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.

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Guest Post: Give Her Wings Book Review


As many of you know, I serve with a ministry called Give Her Wings, whose mission is to “raise gifts and money for mothers who have left abusive situations… to give these brave ladies a chance to get on their feet . . . to breathe . .. to heal their broken wings and fly free again.”

Megan Cox is the director of Give Her Wings, and is herself a survivor of domestic abuse. She tells her story and provides insight into the experiences of domestic and spiritual abuse in her book Give Her Wings: Help and Healing After Abuse.

I recently asked several friends in different areas of ministry to read Megan’s book and write a review for us that gave their response to the book and how they could see it being used in their particular ministry. 

The following is the response I received from Sarah Mitchell. Sarah and I attended seminary together and served alongside one another in a variety of ways during that time. Sarah has served overseas and is currently serving in the (more than) full time role of wife to Chris and mother to their three preschoolers. The Mitchell’s live in Salem, VA, where Chris is the pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church.
A dear friend of mine knows how much I love to read and how I used to like to write…well, I still like to write, I think, but I haven’t in forever (something about 3 kids 4 and under!). Anyway, I digress already! So, Bekah asked me to read a new book, knowing that the book would be a helpful resource as a pastor’s wife in a local church.

Naturally I was excited to get to read a book that was both hot-off-the-press and a potentially useful resource. Little did I know how helpful this little beautifully written book would be over the last couple of months. A lady I know is currently struggling with the decision to stay in or leave an abusive relationship. Aside from praying through Scripture with her, which is, of course, the richest resource on the planet and applicable in every situation, I was clueless how to help her when she asked me for counsel and prayer, but that VERY SAME WEEK I received this book in the mail. The Lord’s timing is so utterly perfect and He obviously knew that I would need Give Her Wings: Help and Healing After Abuse by Megan D. Cox to give me a glimpse behind the curtain of someone who is struggling in a situation of abuse and to provide a practical guide for me as I walk this journey with my friend!

Things with my friend are complicated and fragile and I feel totally inadequate as her confidant and life-line, but God has very definitively crossed our paths and I know that obedience looks like helping her in whatever way I can. As I began to read Give Her Wings, I instantly loved Megan’s ability to share her personal story, truth from God’s Word, and practical advice both for the victim of abuse and the ones seeking to help her. Towards the beginning of the book, Cox writes some of the most life-giving words to encourage victims of abuse to come out of their situation into freedom. She says, “A seed must first die and be buried, then life comes…I was made to be free. That thought right there is the new life peeking out” (6). LIFE, and life more abundantly is what Christ offers to all of us and it is what we, those who are believers and ambassadors of the gospel have to offer others. Cox reminds her readers of that purpose over and over again throughout the book.

Complicated. Messy. Scary. Ugly. Dark. Those are words that describe the life victims of abuse long to leave behind. As encouragers, we offer the hope of life after abuse but it often requires personal sacrifice. To me one of the most profound statements Megan makes for those seeking to be helpers to victims is this: “There really is something to our lives being messy…Look into the life of one person you knows God and you will find a bit of chaos somewhere along the way…What unintentionally separated the wheat from the tares in my life was the fact that some people decided to get into our mess and get all muddied up” (45). I have a choice to make…I can run and hide and leave my new friend to fend for herself or I can hang in there, push up my sleeves, get on my knees, and really just be a friend. I know what Jesus did for those who had messy lives, He reached into their messes and just loved them. Cox calls us to do the same.

If those of us who are in full-time ministry or are involved in ministry at any level are at all tuned into what’s going on in the lives of those whom God has surrounded us, then we will likely run across people who need us to get into their messy lives and help. And Megan Cox doesn’t mean fix them or their situation. No. In fact she will tell us that we can’t fix it and that fixing it isn’t ultimately the point. The point, according to Cox, is to love them well. We need to be available, loyal, truthful, and pointers to the One who made them and loves them. Cox writes, “Tell her [the victim] that God does not wish anyone to be abused. She needs to know this right away…If she understand that Jesus cares about the pain and loves her, the seeds are planted for her to be able to separate an abusive husband from the true God who loves her” (90).

I definitely found Megan’s book to be a useful tool for those who are counseling women who are victims of abuse or as a healing balm for those who have been or are involved in an abusive relationship. It’s a brilliant diamond hewn out of the rough grit of her personal experience leaving behind a life of abuse and straining toward the abundant life the Lord had planned for her. It’s a unique resource because Megan artfully weaves excerpts from her own journey in and around and through scripturally anchored advice and how-to’s. I highly recommend and urge those who are in women’s ministry or in church leadership in any capacity to read Give Her Wings. It is a must-have resource for the Church as we seek to demonstrate Christ-like love toward the hurting and the broken and the ones being put back together piece by beautiful piece.

Where the Storm Meets the Sun


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I bought a book for my niece and nephew for Christmas this year. Nothing shocking about this; I was buying them books before they were born.

But this year I picked up what is, I believe, the most well written, theologically rich storybook Bible I’ve ever seen.

The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones and illustrated by Jago is an exceptional storybook for both children and adults. The reason for this is that, unlike most storybook bibles that read like a collection of disjointed short stories, this storybook Bible reads like a chapter book. It is designed to teach the grand narrative of Jesus to even the youngest listener. Each story refers to previous ones and, more importantly, points to the future plan of God.

The following excerpt is from the account of Noah and the flood. It is one of my favorites so far because it shows both the quality of writing and the depth of the theology.

The first thing Noah did was to thank God for rescuing them, just as he had promised.

And the first thing God did was make another promise. “I won’t ever destroy the world again.”

And like a warrior who puts away his bow and arrow at the end of a great battle, God said, “See, I have hung up my bow in the clouds.”

And there, in the clouds– where the storm meets the sun– was a beautiful bow made of light.

It was a new beginning in God’s world…
God’s strong anger against hate and sadness and death would come down once more– but not on his people, or his world. No, God’s war bow was not pointing down at his people.

It was point up, into the heart of Heaven.

Beautiful word pictures and well crafted foreshadowing make this a story pleasing to both the heart and the head.

While the book itself is excellent, the Deluxe Edition is even better. Included is a 3-CD set of audio CDs with the entire storybook narrated by British actor David Suchet. The words come to life listening to him! We’ve spent the evening listening and following along and it has kept the attention of a 22 month old, a 21 year old and a 32 year old. Multi-generational to be sure.

What this storybook proves is that the story of Jesus does not have to be “dumbed down” for children. And adults don’t have to feel silly enjoying a children’s book.

As CS Lewis once stated, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”

The Jesus Storybook Bible is a good children’s story.

Is Twilight Emotional Porn?


Much is made today of the devastating effects of pornography in the lives of men. Articles and books have been written by the thousands outlining the emotional, financial, time and relational impact of porn addiction. I work for a ministry that deals everyday with the effects of pornography. We have learned that men are wired to respond sexually to visual stimulation—I have been told by numerous men that, try as we might, women will just never understand the power of lust and the battle they fight against their sexual desires. I believe them.

Sometimes I wonder if the damage done by pornography is felt more by the women in the lives of these men than by the men themselves. Porn gives men an unrealistic expectation of how women should look and behave. Because men tend to be visual creatures, they respond to what they see. When what they have in real life doesn’t match up to what they have trained themselves to respond to on TV or the computer screen, they turn to those images for satisfaction. The problem is that no woman meets those expectations; not even those women themselves. They are airbrushed actresses, playing a part in a fantasy that cannot come true in real life. There are few things more damaging to the self-worth and emotional well-being of a woman than to feel like her husband is more attracted and sexually connected to an image on a screen than he is to her.

What, you may ask, does this have to do with the book series Twilight? Just like men tend to be stimulated visually and crave sexual connection, women tend to be wired emotionally and crave relational connection. In the past couple of years, I have watched middle and high school girls become obsessed with this book series and its characters. Recently, I have begun watching my friends in their twenties and thirties become equally caught up in the lives of the characters on the pages. More than any other character in the series, the obsession really lies in Edward Cullen, the teenage vampire heartthrob that loves the heroine, Bella Swan. Not only is Bella the heroine, but the books are written in first person from her perspective– as you read, you become Bella. You read her thoughts, you feel her emotions, you are drawn into the story in a way that is next to impossible in a book written in the third person. Fantasy becomes your reality, and Edward is set up as the perfect gentleman—he loves Bella at first site, sacrifices himself in an attempt to protect her, gives himself up to make her happy. He becomes a Messiah figure in her life, and because you are so attached to Bella’s character, he becomes your messiah, too. Deep down, we are all wired with a desire to be saved. That’s what makes the “knight in shining armor” story stand the test of time.

There is nothing wrong with desiring a man who will exemplify the standard of sacrificial love; after all, Scripture tells us that our husbands are to love us as Christ loved the church, which means he is willing to lay down his life for his wife (Ephesians 5). But in becoming obsessed with this fictional character, are we placing a standard of fantasy perfection on the fallen, sinful men who God has called to both serve and lead us? Just like pornography sets an unrealistic visual expectation for men, is Edward setting an unrealistic emotional expectation for women, particularly teenage girls?

Don’t think I’m picking on Twilight; it’s just the latest in a long line of things I would consider emotional porn. If you aren’t sure what I mean by emotional porn, have you ever been dumped by a boyfriend or been disappointed or hurt by your husband in some way and comforted yourself on the couch with a night of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan “chick flicks”? Have you ever read a romance novel or watched a movie and thought, “If only he would treat me this way?” Have you watched The Notebook at least a dozen times and still sob like an infant, wondering if you will ever have a Noah Calhoun? The expectation has been set that men should sweep us off our feet—but then never put us back down.

And that is the crux of the issue—we are looking for a fulfillment in the creation that can only be found in the Creator (Romans 1:22-25). When a man seeks a woman who is a “real life porn star,” one who was created in the mind of a man instead of in the image of God, he is ultimately worshiping himself and his desires and he will always be disappointed. When a woman begins seeking a man who will meet her every need, satisfy her every desire, she has set herself up as an idol to be worshiped both by herself and by those around her, and she will always be disappointed. Only One is described in Scripture as “the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:23).

While fantasy and fiction are fun, when we become so caught up in them that we begin to expect our fantasy in reality, a line has been crossed. So if you’ve read Twilight, has it altered the expectations you have set for the men in your life? Do you think it has created a fair expectation? And, does that expectation line up with the expectation laid out in Scripture of a godly man?

Instruments, Part 6


The last two chapters of the book deal with the action aspect of change in the heart of the church as a whole. While the first three parts of the personal ministry—Love, know and speak—are vital to the confrontation of people in sin, this last aspect, the doing aspect, is the key to keeping one another in a healthy state of change. “Do” is the daily process not of achieving some sort of behavioral perfection, but rather, the process of learning daily how to fulfill the commandment to “Be holy, because I am holy” (Lev. 11:44) (239). The process of becoming instruments of change is not with a foreseeable end. As long as people are living and breathing on this planet, Tripp reminds the reader that change is possible and required. “Do trains people in the decisions, actions, relationships, and skills of Christ-centered, biblically informed living. We have a wonderful opportunity not only to teach people how to solve their problems biblically, but to turn their lives around for the long run” (243-244).

The appendices to the text of this book are full of valuable practical application information that will be vital to a successful ministry of helping others with biblical change. In the appendices, Tripp covers valuable topics, such as hindrances to the data gathering process, biblical explanations for the success of giving homework in biblical counseling, descriptions of the types of qualities a counselor should bring into the life of a counselee, and how each of these concepts fit into the overall process of counseling.

This is a solidly written book rich in biblical truths, but there is one main witness a reader should be aware of prior to reading the text. There are times when Tripp’s writing can digress into a long list of personal anecdote stories that occasionally feel as though they are filler words to meet a publisher’s page number requirement. Often, when making a point about a certain type of struggle, or in an attempt to show the universal effects of sin, he will include numerous life examples, either anonymous examples or personal examples. This issue by no means takes away from the quality of the writing as a whole, but for someone who is reading this as a more academic endeavor, entire paragraphs of applicatory examples from “real life” can begin to seem pointless and redundant.

While many books available on counseling today are geared specifically to the professionally trained counselor, Tripp remains true to his original goal of providing a way to instill change in the church as a whole. Instruments in the Hands of the Redeemer is not a book full of technical jargon and psychological terms. Rather, it is an instruction manual for becoming an instrument of change in the lives of others that can be understood and appreciated by all members of the body of Christ, from the seasoned pastor to the young layperson. The strength of this writing is its readability and the effort Tripp shows to make the reader understand that this type of lifestyle is not only possible for all believers, but it is a Scriptural commandment for all believers.

Instruments, Part 5


Chapters Nine and Ten offer what is certainly the strongest accusation against the church today: “We tend to have permanently casual relationships that never grow into real intimacy. There are things we know about each other, but they fool us into thinking that we know the human being who live within the borders of those details” (163). The self-protecting anonymity of society has destroyed the concept of friendship to such a level that there are people with whom we interact on a daily basis but we have failed to grasp the intimate, spiritual details of their lives. Tripp implores the reader to consider this concept: “We must not let ourselves become comfortable with the casual, where ministry is limited to offering general principles that would fit anyone’s story. The genius of personal ministry is that it is personal…You cannot minister well to someone you do not know” (165).

To overcome this tendency to be fact-knowers instead of people-knowers, Tripp focuses specifically on the questions to ask and the key answers to look for in the process of getting to know a person and his struggles. Based on Hebrews 4:14-16, Tripp tells the reader that Christ is the greatest model for data gathering. Christ “was tempted in everyway, just as we are—yet without sin” 166). He is the one who has personally experienced any type of suffering that can be imagined—and he handled them all in sinless perfection. “For thirty-three years, he lived among us, gathering data about the nature of our experience” (167). Because of that experience, Christ has sympathy for the suffering of humanity. A sympathy, Tripp states, that all Christians are called to emulate in our relationships with one another.

Getting to know people can be a difficult process, and to aid the reader in this process, Tripp gives many practical examples of the types of questions that should be asked and the way those questions should be asked. Specifically, Tripp gives four principles for good questions:
1. Always ask open-ended questions that cannot be answered with a ‘yes’ or ‘no.’
2. Ask a combination of survey and focused questions… Survey questions scan the various areas of a person’s life and look at the person as a whole… Focused questions look intensively into one area of a person’s life.
3. Remember that certain kinds of questions reveal certain kinds of information.
4. Ask a progressive line of questions, in which each question is based on information uncovered in the previous question (175-180).

Tripp concludes this section with a deeply challenging observation:
Asking good questions is vital to helping people face who they really are and what they are really doing… As sinners we all tend to recast our own history in self-serving ways… Because of this, we all need people who love us enough to ask, listen, and, having listened, to ask more. This is not being intrusive. This is helping blind people embrace their need for Christ (181).

Once a person has embraced a fellow sufferer in love and has listened with the ears and heart of Christ to the struggle in her life, Tripp states that there is a time to speak in response to the struggle. Instruments are meant to be receptors of confessions; we are called to respond, to admonish one other when the need arises. Confrontation and the speaking of truth can, at times, be the most difficult expression of love, but it is a commanded part of reaching people with the love of Christ. Tripp claims, rightly, that confrontation has become such a painful and uncomfortable subject because it is a part of the Christian life that has been all but forgotten in recent years.

This portion of instruction is based upon Leviticus 19: 15-18, which “discusses God’s intentions for this aspect of relationships and personal ministry” (200). According to Tripp, this passage describes confrontation not as an uncomfortable and unusual aspect of our relationships, but as a “constant conversation… where the daily intervention of honest rebuke is a regular part of all relationships” (205). At this point, Tripp reminds the reader that in order to be a proper minister of change in the lives of others requires a change and constant check-up concerning the condition of our own hearts. Confrontation cannot flow from a heart of anger or frustration or personal agenda. Confrontation brings someone face to face with the love and truth of God, and to be able to bring that to someone, the confronter cannot come with his own agenda in mind for the one being confronted.

Tripp tells the reader there are four steps to a biblical process of confrontation: Consideration, Confession, Commitment, and Change. While the first step to the process is the responsibility of the person who is confronting, Tripp emphasizes that true biblical change is ultimately the responsibility of the one being confronted, because the last three steps deal with the response to the speaking of truth by the one who is being confronted.

Instruments, Part 4


Chapters Seven and Eight deal with Tripp’s concept of Christian love and how followers of Christ should interact with one another in loving relationships. In order for the reader to become an instrument for the radical change needed in the hearts of people today, Tripp states it is necessary to consider the following point: “I am deeply persuaded that the foundation for people-transforming ministry is not sound theology; it is love” (117). Tripp does not discount sound theology. Instruments in the Hands of the Redeemer is a writing full of sound explanations and applications of Scripture. But his point is expressed in an old Sunday school poster: “They don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care.” People need to know they are loved, and Tripp firmly states in this section that there is more to love than conditional lip service. People who truly want to be a light in the world around them must have a grasp on the unconditional, committed love of Christ.

Paul says, “You are recipients of Christ’s love and nothing can separate you from it.” This love offers hope to anyone willing to confess sin and cry out for transformation. Yet this is where we often get stuck. We want ministry that doesn’t demand love that is, well, so demanding! We don’t want to serve others in a way that requires so much personal sacrifice. We would prefer to lob hand grenades of truth into people’s lives rather than lay down our lives for them (118).

Tripp clearly lays out in these opening pages a call that will be difficult to accept for many. Being an instrument of the Redeemer means giving up the right to perform as an instrument of your own will or agenda. This is a well explained point, and a challenging call that the reader is forced to ponder as the book continues. Christ has not called us to a life of convenient assistance. Rather, we have been called to follow in his footsteps and lay down our lives for our fellow man.

Once Tripp lays out this challenge for radical change in the love shown by the church, he explains how Christ has exhibited this love in the lives of all believers: through our “justification, adoption, and sanctification” (120). Relationships are the key element to the Heavenly Father’s work on this planet. Our relationship with Christ is what redeems us to Him, and our relationships with one another is one way he continues his sanctification work in each of us.

Tripp has written much to this point about the love and redeeming work of God, and so much discussion on love often brings up the questioning of God based on the suffering in the world. All of Chapter Eight is devoted to explaining to the reader how God is active in the suffering in this world to bring about redeeming change and ultimately show his love to the world. It this point, having an ultimate faith in the inerrancy of Scripture and the sovereignty of God becomes paramount to the reader’s understanding and acceptance of this idea. Suffering, Tripp states, is “one of God’s most useful workrooms” (145). In suffering, every person is brought to a level playing field of reliance upon God. Suffering is also the way Christ made redemption available to humanity. It was through his suffering that Christ made salvation available to man and showed that he understands the suffering people experience daily.

Tripp shows the reader that suffering has an ultimate purpose in the lives of people. Personal suffering is one of the greatest tools anyone can use to proclaim the sovereignty of God to the life of another. Experience can be the connecting bridge between God and man, and often it is the experience of similar or shared suffering that creates that bridge. Suffering also instills in God’s instruments a certain understanding and Christ-like compassion for those experiencing similar suffering. Often those who have traveled similar roads of suffering and change are the ones that can lead many down the same road of God’s healing love and redemption. Tripp closes the chapter by explaining that “God’s acceptance is not a call to relax, but a call to work…The grace God extends to us is always grace leading to change” (158). Radical change in the church will begin, Tripp concludes, when people become willing to share their sufferings with one another and then are willing to accept one another while assisting in the change God is seeking to make in lives.