Sunday, April 26, 2015

Transcending Mysteries - Andrew Greer & Ginny Owens

Getting beyond Jesus versus the God of the Old Testament

Transcending Mysteries: Who is God, and what Does He Want from Us?
Author: Andrew Greer & Ginny Owens
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Pages: 188

July 20, 1999 marked the release of Without Condition, the debut recording of Ginny Owens on Michael W. Smith’s Rocketown Records. The album contained the disarming piano ballad, “If You Want Me To,” her best known song.

The transparency in that song is evident in this collaboration between Owens and Andrew Greer, another singer/songwriter. The personal stories they tell are captivating. It enables readers to know them in a way not possible through their songs. So if you are a fan of either artist, this is worth reading. Those not familiar with their work need not wonder if they can benefit for God is the focus.

This looks at Old Testament passages to see how He reveals Himself. Is He different from what we know of Him in the New Testament? This is what these two authors take turns exploring.

This investigation reminds me of what fellow recording artist Michael Card has been doing through his writings. Greer and Owens are following in his footsteps by leading readers into Bible study, and in this case, illustrating what it looks like to be in relationship with God.

I cherish their insights. In identifying with the inferiority that Moses felt, Owens, who is blind, writes, “Blindness was a sign of brokenness. Who wants to wear brokenness as a badge for all to notice? Who wants to allow her weakness to be on display? Give me a few more years of life experience, and I am convinced that the weak, broken parts of me have the most potential to encourage and relate to others in the way the put-together me simply cannot” (82-83). This kind of insightful application is representative of what you find throughout.

It all springs from an examination of God’s character. In considering how an enemy of Judah’s King Hezekiah misrepresents God, Greer writes, “Hezekiah’s challenge is an opportunity to understand how scriptural history reiterates the notion that God does not operate tit for tat. The dictatorial, micromanaging personality often prescribed to the God of the Old Testament by generations of believers who have been scarred by legalistic pasts is simply not present in this passage. God’s sovereignty, His authority or prerogative as Creator of the cosmos, relies solely on His character. God is operating out of His innate qualities, which we are trying to carefully uncover throughout this book” (95).

Passages like this should dispel any notion that you can expect a lightweight read. I was pleasantly surprised by the accessibility and depth of the material. This is helpful for anyone wanting to know what God is like.

Especially meaningful to me as a single person were the stories shared by both authors that touch on relationships. As Owens writes, “I ended up in a relationship that would eventually bring me lots of heartache and regret. The effects would take years to work through” (27). Each author shares some of their personal failings in their ongoing journey toward wholeness. Owens readily identifies with the longing that Hannah felt. They both suffer but gain hope as Owen writes, “From the broken parts of our stories, the best songs emerge” (38). Perhaps only a musician could put it in such beautiful terms.

The challenge the authors present is not just to study the Bible but be in community. “The notion that we are designed to be in communion with each other has been reiterated over and over in my life experiences,” (33) Greer writes. He even sees this in relation to Scripture, “The support of community in valuing and understanding Scripture has been imperative to my spiritual life.… I make a frequent habit of asking friends whom I trust, as people first and as thinkers second, to discourse on a handful of cultural hot topics infiltrating the cross-section of society and church today. What is their take on what Scripture says about each topic? How do they interpret that Scripture in the day-in and day-out of their lives? How are their relationships and their lives directly affected by each topic of conversation?” (175). The objective is to “live well and connect with God even better.”

Most impressive is how others have been there for both authors at their most vulnerable moments. Owens writes, “As we eliminate false gods and re-center our worship on the Eternal, we need trusted community to walk with us, pray for us, and enlighten us with their own faith-building experiences” (169).

The format of this volume is noteworthy for its liberal use of white space and creative way of highlighting key sections and thoughts. The display of The Voice translation, the primary bible text used, makes it easy to read. It’s the first time I have seen it, though it was published in 2012. God is referred to as the “Eternal One.” Reading an unfamiliar translation helps me to see the text anew. Questions for reflection, song lyrics and quotations grace the front and back of each chapter.

This is part of the Refraction book series published by Thomas Nelson. Several other interesting-looking titles are now available at The aim is to offer biblical responses to the biggest issues of our time and to respond to those who differ in transparent and respectful ways.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

How Can it Be - Lauren Daigle

A voice like Adele and a passion like Misty Edwards make for an impressive debut.

How Can it Be
Artist: Lauren Daigle (
Label: Centricity
Length: 12 tracks/50:48 minutes

The voice I hear on Lauren Daigle’s debut, How Can it Be, reminds me of Adele and the International House of Prayer’s, Misty Edwards. Each of them can sound both smoky and delicate. It adds weight in this God-directed release.

Like Edwards, Daigle is a worshipper. She continually addresses the Almighty. These songs have more in common with the intricacies of the Psalms than the sing-a-long variety. Modern worshippers rejoice! This has plenty of substance.

Like Adele, the music is a hybrid of styles creating something new and modern. It’s a triumph of acoustic and synthesized sounds. A number of tracks have a distinctive hip-hop rhythm.

A personal favorite is “Trust in You,” whose title could easily be a theme for the recording. The handclaps bring a smile, as well as the chorus, “When you don’t move the mountains I’m needing you to move/When you don’t part the waters I wish I could walk through/When you don’t give me answers as I cry out to you/I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in you.” I hear an endearing lightness and it’s easy to identify with the thought of life being a battle and more than a little unpredictable.

“I Am Yours” has allusions to Psalm 46 and perhaps unknowingly to Psalm 29. “Let the waters rise I will stand as the oceans roar/Let the earth shake beneath/Let the mountains fall/You are God over the storm/And I am yours.” This is unshakeable confidence framed in majesty. No matter what may come, “The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever” (Psalm 29:10). Though our world be shaken, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). Daigle’s voice makes this regal, fitting for a King that presides over all.

She can make a chorus epic, but the last two tracks offer a change of pace. They have minimal production and are primarily acoustic. They convey tranquility as Daigle exhibits a softer side. Whether singing softly or at the top of her lungs, a passion for worship is evident. Her focus is God.

The closing “Once and For All” is just Daigle accompanied by piano. She starts off soulfully and becomes increasingly earnest, “Oh let this be where I die/My Lord with thee, crucified/Be lifted high as my kingdoms fall/Once and for all/Once and for all.” It brings to mind what Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

One of my favorite thoughts from Scripture highlights our need: “We all stumble in many ways” (James 3:2). As Robert Robinson wrote in a hymn, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love; Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, Seal it for Thy courts above.” It’s why I like the line, “Be lifted high as my kingdoms fall.” Live enough years and it’s not hard to see the wreckage. Our kingdoms fall. Our best efforts fall short. Thankfully, it’s not about our performance. It’s all about the God who continually gives grace to the undeserving.

I can imagine “Once and For All” closing a concert. The most appropriate response might be silence rather than applause. Hearing it makes me feel like the psalmist David when he writes, “I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me” (Psalm 131: 2).

“Oh Lord, I lay it down/Help me to lay it down,” Daigle sings. It strikes a responsive chord within. My attention is no longer on the singer and song. 

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Radical Disciple - John Stott

What does it mean to follow Jesus?

The Radical Disciple: Some Neglected Aspects of our Calling
Author: John Stott
Publisher: IVP Books (
Pages: 142

“Radical” in relation to the Christian life has seemingly become more popular in recent years. I have not read the books that touch on this in one form or another but have read with interest the reviews. Some point out where the authors miss the mark even if some ideas have merit and serve as a needed corrective to Christianity here in the West.

Having read a number of John Stott books, I did not have any misgivings about reading The Radical Disciple. I trust him. I greatly appreciate the succinct Biblical wisdom that he imparts on whatever topic he examines. He is a masterful teacher that unfortunately is not as well known as those on the bestseller lists.

His work has a timeless quality because he stays close to Scripture and avoids fads. He makes the truth seem utterly reasonable and void of controversy. For instance, this has a chapter on creation care, which can be a controversial subject. Stott’s main thought is that taking care of the earth is a matter of stewardship and an expression of love for God. How can a reasonable person find fault?

Stott is not radical in a left or right sense. His way of being radical in relation to the environment or any other subject is to apply scriptural principles. He may be too basic for those wrestling with complexities, but I applaud his ability to inspire readers to do what lies before them. Our problems are more often a failure of the will than a lack of knowledge. As G. K. Chesterton has written, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”

The subjects (nonconformity, Christlikeness and maturity) in the first part of the book may seem obvious, but lovers of the truth, and perhaps even inquirers, will appreciate the well-rounded presentation. Again, these areas are neglected not because they are unknown but not achieved.

The latter chapters, beginning with “Creation Care,” are where the material becomes more diverse and more challenging. “Dependence” and “Death” towards the end are worth the price of admission. Stott is at his most profound as he reflects on his own state of dependence and nearness to the grave at age 88. These are literally the last words from his pen; he did not make the leap to computers.

As has been said, illustrations are like windows to let the light in, “through them the truth shines.” If the use of such is an art, Stott is one of the masters. He is not overindulgent but like an enlightened disciple who brings forth treasure out of the entire range of human experience. In talking about becoming more personal in “Dependence,” he quotes the late Dr. Paul Tournier, “We have given things priority over persons, we have built a civilization based on things rather than on persons. Old people are discounted because they are purely and simply persons, whose only value is as persons and not as producers any more” (108). This striking truth seems to be lost in a society filled with distractions and a disposable mentality.

The last part of the preceding leads to Stott’s point, “When we are old, … we have the time and qualifications necessary to a true ministry of personal relationships” (108-109). This is but a sample of the borrowed insights, in addition to Stott’s own, that fill every page.

At the end of “Death” Stott summarizes how life comes through death in salvation, discipleship, mission, persecution, martyrdom and mortality: “a death to sin through identification with Christ, a death to self as we follow Christ, a death to ambition in crosscultural mission, a death to security in the experience of persecution and one of martyrdom, and a death to this world as we prepare for our final destiny” (133). We must die to live. “And we will be willing to die only when we see the glories of the life to which death leads” (133).

What is a Christian classic? Does it have to be more than 50 years old? I hope not for this must come close if not in that category.

Stott died not long after this writing. His farewell is not a bad place to start if you are unfamiliar with him and/or the Christian faith.

Rock Gets Religion - Mark Joseph

Christians making music for the many rather than the few Rock Gets Religion: The Battle for the Soul of the Devil’s Music Auth...