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Edward Adams is Senior Lecturer in New Testament Studies at King’s College London. He is the author of Stars Will Fall from Heaven: ‘Cosmic Catastrophe’ in the New Testament and Its World and coeditor of Christianity at Corinth: The Quest for the Pauline Church.  His most recent book, Parallel Lives of Jesus, invites the reader, even the average Joe in the pew like myself, to consider why there are four accounts of the life of Jesus ( Why not just have have one ? ) and take a fresh look at the four canonical gospels and the qualities that make them unique.

The book is divided up into three parts. First Adams discusses his approach to the gospels. Then he looks at each of the Gospels and their narrative features. Finally Adams puts six episodes ( The Baptism of Jesus, The Feeding of the Five Thousand, The Walking on the Water, The Transfiguration, The Death of Jesus, The Empty Tomb ) found in all the gospels side by side.

The author is very thorough and consistent in his examination of the gospel accounts. The fundamental question Adams addresses in the book is not a new one. The author himself notes his research is building on the work of one of his colleagues Richard Burridge who is the author of Four Gospels, One Jesus? What Edward Adams does is draw a structural parallel between the gospels and Plutarch’s Parallel Lives to offer a literary perspective on the gospels. Since the Bible is literature, Adams looks at literary devices like characterization, style, theme and setting. He also connects the structure of ”the same story told four ways” to the films Vantage Point and Roshomon as well as the Iain Pears novel An Instance of the Fingerpost.

Through the comparisons that Edward Adams draws to Plutarch’s Parallel Lives and modern films and novels he effectively gives a perspective on the gospels that is in depth and accessible. Amongst the many other approaches a person can take to reading the Bible ( such as Historical, Archeological, and Cultural ) Parallel Lives of Jesus will be very practical for anyone wanting to develop a deeper understanding of the gospels as well as a helpful resource for Churches and Universities.

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The Muir House Book Tour

I am taking part in “The Muir House Book Tour” this month. It began on November 14th since then a variety of bloggers are posting their thoughts after reading Mary DeMuth’s novel The Muir House. The tour runs through December 15th. The full list of tour participants is available here.

The Muir House is the story of Willa Muir, a interior designer whose life is turned upside down by an engagement proposal, a sudden fire and a nagging feeling that she can’t move forward in her life until she can accurately remember portions of her childhood that she can’t remember. As she searches for the truth about her past, Willa revisits her home town of Rockwall, Texas and the people from her past who still populate the town.  Can Willa find the strength to trust, find love and move forward with her life?

Mary DeMuth effectively creates a sense of suspense throughout the novels 322 pages. Each chapter effectively answers questions in such a way that you have two or three new questions. And I found the resolution of the story to be satisfying and the themes challenging as well. The story is full of interesting and flawed characters. Willa has an idealized view of how important knowledge is. She seems to think that information is what she lacks. But through the course of the story I think she finds that informed relationships are what she needs.

The setting of the story helps illuminate some of the recurring themes of the novel. During her visit, Willa stays in her childhood home. It was once a funeral home but is now a bed and breakfast with themed rooms highlighting famous walls from around the world. Willa, her parents, Genie and others all deal with the walls they have up in their relationships. They wall people out to avoid hurt. But I like what Willa’s friend Rheus tells her “…some folks close doors they wish they hadn’t.” This is true of a lot of characters in this story. Reading the book reminded me to be open to risk relationships with people even when it may be emotionally challenging sometimes. It reminded me of the way of forgiveness.

Everyone is broken in some way and we all have walls of some kind that we put up in our lives to shut out hurt. But what good things get shut out along with the bad? Thinking about this reminds me of what C.S. Lewis said:

“Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation.”

I think everyone can find the love Jesus offers which allows them to appropriately give and receive love to others. On my better days, I go to God when I fear I might lose someone close to me and anyone can go there. That’s the amazingly personal and extensive love of Jesus. I found reading The Muir House was a good and challenging reminder to hold tight to Christ and remain open in the relationships around me.

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The voice of God

My fiancee and I are going through a devotional together. We recently came across a devotion about the word of God which said that it was foolish to listen for the guiding voice of God in one’s life. Instead the devotional suggested to simply read the Bible regularly and let life unfold as it does. I have a real hard time reading and accepting that advice. The advice downplays how vital conversation with God is in life.The Bible is a book which gives such rich directions and guidance in a myriad of of different scenario’s. There needs to be conversation with God even to navigate what portions of the Bible’s wealth of wisdom is appropriate for a given moment.

The other issue I have with the advice to not attempt to listen for the guiding voice of God in a persons life is the image of God that it creates. God is a person and wants to be part of our lives in a deep and intimate way. I don’t think God will tell us everything He is up to but the Bible itself tells us that He does speak to us. In John 16 shortly before Jesus is taken captive and crucified, He says this “ He likes for us to trust Him enough to take steps out in obedience to what we believe He’s saying to us. Here’s where the Bible comes in. We know the Bible is the word of God. It gives us something to check our hearing against. God is the same, yesterday, today and forever, so he won’t contradict Himself. And He desires to reveal Himself to us through His word and offers us His guiding voice to navigate the Bible and our lives.

I asked my fiancee’s father about it since he is an ordained minister. After reading the devotional he said “I can appreciate the author’s desire to take away some of the anxiety that some believers may have over “getting it right”. But there is also something being lost here…the communion we have with God through the Holy Spirit. Part of this communion is the confidence that we have that God hears us when we pray, and that he answers.”

Trying to live this way makes prayer and communion with God so much more vital and reveals how stale and lifeless a system of principals can become. God chose to do something far more personal than writing us a letter to resolve the mess of human existence. That’s why it makes sense that I find within myself the desire to stay in conversation with God listening for a prompting from the holy spirit and also immersing myself in continual reading of the Bible so that I will develop an ear for how God’s voice sounds. Yea, that’s right me. The same guy who sometimes forgets becoming a writer isn’t the most important thing in the world. The same guy who has outbursts of frustration and the same guy who once rode his bike to class in college, walked all the way home and realized as he put the key in the front door “Wait, I rode my bike to school today!” Even though I often miss that seeking God’s kingdom is the point and have a temper and forget really simple stuff God still considers me a vessel worth speaking to and through. Reading the Bible consistently is a great way to get to know God’s voice and his commands. It puts a person in a great place to hear God’s voice and gives them something to use to validate or nullify what they feel they are hearing.

Jesus said:

“My sheep recognize my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them from me,”

-John 10:27

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Heaven is for real

By Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent

Thomas Nelson Publishers

Todd Burpo is a pastor and his wife Sonja a school teacher.  They slowly get little glimpses into what heaven is like from the most unlikely of places; their four year old son. Heaven is for real is the real life story of four year old Colton Burpo’s visit to heaven during an emergency apendectomy. Colton’s experiences shake up their dull notions of heaven and bring the Burpo family together as well as their church community.

I found the book to be engaging. It was not difficult to get pulled into the story. I found the story to be amazing yet believable. This is due to the fact that Colton gained information about his family history and about God the average four year old would not have, even a pastors son. He seemed clearly affected in a deep way by his time in heaven. Plus the information came out slowly, more from the curiosity of Colton’s parents than any sort of desire in Colton for attention. Perhaps it is that the most willing vessel for God to work with is sometimes that of a child.

The book challenged my shallow notions of heaven. I read this book on the heels of reading the book of Colossians which left me feeling the importance of having an eternal perspective about things. To be honest , prior to reading Heaven is for real when I thought about heaven all that came to mind was a sort of endless church service in the sky. It wasn’t nearly like the relational and dynamic experience Colton had.

Colton presents heaven as a highly relational place where the dead in Christ await to meet or reunite with loved one’s on earth. It is also a place too amazing to put into words, but filled with bright amazing colors.

I felt the earlier portion of the book was a little hard to grasp as the events happened so rapidly. This wonderful experience Colton had was in the midst of intense physical and emotional pain for all of the Burpo’s. God thankfully gave them the grace to endure the surgeries and possibility of loosing their son as it so looked at moments to the natural eye. Oh but what God actually had planned!

The book really hit a groove structurally for me as the reader when it focused on the dialoug between Colton and his parents/family about Heaven over the next months and years after his experience. It was in here that I felt drawn into the story and it kept my attention till the end.

Being that Colton’s father was a pastor, the dialoug was filled with his pastoral scripture rich mindset wrestling with the amazing things his son would tell him. This helped root the story in what the Bible says about Heaven. Todd didn’t seem overly eager to believe his son’s story but he had a fatherly concern and interest to enter into a dialoug with him and keep an open mind. I would recommend this book to others. It has a non-religious, simple, playful feel which will appeal to people that feel a little intimidated by things like “theology” and all that. Yet it also is written by a pastor, so the material is not diulted but handled in a way that keeps Christ at the center of the story. I look forward to meeting Jesus in person in heaven and talking with my grandfather and former roommate again who have both passed on, as well as others who have or will have passed on before me.

This post is based on a review copy.

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The Desire to Write

I would love to be an accomplished well known writer. I was thinking recently that for me this would be the life role I would create for myself if I were in charge of everything. At the same time, I’ve just recently finished reading through the book of Phillipians. Paul wrote to the Phillipians from prison facing the possibility of death. In the letter he speaks of others who seek to emulate his preaching from selfish motives. They see the commotion and growing following that are part of Paul’s life and they want that for themselves. It struck me how selective both my desires and the desires of those Paul “wannabe’s” are.

Paul is in prison for preaching the gospel and there are people who still are envious of his life. They perhaps had yet to hear the long list of Pauls struggles that he shares in 2 Corinthians.

“Five times at the hands of the Jews I received 40 lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I passed a night and a day on the deep; on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own race, dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, dangers among false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many sleepless nights, through hunger and thirst, through frequent fastings, through cold and exposure. And apart from these things, there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches”

How many people do you think would volunteer for that kind of life ? Only love could prompt someone to endure these things so that others might know the goodness of God. It was Jesus love for us that pulled Him out of heaven into a human body to die and rise again to deal with once and for all the sins of the entire world.

The writers life is a solitary and challenging one. I don’t know what the ratio of imprisoned to free writers is. However, Paul has certainly not been the only person to pen powerful words for the cause of Christ from behind bars. It is not a prerequisite of good writing that it be done amidst imprisonment. Though I must say it is  stirring and a great image of courage expressing itself in words.

The writers I have found who are willing to write on the subject of being “a writer” say that it is not the life defining moment it might appear to be from a distance. It’s hard to remember that even the most popular or successful people in the world can’t find fullfilment in their sucess. I am troubled to know the state of my own desires these days. Writing books and having people tell me how great I am still occupies a large protion of what I would call my “desire.” It’s also the people who get to do this that I find myself so jealous of. Still I find some encouragement when Paul says “God is working in you, giving you the desire to obey Him and the power to do what pleases Him.”

It’s not to say that writing is some inherently negative act but it can be a rival to more Christ centered acts. I  wonder sometimes what God could accomplish with all the time I waste freting about how unsucessful I am at writing a book and comparing myself to accomplished writers whom I admire. When I hear Pauls words in Phillipians I feel as though God is working at my desires as if they were wet clay. I am reassured that as I seek Him I will learn to feel out the time to put the pen to paper for the masses and when to get my hands dirty.

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Book Review: Out Live Your Life

“Out live Your Life” is a book about transcending expectations, stereotypes and labels and making an impact in other peoples lives. Jesus’ legacy lives on in our lives by his death, resurrection and also the way He lived and loved while He walked the earth. Max Lucado looks at ways the early church presented in the book of Acts followed in Christ’s example and how other willing friends of God have “out lived” their life.

“Out live Your Life” is an interesting read. Each chapter is filled with interesting stories of missionaries putting petty denominational differences aside to help those in need, and persecuted christians writing books with a bar of soap on his prison cell walls just to name a few. The book definitely challenged my perceptions of what is possible and inspired me.

One of the things reading “Out live Your Life” did was remind me just how myopic the “American Dream” can be if Jesus isn’t in the center of that dream. There are people elsewhere in the world who have dreams and needs as well. God’s heart is for everyone and not just America.

I recommend Out live Your Life. It is a timely collection of examples of just what God can do when people think of others and not just themselves. I admire Max Lucado’s decision to put 100% of his author royalties for “Out Live Your Life” into the hands of World Vision and other ministries of faith-based compassion.

This post is based on a review copy.

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Captured By Grace

By Dr. David Jeremiah
Thomas Nelson Publishing

“Captured by Grace” is a look at the story behind the famous hymn Amazing Grace as well as a glimpse into the life of its author, John Newton and how closely it mirrors the life of the apostle Paul. Both were enemies of grace who were eventually freed from self-imposed slavery and later preached the liberating gospel of Jesus Christ to anyone who would give them the ear of their soul.

At first,I found the structure of the book a bit off putting. I am more easily engrossed in a non-fiction book which contains mostly personal narrative and “Captured By Grace” contains a good deal of historical narrative and scriptural analysis. I was annoyed that David Jeremiah was not speaking from his own personal life. I found what he said about Victoria Ruvolo, the apostle Paul and John Newton, and scripture to be valuable. But I was still irked by what I felt was his “hiding in their shadows” throughout the book. However, later in the book Dr. Jeremiah does reveal a peice of the struggles that he has personally walked through with Christ. Of all things, it was a bout with cancer and chemotherapy. In choosing to read “Captured By Grace” I ended up hearing about the grace of God from someone who had survived cancer. After my close friend passed away from cancer a few years ago, I was left with confusion and unanswered questions about that particular chapter in my life. I felt God’s grace touch that place as I read of the grace Dr. Jeremiah experienced in his life through knowing Jesus.

Dr. David Jeremiah’s writing challenges the typical human reaction to the trials and hardship in life. He presented the message of God’s grace in such a way that, the reading of it stirred a longing within me to live a life more deeply emersed in grace, mercy and thanksgiving.

The book is very organized. As I said earlier, I tend to enjoy a more linear narrative based structure as a reader. But, the outline-like structured he employs here allows Dr. Jeremiah to clearly express important biblical truth in a clear way alongside the lives of Newton and the apostle Paul. Captured By Grace’s structure is effective and appropriate, although not my structural style of choice. Dr. Jeremiah takes a close look at scripture in Captured by Grace’s 207 pages, particularly the book of Romans as well as other books by or concerning the apostle Paul. I recommend “Captured by Grace” as a historically and scripturally deep and challenging read.

This post is based on a review copy.

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