Tag Archives: Sabbath

Michelle Bauer ~ Healed with Compassion

One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. There in front of him was a man suffering from abnormal swelling of his body. Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him on his way.

Then he asked them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?” And they had nothing to say.

When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited.If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place.But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests.For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid.But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” – Luke 14:1-14

Jesus celebrated the Sabbath by accepting a dinner invitation. How will you observe the Sabbath – a day of rest – this week? Do you rest on Sundays? What is your plan for finding time to rest this week?

In this account, Jesus wasn’t approached by someone asking to be healed. He noticed someone with an obvious medical condition and healed him on the spot. Take a moment to imagine the scene. How do you feel about Jesus as he steps outside of himself and the drama that seemed to follow him and focuses his attention on this ill person? If Jesus ignored a group and focused on you, what would you hope that Jesus would see about your vulnerabilities?

In what ways were the Pharisees failing at feeling and showing compassion? What distracted the Pharisees from the suffering of others? Who is it easy for you to show compassion to? Who do you find it difficult to have compassion for?

To be humble is to have a right view of self. What makes humility difficult? What are you learning about humility from this passage? How do you see humility in Jesus? How are humility and compassion linked together?

What do you do for others that you expect to be repaid for? Think about a time when you served someone who was incapable of repaying you. What was that experience like? What did you learn from that experience?

What aspects of interacting with broke people or ill people do you find challenging? Jesus invites us to love the person in front of us. If you are ready, ask God to help you notice someone in your life who needs your compassion.  

Think about a time when you needed compassion. Who did you receive it from? What did they do or say that expressed their compassion?

In what ways do you need compassion today? Ask the Holy Spirit to give you a sense of God’s compassionate heart.

Edgar Bazan ~ The Rest of God

I believe that God wants us to enjoy our everyday lives.

John 10:10 says that Jesus came to us so we may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, until it overflows). But it seems that far too many people who say they believe in Jesus are not enjoying their lives.

Now, it is not only fair but it is necessary to say that life gets hard in spite of our faith. So although we believe that God wants what is best for us, we also recognize that while we are living this life, we all face challenges.

The key to dealing with the tension between what we know God wants for us and the struggles we face is to rest wholly in Jesus; to know that no matter what may come at us, we are not alone and he will always bring new life, resurrection to our brokenness and pain.

Do you believe that Jesus can bring healing and reconciliation to your life? Do you believe that he brings you rest?

Let’s look at Matthew 11:28-30 to hear what Jesus says on this matter:

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Jesus is talking about two main things here: his rest and yoke.

He refers to himself as the provider of healing and redemption from the things that hurt, oppress, and possess us: that which disfigures the image of God in us. All the ugliness of the heart and mind is forgiven and transformed. Jesus speaks of this as the new birth in John 3. Paul also mentions it in 2 Corinthians 5:17 by writing, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”

So when we hear Jesus talking about rest, it is not the kind that you find in a couple of weeks in the summer, in a hammock, or in bed, but it is the relief in life that leads us to experience joy and the blessings of God through a grace/faith relationship with him. This is an invitation aimed at all people to bring them to a place of belief, trust, and a deeper level of commitment in which they are to follow Jesus and become like him.

But what does all this mean?

When Jesus says “come to me” he is offering an open invitation to everyone who hears him. For those without Jesus, it is equivalent to a call to believe in him, meaning, to repent and confess sin, to welcome healing into their lives, and to follow Jesus as new disciples. For those who are already believers, it is a call to follow him as a committed disciple; it is a call to turn their lives over to him completely.

In either case, the invitation is to be saved and to be healed, reconciled, and renewed. And then he says this: “and I will give you rest.”

This is a fascinating theological concept that we find throughout the Bible: rest.

In the first two chapters of the Bible, Genesis 1 and 2, we read about how God created everything, the heavens, the earth, plants and animals, man and woman. All these in six days. Some people may argue that these were six literal days as we know them; others would say they represent a process of millions of years, and that the language of “days” is figurative to indicate the beginning and end of each creative process. Regardless, what I want to bring to your attention is that after God created everything, on the seventh day of creation, God rested.

The Bible says that all God created was good and that God gave humanity all this goodness for them to enjoy. Creation is a reflection of God’s love and purposes. God moved creation from disorder and formlessness to a place of beauty, order, and creativity. And rest is the final gift of God to creation.

So, let me ask a theological question: are we supposed to be living on the seventh day right now? Meaning, in the rest of God? There is not an eighth day, right? Perhaps we may understand the eighth day as the day when Jesus comes back in glory. But for now, what if all this time we should be living in the time that God intended to be a time of rest for all creation?

This is not a difficult question; the answer is yes. God did not create us for misery but fruitfulness. I believe the exact words that God used were: “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it.”

This is a beautiful picture of God’s heart. God wanted us to enjoy life and be part of God’s creative purposes as we fill the earth and govern it. But that did not last long.

The first man and woman distrusted God and rebelled against him. They did not believe that God wanted the best for them and they decided to seek life somewhere else. Here is humanity walking away from the rest of God. Humanity was created to be partners with God, to enjoy creation alongside God and then become fruitful, but their sin brought upon themselves what Jesus describes as “heavy burdens.” Genesis 3:17 describes this saying, “All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it.” Of course, this does not refer only to work in a literal manner, but to our relationships, thoughts, feelings, happiness, justice, goodness. Aren’t we all scratching in this life to find rest in all the areas of our lives?

Now, there is one more passage that speaks profoundly about God’s rest, too. Hebrews 4:9-11 says,

[A] sabbath rest still remains for the people of God; for those who enter God’s rest also cease from their labors as God did from his. Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall through such disobedience as theirs.

This is a fascinating Scripture. I encourage you to read chapters 3 and 4 and mediate further on them. But let it suffice to say for now, that what we are reading here is a reference to how the people of Israel failed to enjoy the rest of God promised to them as the Promise Land. It clearly says two things: God’s rest is still available, it has always been since day seven of creation, but because of sin through disobedience, we do not enter it. In fact, we run away from it.

The promise of rest we read here is the same as what Jesus is saying, Hebrews says, “for those who enter God’s rest also cease from their labors.”

Jesus says, “all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

The implications are the same: We no longer are at war with God and each other. We no longer fight and kill each other. We no longer are slaves to sin and disobedience. We no longer are infested by fear, anger, hate, and guilt; all those things have been lifted from us, they no longer weigh us down, control us, or define us. And most importantly, we no longer are in a struggle against the voice and will of God. We are at rest in the controversy between our souls and our Savior.

We are at rest in him.

It was unbelief, a distrust that led the first man and woman to abandon God and lose the rest of God. It was unbelief, a distrust that kept the people of Israel from entering into the promised land and the rest God had promised there.

And these stories, sadly, continue to repeat themselves in every person.

Now that we have established our theological framework let’s come back to Jesus and learn about what he means when he said,

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Jesus wants to heal us and help us live in complete trust in God. In other words, he wants to position us through our faith in him to live on the seventh day of creation: the rest of God. By resting in Jesus, we begin to enjoy our life in the ways God intended for humanity to do so. This is a reality, a place, where we assume our purpose to be fruitful and enjoy life as God intended for us to do. This rest is not a rest from work—it is rest in work. It is partnering with God to do what he is calling us to do by his grace and leaving the part we can’t do in his hands, trusting him to do it.

When we do this – believe and trust God – we find enjoyment. Being good is not a task or an effort, but what we have become. Living by faith is not a struggle either—all of these are rest, finally living in the desires of God’s heart for us. And you can enter into God’s rest in every area of your life.

However, we fail to enter or remain in God’s rest due to unbelief, distrust, a hardened heart, and disobedience. And that’s where the “yoke” comes in. Jesus said, “I will give rest, but you need me to keep it. Otherwise, you will squander it as everyone else has done it when they think that can make it on their own.”

What is the yoke? In practical terms, it refers to our continual walk alongside Jesus. It is about trusting God, telling Jesus: guide my steps, set my direction. It is not about controlling you but for you to not forget that you are not alone. To keep you close. Because if you stay close to Jesus, you can listen to him better, you can see him better; you will have a supernatural sense of security and confidence because you know who you are walking with. If you are close, you will learn faster from him, and you will become stronger and wiser for life in this world.

But at the end of the day, if we truly want his rest, it is about the Lordship of Jesus over our lives. Is he our Lord? Does he influence our life?

You know, we get yoked to all kinds of bad stuff throughout our lives that have brought burdens, hurts, and brokenness of all types. Adam and Eve tried to become independent from God, and they hurt themselves. Israel, the people God chose to represent him before all the nations of the world, did the same thing. They yoked themselves to themselves. They distrusted and rejected God altogether. Let’s not make the same mistakes.

So, try now to yoke yourself to the giver of life. Let’s say with all our hearts: I surrender, I trust you God, I want what you want for me.

My friends, if you do this, if you find rest in Jesus and commit yourself to walk alongside him, he will keep you on the new things, living the new life you received in and through him, to nurture you like the new creation that you became. He will take you to places you had never imagined; places where you become who God imagined you to be so you can bear the resemblance of God in the world. You can’t become what you can’t see.

Can you see Jesus?

Have you wandered away from him?

Jesus is saying to all of us today: I want to bring you back to goodness, to be a reflection of my glory.

Andy Stoddard ~ Receiving the Value of Sabbaticals

I’m at just about the halfway point of renewal leave (i.e. Sabbatical).

I took my first church job in 1997, and ever since then, I’ve worked in the church.  A couple of them were part-time, and then I took my first appointment at a pastor in 1999 to three small United Methodist Churches outside of Cleveland, MS.  In other words, I’ve worked in the church for over 20 years and never really taken a moment to breathe.

First, let me tell you what I’ve done:

  1. Spent time with my wife and kids.  I feel like I’ve been more present with family than I have in years.  Holly and I talk, really talk, more than ever.  We’ve always been good, but I feel like we’re closer than ever.  I’ve also done a lot of Mr. Mom: I’ve taken the kids to appointments, VBS, camps, I’ve been the taxi service this summer.  It’s been fun to spend lazy time with them.  I haven’t done that during their lives.  Something (or someone) else always took importance over them.  I’m doing my very best to focus on them and spend both quantity and quality time together. Sarah and I went to Hamilton and are going to another concert this summer.  Thomas and I started playing golf together.  I’m just trying to spend as much “present” time with them as possible.  I know I can’t make up for missed time, but I can be present now.
  2. Spent time with family.  On the weekends we go south to either my parents or Holly’s parents.  My mom is 89, daddy is 79.  Just like the kids, I haven’t been present with them.  I’m trying to take advantage of this gift and just be present with them as well.
  3. Gone to church.  While with family, we’ve gone to church with them.  We’ve worshiped at Holly’s parents’ church and my home church.  It’s been great to be on the same pew with family, and for the first time since 1997, I’ve been able to go to church with my mom and dad.  I am thankful for that.
  4. Prayed.  One of the hardest things to do as a preacher is to read the Bible and pray simply for your own soul.  So often when you go to the Bible and pray, you are looking to feed others, not to be fed yourself.  I’ve been serious and intentional in my prayer life to not think about what God wants me to say to you.  What does God want to say to me?  And I am thankful because I’ve heard his voice this summer.
  5. Exercised.  One of my great weaknesses is that I am unhealthy in my lifestyle.  I eat too much.  I don’t exercise.  This summer I have been intentional in this area as well; I’ve sought to walk, every day.  It’s been good for my body and my soul.
  6. Reconnected with old friends and mentors.  I’ve had some dear friends and mentors in ministry that the last few weeks I’ve reconnected with.  For this as well I am thankful.
  7. Oh and I’m growing a beard.  Just because.  Thus far Holly hasn’t killed me.  Yet.

Interesting observations:

  1. The number of clergy persons older than me wishing they had done it.  At Conference this year, I had many people come up to me and tell me that they wish that they had done this: taken a break and focus on their family and their health.  Listen, I don’t want to sit here and tell you that being a preacher is harder than any other job.  My daddy drove a truck for a living.  But I will say this; preaching has a way if you are not careful, of burning you out.  You put everything over your family.  You live and die with weekly worship numbers.  You put pressure on yourself to be perfect.  You can’t have a bad day.  You can’t mess up.  It can just get inside your soul.  I am not going to live like that any longer.
  2. The number of preachers my age and younger that would love to do it.  But they are worried about what people would think. What about their church?  Their DS?  Others?  I can tell you is this, if taking a break is something that you feel like you need to do, do it.  You will be more effective for the Kingdom by doing this.
  3. Social media gets into your soul.  One of the things I’ve done is gotten off Facebook. It’s been good for me.  I am less anxious about a lot of things, I’m not as worried about so many things.  Am I less informed?  I still read the news and the newspaper. But I don’t feel the same onslaught that I have before.  But at first, you don’t realize how much you are on it until it’s not there.  I took the app off my phone, and for the first week I found myself going to it subconsciously all the time.  That really surprised me.
  4. I am thankful to be a Mississippi United Methodist.  I have an amazing church, District Superintendent, and Bishop.  They have all loved me enough to help me take this time.  I am thankful for each of them.

What I’ve learned spiritually:

  1. I care too much about what people think.  For too long I have worried more about what people think than I do with being faithful and following the call of the Gospel.  I have worried more about what people think than what is best for my soul, my family, and honestly, the church. Through God’s grace, I will not return to this way of thinking.
  2. I have forgotten that Jesus is the main thing.  I have focused on numbers.  Success.  Growth.  All of these things.  They don’t matter. What matters?  Jesus.  Being loved by Jesus, loving Jesus, and loving others through Jesus.  That is what matters.
  3. My spiritual life had become a chess game. If I am faithful spiritually, God will do amazing things. Or if I am not, God will not be. And if I mess up, God will get my family or me as punishment. If I read my Bible and pray, God will protect my family and grow my church. If I don’t, he won’t. And it will be my fault. But it’s not my church; it’s his. And he loves my family even more than I do.  I was not seeking God to know his face and his grace, but for protection and blessing.  I need to delight in him because that is where my life is found.  For no other reason.

What are we going to do the rest of the summer?

  1. Spend more time with family.  We’ll be heading south to see our family some more.  We’ll get to go to Homecoming at Johnston Chapel, worship with our family on the coast, and just spend some time together.
  2. Go to the coast for a short vacation.  We don’t have big plans, just spending time together.
  3. See Imagine Dragons.  Sarah and I have gone to Hamilton and later next month we’ll go to an Imagine Dragons concert together.  We are having a good time.
  4. Golf with Thomas. Thomas and I have been going to the driving range a good bit, and I’m looking forward to some more.
  5. Go to Church.  We’ll worship with family, probably go to church with a friend who serves here in Madison, and worship with one of Sarah’s friends, whose dad is a pastor in Jackson.

I’ll be back in the office August 1 and my first Sunday back in the pulpit is August 5.  I am thankful for this summer, this renewal.  I really believe it is making me a more faithful follower of Christ, a better husband and father, and hopefully a better pastor.

Michelle Bauer ~ Connecting with God on the Journey

The recommended reading for this sermon comes from Exodus 13-16.

I love to talk about spiritual disciplines.  Spiritual disciplines are the things we do to intentionally connect with God. In the classic work Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster outlines 12 foundational disciplines. But these quickly become categories when we begin to think about practices such as journaling, truth-telling and caring for the earth.  Intention is the key that ties all of these practices together. When we do something with the intention to enter into God’s presence we are practicing a spiritual discipline.

I am a late bloomer when it comes to the disciplines.  I’ve been a Christian for decades but only discovered the importance of the disciplines about four years ago. I managed to sit through countless Sunday School lessons, memorized hundreds of verses at Awana and even went to Bible college and somehow managed to miss, or ignore, the truth that God and I could be connected on an intimate level.

Because God and I weren’t connected in that way, I got through life by sheer determination. But eventually determination has a way of running out and mine did. In 2010, our family moved from Fayetteville, North Carolina. We left a church that I loved and friends that were like family to me. I thought we would live in this place forever.  I was very sad and resentful that we had to move.  At the time of the move, we had three children under the age of four and our youngest was just a few weeks old. I was tired in every way possible – mentally, physically, emotionally. When we arrived in August we found a church home quickly and I dove into church activities desperate to think about something besides who needed to be fed or changed next.  But while serving was meaningful, it drained away the last little bit of determination I had.

The whole “grit your teeth and get through it” method wasn’t cutting it anymore.  I am very grateful that God chose that season to intervene. He prompted my good friend to give me a book for my birthday about the spiritual disciplines and I began to read it.

These were all things I’d heard of before – prayer, Bible study, fasting. But something about that vulnerable season allowed me to see, for the first time, the purpose behind why God invites us to do them. And it began to change me. The disciplines have opened up a whole new way of being with God for me. They’ve created a lot of mess too. But good mess. Like the mess of a demolition project before new construction can begin.

I am still a beginner at the disciplines but I’ve experienced enough to know they work. My hope is to share what I am learning about how the disciplines work and why they are necessary if we are going to follow Jesus.

And to do that, I need to show you “The Drawing”…


My pastor, Carolyn Moore, introduced our congregation to this drawing a couple of years ago and we refer to it often because it makes a lot of sense.  You and I are the stick person. God is shown at the top of the picture and God wants to pour all of who he is on us: grace, love, mercy, forgiveness, identity and a bunch of other things.

The problem is that we were born with an umbrella. Usually umbrellas serve a useful function – they keep the rain out.  But in this case, what the umbrella keeps out is God.  This umbrella came to us as a part of the curse.  It makes us feel like God is far away.

Since the fall of humanity, each person is born with an umbrella and the events of life work to reinforce the umbrella. Every time we are hurt, or sin or face a loss, our umbrella gets thicker and tougher.  I was teaching this lesson to a group of older school age kids a few weeks ago and when I got to this point, one of the boys raised his hand and when I called on him he blurted out, “the Devil’s a jerk!”  And what do you say to that except, “yes, he is…” The devil loves our umbrella and has a vested interest in keeping it intact.  Adam and Eve didn’t have an umbrella in the garden but Satan helped them construct one with his lies about God and his goodness.  And he’s all too happy to help us with ours too. That’s why dismantling our umbrellas is serious work.

Which leads us back to spiritual disciplines. When we do things that intentionally put us into God’s presence we are poking holes into our umbrellas. When, by faith, we choose to ignore our umbrella and talk to God and read his Word and confess our sins, our umbrellas get weaker and weaker until the rain of God’s Presence is pouring down on us.

That’s why the spiritual disciplines are necessary for all of us. Don’t hear “disciplines” and think nuns, monks and pastors. If you are a disciple of Jesus, he invites you to practice the disciplines. Because disciples are commanded to “Go!”  – to go someplace spiritually.   And we will need God’s presence on that journey.

In the Old Testament book of Exodus we read the account of the Israelites journey out of slavery, through the desert and into the Promised Land.  This journey provides the ultimate illustration for our spiritual journey and Moses as their leader, demonstrates that the disciplines provide the access point to God’s Presence.

As we pick up the story in Exodus chapter 13, Moses has just wrestled a whole people group free from Pharaoh’s grip and around 1 million people have found themselves in the desert with limited provisions, no protection, and no plan.  God’s presence is what stands in between them and death.  Across what will become a 40 year journey, God’s presence will provide them with guidance and rest and nourishment.   And God’s Presence provides those very same things for us when we become intent on dealing with our umbrella. It is his Presence that takes us from wandering through life, just marking time, to heading someplace with a purpose.

Those are the choices now facing the people of Israel. They are grateful to have been released but now they need to go someplace new and they don’t know which way to go. Moses has been back and forth across this desert before but not with this many people in tow. This time he will need a route that is safe and that provides access to resources like water and food. Moses will have to become totally reliant on God to direct this journey.

In Exodus 13: 17-18; 21-22, God’s Presence first appears to the people as a pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night.  For 40 years, when the pillars moved, the whole group moved and when they stopped, so did the people.

Now, I know what you might be thinking, because I think it too… it would be a whole lot easier to follow Jesus if he used the pillar system with me.  I have prayed so many times, “Lord, if you would just tell me what to do, I would do it.”  He hasn’t given us pillars but he has offered us his guiding presence through the practice of the disciplines.  Listening prayer and solitude gives God space to talk. A community that is willing to enter with you into a discernment process can bring God’s perspective through new voices.  Sometimes the disciplines don’t lead to specific answers but they transform us so that we begin to naturally know what the right thing is.

We are just as reliant upon God’s Presence to lead us through our lives as the Israelites were. It is easy to get off course and the results can be damaging.

My friend planned a scavenger hunt for my boys at the beginning of this summer. She hid clues at different locations at a nearby park and gave each of them a compass and a quick lesson on how to use it.  At each stop on our hunt, we found a new clue, read the directions and headed towards our next location.  It was lots of fun and the boys felt like great adventurers trekking through the woods but here’s the part of the experience that stuck with me.  The clues always started with these instructions, “Get back on the path and realign your compass to North.” At each stop along the way it was necessary for us to first make sure that we were heading in the right direction or the rest of the clue wouldn’t make any sense.

That is just as true of our spiritual journey.  We need to take frequent stops to allow God to realign our compass.  Even if I start my day heading due north, pretty quickly the challenges of everyday life hit and I’ve drifted a few degrees off.  It’s not so dramatic that someone else would notice. The really scary thing is that I might not even notice it. But if I go too long before resetting, I run the risk of getting way off track – in my thinking, my motivations, my desires – and ending up in a dangerous place.  Practicing the disciplines allows God to guide us and reset our compass.

Now the IsraChildren_are_the_amongst_the_most_vulnerable_refugees_(9084604203)elites are following the pillars and heading in the right direction, but after three days the little bit of water they fled with has run out.
Everyone is quick to comment on the grumbly Israelites… But think of them as refugees – fleeing with only the things they could throw into carts or on their backs. They are marching their children and elderly relatives through the hot desert.  I would grumble too.  They had experienced God’s miraculous rescue at the Red Sea and that was an obvious high moment. But the high moments don’t last forever. Someone said to me recently that the “spiritual life cannot be lived only on feelings and moments.”  It’s hard to remember how excited you were a few days ago when you are dying of thirst today. In Exodus 15:22-25 we read that God provides water for the Israelites but not in a conventional way. He leads them to a place where there is plenty of water but it is bitter and undrinkable.

The journey God leads us on is complicated and confusing at times. God knows the Israelites are thirsty. So, why does he lead them to a place where they can’t drink the water?!  See! It’s confusing!

The lesson we learn here is that his presence is the only thing that can make sense of our experiences.  And, in that frustrating moment, Moses does the exact right thing – “He cries out to the Lord.”  He practices a spiritual discipline – he prays.  And God answers him.  He points out a specific piece of wood and tells Moses to toss it into the water. Moses obeys – which is another spiritual discipline – and the water turns sweet.

This reference to “a piece of wood” makes me think of another piece of wood – the cross. Jesus’ work on the cross makes the things in our journey that are bitter into something sweet. But we can only see that perspective when we have been in his Presence.

Once everyone has had enough to drink, they realize just how tired they are. They have had big adventures mixed with intense training and teaching. Journeying is hard work. God knows what they need next is a place to rest. Exodus 15:27 describes a beautiful oasis complete with 70 palm trees and 12 springs.

I’m not a big camper but if I was going to pitch a tent, this is where I’d do it! It has shade and water and beauty. This sounds like the perfect place to rest! Setting aside a day, or even a season to rest, is a spiritual discipline. God calls it Sabbath. The Israelites could have refused this oasis.  “No, no we’ve got this… let’s just keep going. We’ve got a lot of work to do as God’s chosen people… God needs us to keep going.”

Instead they submit to God’s direction and allow him to shade them with the palm trees, and refresh them with a never-ending supply of water from the springs.  Do you allow God to lead you into rest? Or do you consider rest a luxury for the weak?

My husband and I have had an ongoing debate throughout our marriage about when is the appropriate time to get gas.  He thinks it’s when the car is at a quarter-tank and I think we can wait until the empty light comes on. We often have a conversation that starts with him saying “I just noticed that the car is out of gas. We’d better stop.” To which I reply “No, it’s not. We still have a quarter tank. We could go for miles.”  And I’m technically right, but is it wise to watch the gas tank run down to empty? My husband likes knowing that the car is ready to handle any emergency, or that we can go a few extra miles if a gas station doesn’t magically appear at the exact moment we need one.

God sides with Chris when it comes to our spiritual gas tanks. Don’t wait until it’s empty or near empty to fill up again.  A crisis will come whether we are prepared or not and it stinks to have to stop at the gas station on the way to the emergency room. God has led his people to a place to rest and fill up and they gratefully follow him there.

As we pick up the Israelites’ journey in chapter 16, we read that they have now been on the road for about 43 days.  This is the point at which the bread they had brought with them as they fled Egypt has run out. One million people are out of food.  Exodus 16 tells the story of how God brings his presence to work in this new crisis.  He provides meat in the form of quail and bread which the people call manna.

God’s presence has provided the people with direction, water, rest and now meat and bread.  Just like the piece of wood in chapter 15 connects us to the cross, the flakes of manna spread across the desert floor reminds us of Jesus breaking a loaf of bread into pieces and asking his disciples to take and eat.

Here again, bread provided by God, is bringing life to his people. All the people have to do is go out and gather it.  And isn’t it fascinating that God understands the people’s instinct to hoard. To just take what we need for that day requires trust in the source and the supply.

God designed manna with a very short shelf life. By the next morning leftover manna was smelly and full of maggots. If the Israelites wanted to survive they had to develop the discipline of gathering the bread each day.

In this same way, we are continually drawn back into God’s Presence because our supply runs out. Our supply of love, grace, patience, forgiveness, humility, everything runs out.  So we are compelled to come often to gather the bread we will need to journey.  It is a mercy when our bread supply runs out.

In July, I had the opportunity to travel to Guatemala to take a class “Social Justice and Spirituality.” Early in the trip, a woman named Tita Evertsz came to lecture our group. She had to come to us, because the place where she ministers is too dangerous for us to visit.

Tita ministers in a slum called La Limonada which means “Lemonade” in English. La Limonada is considered to be the largest urban slum in Central America. It is less than 1 square mile in size and has around 60,000 people living in it. It is considered a Red Zone. Which means that the police have given up and gangs have taken over.

Tita came from that slum and returned as an adult after coming to Christ. She began working with gang members but quickly grew very discouraged by all of the senseless violence. In frustration she told God one day that she wished that she could prevent the killing instead of just trying to heal it.   God answered that prayer by giving her the idea to start a school. So she did!  Her goal is to give kids an education so that they can break free of the cycles that keep so many trapped there. But soon, the gangs started preventing children from crossing into other territories to go to school. So, she opened another school across the gang line for those children.  Our professors referred to her as the Mother Theresa of Guatemala.  While she was with us she shared the signs of hope she is seeing but she had many more stories of sadness and what looks to her like failure.

Someone in our group asked her, how she keeps her heart soft with all of the horrible things she sees.  Her face grew sad, she looked down at the ground and said “You know, it is very hard when children get hurt.” Then she paused, lifted up her head, smiled and said “but I am addicted to his Presence.”

Spending consistent time in the Lord’s Presence through spiritual disciplines, allows Tita to go back into the horrible world in which she ministers and serve from abundance.  It provides her direction and keeps resentment at bay.  I’m guessing it would not take 43 days for Tita’s own supply of bread to run out.   But she doesn’t have to worry about it running out because she can run to the source anytime and get fresh bread.

Exodus 16: 21 tells us one more important thing about manna… it melts. Can’t you sometimes feel your manna melting… when you have to have a difficult conversation with someone, or help a kid prepare for a spelling test or listen to someone’s criticism? These are the things that keep us going back to the source.

What would we do if we could collect all the manna we needed for a month in one sitting? We’d only think about it once a month. And for the rest of the month we’d feel pretty self-sufficient and in control.   Instead God calls us to come in and out of his Presence until it gets to the point where we are able to see that we never leave it. Then our umbrella is in tatters and blown inside out and we are soaking wet.

I want to close by telling you about my plant. I have a hard time keeping it alive. It needs a lot of water and unlike everyone else in my house, it doesn’t remind me when it’s thirsty. When it’s gone too long in between waterings, it will fall into this very dramatic droop. The good news is, as soon as I water it, it springs back to life.  But then I usually wait too long again and keep repeating the cycle.  What I’ve discovered recently, though, is that when I remember to water it regularly, it flowers.

Things that are kept on the edge of survival do not bear fruit. Are you able to hear that as a truth for your soul? God designed the spiritual disciplines to open us up to his Presence. And that is where we receive the resources we will need for our journey – guidance and rest and nourishment.

Remember the great old hymn I Need Thee Every Hour?  The chorus says, “I need You, Oh I need You, every hour I need you…”   Every hour… not every week or every month… we need His Presence every hour, every minute. But here’s the problem…  I don’t want to need someone that much. My temptation is to grit my teeth and get through life on my own power. But I just end up thirsty, out of gas and tired.  And my journey gets stuck and I stop flowering.  If you struggle with this too, the question God asks is, “Are we ready to surrender?” Are we ready to admit that we need him and humbly enter into His Presence regularly to receive the provision that he has for us?

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ The Greatest Spiritual Need…

A college professor at my faith-based liberal arts university used to make a bold declaration.

“The greatest spiritual need on this campus,” he would state, “is sleep.”

Every semester he saw the same thing. A student would come to his office for a meeting feeling discouraged or depressed, defeated or frustrated, struggling. Whether it was addiction or relationship problems or academic anxiety, the student would spill out their woes for a few minutes until he gently interrupted.

“How much sleep did you get last night?” he would ask. Their faces surprised, students gave answers that revealed a pattern. Four hours. Three hours. Five hours. “How much the night before last? Last week? What did you do over the weekend?”

Soon, a picture would emerge. Attempting to operate on three or four hours of sleep a night, students began making poor decisions, finding their tolerance or resistance low, their emotions unpredictable. And often, they looked first to emotional or psychological or spiritual factors before taking into account one very practical influence.

So instead of telling them to pray harder or switch majors or break up with their significant other, Dr. Keith Drury would tell them to go take a nap. And then to start going to bed earlier.

Sound familiar, Church?

Are you feeling discouraged?




Is everything a struggle?

Church members, small group leaders, pastors – how long did you sleep last night? The night before? Last week?

Do you wrestle with hidden addiction – alcohol, porn, eating disorders, binge shopping, prescription pills? (PS – it won’t stay hidden forever, as we’ve relearned the past few weeks.)

You may scoff. Maybe your ego won’t let you consider being or appearing less productive (why is productivity a god in our culture?). Maybe your feelings of insecurity won’t let you put away Pinterest ideas for creative cupcakes you’re taking to a bake sale hosted by a snide woman. Maybe your auto-pilot won’t let you question how healthy it is to let your kids sign up for so many extracurriculars.

Recently I half-jokingly commented to a friend that I felt holier.


My husband had traveled out of town for a while and the absence of my beloved epic squirmer resulted in the best nights’ sleep I’d had in years. I noticed I had more patience with the kids. I was making better lifestyle decisions. I was more sensitive to the pushes and pulls of the Holy Spirit. I noticed feeling more free to be intentional.

The truth is that all the dark circle correcter in the world won’t erase bad decisions, broken relationships, and vanished months and years. Besides knowing that sleep deprivation leads to more obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, slower reaction time, less creative thinking and poor immune systems (30% of adults get six hours of sleep a night or less – and getting less than six hours of sleep a night makes you four times as likely to catch a cold), we might also ask how many church board conflicts, 15-passenger van accidents, extramarital affairs, social networking snark, and small group meltdowns are influenced by what, according to one wise college professor, is the greatest spiritual need on any given college campus.

Jesus was inside the boat, sleeping with his head on a pillow. The followers went and woke him. They said, ‘Teacher, don’t you care about us? We are going to drown!’

Jesus stood up and gave a command to the wind and the water. He said, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind stopped, and the lake became calm.

He said to his followers, ‘Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?'”

You can choose to be like an alert disciple, panicking and awake.

Or you can choose to be like Jesus, and go take a nap, ready to face the storm with calm and clarity and authority.

Or are you better than Jesus?

Tom Fuerst ~ Pastors, Moral Failings, and the Thing Nobody Wants to Talk About

When a pastor has a moral failing, especially of the sexual nature, everyone wants to talk through the sordid details. That thing that happens behind closed doors, that thing that is supposedly “no one else’s business” when it comes to my sexuality, becomes everyone’s business when it comes to the pastor. People want to know who the other party was. They want to know what led to the moral failing. They want to know (blame?) if the pastor’s wife didn’t “keep herself up” for him. They want to know how long the affair’s been going on. And they want to highlight all the possible ways the pastor might be a hypocrite for espousing a stern sexual ethic in public while living in blatant sin in private.

Everyone wants to talk about these things. Everyone wants to know.

But there’s an issue behind all of this that no one is addressing. There are questions to be asked that no one really wants to ask because such questions don’t make for good water-cooler gossip.

You see, lost in all the pastor-gone-wild media porn out there is the fact that pastors have jobs that, as largely defined in the American setting, are not sustainable for healthy living. The way the pastorate is defined in American culture, whether the church is large or small, reflects the larger systemic issue of an over-worked American society that knows nothing of a work/life balance. And this is not only the minister’s fault for living into this kind of lifestyle (though it is certainly our faults, too), but it’s also the church’s fault for expecting their pastors to live this way, or rather, for not expecting their pastors to model a better way of living.

The contemporary American pastorate in larger churches looks more like a CEO. His/her job is to make sure the investors are happy, engaged, and committed. S/he must provide a weekly presentation that emphasizes the entertainment factor to maintain the interest of the people. The pastor spends his time visioning, executing, managing, and promoting himself/herself and the church. The church becomes a commodity in this model, another thing people might consume or not consume, depending on whether or not they like the product and the person – the pastor – who advertises the product.

But it’s not much different in smaller congregations. In smaller churches, the pastor is always on the run doing all the hospital visits, administrative tasks, cleaning the church building, writing his sermons (often on Saturday nights), putting out congregational fires, and making sure the few parishioners are happy.

What strikes me here is that, when it comes to the moral failings of pastors, we want to talk as if this is an individual issue. As good Americans, we cannot look beyond the specific free will decisions of the isolated individual pastor. But whether we’re talking about large churches or small churches, when pastors are working 60+ hours on a consistent basis, we are setting him/her up for moral failure.

And yet, despite the plethora and increasing number of major pastoral moral failures in the last three decades, the American church continues to insist that this particular structure of pastoral ministry is not only the way it should be, but many argue, in fact, that it is biblical.

But this couldn’t be further from the truth. When the ministry of the church became too great for the apostles, the church didn’t come to them and offer them more money in exchange for more time spent at the church building. No, the apostles and the church worked together to find a way to ensure that the Apostles could focus on very specific things and let others concern themselves with what was left.

This is exactly what we see in Acts 6, when the ministry to the needy became too great for the apostles to take care of. Due to the size and demands of this early ministry,certain people (widows) were being neglected because the apostles couldn’t handle it all (6:1). When the job ministry is too big, matters of justice, things of importance to humans and God, get neglected. And the early church found a solution:

 And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables. Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.” What they said pleased the whole community…

The apostles don’t see themselves as CEOs or slaves to the church. They see themselves as fulfilling a specific duty for the church: the ministry of the word of God and prayer. Everything else was dropped from their plate. And not only did the church not look down on them or call them lazy for a desire to emphasize these two tasks alone, but this suggestion “pleased the whole community.”

I’m not arguing here that a pastor’s moral failings are somehow excusable. They’re not. These men and women make terrible decisions that have long term impacts on their families and their churches. But make no mistake about it: these decisions are not made in a vacuum. These decisions are made in the context of a church structure that fails to emphasize what the apostles in Acts 6 emphasized. Pastors are encouraged to be leaders and counselors, friends with everyone and visioneers for the city, but I wonder how often pastors are simply encouraged to be ministers of the word and prayer.

I wonder when the last time a church simply wrote on their senior pastor job description, “we’re looking for a man or woman who simply focuses on the word of God and prayer.”

In the end, this Americanized, degenerate pastorate has already failed. The only reason we can’t see it is because our American individualism blinds us to how structures of oppression work. And, yes, I use the term oppression on purpose. A consistent 50-70 hour work week is not liberty, but enslavement – a return to Egypt. A consistent neglect of family in order to meet the needs of everyone else’s family is not freedom, but bondage.

The American pastorate is bondage.

We want our pastors to be the moral reflections of a godly humanity. We demand that they live in glass houses and sit on pedestals. But we’ve structured their lives in a way that inevitably leads to failure. This is a no-win situation for anyone. I just wonder how many lives will be ruined before we seek a better way. How long will it be before the church demands a better, more biblical way? I don’t know. But I’m not holding my breath for this trend of pastoral moral failings to stop so long as we continue to view the ministry through the lens of the American way instead of the way of the apostles.

Read more from Rev. Tom Fuerst at www.tom1st.com.

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ Are American Clergy Suffering a Crisis of Faith?

Are American clergy suffering a crisis of faith?

From megachurch pastor and quintessential church cool guy Rob Bell to Seventh-Day Adventist pastor-turned-atheist-for-a-year Ryan Bell, 2014 was a doozy (the topic even emerged as a central theme in Steven King’s new novel “Revival”).

From Rob Bell: “All of these things that people think dropped out of the sky by divine edict are actually a reflection of ongoing human evolution and a thousand other factors that have shaped why we as humans have done what we’ve done.”

From Ryan Bell: “I do think I’ve now seen both sides of the coin. Being with the atheists, they can have the same sort of obnoxious certainty that some Christians have, and I don’t want to be a part of that. It feels like I’m stuck in the middle. I want to be for something good, but I don’t want boundaries, and religion just feels like a very bounded thing. The question I am asking right now: Why do I need religion to love?”

But I don’t just have to look at the headlines about Rob Bell’s seismic theological shift (he learned the most about Jesus from…Oprah? She’s great if you want to know if you’re wearing the correct bra size, but – Oprah?) or about Ryan Bell’s wrestling with the problem of evil and whether God exists (I completely applaud him for being honest about his struggles and for stepping out of the pulpit if his beliefs were in flux that deeply).

No, I don’t have to read stories like this one or this one to wonder if these North American clergy suffering crises in faith and theology are part of a greater trend. I have too many friends who are going through a similar process to wonder if it is, as my Facebook feed daily demonstrates.

It’s a mistake to think that clergy suffering crises of faith are something new under the sun, though. If Mother Teresa recorded her struggles and doubts, I think we can all breathe a sigh of relief.

It’s also a mistake to criticize questioning by and in itself. Buddy, you better. An unexamined life is not worth living, and an unexamined faith will last about as long as Farrah Fawcett hair, Hammer pants, beanie babies, MySpace, “Gangnam Style” and every other grass that withers and flower that doth fade away. Or as I occasionally put it to my congregants from the pulpit: “I really believe this. Otherwise I wouldn’t waste your time. Join the Rotary if you just want to be a good citizen.”

Why here, though? Why now, and why so many?

Orthodoxy itself is not bankrupt. In fact, if you feel disillusioned with the church or faith (though people rarely actually say they’re disillusioned with Christianity itself, which is why you don’t hear, “you know, the Apostle’s Creed really disappointed me today”), reading G.K. Chesterton’s “Orthodoxy” might be just what the doctor ordered, a breath of fresh air that anticipated with remarkable acumen what the intellectual challenges of the next century would be. No, orthodoxy is not bankrupt even if modernism is. As many clergy or church-bred people I know who are slowly, gradually breaking up with the church, I know nearly as many drawn not just to orthodoxy but to an additional packet of dogma as well, eschewing North American Protestantism for the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions.

If there is this crisis of faith among North American clergy, then, why here? Why now? And why so many?

Here are a couple of factors that I suspect are shaping this trend.

The fault lines in fundamentalism have taken their toll. What a heartbreaking process to read (former Seventh Day Adventist pastor) Ryan Bell’s intellectual turmoil. Fundamentalism is all baby, no bathwater, as the LA Times piece recounts: “All along, his doubts grew. The more he tried to reconcile the Bible with science, the more it seemed he was putting together a puzzle with parts that didn’t fit. The more he thought about the unceasing suffering in the world, the more he doubted God’s existence.”

If your faith falls apart when you pull on the string of literal, six-day creation theory, you probably grew up a fundamentalist. There are good, loving, generous Christian fundamentalists who are the salt of the earth. But if your faith – the whole of your faith – could be shaken by the discovery of millions of iconic, undisputed, beautiful “missing links,” then your faith wasn’t in the Creator God whose mysterious ways caused all life; it was in one narrow interpretation of a complex language. This intellectual legalism has churned out more atheists and universalists than even Ricky Gervais could ever hope for.

What happens when you go through college and seminary without working through these theological issues? You work through them after you’ve joined the ranks of other clergy, after your own faith gets hit with challenges while you’re also trying to serve in ministry. American clergy are in part suffering a crisis of faith because we’re still recovering from a wicked hangover left by the well-intentioned fundamentalists of the 80’s, committed to coalitioning everyone to heaven.

The fatigue of the faithful has taken its toll. Show me a pastor who is struggling with theology or philosophy of religion and I’ll show you a pastor who’s also very likely burned out. Clergy see the best and the worst. Consider this statement from a Huffington Post piece on former megachurch pastor-now-Oprah-network-show host Rob Bell:

Now resettled near Los Angeles, the couple no longer belongs to a traditional church. ‘We have a little tribe of friends,’ Bell said. ‘We have a group that we are journeying with. There’s no building. We’re churching all the time. It’s more of a verb for us. Churches can be places that help people grow and help people connect with others and help people connect with the great issues of our day,’ Bell said. ‘They can also be toxic, black holes of despair.’

Competition from colleagues, church members fixated on petty, ego-driven concerns – these realities can knock the wind out of a beautiful baptism, a tender, hard-fought reconciliation, or a quiet “thank you” after a sermon. It’s not always the moments when a church can be a “toxic, black hole of despair” that send clergy into a theological tailspin. Sometimes it’s what they’re also dealing with themselves: grief, loss, depression, mental illness or addiction.

In At Home in Mitford, writer Jan Karon hits the nail on the head in this fictional letter from a bishop to his clergy friend:

You ask if I have ever faced such a thing as you are currently facing. My friend, exhaustion and fatigue are a committed priest’s steady companions, and there is no way around it. It is a problem of epidemic proportions, and I ask you to trust that you aren’t alone.Sometimes, hidden away in a small parish as you are now – and as I certainly have been – one feels that the things which press in are pointed directly at one’s self.I assure you this is not the case.An old friend who was a pastor in Atlanta said this: “I did not have a crisis of faith, but of emotion and energy. It’s almost impossible for leaders of a congregation to accept that their pastor needs pastoring. I became beat up, burned out, angry, and depressed.”The tone of your letter does not indicate depression or anger, thanks be to God. But I’m concerned with you for what might follow if this goes unattended.

Keep a journal and let off some steam. If that doesn’t fit with your affinities, find yourself a godly counselor. I exhort you to do the monitoring you so sorely need, and hang in there. Give it a year!

Any pastor “worth their weight” willingly exposes himself or herself to extraordinary amounts of pain. Even those who attempt to engage in “self-care” frequently short themselves or fear criticism from colleagues and supervisors. Does your denomination offer sabbaticals?

What percentage of your pastors actually take the offered sabbaticals? Do you communicate expectations to your staff that they will not only take their days off but their vacation days as well? Do you make sabbaticals mandatory? Do you admire a colleague’s “work ethic” and then raise an eyebrow when he has an affair? Do you demand 60 hours a week for a salaried position and then make judgments on your employee’s health and fitness level? Do you give compassionate leave to those in your district or conference who lose a parent, or do you send them carefully worded correspondence reminding them that their church is behind on apportionments, budget, or whatever your denomination calls the money a local congregation sends to its hierarchy?Dear pastors, superintendents, bishops: remember the Sabbath. Keep it holy. Rest your way back into faith.

For clergy suffering through the epidemic of faith crises that seems as miserable, unwelcome and persistent as this year’s flu strain, what palliatives might be offered? Plenty of rest (see above), but also these comforts:

Good-enough pastoring. When I became a new parent, I was panicked, constantly waking the baby by checking on him. Then I read just a short review of a book with a title that, in itself, calmed me down. The book? “Good Enough Parenting.”

Thank you, sensible reviewer, who, having had enough of the neurotic 21st century moms and dads who overparent so lovingly, gently suggested that perhaps parents need to relax a little and simply aim their expectations at “good enough.”

Dear clergy slogging through a crisis of faith: I know you are pressured on all sides to be intuitively genius at social networking; to have the preaching abilities of your congregation’s favorite pastor from 20 years ago; to have the evangelistic zeal of Billy Graham; the charismatic charm of Jimmy Fallon; the generational with-it-ness to know who Jimmy Fallon is; the biblical knowledge of a cloistered New Testament scholar; the entrepreneurial spirit of Donald Trump; the organizational abilities of Martha Stewart; the leadership abilities of whatever current “best practices” guru is popular; the financial soundness of Dave Ramsey himself; the parenting insight of Super Nanny; the technological and fundraising prowess of the 2008 Obama campaign and the humility of Mother Teresa.

Oh. And the holiness of our Messiah.

Let’s prevent a few existential crises by saying, here and now, that the Body of Christ in North America might better be served simply by pastors who are “good enough.” You may never have a multiple-book publishing deal, but you never got sent to federal prison, either. You weren’t ever a keynote speaker, but you also avoided major public meltdowns. In our quest to give God our best, maybe it also would have been valuable to give God quiet, almost invisible consistency.

Philosophy matters. Some of the most pastorally gifted people I know, who seem to intuit the pastoral needs of those in their care, are extremely well grounded in philosophy. I’ll never forget what a seminary friend once said to our philosophy of religion professor. After a tragic loss while she was young, she was left with enormous life questions that threatened to engulf her. In all her questioning, it wasn’t counseling classes or time with therapists that ultimately gave her peace: it was the content of an introduction to philosophy of religion class, where questions like “why would a good, all-powerful God allow suffering?” were dissected with compassionate logic and reason rather than answered with a quick-fix Bible verse or a prod to rehearse the blank abyss of her own sorrow on the therapist’s couch.

The best response to bad theology isn’t an absence of theology: it’s good theology. And the best response to deep philosophical questions isn’t to throw away faith, but to acknowledge that faith and reason complement each other, and that any version of Christian faith that rejects intellectual and philosophical questioning – or claims – is a version of the Christian faith that is cheating you.

And dear friend, you deserve more.

Let’s eavesdrop on G.K. Chesterton in closing:

Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.

Oh God, take our cynicism and hand us back our wonder.



A reading list for the underwhelmed, overmarketed and disillusioned:

“Orthodoxy” by G.K. Chesterton (non-fiction)

“At Home in Mitford” by Jan Karon (fiction)

“Heaven, Hell and Purgatory” by Jerry Walls (non-fiction)

“Harry Potter” books 1-7 by J.K. Rowling (fiction: trust me on this)

“Canon and Criterion in Christian Theology: From the Fathers to Feminism” by William Abraham (non-fiction)

“Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality” by David Baggett and Jerry Walls (non-fiction)