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 Faces of Islam

In recent days, there has been so much violence in the Middle East directed toward Americans. And our reaction is, understandably, to take a defensive position. I want to defend myself and my friends, shout from Twitter and everywhere else that not all Americans are “like that” (whatever “that” may be). Whether the riots are about the anti-Islam movie trailer or not, I want them to know that some Americans watched and thought it was horrible. Horrible acting (at the very least), horrible caricature of their culture, disrespectful, most likely offensive.

But I also want to say, “Violence is certainly not the way to protest a cheap movie that portrays your faith as violent.”

I want to say those things to them. But I have no way to make contact with the Muslim world. I do, however, have the ability to make contact with the American, Christian world. And with this tiny little platform I have here on the Internet, I want to remind you that while this may be the face of Islam we think is blowing up the world today…

(Photo Credit, Mohammed Abu Zaid, AP)

…these are the faces of Islam that rocked my world and flipped my perspective upside down when I spent time in Kabul and Dashti Barche, Afghanistan, in 2007.

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Don’t let the face of Islam overshadow the faces. Remember the faces.

Pray for the faces.

Pray that the Prince of Peace will continue to make Himself famous in the lives of these precious people.

Pray that Christians in America will remember that our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the powers of darkness.

Pray that we will see these people not as our enemies, but as prisoners of war who are held captive by our spiritual enemy.


A Mile in Our Shoes

This week has been one of the most heartbreaking, inspiring, challenging, convicting, angering, and frustrating weeks I have had in a very long time.

My heart is breaking for so many that I see who are consumed by the self-deceiving justification of accepting a less-than-the-best plan for their lives. My heart is also breaking because of the reaction they have received from so many in the church.

With the passing of Amendment One in North Carolina and the declaration of support for gay marriage from President Obama, political and moral opinions have been shared far and wide from every social media platform available. And the extent of the thoughtfulness has generally been “We win. You are idiots” from both sides of the debate.

From the right I hear, “Shameful,” and “Ridiculous,” and “Sinners,” and “We win,” and “That’ll show the world what America thinks about Sodomites,” and a whole host of other sound bites.

From the left I hear, “Bigots,” and “Idiots,” and “Persecutors,” and “Close minded,” and “Bullies.”

Lots of talking about one another. Very little talking with one another.

But what has bothered me the most has been the posts and comments and conversations from people who appear to otherwise be faithful, Jesus-loving Christians. Statements that hint at a victory over Public Enemy #1, gay people. Statements justifying hateful attitudes by saying, “We’re just taking a stand against sin,” and “God is going to judge America for the words of our President.”

For one, I’d rather hear Christians taking a stand for Christ than taking a stand against particular sins.


Because we generally only attack the temptations that don’t personally attack us as individuals. You don’t hear gluttonous people attacking the gluttons. Those who have experienced divorce don’t judge others in the same position. People who have overcome addiction usually aren’t heard judging the addict. Ever been in bankruptcy? I bet you don’t dog on people who are up to their eyeballs in debt.


Because they’ve been there. They understand what it’s like to be overwhelmed by that struggle and they know that it’s not enjoyable, no matter what kind of happy face one may apply.

Before you begin talking about the current gay marriage debate, take a moment and place yourself in the shoes of someone who struggles or has struggled with same sex attraction. Imagine an embarrassing or shameful part of your past being dissected on every news channel, social media platform and in many conversations you pass through during the day. The conversations generalize and talk about “those people” in harsh and insensitive terms (stereotypes are almost always harsh and insensitive, by the way).

Even if it’s something you no longer struggle with, part of your past that is long past, it still hurts. Because while that person you trusted isn’t talking about you specifically, you know that if you were still struggling, they would be talking about you that way.

And so it becomes personal.

I had the following text conversation Thursday morning with a young woman I once mentored through her journey with unwanted same-sex attraction:

“Bekah, is it bad that I got to the point of crying last night? This older guy at church was talking about the [gay] marriage thing… and he started more around the lines of bashing. I didn’t stay for church. But I did start crying… I just remember what it’s like on that side and hearing all the stuff. Then hearing it at church…IDK… Is it bad that I got upset?”

“No, it’s ok to be upset about injustice. It’s sad to hear people in the church who don’t understand grace.”

“Between them and people who I thought ‘got it’… it’s just… idk… I don’t understand people. Beyond that, I don’t understand Christians. It’s like they pick the parts of the Bible they like and agree with and ignore the rest. Last night reminded me why I never wanted to become a Christian.”

I hardly knew what to say to that. Except, “I understand, I also remember what it’s like on that side. When I see and hear the behavior of some who claim to speak for God, and sometimes I don’t want to be a Christian either.”

Remember some things before you speak about any sin or person entrapped in sin:

1. Sin easily entangles.

2. Satan is a liar and the father of lies. No one sins without first being deceived.

3. “But for the grace of God go I.” That person could be you.

4. The person you’re talking to may be the person you’re talking about. You just may not know it.

5. Pay attention to your conversations. Do you take stands against things or take stands for Jesus?

6. Jesus dined with sinners and prostitutes. He condemned religious Pharisees. I was once a Pharisee. Then God showed me just how much of a sinner I am. Now I add “Pharisee” to the list of self-loving sins I need to die to daily.

7. It’s possible to love sinners and also say, “Go and sin no more.” Jesus did it and so can we.

8. Jesus said the world would know we were His by our love for one another, not by the platforms we support or soapboxes we stand on.

9. Strive to be the type of Christian that never makes another Christian regret taking that name.

10. Know that you can disagree without destroying. Our battle is not against flesh and blood. Attacking people is equal to attacking your own Army’s POWs in a time of war.

Have you ever experienced an unintentional attack by someone speaking carelessly? How did it make you feel? How did you respond?

How does Scripture instruct us to interact with those with whom we disagree or do not understand?

For more information on grace-filled dialogue about the current gay marriage debate, check out the following links:

Tim Keller on how to treat homosexuals

How to Win the Public on Homosexuality by Collin Hansen

NC Amendment One and President Obama by Matt Emerson

Meditation Good for the Brain… and Soul

I read an article on this morning entitled “How Meditation May Change the Brain”. Recent research indicates that people who meditate on a regular basis increase gray matter in the area of the brain that supports memory and learning while also decreasing the gray matter in the area of the brain that registers anxiety and stress.

Sounds like meditation might just be the cure to a lot of problems in the stressed out, forgetful, anxious culture we have developed in America. Some of the most common complaints of people today include the symptoms we are told meditating will alleviate. The problem for Christians is that we have been trained to believe that meditation is related only to Eastern religions such as Buddhism. So, instead of taking time to meditate and relax, we medicate and continue our stressed out, overworked lives.

There has been much discussion lately concerning the use of Eastern religious practices by Christians. Yoga has been a hot topic debated back and forth. Should Christians participate in an activity that was designed as a form of worship for another religion? Can the benefits of an activity be “Christianized” so that believers can participate without being a stumbling block or inadvertently worshiping a false god?

One thing that needs to be considered in this question is that there are things the Bible itself tells us to do that have become related distinctly to Eastern religious practice because Christians have abandoned them. A great example of this is meditation. In our culture today, we relate meditation directly to Buddhism and we picture a person in a lotus position, emptying their mind and repeating the Ohm.

There is a distinct difference between the meditation found in Eastern religions and the meditation in which we are told to participate in Scripture. As an oversimplification, Eastern religions teach meditation is to empty your mind, to think on nothing, to focus on your inner self and become “one” with the spirit of the universe.

Scripture teaches us to separate ourselves from the stresses of the world. We are to clear our mind, but not to focus on nothing. We have something specific to meditate upon. We are to push out the stress and anxiety of the world and meditate on God, on His character, on His Word.

We are told in Genesis 24 that Isaac went out to a field at night to meditate.

Joshua 1:8 says: Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.

The longest chapter in all of the Bible is Psalm 119, a praise of the benefits of knowing and meditating upon the Word of God.

Psalm 46:10 says, Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.

So as far as I’m concerned, the research published in Psychiatry Today: Neuroimaging simply confirms what God has been trying for ages to get humanity to understand: doing what God tells us to do is for our own good (Deut. 10:13).

So is it wrong for Christians to meditate? NO! It’s actually a command from God. But the fundamental difference between Eastern meditation and Christian meditation is the focus of the meditation. Eastern meditation empties the mind and focuses inwardly on self. Christian meditation fills the mind with the Word and focuses outwardly on Christ.

I would encourage you to try the experiment the man in the article is attempting. Rise early. Spend one hour in still silence, thinking on the Word and person of Christ. Train your mind to focus on Him, not on the distractions of this world. In the words of the old hymn, “Turn your eyes up on Jesus, look full in his wonderful face. And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace.”

Spend some time looking Jesus full in the face, and see if it doesn’t just change your outlook on your day. When we do the right things for the right reasons, the right results occur, and they bring glory to God. Meditation for the man in the article seems to make him a nicer husband, and that’s enough for his wife, but to meditate on and for Christ will change both heart and mind, and can change lives for eternity.

Comfortable Sins

I have been involved in an interesting conversation this week on another blog and wanted to share a couple of observsations here.

While the post was a review of Andrew Marin’s book Love is an Orientation, the comments below quickly shifted gears to sharing personal experiences concerning the relationships between conservative evangelicals and the LGBT community. Most experiences were from those in the Christian LGBT community who had experienced painful rejection and judgmental treatment from the church at large. Hurt feelings were still quite apparent as they wondered aloud how a church that tolerates gossip and greed and pornography and adultry can’t also tolerate a faithfully married gay couple who just wants to worship the same God they serve.

With the question posed like that, I wonder the same thing.

Why is it that there are so many “comfortable sins” we tolerate in the church, but have chosen to rise up in unified disgust with this one? Is it the fact that it’s the most unknown? The most feared? Is it because it’s the one sexual sin that has the fewest participants? After all, when more than half of unmarried church members admit to sexual activity in a given year and 20% of church going men admit to having had an affair at some point in their marriage, who’s going to speak out against extra-marrital sex? Who’s going to be the first to jump off the gossip train when 99.9% of us would be sad if it quit running? How can you confront someone with their greed when you are coveting what they have?

We might have a better chance of convincing the world that Jesus is worth loving if we first loved Him enough to present Him with a spotless bride. We can’t convince the world of their sin as long as we continue to hide our own.

Here was the conclusion I posted at the end of the blog:

I too have spent much time wondering about this issue of confrontation of sin in the church. Much of the problem, I believe, is that, for so long, the church has overlooked “straight” sexual sin and has suddenly decided to stand up to homosexual sin as an overwhelming deviation of the plan of God for sexuality.

The problem is not so much the response to homosexuality as it is the church’s response to sexual sin in general. I speak to this issue having been raised in a strict Southern Baptist upbringing and having struggled with my own issues concerning homosexuality.

As long as I continued to compare my sin struggles with other people, I had justification to continue in my sin. “My sexuality isn’t hurting anyone else! At least I’m not married and cheating on my husband.” or “How dare So-and-So tell me who I can and cannot love! Didn’t he get caught having and affair?” As long as we lower the standard for behavior to the level of humanity, we will always meet that standard.

As believers, however, our standard is not humanity, it’s a holy and perfect God who says we all fall short of His glory. …What we all truly do is justify our pet sins while condemning those who equally justify their own sins instead of ours. As long as we all look to one another as the standard for combating sin, we will never move. None of us. The rich man driving the Hummer will continue in his materialism, the deacon will continue to use pornography, the stay at home mom will be jealous of the working single woman and the working single woman will be bitter about her singleness, the homosexual will continue to identify himself more in his sexuality than in his role as an image bearer of God. When we compare ourselves to other sinful fallen people, we will never see the need to rise above our sinfulness.

So to get the conversation away from comparisons to other humans who live in a world with an infinite array of various shades of gray, let’s look back at the one perfect standard God set up. It is not the church that set up a black or white dichotomy of straight v. gay. There is no gray area with God. Gray areas are ways we attempt to justify our sin. Simple as that. God says we are foolish or wise, right or wrong. To commit one sin is to have committed them all in the eyes of a holy God. This isn’t to make God out to be a cosmic kill-joy bent on our destruction. He is a loving and holy God who desires us to recognize our sinfulness so we recognize a need for a Savior. Not only does He point out to us our need, He provides the needed salvation! We all fall short of His glory, not just those of us who commit sins the rest of us don’t like or understand. If God has one perfect way to do all things and we as people have found a myriad of ways to twist that one thing, then we need to see what God says about that one thing in order to be able to take a stand as a church on any issue of sexuality and gender.

First, what was God’s original purpose in marriage? Why did he create us to be in relationship with other people? What was His purpose in creating sex? It was his plan, after all… If God created it one way, why do we think we have a better way to it than the one who made it? And if you think that the Bible isn’t clear in what God says about sex, why do you even bother worshiping God at all? If we serve a God too weak to ensure that His intended Word to His people is transmitted to each generation of those who serve Him, then we serve a God too weak to deserve our worship and Paul was right; we above all men most deserve to be pitied.
It is possible to have a loving yet steadfast stance against all forms of sexual sin, but it requires us to take a hard look at how our own lives also don’t match up to God’s one perfect plan. And as fallen people, it’s always easier to look at the sins of others than to look at our own. …

The truth of the matter is that our heavenly Father desperately loves us, but He loves His own glory more. As those who claim to live our lives for His glory, we need to learn all we can about Him, his nature, his love, his holiness if we are to ever be conformed to the image of Christ. Pointing out the sins of others will never cure our own; only Jesus can do that, and thankfully, He has! It is only his redeeming work in our lives that can rid any of us of the sin which so easily entangles, whatever sin that may be.

So, what comfortable sin has you entangled? What are you going to do about it?