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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A More Excellent Way

A More Excellent Way


I care deeply for a very diverse group of people. They are teachers, doctors, lawyers, sales reps, caregivers, homemakers, service professionals, counselors, artists, pastors, pastors’ wives; heterosexuals, homosexuals, transsexuals, former homosexuals, still-haven’t-figured-it-out-sexuals; agnostics, Jews, Muslims, Catholics, liberal theologians, Reformed theologians; Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, and a few who have never voted; former child molesters and abusers, and those who are healing from the effects of molestation and abuse; drug addicts, and those who, by the world’s standards, have never made a wrong decision in their lives.

And I love them all.

One of the reasons that I love them all is one common trait they all possess: loving respect for all of humanity, even those who are very different from them.

The last few months have seen some of the people who I love dearly caricatured and stereotyped, then brutally attacked with both the written and spoken word, either directly and individually, or because of a particular group with whom they identify.

And in case you missed it, sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can permanently damage.

While I was doing yard work this evening, a phrase continually rolled through my head: “A more excellent way.”

You see, friends, there is a more excellent way than the way humanity is treating one another in this season of time. We have drawn sides, demonized all who disagree with us, and agree only on the fact that all issues fall under a “Take No Prisoners” rule of engagement.

So Christians attack Muslims. And vice versa. And heterosexuals attack homosexuals. And vice versa. Republicans attack Democrats. And vice versa. Creationists attack Evolutionists. And vice versa.

But there is a more excellent way, shared with us by the Apostle Paul. Regardless of how you may feel about the Bible, or about Paul, or his theology, or his sexuality, or his missions strategy, we can all agree that his way is, indeed, more excellent.

24b …But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it,
25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.
26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it… 31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts. And yet I will show you the most excellent way.
1 If I speak in the tongues[fn] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[fn] but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails.
But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part,
10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.
11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.
12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 12-13

Simply put, let’s grow up and love one another.

The One Where I Defend Heretics


Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17

You read that title right. I am defending heretics. In fact, I’ll take it a step further; I like heretics.

At least I like our modern day heretics.

See, 1,700 years ago, a heretic was a person who taught things that were contrary to Scripture. We burned them at the stake.

Today, the title of heretic is given to pretty much anyone who doesn’t agree with the person who is handing out the title. We burn them on the Internet.

Why do I like heretics?

Heretics challenge us. Spend too much time talking with people who agree with you and soon you’ll start thinking everyone agrees with you. One of the best (and worst) things about the Internet is that conversations are now open forums. You say something in an unclear way, without context or without thinking, and someone is going to call you on it. Fast.

Heretics make us continually check our thinking and, in turn, the way in which we communicate. When I have spent too much time with people I assume agree with me, I find myself saying things like, “You know what I mean,” or “Surely SHE knows I’m not talking about THAT.” Or, when people do disagree, I immediately discount their opinion, thinking, “If she knew where I was coming from, she’d understand.”

When you’ve spent so much time with the same people, it’s easy to take for granted that you know each other, and it’s really hard to recognize the expected changes and growth in one another. One thing I have learned the last few years is that even with the people who agree with you the most, there is eventually going to come a time when you will disagree.

And when you disagree with the people who have “always been around” sometimes you find out that you’ve been assuming much more than you’ve been communicating. You’ve not been sharpening one another like iron, you’ve most likely been taking one another and your assumed agreement for granted. And when assumptions and expectations are challenged, a lot of pain can occur.

This is why I like heretics.

Those who vocally disagree with you do more for your sharpening than anyone who simply exists in your sphere of influence but never actually influences you.

We have developed this image of mentoring and Christian relationships that is soft and fluffy and emotional unity, and that’s not the completely biblical picture of Christian living.

Have you ever actually seen iron sharpen iron? It’s loud and violent and hot.

We’re told in Hebrews to spur one another on to love and good deeds. Spur. Like you spur a horse. Agitate those around you to break out of their routine and assumptions and consider just how apathetic they may have become.

To edify is more than writing a pretty note to a friend telling her you’re praying for her. Edify is a construction term. Construction is dirty and sweaty. It’s hard work.

Heretics sharpen us. They sharpen our thoughts and our communication. They force us to cling tightly to Christ while we learn to hold our labels and our heroes very loosely. I’ve learned in the last few months that I’m not nearly as “conservative” as I once was. And I am ok with that. The term has changed and I have changed, but if I had not been engaged in hard conversations with people I assumed I disagreed with, both theologically and politically, I would have kept sharp lines of separation drawn, and I would have missed out learning a lot about myself, about God, and about those who see the world differently from me.

So if heretics are the people who disagree with me, then I love heretics.

I love that they challenge me to put away my stereotypes and sweeping generalizations and force me to get to know individuals, appreciating our points of agreement while respectfully examining the points at which we disagree.

I love that their sweeping generalizations, the ones that cause me to say, “I hold to that label, but I do NOT hold to that belief!” cause me to pause and consider my own heart and my own convictions.

I love that heretics allow the complex nature of Christ to shine before a watching world. When others see us engage in civil discourse concerning issues about which we passionately disagree and we walk away from the conversation edified, the world marvels, “How is that possible?” And we have an opportunity to share with a watching world the hope that is within us.

Ultimately, it is the Holy Spirit that unifies. Not our political beliefs or our theological platforms. Within orthodox Christianity, there is plenty of room to disagree, and even in our disagreements we have room to display the unity of Christ.

Do I have those people in my life who encourage me and love on me and wipe my tears and cheer me on? Absolutely, as everyone should. But I have also begun to develop an equally precious group of friends with whom I agree on very little theologically or politically. But what we do agree on is the fact that we have room to learn from one another. None of us has the monopoly on all truth, but the best part is that we are all more interested in being loving and holy than in being right.

So I would encourage you: find yourself a heretic. Invite someone into your life who doesn’t agree with you on everything and enter into a sharpening relationship. Challenge one another with the intention of building and growing. You just might find out that you love heretics, too.

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.

The Bible is not about you.


Dr. Akin gave this to us this morning in class in a discussion of typology in the Old Testament. His point was to show that while so much of what goes on in the church today is people-centered, self-help, feelings-healing, needs-meeting fluff, the Bible is not really about us, it’s all about Jesus. When we focus on ourselves, we so often miss the point that when we really meet Jesus, we find our help, our feelings are healed and our needs are met!

Too often when we study scripture, we start with the wrong question: “What does this say to/about me?” If we start our study asking, “What does this tell me about God?” then we really get down to the deep riches of the Word. After all, if we are called to conform to the image of Christ, shouldn’t we be learning more about him and less about us?

The following resource was cited by Tim Keller in his lecture “Preaching the Gospel” from the Resurgence Conference in 2006. The audio can be found here:

http://theresurgence.com/r_r_2006_session_seven_audio_keller

Jesus is the true and better Adam, who passed the test in the garden and whose obedience is imputed to us.

Jesus is the true and better Abel, who, though innocently slain, has blood that now cries out, not for our condemnation, but for our acquittal.

Jesus is the true and better Abraham, who answered the call of God to leave the comfortable and familiar and go out into the void, not know wither he went to create a new people of God.

Jesus is the true and better Isaac, who was not just offered up by his father on the mount, but was truly sacrificed for us. And just as God said to Abraham, “Now I know you love me because you did not withhold your son, your only son whom you love from me,” now we can look at God taking his son up the mountain and sacrificing him and say, “Now we know that you love us because you did not withhold your son, your only son, whom you love, from us.”

Jesus is the true and better Jacob, who wrestled and took the blow of justice we deserved so we, like Jacob, only receive the wounds of grace to wake us up and discipline us.

Jesus is the true and better Joseph, who, at the right hand of the king, forgives those who betrayed and sold him and uses his new power to save them.

Jesus is the true and better Moses, who stands in the gap between people and the Lord and who mediates a new covenant.

Jesus is the true and better Rock of Moses, who, struck with the rod of God’s justice, now gives us water in the desert.

Jesus is the true and better Job, the truly innocent sufferer, who then intercedes for and saves his stupid friends.

Jesus is the true and better David, whose victory becomes his people’s victory, though they never lifted a stone to accomplish it themselves.

Jesus is the true and better Esther, who didn’t just risk leaving an earthly palace, but lost the ultimate and heavenly one, who didn’t just risk his life, but gave up his life to save his people.

Jesus is the true and better Jonah, who was cast out into the storm so that we could be brought in.

Jesus is the read Rock of Moses, the real Passover Lamb, innocent, perfect, helpless, slain so the angel of death will pass over us. He’s the True Temple, the True Prophet, the True Priest, the True King, the True Sacrifice, the True Lamb, the True Light, the True Bread.

The Bible’s not really about you—it’s about Him.