Forty Names of Jesus: A Lenten Devotional for Families


Having been raised Southern Baptist in the 1980’s, I’m not sure that I heard the word Lent before I was a Religion major in college. Since learning of the liturgical calendar, I have been fascinated with this way of faith that gives a structure to the year and an intention to my worship.

Forty NamesThis is part of the reason that I jumped at the chance to preview Jennifer Spencer’s work Forty Names of Jesus: A Lenten Devotional for Families. The other reason is that, in the years that I have known Jennifer, I have learned that she is a learner, a teacher, a mother, and a friend who is naturally curious and desires to do life with excellence. A curious teacher writing a Lenten devotional was something I simply could not pass up.

In the preface, Jennifer shares her inspiration for researching and writing this book; she had a need for something to teach her children about Jesus and couldn’t find material to meet that need in the particular manner she desired. That desire to help her children move from knowing stories about Jesus to actually getting to know Him intimately resonated with me as a new mom. As I read, I more and more appreciated her work as a teacher as well. While there are many strengths to this devotional, the following aspects make Forty Names particularly useful to me as a mother and an educator.

First, the devotional is adaptable. Jennifer does a fantastic job helping the reader understand the different tools she intentionally provided. While the actual reading for each day is relatively short, she provides multiple ways to adjust the breadth and depth of the study so that it is age appropriate for each member of a family. With a key verse and concept for each name as well as additional passages of study, I can use this to introduce my toddlers to the names of God but can also use it with my small group of high school freshmen without having to do much prep work on my own.

Second, the devotional is educational. The word devotional tends to have the connotation of fluffy or feel good, and there is a time and place for warm fuzzy devotional books. What is so appealing in this particular devotion is that Jennifer finds a way to warm the heart through engaging the mind. Moving seamlessly from Hebrew to Greek and Old Testament to New, Forty Names digs just a little deeper by providing historical and literary information that helps the reader understand and appreciate each name just a little more than you did before you started.

Third, the devotional is theological. A vital part of teaching children about our faith is helping them see the common themes throughout Scripture that point the reader to Christ. This particular work falls in line with recent works for children such as The Jesus Storybook Bible, which declares the precious truth that “Every story whispers His name.” In terms that even young children can understand, Jennifer teaches about concepts such as redemption, sacrifice, and propitiation, and uses familiar Bible stories to illustrate the meanings.

Fourth, the devotional is readable. It is possible to teach deep theological truths in layman’s terms. With simple definitions and a multitude of cross references that will help the reader increase familiarity with the full counsel of Scripture, there is an attractiveness to this work that draws the reader in and invites you to stick with the book, to come back for the next reading. A good teacher leaves a hook for her students so that they begin to internalize their motivation to keep learning, and the daily entries in this devotional are specifically written to guide the reader to the conclusion that she should just keep reading.

With all that has been written in recent years about the exodus of youth from the church and the biblical illiteracy of professing believers, devotional works like this one show us that learning about Jesus does not have to be either loud and flashy or dry and boring; learning about Jesus can be simple and satisfying. Learning can be fun, and it can be genuine, and it can be done alone or in groups. We can even learn as families. An ideal plan for families with kids spread across developmental stages is to simply start small (one verse and the concept) and then just allow the conversation to continue by using the additional passages and questions as your guide. You may be surprised just how long even the youngest in your family may stick around to talk and learn.

This is a devotional that can be added to your family’s permanent library because Jennifer wrote it in a manner that will allow you to also use it year after year and build upon what you’ve studied in previous readings. I am thankful that it is a resource that I have for years to come. If you are looking for a guide for your family for this upcoming season of Lent, I highly recommend Forty Names of Jesus.

The Symbolism of the New Heaven and New Earth


Don Carson, Revelation 21-22

Plenary Session 8

Imagine attempting to explain electricity to a pre-Stone Age tribe in Papua New Guinea. You would simply attempt to explain what it does, but they have no categories into which to put this information.
In the same way, how would we talk about the throne room of God? He uses symbolism because we are so without the vocabulary and categories with which to describe them. The symbolism opens the doors to the categories with which we can discuss the glory of the Father.
In Isaiah 6, the seraphim could not see His face. Isaiah cannot describe him. Ezekiel’s description of the chariot is incredibly detailed, but the one who sits upon it is indescribable. But we will see His face.

The culmination of everything is not to see loved ones gone before. It is to see God. Every picture, every taste we have of glory is to see His face.

This book ends in spectacular invitation. And so do we. “God be merciful to me, a sinner.”

I deserve this lake of fire, but I long for the New city. I believe, help my unbelief.

For the rest of the notes on Dr. Carson’s talk, go to: http://is.gd/yjPon9

The God of Creation and Redemption in Revelation 4 and 5


Kathleen Nielsen

Scripture, when read rightly, will lead us to worship.

Why does John weep loudly at the prospect of the scroll remaining unopened? Look to the rest of Scripture.

The scroll in Ezekiel and the scroll in Daniel. Unfolding human history at the decree of God.

Writing on both sides of the scroll. Every last space was required for God’s decrees for the unfolding of human history. If the scroll would not open, human history could not unfold at God’s decree. What if there is no larger purpose for the days in which we live? John weeps at the prospect of a universe separated from its Creator.

For the remainder of the notes on Kathleen’s talk on Revelation 4 and 5, go to: http://is.gd/tskYBM

The Glory of Christ in the Transfiguration


Nancy Leigh DeMoss, speak on Matthew 17:

“This was not a new miracle, but the cessation of an ongoing miracle. The real miracle was that Jesus was able to cover His glory.”

All is well in heaven and all will be well on earth. All because of Jesus.

For full notes on this session: http://is.gd/jn196y

The Lord Who Lifts From the Miry Bog


From Carrie Sandom, speaking on Psalm 40:

There are those who are compromised, consumed, and cold-hearted. And they’re all in a miry bog. And they aren’t the only ones. In a group this size, there are many of us trapped in a miry bog as well. Bogs come in various shapes. We know what it’s like, and many have experienced that the more we struggle to escape, the more bound we become.

But God knows we desire to escape, and in the Psalms, God gives us words to the desperation of our hearts. The Psalms were written supremely to each them about God; who He is and how He relates to His people. But the also taught how to respond to Him, regardless of the situation in which we find ourselves.

http://kd316.com/2012/06/23/carrie-sandom-plenary-session-four/

Poetic Application of Romans 12:1-2


I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1-2

For the last several weeks, my 9th graders have been discussing the transforming power of transformed thoughts. This idea applies to relationships; with guys, with other girls, with friends, with family… How we think should transform how we live. But how do we do that? How do we actively change our thoughts and, in turn, use our changed thoughts to change our hearts and our actions?

We watched this video in class today, and it spurred some great conversation about how the world influences our passive thoughts and attitudes and how those thoughts and attitudes influence our choices. It reminded me of The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis’ classic work which imagines an exchange of letters between an experienced demon and a less mature demon-in-training. The methods of the evil one are not obvious, but are subtle, passive, sneaky. In this poem, the author writes A Letter to Satan, telling him just what she thinks about his schemes and control in her life.

Watch the video, check out the lyrics below, and think about this: If you looked at the influence of media in your life and compared your thoughts and attitudes to the Word, what sort of letter would you write to Satan about how evil has influenced your life?

Dear Satan,

I’m writing you this letter to inform you that our relationship is officially done.

You just lost one!

Cause for too long I’ve battled in my mind

Your voice v. God’s v. mine

For too long I’ve entertained the same thoughts as Cain

Like how truthfully my flesh loves to be first

How my pride tries to cover and hide so I can’t see the extent of this curse

So I’m returning all your gifts

Rejecting all your myths

See all this time I thought that I had control, but you were controlling this

Despite me doing good works in the church

Thinking I was a Christian

All the while allowed your spirit to lurk

What a deception

You went to church with me

A thwarted perception

Saying that I love God louder and louder

But had a spiritual infection

I see you’re a deceiver; you take advantage of every weak part

I could come to church every week

As long as I don’t apply the word to my heart

We were friends because I did what you wanted me to

I thought a little sin wouldn’t hurt

I mean I didn’t want to sleep with you

I just thought it would be cool to flirt

But I see you play for keeps

Now I know that the Word is true

What you sow is what you reap

I keep saying I’m so blessed, I’m so blessed

All the while secretly giving you a kiss

I remember all the places we used to go

Now inwardly it makes me sick

Like how you talked me into going to the club

At first I really didn’t want to go

I thought it wouldn’t affect me

But while I was there my lust began to flare and I got hot and heavy

Started thinking about the dudes in the room

Wanting to ride off in their Chevy

Or the comedy spots where we sat and laughed enjoying ourselves all night

When they were joking and mocking the church like that situation is light

And explicit sexual content echoed through that mic

And I laughed like it was alright

Now I know God wasn’t laughing

Even though you and I was on a roll

I see it was because my heart was so numb and cold

In the back of my mind

I thought I’d really give God 100% when I’m old

Once I’m done having my fun

Then I thought what if I don’t make it past 25, then what?

What did I live for?

I just can’t ignore anymore this proposal from the Lord

So I changed my number so you would no longer call

And I would no longer fall

But even though I did all that you still controlled me from afar

Because I was just trying to be a better person

Stopped clubbing, stopped sex, stopped cursing

Dropped friends, cause of greed stopped working

But stopping things don’t rid the seed of the serpent

It was all self-righteousness

A righteousness I created

It’s like using filthy rags to take a bath

When the truth is my entire sin nature is bad

And me stopping those things never dealt with the wickedness of my heart

If I thought someone did me wrong

I was so quick to lash back, all the while singing a praise song

Even though the Bible says repay not evil for evil, I refused to believe

And your strings got me doing things that I can’t even help

Trying to love my brother but always thinking about myself

What a curse

Like I could run up and hug someone at church

But because inwardly I wanted to be first

Didn’t realize it but I was wishing them the worst

Although the outside was clean

The inside of the cup was filthy and mean

So I wrestled with the conclusion

Maybe I’ve been excluded from being able to live this Christian life

But then that sounds like your voice

You’ve influenced so much of my life

Those events help me see how powerless I am

And the reality is there is only one way

And before I was set free, I had to realize I was a slave

I have no merit, virtue or favor with God

It’s Christ’ poured out lifeblood that saves

And I’m sick of it, my sin

I’ve defended it, time and time again

Dead in my transgression but now I’ve come on out of the grave

Because this new relationship is based solely by grace through faith

And my life is a result of what I believe

Since you shall know a tree by the root and the fruit

So rather than just dress modestly, I’m checking my heart too

Making sure there is no vanity

Or that I’m dressing to grab the attention of humanity

Because I know what I can do, if I remain in a relationship with you

My potential outside of Christ is extremely detrimental

So I’m clinging on with all I’ve got

So now when I think of all the movies we went to

Man I get so hot

Cause Christ has won my heart

I can’t sit there and glory in the violence on that screen

And even though I used to justify by saying I never hurt anyone

I was being entertained by the very thing

God choose to destroy the world for in Genesis 6

He said the earth was corrupt and filled with violence

So the only reason I wasn’t destroyed

Was God’s kindness

You see you helped me build a tower like you did with Nimrod

But I’m tearing it down for my God

By the way I’m clearing out my ipod

I’m giving you back all your music

Couldn’t see it before

This tool you were using

Different song

Different score

Brought the same conclusion

All about lust, money, self and sex

Yet those things are the reason Christ was out to death

Who you using next

Chris Brown, T-pain, souljah boy, ne-yo, Beyonce or Game?

Every artist motivation is the same

To take my heart away from the reason Christ came

I could say I’m saved all the while exalting men

Not a fanatic for Christ cause I’m a TI fan

No-one no-one, not even Alicia keys supersedes the reason Christ bleeds

No-one no-one has even ever heard Alicia sing about why Christ is grieved

And I thought her music was positive

But when I look into the word, Christ and Alicia are opposites

Christ is on my mind

So you won’t see me bobbing it

Because He’s all I need

He is all I need

Cause all that music was to glorify me

Yet the reason Christ came was to mortify me

To crucify my flesh

Not to be the Christian in Christian-Dior up in the video with Kanye West

Now I see

How he’s saying he’s Christian yet he’s exalting women, sex, and greed

And I said I was just listening to the beats

You had me so blind to the content

I was so deceived

Didn’t realized Satan disguised as I was hitting repeat

At the same time they were pushing repeat when my savior was beat

Pierced in His wrist and feet

To take away these worldly lusts these songs stir within me

So I confess

I’m no longer impressed with you whack lines

You’ll give me all your kingdoms if I bow and worship at your shrine

And I used to

But now I’m adopted into the vine

So every lie you told me

Like you being my homie

That I could rep Christ as long as we kicked it on the low key

I’m done with you and all the excuses you gave

Like living holy is a long process

But the truth is, you didn’t want me to change

I used to be a daughter of lies

You used to be my master

But now I’m at the feet of Christ with me box of alabaster

Because He redeemed me, set me free

And I will spend my time, all of eternity

Learning Him

Wiping His feet with my tears

Oh well, there will be no tears in heaven

But I will sit and give Him reverence

Because I know I’m undeserving of His love

See I’m now covered in the blood of the Son

So in case you forgot

I’m writing this letter to inform you that our relationship is officially done,

You just lost one!

Do You Know the Author?


Oh, continue your steadfast love to those who know you, and your righteousness to the upright of heart! Psalm 36:10

I love reading books and articles by people I know personally.

While any good book is worth reading, the experience is more enjoyable when I know the author because I can see little bits of them in their writing.

I discovered this in seminary when most of my professors had books that they had penned on the required reading lists for their classes. As the semester would progress and I got to know the professor better, I would catch myself reading with their voice and inflection in my head; almost my own personal book on CD. I still get tickled reading portions of Dr. Danny Akin’s books and articles and sermon manuscripts because I can tell when he was writing in a particularly passionate way and I can imagine him up on his tip-toes, leaning over the pulpit, preaching away on whatever point he happens to be making in print at the time. Dr. David Jones was my Sunday School teacher at Wake Cross Roads Baptist when I lived in Wake Forest, and when I am reading any of his works, I can imagine my Sunday school teacher right there in my office, explaining with stick figures on a dry erase board whatever mind boggling ethical point he is making in the book or article. Knowing the author and how much of his time, effort, passion and knowledge– how much of himself– went into the project makes me appreciate it even more.

It continues today. I love reading the blogs of friends and when I am researching something for my own writing, I tend to start with the writings of people I know and respect. Because I know them outside of their writing, I have a better context for what they are expressing in their work and it helps me understand it better.

For example, I don’t usually use the commentary provided with the Sunday School material at church (Shhh… don’t tell), but this quarter, Dr. Allan Moseley wrote the commentary on our study of Jeremiah and Lamentations. Dr. Moseley was the Dean of Students when I worked in the Student Life office at Southeastern, and I have heard him preach and speak on numerous occasions. Because I know him, I wanted to read what he had to say about the lessons I am teaching in my class. It’s not that I don’t trust other people who write the commentaries provided; there’s just extra incentive for me because I care about what he has to say simply because I know him.

Same principle applies to fiction. My friend Greg Wilkey recently published an e-book through Barnes and Noble. Greg was my department head when I taught at an area school, he and his wife attended our church for a time and I have been friends with his sister-in-law for several years. This character and book series are his passion, and to see it in print and be able to read it has been a joy for me because I know how much he loves it and how hard he has worked at it. It has been even more fun because, as I read, I am able to see those bits of his heart and soul in the characters in the story; the average reader would simply miss that level because they don’t know Greg. Those who know him much better than I do would probably tell you they love the book even more than I do because they love and know Greg more than I do.

Point being is this: there is a deeper meaning and understanding to any work of art (especially writing) when you know the writer.

The same principle applies to the Bible. The more you know and love God, the more you see Him in His writing, then the more you appreciate the deeper meaning and subtle references to Himself that mark the Word from Genesis to Revelation.

Here’s where most people trip up when reading the Bible– they read it for historical value or as an instruction manual or self-help book. While there are certain components of each of those genres of writing in the Bible, it is, more than anything else, an autobiography. It is God’s story of Himself to, for and concerning His people.

If you read the Bible and don’t understand it, or you think it’s boring, try reading it first as God’s autobiography. Approach it with the attitude of wanting to first learn all you can about the Author. You will find Him in every story, every law (even the weird ones like the ones about mold removal and sleeping with your clothes on), every piece of instructive teaching, every prophecy. Read it through the filter of this question: What can I learn about God? Get to know the Author. Learn about how much He loves His readers. Learn about the heart behind the writing of the book. Find out about God’s passion and it will become your passion. The more you know the Author, the more you will appreciate His Writing.

The catch with the Bible is that, because it’s first and foremost an autobiography, you have to read it to get to know the author. So read it, even if you don’t always understand it. Read it and compare it to the “writing” God has done in Creation. Read it and ask other people you know about it. If Oprah can start a world wide book club, surely you can ask a friend what they think about the Book you’re reading.

But before you write it off as history or myth or boring or impossible to understand, make sure you know the Author, because sometimes, knowing the author makes all the difference in your reading experience.