Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The Flabbergasted Trilogy

The so-called “Christian fiction” genre has grown steadily over the past two decades, boosted by the fact that stores devoted solely to Christian books have continued to do well even as other brick-and-mortar bookstores have fallen on hard times. The problem with most of these Christian novels is that while they do have religious overtones and far less sex, language, and violence than mainstream fiction, they are too often not very well-written stories. One notable exception is the Flabbergasted trilogy by Ray Blackston.

Flabbergasted is Blackston’s debut novel, and it gives the name to the trilogy that ultimately followed. Set in Greenville, South Carolina, Flabbergasted is one of the best beach novels I have ever come across. The characters are vividly drawn and definitely grow on you as narrator Jay Jarvis and his friends navigate the Southern singles scene by, of all things, visiting various church singles Sunday school classes. Not a bad idea for those tired of the online dating sites.

I was well into the book before I realized that it fell into the “Christian fiction” description, because unlike many others of its kind, it was not dogma converted into a novel. When the subject of the gospel did finally appear it was not watered down, but was presented with clarity in the midst of a very humorous situation. From girls who church-hop looking for husbands to missionaries with a fondness for throwing food at people, this is an entertaining group of characters, not some fictionalized hellfire-and-brimstone sermon.

The second book in the series is A Delirious Summer. The premise is similar to Flabbergasted, but with a twist. The narrator this time is Neil Rucker, a missionary on furlough for the summer looking for a wife in the wilds of Greenville, where he encounters many of the same people Jay Jarvis met in the first book. He quickly finds that Carolina beaches may be even more dangerous than the Amazon jungle, and watching this young man try to navigate the Greenville social scene is a lot of fun. Allie, Darcy, and Alexis form one of the most hilarious (if sometimes dangerous) trios I’ve read in a long time.

The final novel in the series is Lost in Rooville, and it is here that Blackston falls a little flat. For most of the book the characters are lost in the Australian Outback, and while there are entertaining parts, taking the setting outside of South Carolina hurts the story somewhat. We do get to see the resolution of these myriad relationships that started in the first two books, however, and that combined with the familiar and likable characters makes it worth reading.

So if you’re looking for some well-written, funny, and sometimes enlightening novels for the approaching autumn nights, check out the Flabbergasted trilogy, particularly the first two books. If nothing else, you’ll never look at dating the same way again.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Check Out the New Podcast!

We are finally moving into the 21st century (slowly but surely). Check out the new podcast on Anchor here or at the link below.

Why a podcast when we already have the blog? I don't see it as an either/or situation. There are people who don't have much time to read, but can easily listen to a podcast on their way to work. The goal at Light in the Darkness has always been to reach as many people as possible with the Good News.

In addition, I have always wanted this to be an interactive experience and a podcast allows both for interviews with guests and comments from listeners. Lively discussions are always good.

So take a minute and check out the podcast. There will be some overlap between it and blog, there will also be content unique to each platform.


Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Read the Bible in 2019

Many of us made resolutions for the new year today, and most involve some type of self-improvement: join a gym, start a diet, quit smoking, spend less time on social media, etc. These are all worthy goals (even if most will fall by the wayside by February), but we typically overlook that a new year gives us the opportunity for spiritual goal-setting as well. And one of the best spiritual goals we can set is to spend more time reading, studying, and meditating on the Bible.

A Google search will yield any number of solid Bible-reading plans, the most popular being one that takes you through the entire Bible in one year. However, I do not recommend that plan here, simply because of the abandonment rate even among long-time readers of the Scriptures. They start strong, but fade somewhere around the middle of Leviticus. Rather, I am going to suggest a few options that are less ambitious but perhaps more valuable because you are more likely to stick with them.

The following are all simple to remember because they involve reading one chapter per day:

1. The New Testament in One Year. There are 260 chapters in the New Testament, and starting tomorrow (Jan 2), there are 260 weekdays remaining in 2019. This means that by reading one chapter each weekday (with weekends available for catching up any missed days) you will finish the New Testament in exactly one year, reading in small enough portions to easily finish each day but large enough sections to retain the context.

2. Overview of the New Testament. This plan involves only a few books of the New Testament, but gives a solid overview, especially if you have little or no prior familiarity with the Bible. Again reading one chapter per day, read the following books in this order: the Gospel of Luke, Acts, the Gospel of John, Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, James, 1 Peter, and 1 John.. You will finish before the year is out, of course; in fact, it will take exactly 120 days. But by the end of that 120 days my guess is that you won't stop.

3. A Sample of the Old Testament. This plan is by its very nature incomplete (thus "sample" rather than "overview") but it will show God's plan of salvation from the beginning and also help you understand many of the Old Testament references in the New Testament. In this order read: Genesis, Exodus, Joshua, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, Ezra,  Nehemiah, Jonah, and Malachi.

With any of these plans, I also recommend that you read a Psalm each morning or evening. The Psalms are the prayer book/songbook of the Bible, and are quoted often throughout the New Testament. Most importantly, they are invaluable in developing your own prayer life.

Whether you use one of these plans or another you find, my prayer is that 2019 will see you become both more familiar with the Word of God and with the God of the Word. Happy reading, and Happy New Year!

Friday, November 9, 2018

Using ACTS in Your Prayer Life

Today I want to suggest a method for praying that can help with your focus during your prayer time. Perhaps “method” is not the best word; it is more of a guideline or mnemonic device for those of us who struggle with what the Buddhists call the “monkey mind,” where your thoughts tend to jump all over the place. It has been written about many times before, yet countless people have never heard of it.

The mnemonic device is a simple acronym: ACTS. It’s easy to remember not only because it’s short, but because it happens to be the name of a book of the Bible as well. It breaks down this way:

Adoration – In all of our prayers, giving praise, honor, and worship to God for who he is should be first and foremost. Some good examples of this can be found in Psalms 95, 145, and 150; Isaiah 6:3; and Revelation 4:8, 4:11, 5:12, and 5:13.

Confession – After giving praises to God, we should take time not only to acknowledge and confess specific sins that we have committed, but the very fact that we are sinners (Luke 18:13 and 1 John 1:8). One of the greatest expressions of confession and repentance ever written is Psalm 51.

Thanksgiving – All good things come from God, and no matter our circumstances we all have things for which to be thankful. We should next express these thanks to the Lord. If we thank each other for even small gifts, how much more do we owe thanks to God for all he has given us? Psalm 138 is a beautiful psalm of Thanksgiving.

Supplication – Far too often I jump straight to supplication (asking God for things) and never move beyond that point. God wants us to bring our petitions to him (Matthew 7:11; Philippians 4:6), but as the ACTS acronym rightly shows, it should be the last part of our prayer time, not the first and only. I would further suggest that our prayers for others be presented before prayers for ourselves. This can be difficult, especially when we are in particularly dire circumstances, but can also be quite beneficial to our spiritual growth.

ACTS is an important reminder in another way as well. At the end of our prayer time, it reminds us that we are always to pair prayer with action. We find this throughout the Bible; the time that comes most often to my mind is when Nehemiah was rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem: he “prayed and posted a guard.” My prayer is that the ACTS method will benefit both your prayer life and the living out of your faith as well.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Banned Books Week: Remember the Bible

Banned Books Week is an annual celebration of the right to read. Banned Books Week 2018 will be held September 23rd through 29th, and as in years past will include special events and displays at both libraries and bookstores across the country. Begun in 1982 as a collaboration between the American Library Association, the American Booksellers Association, the Association of American Publishers and the National Association of College Stores, Banned Books Week aims to raise awareness of censorship problems in the United States and abroad.
An earlier post on this blog was about how though the Bible is the best-selling book in the world, it is one of the least read. Banned Books Week reminds us that it is also one of the most banned/challenged books in the world, even in the United States. In 2015, the Bible was one of the top 10 most challenged books in America, coming in at #6. The reason most often cited was “religious viewpoint.”
As troubling as this is, the challenges to the Bible in U.S.  public libraries and schools pale in comparison to the restrictions placed on the Bible in other parts of the world. Here are just a few examples:
In North Korea, possession of a Bible or other religious literature is punishable by death or imprisonment.  In one particularly heart-breaking report, Vernon Brewer, founder and president of humanitarian organization World Help told Fox News that he often thinks about a case involving a girl named Eun, whose third-grade teacher gave the class a “special assignment” to go home and “look for a book” and if it’s the right book, the student will be honored. Eun ended up finding a Bible.  “The next day she received a prize at her school. But when Eun returned home, her parents weren’t there,” he recalled. “It’s hard to imagine such cruelty that would unknowingly turn children on their own parents.”
Morocco allows Bibles in French, English, and Spanish, but not Arabic. Arabic is the official language of the country, and the one spoken and read by the vast majority of the population.
Maldives, which requires that all citizens be Muslim, restricts Bibles to foreigners living in the country. It is illegal for a citizen to own one.
Turkmenistan prohibits the publication of Bibles. They can be imported by the few registered churches in limited numbers, and only with permission.
And while in some countries where printed Bibles are restricted people could read the Bible online, many nations restrict Internet access in a way that makes even this difficult to impossible. They include Belarus, China, Cuba, Iran, Libya, Maldives, Myanmar, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
So during Banned Books Week next week, as you support the right to read previously challenged books ranging from The Old Man and the Sea to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, take a moment to remember and speak out for those here at home and around the world who have been denied access to the Bible as well.

Friday, August 31, 2018

The Gospel in a Nutshell

Sometimes we make things much more complicated than they need to be. Entire books have been written to explain the gospel, but here is how the Apostle Paul summed it up in four sentences:

"Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures." 1 Corinthians 15: 1-4 (NIV)

No definition captures the true essence of the "good news" better, and nothing I can add will make it any clearer than Paul did two thousand years ago.

Friday, August 24, 2018

The Jesus Prayer: 14 Powerful Words

Do you ever wish there was a short, succinct prayer that not only put you in the proper frame of mind to approach God but also summed up why we need Christ as our Savior? There is, and it’s even helpfully named. It’s called the Jesus Prayer:

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

The prayer is based on a verse from Luke’s Gospel. Here is the entire passage in context:

[Jesus] then addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. “Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’ But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

While this is the passage that most aligns with the Jesus prayer, we see examples of the truth it expresses in other places in the New Testament. After the miraculous catch of fish soon after meeting Jesus, Peter says to him “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8). When the centurion sends messengers to Jesus asking him to heal his servant, he recognizes his sinful state when he says “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed” (Matthew 8:8).

The tax collector, Peter, and the centurion all acknowledged what we know but too often refuse to admit. We do not just commit sins; we are sinners. Only when we face this truth and go to Jesus for forgiveness and mercy can we be restored to a right relationship with God.

The Jesus Prayer is most often associated with the Eastern Orthodox Church, where it has been prayed since the 4th century. Priests, monks, and laymen typically recite it using a knotted prayer rope (much like a Rosary), repeating the prayer as a means of meditation and to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Many in the West were introduced to the prayer through the book “The Way of the Pilgrim,” a 19th century tale recounting an unnamed narrator’s pilgrimage across Russia reciting the Jesus Prayer.

While better known in the East, the Jesus Prayer is certainly not confined to our Orthodox brothers and sisters. The Catechism of the Catholic Church specifically mentions the prayer and its benefits (CCC 2667-2668). Any and all Christians can benefit from this brief but powerful prayer. Try incorporating it into your own prayer life; these may be the most transformative 14 words you’ve ever said.