What is the Big Picture of the Book of Beginnings?

If someone were to ask you to take as much time as you wanted to answer the question “Who are you?” you would start at the beginning. Your birth, your parents, your hometown, your ethnicity. To fully understand a person, a people, or a place today, you must go back to their beginnings.

That is why the Bible starts with “In the beginning.”

Genesis

Generations of believers have found the meaning and purpose of life—including its tragedies and triumphs—by reading Genesis, the book of beginnings. When we read Genesis we should see the larger part of the God-story in it. The book is not merely a sequence of events. It is a theology about God’s intention in creating humanity, about the dreadful corruption within humanity, and about God’s way of restoring humanity, beginning with one man and one tribe.

Joy – A Reading for the Third Week of Advent

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”

- Luke 2:10-11

Great joy? Is it almost too much to hope for? Where did all the Christmas joy go? How did things get so complicated? So rushed? So squeezed and cluttered? A nonstop buzz of Christmas lights and weary shoppers, boisterous television specials and pleading children. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can choose to step aside, step into a quieter moment, and read the angel’s words that came on the night that changed the world: “I bring you good news of great joy!”

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It was just another night of work in the field for the shepherds, with a chill in the air and the soft bleating of their flocks.

Love: A Reading for the Second Week of Advent

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.

- Luke 2:4

Bethlehem was like any other town in the hills of Judea. And yet it was the birthplace of the greatest king of Israel, David, and one thousand years later, the Messiah.

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How does such an honor come to the ordinary? Were the people of this town particularly worthy? Was there some great strategic advantage to where it lay? Were the people of Bethlehem politically savvy, having a long history of producing great leaders? Not at all. The little town of Bethlehem was in the shadow of great Jerusalem just six miles to the north. Even the meaning of Bethlehem, “house of bread,” is unremarkable. 

How Should We Understand the Stories of the Old Testament?

When I was a boy, I was given a set of recordings of dramatized Bible stories, and they captivated my attention. They were well-produced audio narrations complete with sound effects like the clanking of swords, rushing waters, roaring lions, chariots, and nails being driven through Jesus’ hands. The stories lodged in my head as I listened to the recordings over and over.

It is common in Christian churches for children to be taught the Bible story by story. Then, somehow, we get the idea that as adults we can handle the higher truths we find in places like the epistles of the New Testament. But this is to miss the grand scheme of the Bible. The backbone of the Bible is story or narrative. If we look at the whole sweep of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation, there is one grand story: the creation, the fall of humanity into sin and corruption, God’s efforts at redeeming humanity, and the final remaking of all things. This is the metanarrative of the Bible.

Book Picks for Christmas

Books are great Christmas gifts because when the right book is given at the right time, it can change a life.

Here are my book picks for this year. (In the interest of decorum, I won’t recommend my own books. Info about one is here.)

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
by Laura Hillenbrand
When World War II began, Louis Zamperini, an Olympic athlete, became an airman, embarking on a journey that led to a doomed flight in 1943. When his Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean, against all odds, Zamperini survived, adrift on a foundering life raft. Ahead of Zamperini lay thousands of miles of open ocean, leaping sharks, thirst and starvation, enemy aircraft, and, beyond, a trial even greater. Driven to the limits of endurance, Zamperini would answer desperation with ingenuity; suffering with hope, resolve, and humor; brutality with rebellion. Now available in a young adult adaptation as well.

Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Life
by Eric Metaxas
What are miracles, and why do so many people believe in them? What do they tell us about ourselves? And what do we do with experiences that we cannot explain? In Miracles, Eric Metaxas offers compelling — sometimes electrifying — evidence that there’s something real to be reckoned with, whatever one has thought of the topic before. Miracles is also a timely, thoughtful, and civil answer to the books of the “New Atheists” — Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris — who have passionately asserted not just the impossibility of miracles and the supernatural, but the outright harmfulness of belief in them.

 

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy
by Eric Metaxas
As Adolf Hitler and the Nazis seduced a nation, bullied a continent, and attempted to exterminate the Jews of Europe, a small number of dissidents and saboteurs worked to dismantle the Third Reich from the inside. One of these was Dietrich Bonhoeffer-a pastor and author. In this New York Times best-selling biography, Eric Metaxas takes both strands of Bonhoeffer’s life-the theologian and the spy-and draws them together to tell a searing story of incredible moral courage in the face of monstrous evil.

 

 
The Cross of Christ
by John Stott
The work of a lifetime, from one of the world’s most influential thinkers, about the heart of the Christian faith. “I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross. . . . In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?” With compelling honesty John Stott confronts this generation with the centrality of the cross in God’s redemption of the world — a world now haunted by the memories of Auschwitz, the pain of oppression and the specter of nuclear war. Can we see triumph in tragedy, victory in shame? Why should an object of Roman distaste and Jewish disgust be the emblem of our worship and the axiom of our faith? And what does it mean for us today?

Hope: A Reading for the First Sunday of Advent (Nov. 30)

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.

- Isaiah 9:6-7

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In the Old Testament, some of the prophecies about Christ are mysterious statements. They were so bold and so large that they were treasured through the generations until they were fulfilled and finally understood. Isaiah’s oracle about a son who would be born–Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace, and all the rest–was one of those landmark prophecies. In that moment of inspiration, Isaiah revealed Jesus would be Mighty God.

Ideal December

My wife, Ingrid, and I were talking yesterday about how we might keep Christmas simple this year in order to focus on the things that really matter. (This, by the way, is a conversation we have every year, and sometimes it actually makes a difference!) The thing about festivals and holidays is that you have to be intentional about focussing on meaning and avoiding distraction. It doesn’t happen automatically.

My ideal December includes:

Together Again

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And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” Revelation 5:9-10

It is an amazing sight when the General Assembly of the United Nations is gathered in the great hall in the UN building in New York. In the massive hall with giant wood panels, lofty ceiling,

No More Pain

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Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
1 Corinthians 15:24-26

It was the largest crowd ever to have ever gathered in Times Square in New York City. A LIFE Magazine photographer captured what would become an iconic photo of a solder kissing a young girl in a white dress. The cheering of the crowds was deafening. And all around the world, similar celebrations unfolded on August 14, 1945, the day the worst war the world had ever experienced was officially over. After six years of blood, 50 million deaths, the destruction of entire cities, World War II was over. The end.

The prophets and the apostles have many descriptions

Hope is More Than Wishful Thinking

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I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. Ephesians 1:18-21

We are all looking for a measure of security and certainty in life, and that is understandable given the sometimes shocking news of the day when violence breaks out, or someone discovers deep corruption in government, or there is an economic crisis. We are also shaken by personal loss and tragedy, whether an untimely death, an unexpected diagnosis from the doctor, or loss of a job.

Focus on What Matters

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For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Romans 14:17

The Easter season was always challenging for the three generations of the Morris family. It seemed as though everybody had their own ideas about how to mark and celebrate this season in which Christians traditionally focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The Seduction of Comfort

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Paul and Barnabas preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said. Acts 14:21-22

In a recent sermon, Pope Francis lashed out at the “culture of comfort” that convinces people that they can have a more carefree life if they forgo having children. In an article entitled “The Dangerous Culture of Comfort,” writer Francisco Dao asserts that the culture of comfort has taken its toll on American initiative and explains why Americans no longer develop technology or start companies at a similar ratio to those foreign-born living in the United States. Comfort, he concludes, is the enemy of ambition.

Blinded By Might

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Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. John 18:36-37

Pastor Ed Dobson at one time had access to the highest places of power in the U.S., including the White House, and was a national Christian figure. But today he lives a physically limited life as a result of the incurable neurological condition ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. His devoted wife, Lorna, helps him dress and prepares him smoothies to eat—a far cry from the soccer star he was while growing up in Northern Ireland.

Suffering and Proclaiming

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Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me…. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. Matthew 24:9, 14

Traian Dorz, a 20th century Romanian poet and Christian, spent over 16 years of his life in prison under the communist regime. As the spiritual leader of a renewal movement in the Romanian Orthodox Church, Dorz was severely persecuted for his missionary activities and writings.