“The Bible Says.”

The other day one of my friends posted a little rant on social media. Okay, “rant” may be overstating it. But it did spark a little bit of criticism. Here it is:

I hate when people say, “The Bible says.” The Bible doesn’t say anything. It’s a book and it can’t talk.

Okay, so he’s wrong. And for more than one reason. I’ll give you two. First of all, we all know the phrase “The Bible says” is a euphemism, a little wordplay, if you will. It’s just another way of saying, “What is written in the Bible is…”

But it’s a completely acceptable phrase. Do you know why? Because people say the following phrases daily and only a jerk would correct them:

“What’s Wikipedia say about that?”

“My weather app told me it was going to be cold today.”

“Those cupcakes are calling my name!”

None of those are technically, literally true. But they are functionally true. If you take the phrase “The Bible says” literally, you’re just trolling people.

But there’s another reason that line of thought is wrong. And this one is even more powerful. He’s wrong in saying that the Bible doesn’t talk because…it most certainly does.

Let me explain.

(And I bet you’re dying to hear my explanation as to how a Bible can actually talk.)

Raise your hand if you’ve ever smuggled contraband into a foreign country. I know you can’t see me, but please rest assured my hand is raised high.

I was leading a mission trip overseas. I won’t bore you with the details of the country (for fear of reprisal by several international policing organizations), but let’s just say they don’t take too kindly to Christians traveling to their country with the express purpose of telling others about Jesus. About a week before I left, I was called into the office of another pastor on staff.

“Hey, Chris. Do you have room in your suitcase?” he asked me.

“For what?” I mean, sure I had room in my suitcase. But why was he so interested in how many socks and underwear I was taking.

“I need you to leave some space for this.”

He then held up a zip lock bag, opaque with worn edges. Not sketchy at all, no. It was almost bursting at the seams. I just gave him a blank stare. The sort of stare I would give a pastor who just asked me to smuggle drugs into a foreign country. Because that is 100% how it looked like.

He then opened the bag and proceeded to dump the contents out on his desk. Nope, it wasn’t a bunch of weed or little packets of white powder. It was several MP3 players. They looked like cheap, knock off iPods. Really? Black market electronics?

“These are some very neat devices,” he told me. He pushed a button and it played some music in a language I wasn’t familiar with, but which I would hear a lot over the next few weeks overseas. “Watch this,” he said, and then flipped a hidden switch in the battery case. It started playing a man’s voice. Droning on and on in that same language.

What was going on?

“These are little MP3 players that play prerecorded music. No biggee. If they ask you about them, just say you’re brining them to a friend. They’ll probably ask you to pay a small fee, but that’s fine. Nothing to worry about.

“But once you deliver them, our friends will be taking them out to some villages in the far remote parts of the country. Places you won’t be going. But they can. And they’ll be handing these off to some of our Christian friends there. You see, when you flip this switch, it plays the Bible. The entire Bible, all recorded in their language.”

Contraband! Black market electronics! The Bible!

And guess what…it speaks!

All over the world there are places you and I will never go. But the Bible will. The Bible will travel in a bag or suitcase of a brave soul. It will slide under the nose of a customs agent and slip into the pocket of a local friend. It will journey to the heart of the unreached. It will find a home in a hut or a house or an apartment. It will sit down on the floor while those who have never heard about Jesus circle around.

And then it will speak.

That big black Bible you’ve got on your nightstand won’t talk. Not really. Not literally. It takes some action on your part. But all around the world, the Bible is speaking. Where books are burned and printing presses are shut down, technology is doing amazing things. And while you and I may take our unfettered access to faith for granted, there are others who take it in. They risk their lives to bring that speaking word to others.

You’re right. A book can’t talk. But the Bible can, and it is. Every day that you enjoy your freedoms there are some who risk jail or worse for their faith. Here in America, the Bible lays silent most days. But over there, in the midst of oppression, it speaks loud and clear. Can you hear it?

Book Review: Jesus the Bridegoom, by Brant Pitre

In Jesus the Bridegroom, Brant Pitre takes a look at a metaphor we often overlook. At least until it comes to later Pauline passages that equate the church with the bride of Christ. But even then, there’s a tendency in modern Christianity to tone down the metaphor. Let’s not go too deep with the idea that we are married to Jesus, after all.

But Pitre presses forward. He urges us to take a look at the intimate relationship we have with Jesus in terms of a wedding, a honeymoon, and a continued love affair. Such imagery can be difficult to take at first, but once you get into the study you find it fascinating to say the least.

I’m not sure I agree wholeheartedly with his assertion that the Last Supper was a weeding feast (and his conflation of the Old Covenant with a wedding ceremony will have its detractors), but when you link the wedding at Cana in John 2 with the rest of Jesus ministry, up to and including the cross, you see parallels for sure.

This book is worth a read just for the curiosity factor. It will also challenge you to see your relationship – your worship, your service, your giving – in a new light. The light of a marriage of Savior and sinner.

Disclaimer: The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

Book Review: Is Justice Possible? The Elusive Pursuit of What is Right, by J. Paul Nyquist

Is justice possible? J. Paul Nyquist answers this question with scripture and clarity. However, the answer may not be what we expect or want. Due to our sinful nature, many times justice is perverted. But when we lean on the power of God, justice will always be there. It may be delayed or seem unjust to us. But it’s still there.

In regards to his search for justice within the legal realm, he does a great job. Framing the conversation around misapplied justice is smart. He uses stories of wrongful convictions to drive his narrative. And he supplies some good reasoning as to why we so often see justice misapplied.

I do wish that Nyquist would address the so-called “social justice” of the day. In fact, many would claim that wrongful convictions is definitely a part of that. Instead, he separates legal justice from social justice, which is fine. But I would love to hear what he has to say on these other topics. Perhaps a follow up to this fine work?

Disclaimer: The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

Book Review: Sex, Jesus, and the Conversation the Church Forgot, by Mo Isom

Mo Isom is a respected speaker and blogger. Many have gained so much from her words and her life. Unfortunately, I can’t say I have. At least not from this book.

I really wanted Sex, Jesus, and the Conversation the Church Forgot to be a new, refreshing take on the subject matter. Instead, I feel I got more of the same that I’ve heard since I was a teenager. Sex is bad. Doing it before marriage is dirty. If you’ve sinned sexually, you’re filthy. It’s that last word – filth – I found completely despairing. Isom used the word throughout the book rather liberally in talking about sexual sin. That type of word sticks with you, sculpts your identity. When we hear the word “filth” thrown around, we take it personal.

I don’t know what others may think of this book. I’m sure many will love it. But I fear that some will feel the grip of shame tightening. And that’s a shame. Because we are never defined by our sexual sin – or any sin, for that matter. We are defined by who we are in Christ! We are not filth. Our future is free and clear.

I pray that you will find that freedom – and not filth – in your own life despite your struggles.

Disclaimer: The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

Book Review: Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus, by Lois Tverberg

I’ve loved studying the Jewish background of the New Testament beginning with my undergrad days. At that time, my Hebrew professor shared details of life in Israel where he earned his Masters Degree in Jewish studies (before going on to Hebrew University in Cincinnati). He would often share a snippet of insight from the intertestamental period, a geographical detail about the Holy Land, or an interesting linguistic note that added to the text.

Since that time I’ve added to my knowledge whenever I can. Reading about Jewish history from the end of the exile to the fall of the temple has vastly increased my understanding of the New Testament texts. Lois Tverberg feels the same way. In Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus, she opens the text and offers examples of details we would wash over in our western mindset. By resetting our minds to an Eastern way of thinking, she says, we get a fuller picture.

This book is less academic than it is autobiographical, honestly. She speaks less about her personal life than the New Testament. However, her own journey of discovery comes through brilliantly. I learned some things I had never heard before, but many of them I had. But I really loved hearing her passion of discovery. It matched my own.

This is a great book for those who have never studied Jewish backgrounds before. A great primer on the topic in a very easy to read and understand text. I can’t wait to read more from Tverberg!

Disclaimer: The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

Book Review: Activate: An Entirely New Approach to Small Groups by Nelson Searcy and Kerrick Thomas

If your church doesn’t have small groups, then they are missing out on a huge facet of ministry. Not only that, but they’re lacking a vital part of the intended purpose and makeup of the church. It’s almost like you’re missing a limb.

Most churches skip small groups because they’re just too difficult. They’ve tried in the past and failed. But perhaps they haven’t tried the right approach. Searcy and Thomas turn most of the prevailing wisdom about small group structure on its head. Throughout the book, they call out the given rules of thumb that most churches run their small groups. They’re myths, according to the authors.

What we have left is more handbook than memoir of a successful small group ministry. But the authors have led their fair share of successful group ministries. So what they have to say is solid. For instance, instead of hiring a pastor who focuses solely on small groups, get each staff member involved. Only recruit during a one month window tow or three times a year, not year round. These types of ideas run counter to most ways churches run their small groups. And we should probably listen.

Disclaimer: The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.