Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Staircase to Heaven, Guest Post

Photo of Jacob's ladder, by Wenceslas Hollar (1607-1677), from wikipedia.com

Every year in our Bible classes we do an overview of the scriptures using the Chronological Bible Story Cloth, which is 42 separate pictures of Biblical accounts throughout the Old and New Testaments woven together as one tapestry. This is a quick way to survey the whole Bible and see where the individual books fit into the metanarrative of the entire Bible as a singular story.

Each student is required to create a creative presentation of their chosen Biblical account and present it to the class. Every year there are excellent presentations that I choose to guest post and show off. Last year I posted a creative writing piece on Jacob wrestling with God, Jacob Deceiver, by Anna Rose O’Kelley. This year I have posted a poem, Fallen Angels, by Faneva Durandisse. Today I am posting The Staircase to Heaven, another creative writing piece, by Jayden Pettit.

The Staircase to Heaven
Guest post by Jayden Pettit
Jacob’s Ladder: Genesis 28:10-22


I, Jacob, son of Isaac and Rebekah have left Beersheba and am continuing on my journey to Haran. After walking many hours with a sore back and dirty, blistered feet to show for it, I have decided to bring my steady traveling to a halt. The thought of rest and a good meal spurs my movement as I quickly untangle the few things I possess at the moment and speedily lift my belongings off of my donkey’s back. I arrange them in such a way as to keep them safe from the elements and close to me as I sleep. I quickly start a fire with some of the dry brushwood that I have collected around the great fig tree under which I am resting.

The figs looked delicious but after eagerly biting into one I realized they were not quite ready for a human mouth to enjoy. I sit down and eat the meal of dried meat and thin tasty bread that I have brought from my father’s camp. I joyfully eat the last of my meal and dispose of the ashes that have provided warmth and comfort. At last I stretch and yawn with contentment and lay down to rest. After lying here several minutes, I agreed with myself that something is missing.

I sat up and rubbed my aching neck. I needed something to lay my head on so I can ease my neck from its painful cramping. I look around and spy a decent sized rock that’s flat enough not to cause any unnecessary discomfort. Finally comfortable, I close my quivering eyelids and drift into a pleasant sleep.

I was up in an instant, shielding my eyes from the sudden glare that filled the night sky. Panicking, I cover my face with my arms and fall to my knees. The glare subsides but I wait a few moments before cautiously peeking out from between my fingers. What I saw took my breath away. Standing in front of me was an Angel.

A beautiful face with a brilliant complexion that was almost impossible to look at. My eyes followed it as it nimbly shimmied up a ladder with colors so vibrant that nothing on earth can compare to its splendor. The beautiful ladder seemed to rest on the ground and following it up with my eyes until my head is resting on my shoulders, I perceived it to lead all the way up to the Heavens. At the top (of which I’m guessing is the top), I see the glory of God in all of His spender. Still on my knees, I bow my head to the ground, unable to speak out of fearful reverence to the Holy God.

I hear a deep and powerful voice that seems to vibrate within me. It says, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham, and the God of Isaac. I will give your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All the peoples of earth will be blessed through you and by your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

I awoke on my back, my head on the rock, of which I had used as a pillow. I sat up and rubbed my eyes trying to take in all the Lord had spoken to me. I got up and stretched, starring curiously at the flat rock. I picked it up and put it on its side against the tree as a pillar. I then poured oil on top of it and named it Bethel, saying if God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’ house, then the Lord will be my God.

And this stone I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house and of all that God gives to me, I will give God a tenth. I pack up my belongings and start on my journey again knowing the Lord will be with me wherever I go. With Him on my side, it is impossible to fail. The pillar that I set up will forever be a reminder that God is with me and will forever be with my descendants.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Knowledge of the Holy Review and Guest Post

Cover photo of Knowledge of the Holy from Amazon.com

The following is an excerpt from a guest post I did on A.W. Tozer’s Knowledge of the Holy on my friend Abram Kielsmeier-Jones’ blog Words on the Word.  Abram and I have had the opportunity and blessing to serve in ministry together.  I think the world of him and his ministry.  Abram has written Sustainable Youth Ministry: The Study Guide for Mark Devries' Sustainable Youth Ministry, which I had the privilege of reviewing for Youth Worker here.  You can read more of Abram's work on his blog Words on the Word and can learn more about Abram K-J here.

Knowledge of the Holy: The Most Important of All Knowledge

Nothing is more important than a right understanding of God, or “thinking rightly about God.”  In Knowledge of the Holy, A.W. Tozer states, “The Church has surrendered her once lofty concept of God and has substituted for it one so low, so ignoble, as to be utterly unworthy of thinking, worshipping men.”  Tozer is addressing idol worship that many fall into by thinking wrongly about God.

It is into this reality that Tozer speaks in his book, Knowledge of the Holy, which is an excellent study of the attributes of God.  Tozer describes in detail the importance of thinking rightly about God.  Going so far as asserting, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”  When it comes to our thinking about God, everything is at stake.  We must think deeply and accurately about God if we are to know Him and worship Him rightly and truthfully.

An attribute study is a great way to come to know God more deeply and is a great way to explore the richness of the scriptures in a more non-linear approach.  The book Knowledge of the Holy, by A.W. Tozer, covers some essential thoughts and attributes of God, as well as doctrines, that every Christian should think about.  As Tozer rightly points out, “The study of the attributes of God, far from being dull and heavy, may for the enlightened Christian be a sweet and absorbing spiritual exercise. To the soul that is athirst for God, nothing could be more delightful.”  As we seek God and seek to have our thirsts for Him quenched, this book, in addition to scripture, prayer, and community, is a great place to start.

A thorough reading of Knowledge of the Holy highlights so many truths about God.  We are plunged into the depths of God’s character and nature and are left in a state of awe and worship in the presence of an awesome God.  While we will spend a lifetime and an eternity seeking to know God completely and to worship Him rightly, we can know God and worship Him now.  To quote Tozer one last time, “To our questions God has provided answers; not all the answers, certainly, but enough to satisfy our intellects and ravish our hearts. These answers He has provided in nature, in the Scriptures, and in the person of His Son.”  How marvelous it is to wonder at His greatness and to think rightly about our God!

This review is published on Words on The Word, Amazon.com, goodreads, CBD, and on Examiner.com.


Saturday, September 22, 2012

A Review of Where Faith and Culture Meet

Cover of Where Faith and Culture Meet from Amazon.com

Where Faith and Culture Meet is a good video resource to foster communication and discussion about faith and culture. This video resource is also a very good companion to Andy Crouch's Culture Making.

I have used this video series in my Theology in the Arts class and it was well received. However this series is a bit slow at times and is very philosophical and "heady." A small group setting seems to be the appropriate context for this series in fostering discussion. The video series does not stand-alone very well without the discussion component and without reading the book Culture Making, on which the series is based.

This series does not capture the entirety the book Culture Making very well either. The best advice would be to read the book before watching the series and before using it in a small group or class.

Here is a bit more information about Andy Crouch's book Culture Making:

Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling is a great book for studying how to be cultivators and influencers of culture. God has called us to be creative and to influence culture and we should, indeed, be attuned to this calling. Andy Crouch gets us back to our call in this well-done and extremely helpful book.

Andy Crouch addresses culture making in his book Culture Making, as well as on his web site, when he says: "It is not enough to condemn culture. Nor is it sufficient merely to critique culture or to copy culture. Most of the time, we just consume culture."

We are to be leaders of culture, not just consumers of culture. We are to be pioneers of culture who will determine the future of our world. To quote again from Andy Crouch, from Culture Making, "The only way to change culture is to create culture." If we are to change the world, we must be creators and cultivators of the cultures around us by the power of God at work in us.

Crouch says, "The essence of childhood is innocence. The essence of youth is awareness. The essence of adulthood is responsibility." We have responsibilities to the culture around us as Christians and should be seeking to be influencers and cultivators of culture.

Andy Crouch asserts in his book: "Something exciting is happening at the intersection of Christianity and culture. Christians are becoming dissatisfied with the postures they adopted toward culture in the twentieth century: condemning it, critiquing it, copying it, or just consuming it. More and more, we want to be people who cultivate: people who tend and keep what is good. And we want to be people who create: adding new cultural goods that move the horizons of the possible in places as wide as the world and as small as a home."

This is what Paul asked the Colossian church to do in Colossians 3:23-24, "Whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ." Paul also talked about resisting conformity to this world, and shaping culture, in Romans 12:1-2.

We are called to join in with God in His work, and cultivate our culture. We are not to conform to this world, but be transformed by God, and become transformation agents of God in the world.

As leaders, as believers, our calling is a high calling. We are called not to mimic or imitate the world around us; we are called to shape it. We are called to create culture and not merely fall into it, or be shaped by it. We can lead, or we can follow. We can shape, or be shaped. The choice is ours.

This is what Paul was telling Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:12. Paul said, "Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, and in purity." These were the elder Paul's words to younger Timothy and they are equally as relevant to all of us today. Paul was telling Timothy to lead, pioneer the way, shape the culture of the church and the world, to serve and to influence, recognizing that it is not about him, and thereby shape the world for Christ.

We are good to remember Colossians 3:17, "Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him."

As Crouch asserts in his book, Culture Making, we are to be culture makers and cultivators to the glory of God.

This book review was adapted from my blog, My Two Mites, and is from my review posted on goodreads. This review is also published on CBD and Examiner.com.

Monday, September 17, 2012

A Review of Frameworks: A Solid Framework for Understanding the New Testament

Cover of Frameworks from Amazon.com

I am a teacher and minister by calling, but carpentry is my trade.  Carpentry has taught me a lot about the importance of framework.  While in business for myself as a contractor, I was consulted to give an estimate for a garage wall that was moving.  I am not the best carpenter, but I know walls are not supposed to move.  Assessing the situation from the exterior, the wall looked fine, but I quickly discovered that do to rot and termites, the framework beneath the drywall surface was non-existent.

As a high school Bible teacher, I understand the value of a Biblical framework and worldview.  I have noticed many of the students I teach look good on the surface and even consider themselves as Christians, but if you push a little—the wall moves.  Many of the students I encounter are missing the framework of Biblical understanding.  This Biblical illiteracy is a common problem in Christianity today.  Push a little and you will see—the wall moves.  The framework of Biblical understanding is missing.

This is why it is easy to be excited for Frameworks, by Eric Larson.  This New Testament overview helps rebuild the wall of Biblical understanding by giving the basic structural components to the storyline of scripture through stories, imagery, illustrations, maps, charts, and other contextual tools to build a sure wall of Biblical comprehension.  This book is free of clutter, clean and neat in its arrangement and is easily accessible to the reader.  With over 125 color photos in its 372 pages and its artistic style, this book is more like a coffee table book than a Biblical commentary or study tool, and is sure to get some attention from the less conventional learner.

One of my mantras as a Bible teacher is “next to Jesus, context is king.”  The importance of looking at the Bible as more of a metanarrative and less as isolated individual books cannot be overstated.  In Frameworks, Eric Larson gives us “the forest and not just the trees” as he unpacks the entirety of the New Testament Biblical narrative in a laidback, and sometimes humorous, tone that keeps the reader’s attention.  Larson does not just give us the big picture layout of scripture; he helps us navigate through the details as well.  This book is such a compelling approach to scripture; the reader is left desiring an Old Testament version of Frameworks as well.

One of the components of this book that is most helpful, in my opinion, is the less is more approach to the book’s layout and the emphasis on imagery. As the saying goes, “A picture speaks a thousand words.”  This could not be any truer in this culture—at this point and time in our history.  This is why Frameworks approach to the scriptures is so important and timely and adds so much vibrancy to Biblical studies in this visual culture.

Frameworks is broken into two parts.  Part one is somewhat of a survey, or overview of the New Testament as a whole.  This first part of the book explores “4, 1, 9, 4, 8, 1,” which are the numbers across the front cover.  These numbers stand for the four biographies of Christ, the one history book, Acts, the nine letters of Paul to the churches, the four letters of Paul to individual people, the eight general letters, and the one book of prophecy, Revelation, that make up the 27 books of the New Testament.  This “4, 1, 9, 4, 8, 1” framework helps outline the first part of the book attractively and frames-up an immovable wall of Biblical understanding.

Part two of Frameworks looks extensively at the individual books of the New Testament within the context of the whole, or the “4, 1, 9, 4, 8, 1,” providing a basic understanding of each individual book.  Ten straightforward questions about each book are considered to introduce what each book is like and to explore the theme of the book, what the book is about, and to look at the purpose of the book and why it was written.  These questions explore the outline of the book and how it is organized, and the verses of the book and how it reads.  We are given insights that help us understand how to navigate the book and how to move through it, while also looking at what is unique in the book and why it is special.  The last three questions recap the book and what we should remember, tells us how to explore the book further, and how to go deeper. Lastly, the reader is given insights into how to apply key verses in the book.

Frameworks rich imagery and easy application really lends its self to teaching.  I have already had the opportunity to put this great resource into action in teaching my Bible classes.  The “4, 1, 9, 4, 8, 1” framework for understanding the overall structure of the New Testament has been particularly helpful and has been very effective in helping my students better understand the structure of the New Testament scriptures. 

Some of my High School Bible and Theology in the Arts students have had the opportunity to look through the book and made the following comments:

“I like how there isn’t too much on one page.  It looks fun to read.”

“This book looks like a book of art rather than a theology book.”

“It has lots of captions that capture your eyes.” 

“This is a beautiful book!”

“When you open this book, you see a lot of photographs and different kinds of artwork.”

When I first looked at this book, I thought it was about art.  When I opened it, I saw maps and photography and verses and realized this book was about theology and the Bible.”

As a Bible teacher, a student of God’s word and as a visual learner, I highly recommend Frameworks.  The illustrations, pictures, maps, charts, and artwork really help the information to stay with you.  This book is perfect for visual learners.  From my own personal experience, this book is easy to read and easy to teach.  The resources and the charts are particularly effective for teaching.  The detailed imagery helps the reader navigate the scriptures and remember the information.  Frameworks facilitates a unique way to understand the New Testament and to put the individual books into their larger contexts for a holistic understanding of the New Testament.

Chart from Frameworks from the Frameworks website


This review has also been posted on Examiner.com and on Amazon.com. The publisher has given a free copy of this book to the reviewer in exchange for this non-biased review.


Saturday, September 8, 2012

Adventures in Haiti Update

Photo by Irene Pruitt © May 2012

The school year is well under way here in Port-au-Prince, Haiti and we are four weeks into classes.  I began the year teaching 10th, 11th, and 12th grade Bible and a Theology in the Arts class.  About three weeks into the year we added Bible 9 to this mix for a total of five classes.  This has been challenging, but also a huge blessing.  It is such a great opportunity, blessing and responsibility to teach the scriptures to the entire high school.  I am excited for the year ahead! 

During the first full month of Bible classes we have been surveying the entire Bible through the lens of scripture as story, or metanarrative.  We have been looking at the entire Bible in four parts: creation, fall, rescue, and restoration.  The curriculum we have been using is The Story and it has been wonderful!  Students are having the opportunity to survey the scriptures as a whole, some for the very first time.

The opportunities that have arisen in these classes have been numerous.  Many students have come to know God more deeply and have come to rely on Him in prayer.  One student re-committed their life to Christ and has sought to deepen their relationship with Him in prayer, Bible study, and church attendance.  All of the students have had the opportunity to learn how to share their faith and to practice sharing the Biblical story with others.

The highlight of the Bible classes so far this year has been a student receiving Christ for the first time.  It was amazing to get the opportunity to pray for this student right after class.  This student did not have a relationship with Jesus prior to this school year at Quisqueya and began her adventure as a Christian this year in her first Bible class ever.  So exciting! 

The new elective that I am teaching this year, Theology in the Arts, has been a lot of fun and quite the joy and learning experience.  I have five students in this class and we are reading two books together Francis Schaeffer’s Art and the Bible and Philip Graham Ryken’s Art for God’s Sake.  We are also looking at other books and are using Andy Crouch’s Culture Making and the DVD curriculum that goes along with it.  This class has been an interesting mix of theology and art, philosophy, and culture as we have been discussing integrating our faith into every area of our lives.

In addition to formal classes, there have been wonderful opportunities to minister to others and to live and grow in a wonderful Christian community here at Quisqueya Christian School.  Some of my favorite times of the week are worship and Bible studies with co-workers, a weekly discipleship group with five of my students, a weekly Bible study with the staff here, evening activities, community events and outings, and several mentoring relationships that I have developed.

Irene and I have been blessed by our time here last year and are so blessed to be working here again this year.  We are very grateful for the many people praying for us and supporting the work God has for us here in Haiti.  Please continue to pray for our work here and for the country of Haiti.  Please continue to pray for provision, safety and all these wonderful opportunities that I have mentioned above. 

What a blessing and a joy to be able to serve in this way!