"The Realms Thereunder" by Ross Lawhead

Ross Lawhead. The Realms Thereunder (An Ancient Earth). Thomas Nelson, 2011. 400 pgs. 

Beneath Great Britian lies a sleeping army ready and waiting for the great battle between good and evil. Daniel Tully and Freya Reynolds are normal school children. Until they accidentally discover, and awaken, two of the sleeping knights in that army. Thus begins their adventures in the realms thereunder. Knights, immortal and ancient wise men, trolls, gnomes, dragons, and an evil wizard seem to be in only the beginning in this enjoyable series. 

Reading The Realms Thereunder felt like a return to an older style of fantasy novel. It comes from a time when confused youths with swords could become heroes, a time when fantasy still had an element of the fairy tale, and it is well done. While maintaining the ambiguity of the human soul, the deceitful shadows of evil, and the reality of our confusing and often sorrowful life on earth Lawhead manages to pull the reader into a different world. If you can't tell, let me say it plainly: I thoroughly enjoyed this book. What you have here is a good, old-fashioned, yarn. You won't be disappointed. Of course you may not like this if you don't like fantasy. And if you are stuck on only reading fantasy which follows the likes of Martin then you also may have issues. After all, we apparently live in a time when gritty fantasy is the way to go. But if you are open to some classic fantasy, look no further. 

Conclusion: 4.5 Stars. Recommended. Great book, super fun. 



The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw--that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near. - Revelation 1:1-3

"Give me a revelation, show me what to do, cause I've been trying to find my way and I haven't got a clue...."  (Third Day)

If you could know something about your future, would you want to? What would it be? Many people come to the book of Revelation with questions about the future. But, other than in a large and general sense (SPOILER ALERT: Jesus is Victorious!!!), that is not what Revelation offers. More importantly, that is not what we need.

In Revelation we are given the apocalypse of Jesus Christ. The unveiling of Jesus Christ (not the earth-shattering disaster of Jesus Christ, though that has what the word 'apocalypse' has wrongly come to mean). It is this unveiling that we need. As Darrell Johnson has said the truth unveiled is that there is more going on than meet's the eye, and we need to see that.

What we need is not a glimpse of the future, but a glimpse of the present through the eyes of God. A glimpse of a world filled with glory, love, light, and the presence of God. We need Jesus to unveil himself before our eyes, in the midst of our lives and our world, so that we can see what is really going on. So that we can know the living God in our midst, know His unimaginable love for us, and join Him in His ongoing work.

When next you pray, take a moment to lift up your life, your current situation, your worries and your joys, to God and ask that He unveil them for you. Ask that He reveal Himself. There is more going on than you can see or understand so be open to the apocalypse of Jesus Christ.


"Everyday Prayers" by Scotty Smith

Scotty Smith. Everyday Prayers: 365 Days to a Gospel-Centered Faith. Baker Books, 2011. 380 pgs. 

On the surface, this is a devotional prayer book which has one prayer for each day of the year. However, you do not have to read very far to find out that Scotty Smith intends to communicate far more than this. Through these prayers, Smith desired to find Jesus in every part of the bible, bring the gospel to bear on every part of his life, and help the reader to do these same things. He seeks to engage Jesus as prophet, priest, and king (a popular reformed rubric these days, and certainly not a bad one), as well as to continually return to basics of the gospel within the grand metanarrative of scripture. 

As you read these prayers you will find that they truly are everyday prayers. They range from poetic to personal in style, grand to minute in scope, and topically they are all over the place. This is, in my opinion, a good reflection of everyday life. 

My first problem with this book is not in reading it, but in reviewing it. One minor problem is that I didn't read it over the course of a year, and thus I experienced it differently than intended. A much more major problem is the question of how you review someone else's prayers? Smith is vulnerable, real, and personal. The prayers are clearly centered on Christ and on Scripture and other than some theological disagreements here and there (he is, after all, a reformed thinker; anyone who has read much of what I post knows I am not) these are solid prayers.

In terms of production, this book was put together from Smith's blogging/facebooking/posting prayers elsewhere on the net for quite some time. I think that is a great thing to do; to engage, within a community, in praying together, learning to pray, sharing our prayers, and growing together. By the time it becomes a book, all those elements of community have been removed. Thus, as I come to my conclusion in reviewing this book, I have to say this: I have a second problem with this book. It is not that it is a bad book; rather, it is superfluous. If you want to learn to pray, if you desire to pray more, to centre your prayers on Christ, and so on, these are great things. Do them within your Christian community. If this book can help, wonderful. But you certainly do not need a book for that. Instead go out and pray. There is no substitute for the act itself. 

Conclusion: 3.5 Stars. Not Recommended. It is a decent book, but not one you really need to read. 

"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group".


Pride and Blogging

Pride has always been a struggle for me. Blogging has become yet another arena in which that struggle is played out.

I reread blog posts and pat myself on the back, congratulate myself when I get new followers, and on and on. Thankfully, by the grace of God something happens just as frequently to keep me humble. I catch stupid mistakes (and I make plenty of those), fail to blog for days or weeks, or read someone else's blog which is significantly better. 

Today something happened that just made me laugh. I found out that I am the number 1 result for those numerous individuals who search google for "cristion prsing songs."  Can you believe it? I couldn't. Go ahead, try it. You'll see. 

I'm just so happy. 



TC 2011: What would you do?

As TC 2011 came to a close our speak, Chris Throness, did an excellent job of asking the question "what's next?" It is a question that looms larger and larger as any retreat or camp comes to a close. Here we are, away from home, having an amazing experience. What happens when we go back? We cannot, and should not, hang onto "the high." Life doesn't work like that. But what should you do to continue in the presence of God? What would you do? I am willing to bet that you, like I, would have answered that question with one word: "Anything." Now that you are home, half a week away from camp, the question becomes "what will you do?"

Let me tell you a story. 
Once upon a time, in the age of swords and shields, there lived a great man named Nahamon. Nahamon was a daring warrior, valiant and highly regarded in all the land. He had won many great victories for his king and so had been named General of the army. However, one day Nahamon was struck with a terrible wasting disease. There was no cure and despite all his attempts, Nahamon seemed lost. Then, one of his servants came to him and spoke of a great mystic and healer, Elisio who could heal Nahamon. 

Naturally, Nahamon had questions and doubts, but he also had no other hope. With permission from his king Nahamon loaded up carts with extravagant gifts; gold, silver, and clothing fit for a king. Nahamon was, after all, a great man who had done many great deeds and so he knew that in order to be healed he would have to make great sacrifices. He and all his aides set off to the far away land of which his servant spoke. 

When they arrived they again did what a great man expected to do: they approached the king. But this king knew not what to do and despaired of what failure would bring him. In the midst of his despair, Elisio sent word that he would receive this foreign hero. 

Nahamon, relieved and nervous at the same time, went to meet the great mystic. What would
be asked of him? What feats of courage, strength, or heroism would be required to win healing? All he could do was ask and find out. But Elisio did not even come out to meet this great man himself. Instead, Nahamon was met by a mere servant before he arrived at Elisio's house. This servant told him to go and wash himself seven times in a nearby river to be healed. 
Nahamon was insulted and angered by this. To be instructed by a mere servant? And only to wash in a river? What kind of nonsense was this? There were rivers everywhere and none of them had ever healed him. In his rage Nahamon set out to return home. 

Thankfully for Nahamon, one of his servants was wise. He approached Nahamon and said to him, "My Lord, if this mystic had asked of you great deeds you would gladly have done them. Why, then, will you not do such a simple thing as wash yourself in a river?" Nahamon saw the truth of these words and so he went, washed, and indeed he was healed. 

Our story does not end here, but I would like to pause and reflect. Do you think you would do anything to follow God? To respond to your experience this weekend? What if what God asks of you, first and foremost, is something simple and humbling? What if the first steps are the things you have heard about ever since you started coming to church? Things like reading your bible and praying? Would you do that? Will you?

The truth is that God will almost definitely ask big things of us some day. Big is, of course, relative. We don't live in a hollywood action flick. More importantly, however, we have to be ready for those big things. That is what day to day faithfulness is for. That is why it is one of the key aspects of living a Christian life. To just do, day in and day out, regardless of how we feel, the things we have been commanded to do and the things we trust are life giving because God has told us they are. Warren Wiersbe has written about these day to day difficulties and he asks a very important question: If we can't handle the minor complaints of life heroically, how will we respond if something really serious comes our way? 

I would urge you, then, to make sure you understand that each day, no matter what comes, is a chance for you to live in the presence of God, faithfully follow Jesus, and walk in the power of the Spirit. I would urge you to answer the question "what will you do?" with the word "anything" and mean it; no matter how small, simple, or humbling these first steps are. And I would urge you to remember that just as you could not earn anything that happened this weekend, just as Nahamon could not earn his healing with great deeds, you cannot earn this either. Rely on God. 

As for Nahamon and Elisio, if you want to hear the rest of the story, check out 2 Kings 5. I just used the phonetic spelling for Naaman and the Italian spelling for Elisha. 


TC 2011: Seeds Planted

"Sower with the Setting Sun" by Van Gogh

Jesus told many stories. They are known as parables. Interesting, shocking, counter-cultural, and confusing, these stories have oft been discussed. This year, at TC 2011, we have lived one...

A farmer went out to sow his seed. This farmer, however, was strange. Apparently overburdened with an abundance of seed he abandoned the normal practice of plowing and carefully planting and went with the scattering method. That is, he walked around scattering seed all over the place.

Now, that seed did what you would expect it might. Some landed on the path and birds came and ate it. Some landed in rocky soil. It quickly took root and grew but when the sun came out, it withered for it had no roots. Some landed among the thorns and though the seeds grew, the thorns choked out the plants. Finally, some landed on good soil where it produced a massive crop. 

This weekend that farmer came among us; our God and Lord who is indeed burdened with a superabundance of blessing. He scattered that seed in our fellowship with all the gusto and joy of someone who carries such good news of such a Kingdom as God's. And that seed, that good news, was met with a response. When asked which of us wanted to be part of God's kingdom, to be His people, we all responded "Yes!". 

But now, oh Lord, we pray that we would all be good soil. Jesus explained that parable after he told it. The birds are the evil one, snatching away what God has sown. The rocky soil is the man who hears the news with joy but develops no root and so trouble and persecution destroy the plant. The seed in the thorns is the plant choked out by the worries of this world and the deceitfulness of wealth. And the truth is that we each face these problems. None of us are immune to the evil one; only through you, Lord Jesus, can we be protected. None of us just have roots, as if automatically and without effort. We must echo the words of Paul and, to the end of taking root in the gospel of truth, struggle with all of your energy, God, which so powerfully works within us. Finally, we all have now stepped back into 'the world' (though we never totally leave it behind, for the world dwells within us as well as around us) and must deal with both the worries of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth (for we are all wealthy) in such a way that our faith does not get choked out. For that as well, we need your help Lord, for it is your peace that surpasses all understanding which overcomes our worries your generosity and humility which exposes the deceitfulness of wealth. 

Lord, we pray that we would all be good soil, producing a crop a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown.



TC 2011: Awakening on a MountainTop

At BAC there has been a "Teen's Camp" every year for 20 years (or more). I have been to three, the most recent one last weekend. Every year we are blessed to be able to do what we can. 

We remove ourselves from the familiar in order to enjoy some of God's creation.We plan games and groups, ask questions and are present to talk about them. We worship the Lord together in song, with music, standing with arms raised to our God. We invite a speaker to come and say again the good news of Jesus Christ. These are the things that we, by the grace of God, can do, every year. It is good; it is all good. 

It is good to hear again the Love of God; it is amazing to experience God's love. It is good to hear the call to the kingdom of God; it is amazing to have the Spirit work in us and make that call a summons we must answer. It is good to know we are broken and need to change; it is amazing for Jesus to work repentance in us so that this knowledge becomes desire and then decision. It is good to worship the Lord with arms high; it is amazing to do so, by the grace of God, with heart abandoned and in awe of the One we love. These are the things that we, by the grace of God, cannot do. Only He can. It is great; it is all great. 

At BAC there has been a "Teen's Camp" every year for 20 years (or more). I have been to three. Every year we are blessed to be able to do what we can. Sometimes God does so much more. Like this year. 

So we have left teen's camp awakened anew to the presence of God, a mountain top experience if ever there was one. Now, with this grace of God in our past, we will look ever on for more. More of God's love and grace. More of His presence. We trust and pray that He who has began a good work in us will see it to completion. For now we face the more difficult task. We need you Lord, as we always have and always do, to do the things we cannot. They are the things that matter. 


August Reflections

Yes, we are officially starting a 'new year'. I used to think, for some reason, that once I got out of school I would run on a 'normal' calendar. Clearly that doesn't happen when you are a Youth Pastor :) 

Top 3 Posts of August:

1. Heaven and Hell - For a second straight month this older and nearly content-less post has topped the charts. 

2. What I Need - A post on needs and wants in life and religion. Glad to see this up here. 

3. "Exploring Kenotic Theology" by C. Stephen Evans - One of the most academic books I have reviewed. Has anyone else read it yet? :)

I hope that in the midst of this sure to be extremely busy September I will still get a good number of posts up here.