of books that I read each year. Somewhat surprising to me, people actually seem to enjoy reading the list of what I read, so I have been sharing that for several years.

Here was my reading list for 2016:

  1. A Slaughtered Lamb: Revelation and the Apocalyptic Response to Evil and Suffering, by Gregory Stevenson
  2. Scribbles and Sketches, No. 2, by Ruby Tobey
  3. Dogmatics in Outline, by Karl Barth*
  4. Fables Don’t Leave Footprints: Following a Trail of Archaeological Discoveries from Genesis to Jesus, by Jan Sessions
  5. The Book of Revelation, by Chris Koelle (Illustrator), Mark Arey (Trans), and Philemon Sevastiades (Trans.)
  6. A Missional Church: Assessing and Developing a Missional Culture in an Established Church, by Matthew Morine
  7. Just As I Am: Married, Divorced, and Remarried, by Wayne Dunaway
  8. Sustainable Youth Ministry: Why Most Youth Ministry Doesn’t Last And What Your Church Can Do About It, by Mark DeVries
  9. God of the Possible: A Biblical Introduction to the Open View of God, by Gregory A. Boyd
  10. Food & Faith: A Theology of Eating, by Norman Wirzba*
  11. The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age, by George A. Lindbeck*
  12. Pentecostal Theology and the Christian Spiritual Tradition, by Simon Chan*
  13. Four Views on the Historical Adam, by Denis O. Lamoureux, John H. Walton, C. John Collins, and William D. Barrick
  14. Change of Heart: Seven Money Truths to Help Teens from the Inside Out, by Joey Sparks
  15. #NoFilter, by Scott Utter
  16. Dead Wake: the Last Crossing of the Lusitania, by Erik Larson
  17. Learning the Art of Helping: Building Blocks and Techniques, by Mark E. Young
  18. Grace for the Afflicted: A Clinical and Biblical Perspective on Mental Illness, by Matthew S. Stanford
  19. Competency-Based Counseling: Building on Client Strengths, by Frank Thomas and Jack Cockburn
  20. The Practice of the Presence of God with Spiritual Maxims, by Brother Lawrence
  21. Where Is God When It Hurts? by Philip Yancey
  22. The Bombay Boomerang, by Franklin W. Dixon
  23. The 60 Second Scholar: 100 Insights that Illumine the Bible, by Michael S. Heiser
  24. Essay on Negro Slavery, by James O’Kelley
  25. Firestorm: Preventing and Overcoming Church Conflicts, by Ron Susek
  26. Preaching the Sermon on the Mount: The World It Imagines, edited by David Fleer and Dave Bland
  27. Discover Your Conflict Management Style, by Speed B. Leas
  28. Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times: Being Calm and Courageous No Matter What, by Peter L. Steinke
  29. The Gospel of Matthew, Volume 1, by William Barclay*
  30. The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict, by the Arbinger Institute
  31. Guiding People Through Conflict, by Ken Sande and Ted Kober
  32. Building Conflict Competent Teams, by Craig E. Runde and Tim A. Flanagan*
  33. Living Jesus: Doing What Jesus Says in the Sermon on the Mount, by Randy Harris
  34. Why I Value the Bible, by Kerry Holton
  35. The Beatitudes: Jesus’ Formula for Happiness, by Rubel Shelly
  36. Managing Church Conflict, by Hugh F. Halverstadt*
  37. 11 Youth Ministry Hacks So You Can Spend More Time on What Matters Most, by Kindred Youth Ministry
  38. The Listeners’ Bible ESV, read by Max McLean
  39. Don’t Quit on a Monday, by Jeff and Dale Jenkins
  40. How to Read the Bible For All It’s Worth, by Kerry Holton
  41. Christian Counter-Culture: The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, by John R.W. Stott
  42. Centered in God: The Trinity and Christian Spirituality, by Mark E. Powell
  43. Coming Clean: A Story of Faith, by Seth Haines
  44. Paul: Jewish Law and Early Christianity, edited by Margaret Warker
  45. Paper Covers Rock, by Jenny Hubbard
  46. A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens
  47. The Story, by Biblica
  48. Embracing Creation: God’s Forgotten Mission, by John Mark Hicks, Bobby Valentine, and Mark Wilson
  49. The Castle Corona, by Sharon Creech
  50. The Big Field, by Mike Lupica
  51. Advent and Christmas, by Thomas Merton

A few major observations before I talk about a couple of specific books:

  • My reading total increased slightly from 2015, when I read 48 books. I actually think I read less total, however, because I did not do as much reading of articles or long commentaries. Still, I did a lot of writing and editing this past year on various projects, and I know that cut into my reading time somewhat.
  • Looking back, I think there were more books that I read this past year that I really enjoyed than in 2015. My Top 10 books for the year are highlighted in bold above, but there are several in the list above that did not make that cut that I still enjoyed.

Some of my favorite books for 2016.

Of those Top 10 books, I would like to highlight a few (Note: I previously reviewed Centered in Godand hope to review 2-3 others in the near future):

  • Grace for the Afflicted: A Clinical and Biblical Perspective on Mental Illness, by Matthew S. Stanford: I read this book for a counseling class,  and it might have been the best book I read all year. It helped me consider mental illness from a more biblical and theological perspective, and also discussed various mental illnesses clinically as well. I really think this is a book that all Christians should read, as mental illness of various types is prevalent in our society and thus in the church as well, and traditionally, we have not done well showing grace and compassion to those who suffer from these illnesses that we generally struggle to see or understand.
  • Sustainable Youth Ministry, by Mark DeVries: I have been a youth minister for over a decade now, and I have tried to become a student of youth ministry in an effort become more effective at helping young people develop lifelong faith. With that in mind, I have read quite a few books on youth ministry over the years. Mark DeVries became one of my favorite Youth Ministry thinkers with his Family-Based Youth Ministry, but it is possible that I enjoyed Sustainable Youth Ministry even more. The basic idea of the book is simple: youth ministries should not be built upon the foundation of a specific person (the youth minister), but should rather be constructed in such a way that they are able to survive for the long term and not be dependent on one person. There is a lot in this book to digest and I am still determining how best to implement some of the ideas, but the key principle is outstanding.
  • The 60 Second Scholar: 100 Insights that Illumine the Bible, by Michael S. Heiser: I am not a huge fan of the title of this book, because it makes it sound shallow or not serious. It is not, however, as the material that Heiser presents represents solid biblical and theological scholarship. Honestly, I felt like much of what has taken me years of college and graduate school courses to learn was condensed in this one, very readable, volume.
  • I did a lot of study on the Sermon on the Mount this year, and read several books and commentaries as a part of that study. Preaching the Sermon on the Mount: The World It Imagines, edited by David Fleer and Dave Bland, was a good read that presented some excellent background information, and some challenging sermons based on the Sermon. But easily the best resource I read was Christian Counter-Culture: The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, by John R.W. Stott. Stott writes with penetrating insight and a gentle spirit, and with rare exceptions, I thought his interpretations of the SOTM were dead on.

So, that was my reading for 2016. For comparison’s sake if you are interested, you can see my reading lists from previous years:

I have a ton of books I have accumulated over the last few years that I am anxious to read, and for the first half of the year I do not have any graduate courses so I am hopeful that I will actually get to read some of them! I am looking forward to reading a diversity of works, and in particular, I am hoping to read more fiction this year.

What are some of the best books you read this past year?

*Books that I did not read in their entirety, but read significant portions of.

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