Beginning Again: a book review

We all experience times we are overwhelmed by life circumstance when the Spirit hovers over the very chaos of our lives.  Steve Wiens, pastor of Genesis Covenant Church in Maple Grove points us to a resource for beginning (and beginning again)–Genesis 1.  The seven days of creation tell more than how the world was created; these days are a resource through times of transition and difficult circumstance. In BeginningsWiens inhabits the text and offers it up as Midrashim. The creation account re-stories us, plays midwife to us, and invites us into the process of becoming (xxii-xxv).

978-1-63146-400-3Each of the seven days  speak of God’s work in our lives. On Day One, God’s Spirit hovers over the chaos and darkness we experience, bringing light and hope. On Day two, an expanse (space) is created between the waters above and below. This symbolically speaks of how God creates space in our life to grow something new. Day Three we experience the growth of seeds in freshly broken ground. Day Four (the seperation of day and night, Sun, Moon and Stars) we are able to see seasons. On Day Five we confront the monsters in the waters which threaten to strike down our new beginning. Day Six we press into God’s creative work in fashioning us, healing our past and propelling us into the future. Day Seven we learn the power of stopping and nurturing ceasing.

This is a unique book in that Wiens doesn’t address any of the creationist/evolutionist debates, and instead focuses on what the seven days of creation tell us about our life. Writers like John Walton (The Lost World of Genesis One, IVP ACademic 2009) tell us that ancient near east cosmologies are more concerned about how the universe is ordered than they are about origins. If this is true (and I believe it is), a book like this which focuses on what Genesis 1 tells us about our life and God’s creative and redemptive work are truer to the message of scripture than many literal readings of the creation account. The focus  here is less on what happened, so much of what it means.

Wiens also brings the message of Genesis down to a personal level. He share of difficult seasons in his own life (vocational struggles, infertility, problems with physical health, etc) and names the way God was at work in his life. His discussion of the seven days invites us to reflect on God’s work in our own life. I read this book in the midst of my own difficult season of life. Wiens’s words give me hope and a vision of where God may be at work in this stage of my journey. I give this four-and-a-half stars.

Note: I received this book from NavPress through the Tyndale Bloggers Network in exchange for my honest review.

Power Through Weakness (or Community, Rest & Mission): a book review

The Christian life is the empowered life.  In Christ we are set free to live life and face the challenges that come our way. But sometimes we feel powerless in the face of life’s obstacles. Kevin Harney, author of Reckless Faith and the Organic Outreach books has written a month-long daily devotional exploring how God’s presence empowers believers. Each week of Empowered By His Presence explores a different God-given source of strength which reveal God’s empowering presence. These include:

  • Suffering, loss & pain.
  • Community
  • Sabbath and rest
  • Mission

The daily devotional entires profiles a character from the Bible which explores their experience of God. Each week has a reading on Paul and Jesus, but the rest of the entries take you across the Old and New Testaments. At the end of each section in the book are a daily reading plan (which parallels the daily devotionals, suggestions for prayer, personal reflection questions and action steps. There is a discussion guide at the back of the book, designed to accompany a small-group DVD also available from Baker Books.

I really liked this book for a several reasons. First, this is a book about God’s empowering presence, but it isn’t esoteric or strange. Harney starts with the experience of grief and loss in Job, the persecution of Paul, Hannah’s sorrow, Joseph’s betrayal at the hands of his brothers, Peter leaving his nets and Jesus’ cry of dereliction.  Each of these people were met by God, but they came to experience his power through loss, grief and weakness. This isn’t a book about the ‘power of God’ that never enters into human suffering. Rather Harney posits that we meet God there!

The other sections are similarly thoughtful. Community is a Christian buzzword, but Harney draws attention to the ways we mediate Christ to one another. The chapter on the four friends and the paralytic is pure gold (chapter seven). He has good stuff to say about Sabbath and Mission as well.

Second, I think the format is perfect for a small group. I am suggesting it for a small group study at my church and will  likely be ordering the DVD.

Third, I appreciate the breadth of Biblical people profiled. Harney isn’t stuck in the New Testament or Old but gives us a nice cross-section of the communion of saints.

Finally, I loved how solid this is. Harney has keen pastoral insights and is judicious in his reading of the Bible. I don’t remember any specific passages where I felt like he fudged it

I give this book four stars and recommend it especially for use in small groups. It may also be read profitably as a small group resource. ★★★★☆

With Christ in the Tent of Meeting: a book review

Christ and the Desert Tabernacle by J.V. Fesko

One of the most difficult passages for ordinary readers of the Bible is the last pages of Exodus which focus on the building of the Tabernacle.  Up until that point, the Bible has been mostly stories and while some of the laws given seem strange to modern ears, we can readily make adjustments as to how it applies to our lives. But of what import are lists of building materials? Or Priestly vestments? What does the building of the Tabernacle and the mode of worship in the desert have to teach us in our contemporary Western context?

J. V. Fesko, the academic dean and professor of Systematic and Historical Theology at Westminster Seminary, has written a book which explores this portion of scripture, revealing how this wilderness tent and the practices associated with it pointed forward to the person and work of Christ.  Each of the chapters focuses on an aspect of the Tabernacle (the building, utensils, significance of various elements) and brings it into conversation with key New Testament passages which draw out their significance:

  • The building materials for the Tabernacle (Ex. 25:1-9; 35:4-9) were given by the people as a voluntary offering. Fesko uses this talk both about the quality of our giving and the foundation we use to build our final temple on (cf. 1 Cor 3:10-16).
  • The significance of the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25:10-22; 37:1-9) is seen in that it prefigures our final atonement (through Christ’s cross) and represents God’s presence with his people (points forward to the Incarnation).
  • The Table and the show bread (Exodus 25:23-30; 37:10-16) pointed to God’s provision for his people  and can be connected with Christ’s miraculous feeding of the five thousand, the Lord’s Prayer (our daily bread) and the Lord’s supper.
  • The Lampstand and Oil (Exodus 25:31-40; 27:20-21; 37:17-14) and the perpetual light it gave, points forward to Jesus the light of the world and the church.
  • The Tabernacle (Exodus 26: 1-37; 36:8-38) was the visble sign of God’s presence with Israel and the New Testament connects God’s indwelling presence with the incarnation, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and God’s abiding presence with His people.
  • The Altar and the courtyard (Exodus 27:1-9; 38:1-7, 9-20) represents the place where sacrifices were made on behalf of Israel and point forward to Christ’s ultimate sacrifice on our behalf.
  • The Priests garments (Exodus 28:1-43; 39:1-31) were endued with symbolic significance and pointed forward to Christ, our high priest. Likewise the consecration of the priests (Exodus 29:1-46) also would point forward to Christ’s ultimate expiation of our sin.
  • The Census Tax (Exodus 30:11-16) reminded Israel of their redemption from Egypt. Fesko reminds us that when we take ‘a census’ of our own life, we should think of our unworthiness and Christ’s redemption of us.
  • The Bronze Basin (Exodus 30:17-21; 38:8) points forward to baptism and the cleansing work of the Holy Spirit.
  • Oholiab and Bezalel (Exodus 31:1-11) were craftsmen gifted by the Holy Spirit for the building of his tabernacle. Fesko uses  their example to speak of  the future outpouring of Spiritual gifts to the church for service of the church and world, and God’s continual indwelling presence.
  • Finally, Fesko ends his reflection on the temple with a chapter on Sabbath (Exodus: 31:12018) and he reflects on the way in which trusting in Jesus is our entry into the Sabbath rest of God.

Fesko uses the New Testament to shed light on the Old. He takes his cue from Augustine who once wrote, ‘what is hidden in the Old is revealed in the New, and what is revealed in the New is hidden in the Old (133).’  Fesko reads the section on the Tabernacle through a Christocentric theological grid.  I appreciate this perspective and it made me think of the first time I read Hebrews after a fresh reading of the Pentateuch.  All scripture is God breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17). When Paul wrote those words, the New Testament was not canonized yet and the Bible of the early church was the Old Testament. Thus we need to learn to wrestle with passages like the building of the tabernacle (or genealogies) when we encounter them in our Bibles.

Unfortunately there are no footnotes and there is no bibliography in the book. Many readers will not miss them, but I like to know where an author has gleaned some of their ideas and who they are conversant with it. Fesko is not the first (or the last) to traverse this ground, and I want to know who he’s read. But these chapters first had life as sermons which Fesko preached at Geneva Orthodox Presbyterian Church (Woodstock, Georgia)  when Fesko was pastor there.  So I am left guessing which commentators and scholars Fesko consulted in his pastor’s study.  I think Fesko has a lot of valuable things to say and makes sound theological judgments; however he offers few clues for those who would desire to dig deeper into the topic.

But Fesko wrote this book for those who find the treatment  of the Tabernacle  in Exodus boring and inaccessible. I think he does a great job and makes some good suggestions for how lay Christians can use this portion of scripture to deepen their appreciation for all that God in Christ has done on our behalf.   If  the tabernacle has always mystified you, Fesko will show you how to appropriate these texts in ways  that are worshipful and worthy of deeper reflection.

Thank you to Cross Focused Reviews and EP Books for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for this review.

Easter week 3/ Earth Day 2012 poems

Having spent yesterday weeding and trying to ready a garden plot, for this years vegetables. I spent a good part of yesterday with my hands in the dirt, hunched over and seeing how much the soil teems with life–beetles and spiders, worms and slugs and the odd gardner snake warming herself on a stone. In the northern hemisphere Easter coincides with new life and growth. So I thought it appropriate to share some poems which reflect on this seasonal rising. Below are two poems taken from Luci Shaw’s The Green Earth: Poems of Creation and one poem from Wendell Berry’s A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997.

From Luci Shaw

Rising: the Underground Tree
(Cornus sanguinea and cornus candensis)

One spring in Tennessee I walked a tunnel
under dogwood trees, noting the petals
(in fours like crosses) and at each tender apex
four russet stains dark as Christ’s wounds.
I knew that with the year the dogwood flower heads
would ripen into berry clusters bright as drops of gore.

Last week, a double-click on Botony
startled me with the kinship of those trees
and bunchberries, whose densely crowded mat
carpets the deep woods around my valley cabin.
Only their flowers — those white quartets of petals —
suggest the blood relationship. Since then I see

the miniature leaves and buds as tips of trees
burgeoning underground, knotted roots like limbs
pushing up to light through rocks and humus.
The pure cross-flowers at my feet redeem
their long, dark burial in the ground, show how even
a weight of stony soil cannot keep Easter at bay.

—-

Stigmata

The tree, a beech, casts the
melancholy of shadow across the road.
It seems to bear the enormous weight of
the sky on the tips of its branches.
The smooth trunk invites me to finger

five bruise-dark holes where rot
was cut away. Years have pursed
the thickened skin around the scars
into the mouths that sigh,
“Wounded. Wounded.”

As the hurt feels me out,
wind possesses the tree and
overheard a hush comes; not that
all other sounds die, but half a million
beech leaves rub together in the air,

washing out bird calls, footsteps,
filling my ears with the memory of
old pain and a song of cells in the sun.
“Hush,” they say with green lips.
“Hush.”

From Wendell Berry

Another Sunday morning comes
And I resume the standing Sabbath
Of the woods, where the finest blooms
Of time return, and where no path

Is worm, but wears its maker out.
At last, and disappears in leaves
Of fallen seasons. The tracked rut
Fills and levels; here nothing grieves

In the risen season. Past life
Lives in the living. Resurrection
Is in the way each maple leaf
Commemorates its kind, by connection

Outreaching understanding. What rises
Rises into comprehension
And beyond. Even falling raises
In praise of light. What is begun

Is unfinished. And so the mind
That comes to rest among the bluebells
Comes to rest in motion, refined
By alteration. The bud swells,

Opens, makes seed, falls, is well,
Being becoming what is:
Miracle and parable
Exceeding thought, because it is

Immeasurable; the understander
Encloses understanding, thus
Darkens the light. We can stand under
No ray that is not dimmed by us.

The mind that comes to rest is tended
In ways that it cannot intend:
Is borne, preserved, and comprehended
By what it cannot comprehend.

Your Sabbath, Lord thus keeps us by
Your will, not ours. And it is fit
Our only choice should be to die
Into that rest, or out of it.