How to Frame Your Faith: One Moment at a Time

FramingFaith.cover

Framing Faith = Perspectives on Faith

Sounds catchy doesn’t it? Framing Faith. It is the title of the next book I chose to read and review. For me, it elicits vibrant images of a golden crucifix, stained glass Orthodox icons, or even prayer circles around a campus flagpole of the red, white, and blue. When coupled with the photographic technology we enjoy in the 21st Century I anticipated something quite touching out of a book designed to pictorially capture the Christian faith. Think about it, place some burning incense behind the lens of a high-resolution camera and you can practically smell the fragrance better than you would a scratch-n-sniff. So again, not only did I hope this would be worth by time, but a spiritual boon to boot.

Now that I’ve elevated your expectations on par to mine, let us delve into the actualities of this book. Written by Matt Knisely, an experienced photojournalist, Framing Faith is described by its subhead: ‘From Camera to Pen. An Award-Winning Photojournalist Captures God in a Hurried World.’ Okay, so this isn’t entirely about the pictures. The premise is more to foster spiritual perspective analogous to effective photography and storytelling. Not what I was initially hoping for, but I’ll evaluate the book for what it is, not by the cover I anticipated.

In all honesty, I enjoyed the book tremendously. Sure, I am a content writer by trade, so anything pertaining to effectively communicating an authentic story to elicit a desired response rings true to my ears. His success to that affect, I will tell you, is well communicated. Full of honesty, stories, and teachable moments, the book was a narrative in its own right, which added to the credibility of his experience.

I don’t want to give too much away, so I’ll summarize the book. In the first section, the author wants his readers to FOCUS on stories that matter, stories that hold our attention because they are authentic and connect us to others. In the second section, he wants us to CAPTURE those moments, enjoy them, and let them influence our perspective. In the third section, he instructs us to use these moments to help us DEVELOP who we are and where we are going, to find beauty and hope in the darkness and seek God in the light. In summary, he is using terminology from his trade to give his readers different perspectives about faith.

I’ll be honest. Since I initially had alternate expectations for the book, I almost discarded it as an amateur attempt at spiritualizing photography. It didn’t help that the book contains random black and white images which look like stock photos for a 1990’s advertising firm. Perhaps I fail to grasp their significance, but really, what are they for? They don’t add to the book in any way. I would venture to say they actually subtract from the book. If these images paralleled what I described at the beginning, pictorially capturing the Christian faith in a modernly stylistic way, I would understand, and even consider it a nice touch to a book about photojournalism and storytelling.

I’m giving this book 4/5 stars because I jived with his writing style and enjoyed the unique, intentional content; not the typical shallow ‘feel good spirituality’ book. If the pictures had more relevance I’d have probably bumped it up to five.

 

I review for BookLook Bloggers

 

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLookbloggers.com® book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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Raised? by Jonathan Dodson and Brad Watson

Most books like these are from powerhouse authors who once disbelieved, and actually set out to disprove the gospel, and in so doing, discovered the supreme veracity of Scripture. The author of this book does admit to certain doubts, as all people do, but claims no such journey of discovery. Maybe I’m spoiled when it comes to apologetics because of such names as Lee Strobel, Josh McDowell, and J. Warner Wallace, who all have compelling testimonies to back-up their desire to seek objective evidence.

I don’t want to say that an author must have a Pauline-style conversion to write a winning book regarding the evidence of the resurrection, however, because everyone’s testimony about life-change is valid and helpful for building God’s kingdom.

Besides, every capable Christian must be asking and answering these essential questions about their faith. The Resurrection is the pinnacle of history, the reason for our faith, the reason why Jesus was exactly who he said he was. Every author who can correctly put this into perspective is doing the world a service. These sorts of books are not just a fad, but finally a focus on the most convincing truth for being a Christ-follower: the resurrection!

The author has not limited his audience to the secular skeptic alone, however, and makes his appeal to the doubting Thomas. He paints a new light on this disciple, and those like him, and applauds their desire for evidence. This is not a secret club of blind believers, after all, but a confident knowledge in what was publicly acknowledged, seen, and heard. This is exactly the allure of the book’s subtitle: Finding Jesus by Doubting the Resurrection. There is nothing wrong with wanting evidence, a reason to believe. And that is why Christianity, and only Christianity, is true.

So I do recommend this book to read and to have available among your other apologetic novelettes like More Than A Carpenter, Cold-Case Christianity, and The Case For Christ. The authors also made this a short read, short enough that you’d be comfortable giving it to your doubting friends as an encouraging gift, and it is conversational enough for anyone to pick it up and understand its precepts.

 

I review for BookLook Bloggers

 

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLookbloggers.com® book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Christian Faith in the Old Testament by Gareth Cockerill

Ask me about the Christian faith, and I am just as likely to draw from the Old Testament as I am from the New Testament. Christ may be the cornerstone of the church, but the mortar between every brick is the Old Testament, filling in-between every word of the New. True Christ-followers are from a Judeo-Christian heritage. Just as English literacy is a prerequisite to be successful in an American society, so Old Testament literacy is required for believers to understand what they believe. So I could not pass up a book titled Christian Faith in the Old Testament, written by Gareth Lee Cockerill.

Cockerill is certainly not new to this subject matter. I could tell by the way he flowed through the information, page after page, chapter after chapter, like a well-rehearsed teacher. Of course, when you’re too well rehearsed in a presentation you tend to fly through the facts a bit arbitrarily, as was sometimes the case. Not that his points were ever irrelevant, but he wouldn’t always guide you through his thought process with introductions or transitions between his thoughts until you arrived at a critical juncture later on.

This is especially evident in the first chapter, which quickly felt like a straight up expository lesson on the Genesis narrative. Again, not that it was irrelevant, as it begins his explanation of the overarching story-line that extends through the entire Old Testament and into the New. This story line is an essential component of relating the relevance of the Pentateuch. But I am afraid the purpose of this abbreviated exposition deserved a grander anticipatory set for the benefit of its readers. But I would say this is the type of book that builds up as you read further, gaining momentum as you gather the essential facts, and culminates as it bridges the gap between the OT and NT. Because of this, it would be the kind of book you wouldn’t mind reading again, like a good movie with so many twists and turns you could watch it ten times before you catch everything. It will help to connect the dots that might not have been clear the first time around.

One item is of lasting importance, and, quite possibly, the most important question addressed for many critics and seekers, is that of God’s seemingly prevalent tendency toward judgment in the Old Testament. Too often the perception is of a God with dual natures; that of capriciousness in the OT and that of benevolence in the NT. But let us be clear: both testaments recount the same God in all his fullness. There is no duality. Cockerill first helps us to see this continuity when he quips that “judgment is also a mercy that restrains sin” (29). In the context of Genesis he is referring to the preventative measures God implemented to save mankind from utterly alienating themselves from God. But in the broader perspective of the OT, as the book continues to extrapolate later on, all the actions which God performed that involved punishment and death was, in effect and in purpose, His means of restraining the utterly pervasive and deleterious infection of sin.

Why else would the Psalmist refer to such things as the overtly strict Law of Moses or to the slaughters of holy war in the context of God’s praise? Not because the Hebrews inherently enjoyed rigid restrictions or relished in spilling blood, I assure you. They were overflowing with gratitude for the blessings their nation enjoyed by being removed from the evils of sin. The law explains, in very practical terms, how to avoid the effect of sin, whether it be sin from human depravity or sin’s curse in nature. Herem, or holy war, removed the effect of sin that encroached in the form of utterly depraved and base nations of men who worshiped idols and relished in the suffering of others. God’s judgment is always just, and believe it or not, it actually makes the world a better place because it mercifully, albeit temporarily, cuts back the weeds of sin.

In a way, God removed this mercy somewhat during the NT by not restraining sin, so that His Son would be crucified. I don’t say this to dampen the mostly positive tone of the NT, but merely to balance our perspective between the Testaments.

I will end my commentary of this book at that, as I do not wish to rehash too much of what is already covered in Cockerill’s careful work. I will even omit the rest of the unspoken praises and criticisms, for the details are yours to judge. In affect, I hope this has whetted your appetite enough to read it, as I am thoroughly convinced this is the type of book, and this type of holistic understanding of the biblical story, that every Christian needs (and every seeker seeks).

I review for BookLook Bloggers

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLookbloggers.com® book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Afloat by Erin Healy

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Nothing in particular drew me to read this book. It had a vague blue cover with an equally vague title. Perhaps this was the draw. I had no preconceived notions about the book, no external input, no preference of genre. I’ll admit that her collaboration with Ted Dekker on previous titles ended up persuading me to take the plunge and read Erin Healy’s novel titled Afloat.

The story takes place in a beautiful setting called Eagle’s Talon, a cove that projects past the outpouring of the Rondeau River. This cove is home to an innovative housing project of condominiums that are under construction and will float right on the river. The project is engineered by our protagonist, Vance Nolan, and funded by the antagonist, Tony Dean. If that isn’t enough potential for an interesting plot line, the prologue foreshadows even greater turmoil when a clandestine figure carries out some shady job under the cover of darkness at the construction site.

The meat and bones of the story, the underlying moral of the story, concerns the battle within each of us for self-sufficiency. Is our goal and comfort in life to be completely self-sufficient? Or can we allow ourselves to rely and trust in others; especially God? Through a variety of trials, whether natural or man-made disaster, human vice, or providing for self and family, and a smattering of supernatural interventions, such as visions, angelic interaction, and shiny fishy things, the different characters in the book are forced to decide one way or the other.

The book does a great job at portraying the natural decline of characters who choose self-control at all costs. When people try to take control for their own preservation, even with good intentions, it only results in disaster. But when you choose to trust God and his servants on earth, when you choose to put others before yourself, that is the source of blessings and love.

Good, you may say, it has a good Christian purpose, but what about the novel as a novel? Many books with a strong moral or theological implication struggle to hold interest as an actual story, such as a book I previously reviewed, The Christian Zombie Killers Handbook. Healy did not succumb to such a problem. What made the realism most keen for me was the dialog. Characters stayed in character and acted according to character, if you know what I mean.

The self-sufficient businessman was ever the politician. The five-year-old was ever the little, silly boy you would expect out of, well, a five-year-old boy. Even static characters, those who didn’t change their philosophy or perceptions on the world much, such as Vance and Tony, were effective as foils of each other, whereas dynamic characters, such as Danielle Clement, the feminine interest between the two men, progressed down a realistic and difficult road of change and development in her perceptions and expectations.

I would give this book a thumbs up, both for the interest it holds as a novel, and for the truth it contains for the Christian life!

I review for BookSneeze®
I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com® book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

When We Were On Fire

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No blogger would be complete if not for the inspiration of other, more talented bloggers. This post spurted forth from exactly that sort of inspiration. Addie Zierman is brilliantly promoting her upcoming memoir When We Were On Fire with a ‘synchroblog‘ regarding the title’s subject matter. It may not communicate with the same skill as Addie’s new book, but here is my contribution to the discussion.

I recently celebrated yet another birthday, marking my seventh year as a ‘twenty-something,’ so I suppose it is high time for some reflection that rarely makes its way into written word. It also marks my twelfth year as a committed Christ follower—so we will see how that affects said reflection. In order to give some focus to this piece, the reflection will revolve around when I was ‘on fire’ for God.

Since being a Christian, I have been through three distinct life stages: high school, college, and post-college. I attended a public high school, went to Moody Bible Institute for college, and am now doing post-bac online courses at a community college. Interestingly enough, I reflect back on my high school days more than on my college ones, both in terms of fond memories and in terms of my zeal for God.

Not that college was to the contrary; it was an amazing experience filled with friends, joy, biblical understanding, prayer, life lessons, and marriage! Yet, when I reflect on the stories frequently brought to memory or on times I felt closest to God and most challenged in my spiritual growth, my high school years still win out.

Even more interestingly, my faith in high school still suffered from innocent ignorance of all the Bible had to offer in terms of theology and guidance for daily living as well as a lack of experience in apologetics. Yet those years enjoyed the most engaging conversations, the most outreach to non-Christian friends, the most fervor for God’s kingdom. Why would this be lacking after accomplishing a Bible degree? Why would my extra years of experience somehow diminish my engagement?

My first inclination is to use my years of experience as a crutch. I have grown up and no longer have a mere ‘faith like a child.’ My perceptions have matured and I have developed more realistic expectations about faith and life in general. Luckily, my second inclination is to reject my first inclination as a cop-out. My third inclination is to spiritualize my situation and find camaraderie with the Pharisees. Now I can understand their draw toward legalism, their rationale for compartmentalizing the dynamic truths of God into neat and tidy chunks that sound great on first impression, but are only useful for making excuses for the lack of a true relationship with our Lord.

And that is just it. My years of experience have only developed my ability to make excuses, to find loopholes in the system that allow my inner laziness to spread its fat girth out on the couch. No wonder Jesus has no more room to stand beside me! Thus, my fourth inclination that berates me for my excuses also invites me back to the innocence of pre-inclinations, to a time before I felt entitled to revel in my spiritual understanding, to a time before I thought I had my faith all figured out, to a time when I simply loved Jesus because He first loved me and I could do nothing else but proclaim that truth.

During my high school years I didn’t understand the significance of inerrancy, know the five points of TULIP, or realize the archetypal significance of the book of Leviticus. What did I know? I knew that God went through a whole lot of trouble to make sure I was redeemed and I had significance and that it was Jesus who made it happen.

Now, in my post-college stage, the trick is to make sure I integrate the knowledge I gleaned from college with the fire I had in high school; to understand that no matter how much I have learned about the Bible, theology, and Christian living, true spirituality is realizing I have never left square one. Was was square one (the ‘pre-inclination’ stage)? Oh yes! The admission that I need a savior, and so does everyone else.

When we were on fire, we were humble before God and desired for others to enjoy the mercy of that realization as well. Hopefully, as we get older, we can use our experience to be more intentional and creative with that desire, rather than use the experience to fabricate more complicated excuses to avoid it.

#WWWoF

Cold Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace

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The latest must-have for every Christian’s bookshelf just released this year; it is Cold Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace. He takes his experience as a homicide detective and applies it to a full-fledged investigation of the veracity of the Gospels. The verdict: belief is a very reasonable conclusion in response to the Bible’s claims.

Following in the footsteps of popular titles as Reason to Believe (Sproul), The Case for Christ (Strobel), Evidence that Demands a Verdict (McDowell), and Know Why You Believe (Little), Wallace brilliantly adds to the discussion in perhaps the most thoroughly discussed presentation yet.

The annotated version could be summarized thus: We utilize reasonable criteria to aid us in our decision-making process for our everyday lives, why not apply those same reasonable pieces of criteria to the claims of Christianity? You will find that the very same principles we use in very important empirical research will verify the events of the Gospels and bolster our reason for faith.

This book was designed for readers of multiple learning styles by employing stories, experience, graphic organizers, definitions, side note summaries, external references, and logical step by step presentations. This is not to say this book is confusing to technical in any way. Wallace presents his reasoning the way a court system would instruct any jury, which is to say the material is designed to be understandable for any audience, and the instruction is sufficient enough to make crucial life-or-death decisions based on the information given.

For the believer and the doubter alike, you will find that this book will either encourage your faith or convince you that faith in the Bible’s claims is a very real and very reasonable option.

Grandfather Mickey – A Recollection

Eulogy I scripted and spoke for the funeral in February 2005 after the passing of my beloved grandfather.

GrampsCan we say that this is a sad day?  Surely.  Can we feel a bit afraid, unsettled, or confused?  Why not?  We were made in God’s image, feelings and all.

But for me, it is not death of which I fear, it is not death that shoved that brick wall before an oncoming freight train in this incredible wreak.

No. In fact this is somewhat of a joyous occasion.  For my grandfather, aged seventy-six ripe years, no longer bears the Hepatitis C which mingled with his blood after an uncanny transfusion.  The disease took the offensive against his liver and lately had been winning for over a year.  But it has now lost.  Doomed, condemned now by the death of its host.

He no longer must struggle, his years now complete, to be laminated, placed carefully into secure plastic sleeves, and published for all to enjoy.  And that is what saddens me.  No more new episodes to be eager to see. No more old arms to hug eagerly. But the reruns are good, the good times we had.

I’ll miss:

  • Leaning about how to layer cement while he lay perked in his hospital bed, with me having no idea why he was telling me this;
  • or talking stocks in Taco Bell and betting on Martha Stewart going on the rise;
  • or seeing the hefty scar on his leg from when he was helping to replace a window in my brother’s room but it shattered and a big chunk of it pierced his leg, and him just telling us to get a bucket for him to bleed into;
  • or swimming daringly on the deep end of the indoor pool he made all by himself, with the help of his son, my dad;
  • or building Awana Grand Prix cars with him, whittling and carving and watching his carpentry skills in action, and having the patience to build a half-bird, half-race car from the designs of a this little ten year old;
  • going bowling with him and grandma a couple years back, and grandpa is actually the one who taught me a more proper bowling technique, you know, such as not throwing the ball into yourself, or those around you, and how to throw straight;
  • my grandma says that he was always amused with how when I was much younger I’d pull his nails back out of the wood when he was working on some carpentry project, then I would nail them back in even more haphazardly;
  • I miss receiving seemingly useless new souvenirs or key chains that us grandchildren could always expect because grandma and grandpa loved to travel about and choose random trinkets for each of us, each representing a story my grandpa could talk about for hours, and it would actually be interesting to listen to;
  • And the time we went to the boundary waters up north near the border of Minnesota, the Rugen boys with the Zalewski boys. One time he took a canoe on his own to explore a new campsite, and only minutes later we all did a double-take to see him standing in chest deep water beside an upside-down canoe, the oar floating beside him, his famous hat dripping, and a huge goofy grin across his face;
  • or even when the whole family came to his hospital bed only weeks ago, and all he could do was continuously apologize that we had to take time out of our day to see him.  And this is proof of how grandpa would not want us to fret too much over his passing; he would hate the fact that he would be the cause of inconvenience.

The last time I talked to him was this last Tuesday, nearly a week ago, and the last day anyone would talk to him, and he seemed chipper, not at all offended that I wasn’t able to go over and meet with him, but simply glad to hear my voice, as I was to hear his.

Yes, a joyous occasion.  For he has passed from death into life, and now praises his Master face to face, and now knows whether heaven’s streets are made of chocolate or gold.

His master, Jesus, has welcomed Lloyd Earnest Rugen home, and they have a lot to discuss, for they are fellow carpenters, and I am sure my grandpa is excited to learn from the Master on new techniques on how to build quirky structures of wood.  In fact, Mick’s uncanny skills in such things have been noticed and appreciated by all.  Lee Block put it well when he said that, ‘Lloyd was a Master Carpenter who could easily turn piles of lumber in to living and almost breathing works of art with what appeared to be almost no effort.’  Yes, I think pastor Marty put it very well in saying that grandpa wouldn’t want a mansion at all, he didn’t like extravagant things, he just liked to think extravagant.  He is probably in cahoots with Jesus up there, planning fun additions together.  My mom and dad were even telling me how he is probably planning our future homes with the Carpenter.

He certainly left a legacy behind, and not just his cold hands and feet.  A legacy that has fulfilled the commands of Deuteronomy 6, in passing on his faith to us with purposeful intention, ‘so that you and your son and your grandson might fear the Lord your God, to keep his statutes and His commandments which I have commanded you, all the days of your life.’

I have many personal ‘thank yous’ to give to my grandfather, but the most important is this, that he did pass down his faith, his relationship with Almighty God.  And as scripture says, ‘You shall bind these commandments as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead,’ and we can all admit, Grandpa Mick had alota forehead [he was bald].

And so as he begins the fulfillment of God’s promises in eternal life, may he reap the treasures of the fruit he produced here on earth, but not before he sweetly hears, ‘Welcome home my child, welcome home!’