Review: The Fever Code

The Fever Code is a prequel to The Maze Runner trilogy.  It begins a few years after The Kill Order and leaves off just before the first book.

Where The Maze Runner trilogy begins with a mystery of how the characters got to where they are, this book has little of that mystery.  It begins with some of the same characters and their preparation for the maze.

The book begins with Thomas as a kid living with his parents in the basement of some house, trying to survive the end of the world.  W.I.C.K.E.D. came to his house to steal his sister for their experiments and after a they accidentally kill his parents they decide to take him in too, hoping he would be useful in finding a cure.

Thomas has years of private schooling training him for his participation in the maze.  He has teachers who are some of the best minds of the world, working with him to sharpen his mind and prepare him for the future.  He goes through regular physical examinations too to see how his body is responding the the deadly disease that is ravaging the world.

As they begin to gain each others trust they offer to let him help out on a big project that will help them find the cure.  He begins to help them design and build the maze.

After years of training alone with his only contacts being the teachers and doctors working on him he’s eventually able to meet some of the kids in the compound and make friends.  Coincidentally, all the friends he makes are the same ones he makes friends with in the maze…

Thomas is introduced to the infected hordes for the first time in a way that is designed to scare him and helps motivate him to cooperate with W.I.C.K.E.D.  After a run in with them he puts a lot more effort into working within the designed program, but still trying to find the best path for him and his friends.

This is the fifth book of the series (the second prequel) and it’s one of Dashner’s better works.  I enjoyed it cover to cover.  The book is full of twists and turns and cunning ploys.  If you’re a fan of the series, I recommend reading this book.  It develops some back story to characters that only had minor roles in the previous books.

Overall I give this book 5 stars.

Up NextThe Benedict Option by Rod Dreher

Advertisements

Prioritize Jesus: Part 4 – Worship

Prioritizing Jesus matters for every part of your life. Worship calls Jesus great!

This is part four of a five part series on prioritizing Jesus in our lives. If you haven’t read the first three articles, go do that now!

Prioritize Jesus: Part 1 Small Decisions
Prioritize Jesus: Part 2 Biblical Meditation
Prioritize Jesus: Part 3 Prayer

As a quick refresher, we started this series off talking about why we need to work on our walk with God now if we want to be the people God has called us to be. In doing so, we prepare ourselves for the trials and tribulations that will inevitably hit at some point in our lives. Our first step needs to be meditating on God’s word. Meditating on truth begins to focus our minds on heavenly things and trains ourselves to respond rightly in everyday interactions. When we properly set our focus on daily meditating on God’s word, we should find that prayer comes naturally to us. Prayer helps cement our hearts in right emotion with God. Feeling sorrow for what pains God’s heart, and joy for what makes Him happy.

When our minds are set on God and our hearts are reaching out in communication to Him, we find that our soul can’t help but get involved in worship. This brings us to today’s topic: Personal Worship.

Personal Worship

Worship, by definition, means to give God the glory and honor due Him. We often think about praise and worship as being the time of singing on Sunday mornings. Singing is certainly a part of worship, but worship is much more than that. Worship should be a part of our every action. When we raise our kids, we should be teaching them to honor and glorify God through our actions and words. We should teach them the value of kindness and patience through how we live life in community with them. When we work our daily jobs, we should do so in a way that glorifies and lifts up our Father. We should not be seeking the praise of man or working solely to get a better job; instead, we should be seeking the best way to glorify God in whatever we do. That may mean turning down promotions or declining to go on business trips so that we can serve God by serving our spouse and our kids. Whole books can be written and have been written on how best to serve God in our everyday lives, but today we’re going to focus on worship via the act of singing.

Singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs is a sign that we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18-21). This admonishment comes directly after Paul exhorts the Ephesians to be wise in their actions and with their time. Knowing that wisdom comes from God (Prov. 2:6-8), we can see that singing to the Lord is often a sign of one who is wise and full of the Holy Spirit. Singing then goes hand in hand with the fruits of the Spirit. Those that are experiencing the peace and joy the Spirit provides will find it much easier to worship. Singing should be such a part of our lives that our lives look like a musical. Ok, maybe that’s an extreme, but singing should be a bigger part of our lives than it often is.

We are commanded to use songs to lift each other up (1 Cor. 14:26). Here Paul tells us that it is part of an orderly gathering of the body of Christ to encourage one another through song. Song has the power to amplify our moods (just look at the Psalms and you’ll see how so many Psalmist began with despair and ended with joy and elation). I’m sure you’ve experienced it. When you’re happy and an upbeat song comes on, it resonates with your soul and increases your joy. But when a spirit of depression has overtaken you, sad songs cause the negative feelings to intensify. We see this too when we sing to children. Our songs have a natural lilt to them that instantly cause our children to laugh, dance, and sing. Here we see that there is wisdom in encouraging fellow believers through songs that are born out of our own personal worship. If the Spirit moves our hearts to sing a new song, there is good reason to write those words down. They may only be used by you in your private worship to God or they may find a place in corporate worship where we can all be blessed by them.

We are encouraged to use songs to teach and admonish one another (Col. 3:12-16 & Eph. 5:18-21). Paul commands us to put on compassion, humility, kindness, meekness, patience, and love as a response to the sin that we are to put death. Singing then is a continuation of how we are to put our sin to death. Singing helps us put to death our own sins while we also encourage others to do the same. We put our sins to death when we sing songs of contemplation and repentance. We remind ourselves of the pain we’ve caused our Lord and encourage ourselves to no longer act against Him. It comes from a heart of thankfulness to the Lord for all that He has worked out through the Gospel in our lives.

We are also commanded to sing with more than just our voice (1 Cor. 14:15). Paul says we should sing with our spirit and our minds. And that makes sense doesn’t it? To sing in word only is to give lip service, but not much more. To sing with your spirit and mind is to first reflect and meditate on the words of Christ (Col. 3:16) and then to pour out love to God with all your heart, mind, and soul. By giving God our everything in song, we properly place Him in adoration, praise, and worship over ourselves. We make Him the priority the greatest commandment demands.

The great psalm writer, David, shows through his psalms of repentance that prayer is what brought him to the point of praise and worship. In Psalm 32, we see David anguishing over his sin “my bones wasted away… for day and night your hand was against me.” When he finally comes to God and admits his sin he then cries out that we should offer prayer to God because He is a refuge and His steadfast love surrounds believers. In The Power in Praising God, Spurgeon wrote: “It was almost always the case that David warmed himself into praise by the fire of prayer” (pg. 59). Praise and worship come naturally from a heart that talks to God. By communing with our Lord we remind ourselves of His overwhelming grandeur and all our worries and fears fade away. When faced with an all-loving and all-powerful God, no fear can overtake our soul. When we are in our best communion with our Heavenly Father our very bones cry out to sing His praise.

These commands to give God praise and worship may feel like they are only calls for corporate worship (that’s certainly a part of their purpose) but they are also calls to private worship. Private worship is something to strive for. It is that joyous time where we are so filled in awe of our God, that warm emotions flood our bodies and our lips can’t help but squeak out praise to our Creator. It’s those blessed moments, where all the troubles of this world fade into the background as our minds focus in on the One in whom we live, move, and have our being.

No corporate worship can happen unless private worship happens first. Think of it, what song of praise to God was written and developed in the midst of a worship service? Our songs come to us from men and women who have studied God’s word and been moved by the truths they found there. The very songs we sing are born out of personal worship.

When our hearts are not giving God his proper daily adoration, they will not suddenly be moved to true and deep worship in a corporate setting. Private worship is the foundation to the house of corporate worship. Without it the building sits on the brink of disaster, ready to fall down at the slightest rumble of thunder. When we don’t give God His all privately, we chip away at the foundation of our relationship with Him. We take a few steps away from being the spiritual heroes He’s called us to be and a few steps toward becoming luke-warm Christians.

Whole-hearted corporate worship does not spring from half-hearted private praise. Corporate worship will be at its best when God’s people come before him privately first. They must first have been moved through meditation on God’s word and seeking Him in prayer in order to be moved to their deepest levels in corporate worship. Sure, we can praise God and meditate on the words of the songs without private worship, but if the truths in the song are new, our hearts and minds will be unable to fully process what we’re singing. We will miss out on some of the blessings of corporate worship.


Photo by Jon Tyson / Unsplash

Common Objections to Worship

So why don’t we sing to God? What is it that causes us to disobey God’s command?

  1. We fear our voice lacks talent and quality. Our talent or ability to sing is irrelevant to whether we do or don’t praise God. It is prideful to withhold our songs from God, because we’re more worried about how we’ll appear to those around us. God doesn’t even care what your voice sounds like. Spurgeon again, “Do you think that God has ears like those of a man, ears that can be tickled with sweet sounds? … The music that delights Him is the love of a true heart, the prayer of a seeking spirit. He has better music than all your organs and drums can ever bring Him” (ibid pg. 137). Don’t let your pride keep you from singing to our God Most High. Your opinion of your voice and the opinions of those around you are irrelevant. We are commanded to sing, and God listens to the quality of your heart, not your skill with your vocal cords.
  2. We don’t feel like singing. Generally speaking, we love to sing. We sing in the car, we sing in the shower, and many even sing karaoke. But despite our normal passion for singing, we sometimes just don’t feel like it. There are a thousand reasons we may not feel like singing, whether it’s a cold, a bad attitude, or we don’t like the song. When those times come, we should ask ourselves if we are truly seeking God as the Bible commands. When David reached out to God after his sin with Bathsheba, his prayer started off with him mourning and despairing over his sin. But as he progresses with his prayer he begins to desire praise saying, “Open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise” (Psalm 51). David’s meditation and prayer put his heart back in right relation to God and allowed him to worship. When you find yourself not singing on Sunday morning, do you challenge yourself to honor God or do you check your watch?
  3. We have lost the ability. There are many physical ailments that can cause us to lose our ability to sing temporarily or permanently. If you are experiencing something along these lines, please see your doctor to see how you can improve your malady. You may have to take a break from singing for time as your voice recovers. Most of the time, your physical ailment shouldn’t stop you from worshipping, because the Scripture calls us to make melody in our hearts. If our voice has gone away, we are still capable of singing in our hearts. Don’t lament your missing voice and thereby make a priority of the wrong thing. Worship is not about how good you sound or if you make sound, it’s about your heart. If your ability to sing is lost on a more permanent level, I might suggest you learn sign language. My ability to sing seems to be diminishing; I am sometimes reduced to sitting and coughing. I’ve learned some sign language so that I can continue to sing even why my voice refuses to cooperate. The joy I feel in giving God His due in another language is hard to put words to. Losing your voice is a tough thing to endure, but praise God! It doesn’t have to be the end of worship!
  4. We don’t feel thankful. When we don’t have the right attitude toward God, it is hard to sing His praises. When this happens, we need to do what David did, and pour over Scripture and pray to the Lord. We shouldn’t look to any random Scriptures, but to ones relevant to our current circumstance. If we’ve been meditating on His word, we should be able to find those sections quickly and meditate on them anew. As we meditate, we can pray Scripture back to God and let our hearts be strengthened in the power of truth.

This list is not meant to be exhaustive, there are many more reasons we disobey the command to worship such as being distracted, showing up late to church, not enjoying the style of worship, et cetera. My hope is that this list starts your mental gears spinning so that you can examine your own heart and mind and see where you need to grow in your worship. Praising God is such an important (and often neglected) part of the Christian walk. Spurgeon put the importance of it like this: “If I did not praise and bless Christ my Lord, I would deserve to have my tongue torn out of my mouth… for I am utterly in debt to the mercy of God—head over heels in debt to the infinite love and boundless compassion. Are you not the same?” (pg. 23). If we fail to praise God the way he deserves, we deserve no part of Him. Truly, if the fields and steams and rocks yearn to cry out to him, and we do not, we deserve to have our tongues ripped from our mouths. If however, our hearts are elated with the weightless joy of a deep yearning to meet with the God of all compassion, the God of forgiveness and mercy, then our tongues should ever dance in our mouths and our hearts flutter in our chests as we pour forth praise.

In your efforts to praise God as He deserves, I beg you to incorporate personal, private worship. This may seem a challenge as most of us haven’t thought to add that to our daily routine, but it’s worth it and it will change you in ways you can’t yet imagine. There are many ways to incorporate this into your routine. When you take a 15 minute break at work, go for a walk while playing Christ centered music so that you can sing to your God or redeem your commute by playing worship music. How you incorporate this in your own life is up to you; what’s important is that you do.

Have any creative ideas for how to make worship part of your life? Let us know below!

Next week we’ll talk about why we need accountability to help us prioritize Jesus.

This article was originally published on Celebrate Marriage on 5-24-2018.

Review: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Weird.  Silly.  Odd.  Full of logical contradictions.  This is the delightful universe created by Douglas Adams.

Hitchhiker’s Guide begins with the premise that mankind loves digital watches.  From there the story begins to follow one man in particular, Arthur Dent, who is completely oblivious to the fact that his house is about to be demolished to make room for a freeway bypass.  Which is ironic, because his planet is about to be demolished to make way for an interstellar bypass.

It turns out one of his friends is a writer for the infamous book, The Hithhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but has been stuck on earth for fifteen years.  Now that a ship is coming through to demolish the planet, he has a way to get off and he decides to take Arthur with him.  This begins Arthur’s foray into a universe much bigger than himself, but he has trouble enjoying it because, as you can imagine, it is a bit upsetting to learn you’re the sole survivor of your planet.  In fact, it is rather off-putting.

You’ll be delighted to watch Arthur move through the universe completely incredulous to his rescue and unaware of most of the events unfolding around him.

This book is a classic.  It was published in 1979, has been made into a rather delightful movie, a tv show, and is even available as an audio book (narrated by Stephen Fry).  It is the source of many jokes in our culture, including the number 42 being the answer to life meaning and everything.

For being an amusing, strange, and a humor filled adventure I give this book 4 stars.

Up NextThe Fever Code by James Dashner

Prioritizing Jesus: Part 3 – Prayer

This is part three of a five part series on prioritizing Jesus. We started this series off talking about how being successful at marriage (and life) requires that God be the priority of your life. And then we talked about how meditating on God’s Word evokes positive change in our lives. If you haven’t caught up on these posts yet, do so now:

Prioritize Jesus: Part 1 Small Decisions
Prioritize Jesus: Part 2 Biblical Meditation

Putting God first starts with consistent Biblical meditation and acting on the truths you learn. Hopefully you’ve begun to practice a lifestyle of meditation since then. (If not, I hope you’ll start today.) As you center your life more on meditating on God’s word, hopefully you’ll find that prayer comes more naturally. Prayer is a natural response from a heart that has been meditating on God.

A man in a leather jacket looking down while sitting on a ledge in a city
Photo by whoislimos / Unsplash

Devotion to Prayer

Prayer is natural for the disciple who has been meditating on truth. Think about it like this, when you’ve been most enamored with your spouse, did you bottle up that emotion and hide it away or did you express it through words and deeds? I bet you expressed it. If you hadn’t, you’d still be single. We express our love and admiration to our lover because their good qualities overwhelm us. Given that truth, why do we sometimes think it is possible to meditate on God and not pray to Him? If we are incapable of bottling up our emotions when we meditate on our imperfect spouse, it follows that we should be even more incapable of bottling up our emotions about an infinitely perfect God. It is pure laziness and fear that creates this kind of blasé attitude toward prayer. Our prayer life should be vibrant and powerful, because our heart ought to be stirred up by the truths we meditate on.

The Bible tells us that prayer should be a priority. We are to pray continually, giving thanks for all things (1 Thes. 5:16-18). Is that something you do? Do you thank God that your co-workers are difficult, knowing that in this difficulty you are being purified? Do you praise God when your kids are disobedient and needy because it gives you a chance to demonstrate the love and patience of God? Do you thank God for the fights you have with your spouse, knowing that they are revealing your heart idols and allowing you to clear out the temple of your heart?

Prayer is our means of communication with God; it is one of the ways we get to dwell in the presence of God where we can experience the fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11). We need to recognize that God brings difficulty into our lives because he wishes to grow us into spiritual heroes. He desires for us to put Him first in our lives so that we can laugh at the days to come (Prov. 31:25). When we diligently meditate on God’s word and make changes to our lives, we begin to develop the fruits of the spirit. We learn to love others and our heart becomes full of joy. We learn patience as we wait for God to reveal truth; kindness becomes our ally and gentleness our friend. When we pray to God to make us more like Him, he brings calamity and hardship. He brings difficult neighbors, heart revealing fights, and situations that force us to grow in the fruits of the Spirit. If we are willing to take the opportunities He gives us, we can grow quickly into the person He wants us to be. In all of these situations, we’re called to pray and thank God for the gifts He’s bestowed upon us.

Praying continually is our duty, but there are many reasons we don’t pray. We find it boring, we don’t see our prayer answered in the way we want, we’re trapped in sin, or we’re lazy. I get it, we all at one point or another find prayer to be a challenge. I’ve tried to kick start my prayer life a million times during my short life, and it never works. Not long after I start a routine of praying I get busy, bored, or I lose my passion. Those are hard things to admit, but they are true. There are times in my life where prayer has felt like a burden more than it has felt like a help. I know you’ve felt it too. It’s hard to keep prayer in proper focus. But whatever it is that holds us back from prayer, if we’re honest about it, is sin. When we’re in sin, we need truth preached to us (either through meditating on it or from a loving friend calling us out), and we need prayer.

This year, I’ve been spending a lot more time in meditation. And I’ve found that my heart naturally desires to talk to God about all the wonderful things I’m learning. As I meditate on Jonah and how he made a shipwreck of his life trying to run from God, my heart cries out “God don’t let me be so hard hearted and foolish.” When I see the pure, genuine example of repentance the Ninevites display toward God, my heart screams “God, let me be that vulnerable to Your words!” And when I see the Wonderful Counselor, counsel an angry, racist Jonah who didn’t get his way, my heart weeps, “Let me be as wise with my words as You are Lord.” My heart is bursting at the seams with short prayers to a Divine God. The very pores of my being seep with tiny prayers of gratitude to a Gracious God. There isn’t a single attribute of our Holy God, that when meditated upon won’t break our stone hearts and have our new hearts of flesh dancing before the throne. There isn’t a single attribute of God that doesn’t require us to shed our selfish nature and put God and others ahead of ourselves. Meditating on the purity of God will mend our brokenness and comfort us in our loneliness.

When we don’t Pray

When we don’t meditate on Scripture and we don’t act rightly as we are commanded to do, our prayer goes unanswered (Psalm 66:18) and becomes an abomination to the Lord (Prov. 28:9). God wants us to act righteously so deeply that he turns away his ears when we act unfaithfully to him. What does it look like to not act rightly? To harbor sin in your heart, to lack self control (1 Pet. 4:7), and to act in sin (1 Pet. 3:12). Each of these are ways in which we prevent ourselves from having true communion with God. When we forsake God for the things of this world by breaking one of God’s commandments we neglect the high calling God as put on our lives and put up a barrier between us and Him. God makes this even more personal for us as married men and women. He tells us that treating our spouses with the respect and love they deserve is a key factor if our prayers are heard by God (1 Pet. 3:7).

If our goal is to improve our marriage by becoming the spiritual heroes we’re called to be, then we need to be making daily decisions to follow God’s call to pray. It’s important to realize that prayer is meant to be a benefit of an obedient life, and it’s a privilege (what other religion allow you to speak directly to God?). As we just discussed, the Bible tells us that God disciplines those whose actions are not godly by hindering the effectiveness of their prayer. If this is how God replies to us when we have turned away from His counsel, then we know He puts a high value on it. He wants prayer to be a priority.

God desires prayer to be a means for Him to pour out blessings on our lives and for us to grow and improve as His children. When we ignore the spiritual discipline of prayer, we invite His Fatherly discipline on our lives and we hurt those around us by slowly becoming more and more like the world. Paul Tripp, in his book What did you Expect? explains that our marriages do not blow up overnight. “Marriages don’t typically change with an explosion. Marriages typically change by the process of erosion” (pg. 254). The process of erosion, he goes on to explain, happens as we give up on prayer and continue to make small decisions to be more selfish. Does this process sound familiar? It’s the exact same process that we are aiming to use to become the spiritual heroes God wants us to be, but in reverse. It is the process that turns us into self-centered, sinful people.

If we want our marriages to grow and be fruitful or if we want to save our marriages from the brink of disaster, we must pray. Paul Tripp again: “If it is true that all the horizontal skirmishes a husband and wife have are rooted in a deeper war for the heart, and if it is true that a marriage must be fixed vertically before it is ever fixed horizontally, then the place where you win the war for marriage is on your knees” (pg. 249). When we don’t pray, we set our feet on a path that leads us away from God.

Prayer is not some optional thing we can choose to add to our lives when it suits us; prayer is critical to our spiritual health. It’s the process of communication between us and our triune God. It’s the process by which God fixes the biggest problem in our lives and in our marriages, us. God fixes you through your prayers. God fixes me through my prayer. And that is vital.

When we do Pray

No matter what is said about it, prayer often feels like an insurmountable hurdle in our lives. To help bulldoze that mountain into an ant hill, here are a few things that prayer reminds us of as God works our hearts over.

  1. Prayer reminds us that we need God. We are not self sufficient. We are broken people living in a broken world with a broken spouse in a broken marriage. It is impossible for fallen man to repair the brokenness in and around us. Thankfully God is here, whole and complete, able to help us in our neediness. We need God in the big moments and in the big issues of life. We also need God in the every day small things of life. “Give us this day our daily bread.” The implication of this famous line of the Lord’s prayer is that we cannot receive our daily food unless God has apportioned it for us. We need Him to fix us and to fix our marriages, but more than that we need prayer to remind us that we need Him everyday in everything.
  2. Prayer reminds us that we need forgiveness. We cannot come into contact with our perfect God without being reminded that we fail to live up to His standard. We have broken His commandments. We do not love the Lord with all of our heart, soul, and mind and we do not love our spouse as ourselves. Not a day goes by that I don’t, at some point, prioritize my wants and needs above my spouse’s. I try to remember to serve her with the same thoughtfulness I serve myself, but serving myself is easy. It’s innate. I’m in tune with my body and what it wants and needs. I have not learned that same level of care and attentiveness when it comes to my spouse, and so I naturally and sinfully neglect her wants and needs. To interact with God in prayer, we are reminded that we are selfish. We are reminded that we are broken and need forgiveness.
  3. Prayer keeps us humble. When we are reminded that we need God to provide for us our daily needs and that we are so wicked we killed Jesus, it is impossible to become prideful. And so we call out: “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!” (Psalm 51:2)
  4. Prayers reminds us that this is not our home. This world will beat you up and leave you to die. If you don’t have Jesus, there is no hope for anything better. But for those that know Jesus as their intimate friend, there is infinite hope. Our God, the Carpenter, is in the business of building us a home perfectly suited to our needs. We have eternal hope in the world to come and life everlasting!

All of these things serve to affix our hearts and minds on God, perfecting us that we might testify by our actions to our spouse, friends, co-workers, and family that God is good and God is real. By making prayer a priority in our lives, we begin to become the prayer warriors we so admire. When we make prayer a priority, we prepare our hearts for how we should respond when difficulty comes our way.

It is my hope that you would put God first in your mind. That your thoughts would be so enraptured by who He is that you can’t help but to be constantly praying “Thank you Lord! Make me more like you!”

Next week we’ll talk about the importance of prioritizing worship in our lives.

This article was originally published on Celebrate Marriage on 5-19-2018.

Review: Guns, Germs, and Steel

Screen Shot 2018-04-14 at 8.38.14 PM.png

Jared Diamond’s book Guns, Germs, and Steel provides an in depth analysis of how the Western World rose to the top and all other cultures failed to keep up.  He argues that this rise of the West is due to three factors summed as: Guns, Germs, and Steel.

This book starts out exploring prehistory (the time before records) as in depth as is possible.  From prehistory we know that most societies were based on the hunter/gatherer model.  People would find their food in the wild by hunting down animals and gathering crops.  Some hunter/gatherer societies learned about the best ways to replant crops to better cultivate food sources, but replanting alone doesn’t elevate them to what we think of as farmers.  By definition farmers are those that cultivate crops and animals at their home.  Hunters/gatherers may have intricate systems for cultivating crops and animals, but if they travel out to do it, they’re still considered hunters and gatherers.

When the first farmers began to develop, they had some big hurdles to overcome.  Hunters and gatherers by their mobile nature, do not have to worry about reinfecting each other through their diseased excrement or that of their pets.  But when they settled down and became farmers, they spent every day in the same area that they and their animals had used for waste.  By this continual proximity, animal based diseases were able to transfer to mankind and mankind was able to more quickly infect each other.

This process gave rise to many of the more violent diseases we know of, but overtime immunities and resistances were developed among the farming societies against the diseases.  As we know, immunities and resistances do not kill of the infectious diseases.  Instead, the cured become carriers of diseases when they meet other nations.  This is how the colonizers wiped out large potions of the Americas.  It has been reported in old journals that the colonizers found large abandoned cities… cities that had just recently broken out in diseases that had traveled faster than the colonizers could explore.

The development of agriculture developed mainly along the east west directions as it took a lot of time to climatize plants to move into a different climate zone.  This meant that the people of Eurasia had an easier time sharing new crops in early history as they had a much longer east west land mass with which to work.  Places like the Americas with a narrow east west and New Guinea with a tumultuous landscape had a difficult time expanding crop production.

The next point that Diamond makes is that technology (for the most part) developed after farming.  When you live on the move everyday you have little use for anything that’s too big to carry with you, so you don’t develop anything more substantial than hand tools and weapons.  But when you have settled down your ability and use for tools grows exponentially.  This is what gave rise to the weapons and armor.  The better the weapons and armor, the more easily you can slay your enemies.  This is how the Spanish took down thousands of Mayans in South America with only a dozen men.  Spanish armor was metal and took little damage from Mayan clubs and knives.  Spanish weapons were guns and made short work of the lightly clothed Mayans.

The simplified summation of his argument is this: agriculture provides the basis for lasting growth and expansion of a society.

Diamond also argues that hunters and gatherers are on the whole more intelligent than farming societies.  As their daily survival hangs literally on their ability to think, they are more active with their minds and quicker to understand things.  Farming societies often spend much of their time with passive entertainment like tv and movies and end up using their minds far less.  It has been shown that hunters and gatherers have an encyclopedic knowledge of all beneficial plants in their area, but we barely know the different names of edible mushrooms.

Jared makes arguments about the benefits of writing, animal domestication, and other beneficial technological advancements that have helped put Western society above the rest.  But all of the developments hand on the development of agriculture.  In agriculture we have the basis for the rise and fall of nations.

This book is good and showing how many societies have risen and fallen and describing why most of it happened.  Some of his arguments hand on presuppositions that he does not defend, but by and large he does a good job of explaining his positions. One of those is a story he tells about one tribe wiping out another.  In the story, both tribes descend from another tribe, but have been separated by the sea.  One tribe develops into a warlike race, intent on wiping out every last person in opposing tribes.  The other develops into a peace loving tribe.  The work out all of their differences via peaceful conversation.  When the two meet up after several centuries, the warlike race kills every last person in the other tribe.  He chalks this up to deterministic evolution, but there are a variety of other possible explanations that he ignores.  Perhaps the two tribes separated because one brother wanted to pursue peace and the other war.  This is not necessarily an evolutionary outcome.  There are many reason why they could have developed so differently.

The biggest problem I have with this book is it’s too long.  By halfway through the book his position was clear and there was little added to it in the second half.  It made it quite monotonous and hard for me to finish reading.

Overall I give this book 3 stars.

Up Next: The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Prioritize Jesus: Part 2 – Biblical Meditation

This is part two of a five part series. If you haven’t read the intro into why we need to prioritize Jesus, go do so now:

Prioritize Jesus: Part 1 Small Decisions

Consistent Biblical Meditation

Biblical Meditation is a intensive thing. It’s about focusing on the words of our Lord and determining why He said them and how they should effect the way we live our lives. It’s not a matter of just reading Scripture, too many of us too often do that just to check a box. Then at the end we hear our child crying “I need to potty” or our spouse saying, “We’re going to be late, we should have left fifteen minutes ago!” In a few seconds time, we’ve already forgotten everything we read on patience, compassion, and a having a loving servant’s heart. All the truth we read evaporates in a puff of smoke from the busyness of a very full life. The Bible calls us to something deeper, something harder, something more impactful than just reading the Bible, it calls us to Biblical meditation.

Because we often ask each other how our Bible reading has been going we tend to feel like the goal is Bible reading. But that’s not the primary focus of the Biblical command. The Psalmist said blessed is the man who “delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” (Psalms 1:2). This is the same sentiment commanded to Joshua when he took up leadership of Israel. God told him: “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it” (Joshua 1:8). Search the Scriptures and you’ll find over and over we’re called to meditate on God’s very words.

So, what does it mean to meditate? We’re not talking about eastern or new age meditation here. There’s no emptying of your mind. Biblical meditation is not an emptying, but a filling up. Joshua wasn’t called to not think as he led God’s people, he was called to fill his mind with God’s words. He was called to think about them constantly and build every aspect of his leadership upon the firm foundation of God’s word. The Biblical word for meditation means “to chew the cud.” That terminology is a bit archaic today, but it refers to a cow’s digestive system. Cows chew their food slowly, swallow it, and in due time regurgitate it in a partially digested state, and then begin chewing it again. The idea is that the word of God is powerful, complex, and takes time to put into practice.

Reading the Bible for five minutes may be enough to grasp what God is communicating to you, especially with the help of the Holy Spirit (John 14:26), but it’s not enough for us make it a daily habit. Think about it. Why did Joshua need to meditate on the Bible day and night? That he might put it into practice. Similarly in Psalm 1 we see that the man who meditates on the Word walks not in the counsel of the wicked. Psalm 119:9-16 shows that meditation is how young men keep themselves pure. Meditation is the first step to keeping ourselves unstained by the world. It’s the first step to becoming the Spiritual hero you want to be.

Meditation has another benefit. It helps us better understand the Word. Sometimes we read that we have a Helper who will teach us all things (John 14:26) and we are tempted think that we don’t need to read the Bible because the Holy Spirit will teach us all we need to know. There’s some truth in that, but the Holy Spirit is most able to teach us when we are in the Word. Deeply. Daily. Constantly. When our minds are focused on discerning what God wants us to know and how he wants us to act then we are utilizing Scripture to teach, rebuke, correct, and train ourselves (2 Timothy 3:16-17). And that’s exactly what God desires us to do.

When I think of meditation in the Bible there is one character that immediately comes to mind: David. He spent his time writing songs about God and singing them to sooth the soul of a savage king. He reflected on how his job, shepherding, was a manifestation of God’s good qualities (Psalm 23). His meditation on God helped him face Goliath, dodge spears in Saul’s court, and win the hearts of hardened criminals to God. For all of this, the Bible refers to him as a man after God’s own heart. When you meditate on the Bible, and begin to act with the love and wisdom God offers in his eternal word, you become a man or woman after God’s own heart. You begin the first step in your efforts to become a hero, like David. You begin to focus daily on making right decisions to honor our glorious God.

Man's hands holding an open book and a pen on a wooden surface with a notebook and a phone
Photo by Ben White / Unsplash

How to Begin

Here are a few ways to begin meditation:

  1. Hear the Word (Neh. 8:1-3). There are many ways to do this, here are a few examples: listen to a sermon, listen to the Bible, or listen to the Psalms sung. Whatever you choose, the important part is what you do when the audio experience is over: take the words and mull on them. Remember the cow: chew, swallow, regurgitate, and repeat. It’s important to spend time with God’s words. If you just listen to a sermon and never think about it again, you will quickly forget what was taught. Instead, try going out to lunch afterward with some friends, family, or Life Group members and discuss what you heard. Test yourself. Can you remember the point of the sermon three days later? Can you remember it after you’ve heard next week’s sermon?
  2. Read the Word (Deut. 17:18-20). Earlier I suggested reading the Word alone was insufficient for changing our behavior, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. For most of us, reading the Bible is the primary initial step to good meditation. So take advantage of your ability to read and set to work on wrestling with the Scripture. If you read the Bible in the morning, focus on it throughout the day. Ask yourself: What did I read? Why did God say that? Why did He use those words specifically? If you read your Bible at night, fall asleep with His words on your mind and heart. Mentally wrestle with the text until you pass out. In the morning, start your day off recalling the words to mind again. Question the text… think about what God wants you to learn from it, and how He wants you to change today.
  3. Memorize the Word (Psalm 22:1 & Matt 27:46). Jesus had meditated on the words of God so deeply that in his greatest distress he called them out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He memorized God’s word. It’s amazing how memorized Scripture comes back in times of need. When they do come back, we’re able to meditate on them anew. Why did God say that? Where is that in context in the Scripture? We can picture Jesus on the cross, putting every effort into raising his weary, torn body up, uttering those words, and slumping back down on the cross to meditate on the rest of the passage. When we work to memorize Scripture, we can be sure that in our heartache, the Holy Spirit will bring to mind words of Scripture (John 14:26).
  4. Read Christian books. Our backgrounds do not match the backgrounds of the Jews that most of the Bible is addressed to. For the most part, the Bible is addressed to farmers, country men, and nomads. Since most of us are city folk, the analogies of farming, shepherding, and the like are often lost on us. We don’t get the full picture. This is one area where we can benefit from others who have meditated on Scripture and have a background more attuned to the people God originally addressed. One recommendation to get you started: A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by W. Phillip Keller. Here we see the most popular Psalm in a whole different light. Many of the meanings we tend to think come from that passage are wrong and we should learn what was meant from a real life shepherd. (Example: “table” doesn’t mean dinning table, it refers to the hard labor of preparing the mountain plains for the sheep.)

The call to meditation is best summed up in the words of Paul: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Phil 4:8-9). Meditation on God’s word is a requirement for our lives. More than that though, we’re called to act on what we learn. Meditation without action is less than useless, it’s sin (James 4:17). By heeding the call to meditation and putting the truths you learn into practice in your life, you will begin to change into the person God has called you to be.

I hope and pray this encourages you to spend more time in your devotion to loving God. Begin today.

In part three of this series we will talk about one of the natural side effects of a life devoted to meditating on God’s word: devotion to prayer.

This article was originally published on Celebrate Marriage on 5-11-2018.

Prioritize Jesus: Part 1 – Small Decisions

Prioritizing Jesus matters for every part of your life, including the small things.

We’ve all had heroes we admire. Heroes are those rare people who rise above their circumstances to show outstanding bravery and courage to do right. (Consider how David rose above his meager shepherding background to fight Goliath.) Have you ever considered what makes some people heroes and others not?

Hero after hero, when asked why they acted heroically, will tell you that they just did what any normal person would do—even when there was a crowd watching (and not helping) them. Neuroscientists now believe that heroes are born from the small decisions in life. We train ourselves through our every action. (For more see RadioLab podcast: How to Be a Hero.) The training we give ourselves is ultimately what shines through when tough times come. If you train yourself correctly, when trials arise you will act rightly without even thinking about it. You will be a hero.

Similarly, training yourself improperly will cause you to act unrighteously and selfishly. This is visible in both the most vicious of serial killers who practice their evil by torturing animals and also in the people we meet everyday. I know an elderly man who exemplifies this truth. He is like a ship being smashed into the rocks. He is unmovable, self assured in his pride, and certain he is the only one who knows best. He is the culmination of a lifetime of choices and reassuring oneself that: “I am smart” and “I am wise.” When trials come his way, his actions are selfishly motivated and he is certain to do the wrong thing.

As Christians we ought to make good decisions throughout out life, aiming to be the godly men & women God calls us to be. We should be working daily toward becoming spiritual heroes. By making the right small decisions we make ourselves more like Jesus; we prepare ourselves to handle crisis like the spiritual heroes in the Bible. We prepare ourselves for our own Goliath. So that when he/she says, “I cheated on you,” or you lose your child; your faith will not be shattered because you are well practiced in standing and saying: “I don’t know why You’ve done this, but I know that You are good.” You will show your ability to rise above your circumstances because it seems only natural to you. Right now being able to stand firm in such calamity may seem impossible, but God provided the path in His Word, and if you are diligent to follow it, the rewards are innumerable.

Begin Today

We are often tempted to say things like “Life is too busy right now” or “I don’t have time to do that now, but when I’m done with school, get this new job, or the kids move out, then I’ll have time for God.” What’s so easy for us to miss, is how backwards this prioritizing is. It’d be like if your child came up to you and said: “Mom. Dad. I know that learning the alphabet is important, but I’ve got too much going on right now to learn it. I need to master writing and get through school before I concern myself with the alphabet. I promise that when I turn 25, I’ll have time for learning my ABC’s.” How would you respond to that? It’s ridiculous! How can you learn to write, if you don’t know the ABC’s that you’d be writing? How can you be successful in school if that basic building block of your education eludes you? Your child, by misplacing his/her priorities, will experience a harder time in school and life. They will experience grief, sadness, and burnout as they try to navigate the world while missing the basics.

It’s the same with us when we make life, work, money, family, or our marriage a priority over God. Do you want to be successful in those things? Do you want a successful marriage? Then, begin to learn the most basic building blocks first. Learn to love and follow Jesus as a primary function of your life and then you will be on the path to success.

Living a Christ centered life will change your very nature. It will make you more humble, gracious, compassionate, and loving.

Success doesn’t mean that life will be easy. We are called to a life of hardship, but being a spiritual hero isn’t about an easy life, it’s about a joy filled life. A life that smiles at hardship knowing that through it you’ll be better equipped to rejoice when God’s glory is revealed (1 Peter 4:12-16). A heart that knows that fullness of joy is the heart that has been spending time in the presence of Jesus (Psalm 16:11).

In the end, we all grow up to be who we are based on the choices we made when we were younger. What you prioritize in your life now will determine who you become. Over the next five weeks we will talk about four areas that will help you prioritize Jesus: Consistent Biblical Meditation, Devotion to Prayer, Personal Worship, and Solid Accountability. These will help give us strength when life gets busy and hard. It will also help us love God more.

There’s no reason to wait; most of us will have more free time now then we’ll have in a year or two. Training ourselves now through consistent Biblical meditation, devotion to prayer, personal worship, and solid accountability will help give us the strength we need when life gets busier and harder and crisis hits. Doing these four things also fulfills the Greatest Commandment—prioritizing a love for God (Matt 22:37-38). This week we begin a five part series on prioritizing these four disciplines and how they make us better Christians and therefore better spouses.

Living a Christ centered life will change your very nature. It will make you more humble, gracious, compassionate, and loving. As I studied these truths, I found myself more full of joy and passion, I pray this series would change you similarly and that you would find hope and joy by putting these principles into practice.

There’s no reason to wait; most of us will have more free time now then we’ll have in a year or two.

In part two of this series we will talk about how meditating on God’s word helps us put our priorities right.

This article was originally published on Celebrate Marriage on 5-3-2018.

Review: Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk

The issues talked about here are complex and intricate, and this treatise is brief.  I hope you don’t take it as my taking these issues lightly.  If you have any concerns with what I’ve written I hope you’ll reach out.  I’d love to talk about this in a more private manner where we can openly and honestly discuss this delicate topic.

Around fifteen years ago, one of my friends was brave enough to tell me they were gay.  Instead of being sensitive to the pain and hurt they must have felt, my response to them was unsympathetic and unkind.  I wish this book had existed then.  At the time, I felt my response was loving, but in retrospect I can see how harmful it truly was.

In the years that followed, I began to see just how much harm the church was doing in the way it addressed homosexuality.  In condemning it as sin only, the church has trained up zealots who seek out and crush all those who disagree with them about homosexuality.  The real issue with this becomes more apparent when you put on display the way these zealots respond to cohabitators, adulterers, and those that practice premarital sex.  Those zealots are strangely quiet on these fronts, and in recent years have even given political support to unrepentant sinners who have engaged in these practices.  Today, there’s still no way they would do that for someone who had Same Sex Attraction (SSA).

Why does this cognitive dissonance exist in their minds?  What is it about this issue that makes many Christians respond so ungraciously, yet when any other sin issue is dealt with they come with open arms and a welcoming spirit?

In discussing this in the past, I’ve found a commonality of belief in that we can’t legislate morality.  I’m sure you’ve heard it in the recent gun debates.  It’s the response most Christians give to every attempt at gun legislation… but when it comes to abortion and gay rights, this view is conveniently forgotten.  There’s a fear that those who act out the SSA will become unsaveable.  My response to those that believe this is simple: how dare you limit God!

We serve a mighty God, and we have nothing to fear in this world!  There is therefore no reason to act out in hate and fear when we see someone who experiences SSA.  There’s no reason to hate, Christians can have SSA and still go to heaven.  Believe me when I say, there will be more heterosexuals in hell them homosexuals.

Not too long ago, I was part of a discussion on social media.  It was a politically focused discussion and one friend came in and started arguing against everyone that spoke up on it.  At one point, this friend – seemingly frustrated that he wasn’t making any ground – decided to change tactics and start attacking people for a completely unrelated topic.  He started asking people what their opinion on homosexuality was, just so he could change the topic to that.  This is the kind of behavior that should be completely unacceptable in the church!

Jesus didn’t come and yell at the sinners he met, he befriended them.  Jesus didn’t condemn the adulterers he met, he saved them. The people he condemned were the religious zealots.

This is where this book comes into play.  Brad Hambrick talks about how to have those delicate conversations.  He shows that there is great cause to be gracious and kind.  That cause is found in the Golden Rule, which is displayed so prominently in Jesus’s ministry.

There are three reasons I love this book:

  1. Brad tells us how to respond Biblically to those who experience SSA.  His message is counter cultural for many Christians, but it’s exactly what we need to hear.
  2. Brad shows us how to respond Biblically to those who experience SSA.  The last chapter of the book is a brief example of a possible scenario of a friend telling you they experience SSA and how you could respond.  It’s well done and shows a compassionate heart that significantly differs from those of the zealots mentioned earlier.
  3. Brad lays out a method of communication that I think is very valuable.  He points out that there are four levels of communication: facts, definitions, values, and actions.  We need to acknowledge the facts we’re talking about and agree on definitions before we can begin to discuss what our values should be and how we should act upon them.  Often times the questions we hear as “loaded” cross multiple levels of communication.  This point is so valuable it can be applied to any difficult conversation you may have.

Fifteen years ago, I lost a friend due to my zealousness for truth and lack of grace toward his hardship.  I’ve never heard from him since.  I pray you never act as poorly as I did.  If you find yourself more prone to worry about someone’s sexual nature than you do about their eternal soul, your priorities are askew and you need to reevaluate what you deem as most important in life.  This book will help you do that, and it will help you see where someone who struggles with SSA can and should fit into the body of Christ.  I would highly recommend you give it a read.

Overall I give this book 4 stars.

Up NextGuns, Germs, and Steel:  The Fate of Human Societies by Jared Diamond

Review: Mort

Screen Shot 2018-04-14 at 11.38.42 AM

My wife and I got an audible subscription in March.  We used it to download two books to see if we liked having stories read to us.  We downloaded Mort and The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy for our test spin.

We had a road trip planned for a wedding and we listened to Mort on the way their and back.  The first half hour or so was full of laughter as we adjusted to Terry Pratchett’s writing style.  It seems Terry is a fan of putting a joke in every paragraph he writes.  This simple fact makes the book very enjoyable.  Even once you’ve settled in and the jokes effect you less, there’s still that sweet upbeat charm as the jokes softly roll over you.  And the narrator, Nigel Planner, does a great job with giving the characters voices and accents.

This was not our first foray into the Discworld Universe, but it was the first book either of us had directly interacted with.  We’ve see the Color of Magic movie several times and are already familiar with several of the characters in the world.  This story focuses on Mort, who begins life as a bundle of elbows, completely inept in all that he does.  As the story progresses Mort becomes the apprentice to Death and begins to help out in Deaths duty of culling souls into the next life.

Mort is a delightful character who falls in love with a princess and tries to use his new abilities to help save her from dying.  As the story progresses Mort becomes more competent and is able to take over Death’s duties while Death takes a holiday.  As he takes on these new duties he becomes more real.  The physical world effects him less because it’s not as real as he is.

The idea of realness is a fascinating one to me.  I’ve only seen it once before, in my favorite fiction story, The Great Divorce, by C.S. Lewis.  In that story, their are Ghosts who are mere shades of beings.  Their realness is lacking, and the world they enter is painful to them because of how real it is.  One character gets hit by a falling leaf and experience pain equivalent to having been hit by a large rock.  There are also shining beings, who are just as real as the world and move through the world just as you and I move through this one.

I can’t say for sure that Terry Pratchett took this idea from Lewis, but I can say that it is the same concept.  The main difference is that in the Discworld, when you become more real, you become more real than the world about you and the events unfolding have little sway on you.

The story is brilliant and funny.  The only negative thing I can say about the book is that there’s a cheesy love story.  It’s corny and dated.  In all other respects, this novel is a home-run and an easy intro into the Discworld series for anyone thinking about trying it out.  You’ll love every minute.

Overall, I give this book 5 stars.

Up NextDo Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk: Why and How Christians Should Have Gay Friends by Brad Hambrick

Review: Gospel Treason

cover_gospel-treason1

I had the pleasure of hearing Brad Bigney speak in person last fall.  He has a way of cutting through to the heart and coating his words in humor.  He’s a great orator, and a decent writer.  However, this book didn’t have the same humor as his speaking does.  Nonetheless, he still cuts straight the heart.

In this book, he takes a deep delve into the sins beneath the sins in our lives and shows us how to route them out.  Each of us has idols.  Idols are the things we put as more important than God in our life.  These idols can be anything: happiness, a good marriage, respect, enough money… anything.  As he puts it:

An idols is anything or anyone that captures our hearts, minds, or affections more than God.

What is it for me?  This is the question we need to ask ourselves.  What do we value more than God?  Our idols are devious and deceitful.  We protect them to the point that we deceive ourselves into believing they don’t exist.  We disguise our idols as good things, things that on the surface sound good and gain us accolades.  But underneath it all, the heart is deceitful and wicked, who can know it?

Brad talks about how he idolized his ministry.  He would dive deeply into serving anywhere and at anytime so that people would say that he’s a good pastor.  He used up all his free time to visit people in hospitals and go to special events.  He was the pastor that showed up to support everyone.  This sounds noble, but in making serving the priority of his life, he became disheartened, discontent, and unsatisfied.  In his desire to put his actions on a pedestal for all to worship, he found his marriage broken.  At first he didn’t know what it was that caused his frustration.

All too often this is how depression hits us all.  It comes on like a wave, a sea of drowning.  It feels like it comes from nowhere and so we turn to any solution that has reported success.  Drugs, herbs, isolation, self love… those paths often don’t work and we find ourselves even more broken and confused.

Bigney found himself unhappy in the same way.  Whenever a curve ball came his way or anything reflected poorly on his ministry, his attitude would instantly change.  He would become angry.  As he worked through his issues with a biblical counselor, he found the simple truth that God doesn’t grant happiness to those who are perfecting their idols. God grants happiness to those who seek Him.

This book helps you find where your idols are.  It gives you tips and tricks to digging beneath your sins and finding out the true cause so you can route out both sins together.  If you don’t like reading, you can listen to his sermon series on this topic here.  When you finish this book (or sermon series) you’ll be better equipped to seek out your sin and begin the long and hard trek toward being the God fearing person He desires you to be.

Overall, I give this book 5 stars.
Up Next: Mort by Terry Pratchett