Book Review: Babel: The Story of the Tower and the Rebellion of Man (The Fall of Man Book 3)

Babel

I received a free pdf copy of this book available on Kindle as well as paperback. The author requested a review. So I need to first say that I only made it about a quarter of the way through the book (totaling 378 pages as a pdf file).

The premise of the book was interesting. The story is about the Tower of Babel, and the author points out that Noah was still alive at the time the Tower was built. The author questions why Noah did not have more positive influence over the people who built the Tower, a mere 300 years after the Flood.

While the idea of a story about Noah’s descendants who build the Tower of Babel while Noah is still alive is indeed interesting, I myself just couldn’t engage with the story line. I consider myself a fan of historical fiction, and I understand that the fiction part is developed while supported by historical fact. I found little historical fact that carried the story forward for me. Here’s some examples.

First, and to me most importantly, I was led to believe that this book was Christian historical fiction. Noah is often referred to as a “prophet of the Almighty.” Christianity does not refer to Noah as a prophet – but Islam does. There are times within the book when “the Almighty” appears or speaks to Noah in a vision. But there are also times when Noah “consults with” the Almighty. That makes him sound more like an oracle than a prophet.

Without much explanation, the reason for the Flood is given as the biblical reason (the sinfulness of man) versus another god, “the Light Bringer,” who destroyed the earth with a falling star that caused the Flood. Followers of the Light Bringer are at odds with Noah and the followers of the Old Way (and the Almighty), both before and after the Flood.

Ham, who in the biblical story sees his father Noah sleeping drunk and naked, has a serious disdain for Noah because he loved the Almighty more than Ham. The Light Bringer contacts Ham while still on the Ark and Ham denies the Almighty and begins to follow the Light Bringer along with all of his family members.

Speaking of family members, everyone alive at this point are direct descendants of Noah, yet some people are “workers” and some are slaves without any indication of how family members were enslaving one another. For example, after all the family members finish saying goodbye to Noah’s dead wife (Jade), the “workers” fill the grave with dirt. Weren’t they also family members?

Historical fiction needs to reflect history accurately and that includes topography. Noah is said to be living at the base of Mount Ararat. All the available water has been tainted by the Flood, which apparently occurred over 100 years before this story begins. Would there not be fresh water streaming down from the mountain by this time? The tainted water is given as the reason why Noah is drinking wine and getting drunk (albeit also as he suffers from the death of his wife).

The author also doesn’t seem to take the weather into consideration around Mount Ararat. Noah gets up in the morning and is harvesting grapes. Yet while he is walking, he is sweating profusely. Grapes would be ready to eat/harvest in late September in eastern Turkey – not exactly a time that would bring up a sweat in the morning.

Noah’s sons carry their mother on a mat made of bamboo. While there is a type of bamboo that grows in eastern Turkey, it would not be growing in the area around Mount Ararat and there’s no indication that it was strong enough to make mats (since it’s really a type of flax).

One other topography concern. The book implies that a servant traveled to Noah’s vineyard from near Babel (modern day Babylon). Noah then travels back with the servant to visit his sons Shem and Japheth who are living in that area. While Mount Ararat is directly north of Babylon, it’s over 1,000 kilometers to the north. Yet the book says they cover than distance in two weeks; that’s about 50 miles a day and would have more likely taken four to five weeks.

With this many historical errors involved in the story line I just couldn’t find it in me to finish the book. It became too much of a chore reading about Ham and Nimrod being possessed by the spirit of the Light Bringer to enjoy it.

How Many People Become a Disciple?

Work Boots

After church last Sunday, I was casually talking to three 20- and 30-somethings and the subject of my work of making disciples came up. One of them asked, “How many people ‘complete’ their disciple training?” I was much more interested in the heart of his question than the accuracy of his terminology. And what a good question it was!

My answer used an example from a few years previous. A single’s pastor was giving a sermon on being single (makes sense). He had given me a heads up that he would be mentioning me during his message.

While most of the sermon was about younger people “learning to wait on God” for a spouse, he also mentioned those of us who are single again. For me, that’s through the death of my wife. He pointed out that I took the extra time that I now had (after grieving) and was investing in the lives of a number of men in his single’s group.

When the sermon ended, I was approached by nine men who wanted to know if I would mentor them (the pastor did use that term). I’m aware that there were a couple other guys standing on the outside of the little cluster of inquirers. Those men simply walked away without talking with me. Perhaps they had to leave; maybe they thought there wouldn’t be room for them once everyone else got on my calendar.

I first point is that some gave up trying to get help before they even asked for it. Many people know that they need help, any sort of help. They might even know where to find that help. But they make assumptions about the availability of that help based on external circumstances. And when they do that, they are sure not to get the help they need.

As the nine men who were close enough asked about mentoring, I pulled out my cellphone and opened my calendar. Anyone standing nearby can see that my calendar is full of red and green appointments (red for meetings, green for prayer time, and blue is near the bottom telling me to take out the trash or go to bed early!).

Five of the men who asked for mentoring took one look at my calendar and decided that I didn’t have time for them. I didn’t say that I didn’t have time – they decided that on their own. Another assumption!

My second point is that half the men who got close enough to ask assumed a negative response before they gave me a chance to respond. What is it that would cause a man to feel the need for help and then walk away without it? (Probably many things.)

The final part of my story that Sunday was that I made appointments to meet with four men. And after the first meetings, I went down to only one – and I was still meeting with that one man. So there’s the answer that Josue was looking for – ten percent complete the “training.”

I remember in the 1970s my mentor, Cecil Bean (who is still a mentor), told me that to produce one disciple-maker, I would need to find ten disciples who wanted to become a disciple-maker. He also said to produce one disciple, I would need to find ten young Christians (new believers) who wanted to become disciples. And to find one new believer, I would need to witness to at least ten non-Christians. If you do the math, to raise up one disciple-maker, I need to be investing in one hundred young Christians. Only ten percent of them will become disciples, and only one percent of them will become a disciple-maker.

The dropout rate is daunting. You invest your life in someone, hoping that they will reach the level of maturity the Bible points toward. For a plethora of reasons, they don’t. Yet we find a command to do what is so hard to accomplish; to make disciples of ALL the nations (Matthew 28:19, 20). It can be easy to throw up your hands and say, “Am least I made it into the kingdom. Maybe I’ll kick back and do something easier.”

But the question we must ask ourselves is, “What will you do that can result in Jesus saying, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into My rest.” Rest! It comes after the hard work. Work! It’s what Jesus called labor.

~

Photograph:    Nordwood Themes

Making Assumptions

Prejudice.jpg

A man admirably told me how he valued all that I did in the lives of other men. Then he said, “I could never do what you do.” I immediately thought, “Yes, you could. You just don’t.” Thankfully, I held my tongue. Because I was wrong.

As I allowed the conversation to casually progress, we agreed to meet for a meal a few days later. After a little more casual talk, my friend began to open up about what was going on in his life. I was so wrong to assume he “just didn’t” invest in others.

I learned that his marriage as on the rocks; and had been on the rocks since it began. He learned during the engagement period that secrets were being held, but he thought that he could work through those indiscretions and see a thriving marriage blossom.

This post isn’t about the catastrophe that my friend is going through. It’s about me making immediate assumptions when I hear something that I think I know more about than I do. And truthfully, we all make these kinds of judgments (technically, you could probably call them “pre-judgments” or prejudices).

I wholeheartedly believe that every man “should” be making disciples. Every woman should, too. It’s a clear command of Jesus found in Matthew 28:19, 20. But as my long-gone friend, Leroy Eims, used to say, “There are people who don’t make disciples, and they don’t because of a few common conditions.

Leroy would first point out that little children cannot reproduce. We have to grow to a certain level of maturity before we can begin to reproduce. A second reason is a failure to be “with” someone. Just like we can’t have a child without having another person’s involvement, we also can’t make a disciple if we’re not anywhere near a young believer who wants to grow.

A third reason someone does not make disciples is infirmity. That’s some type of illness that prevents a person from reproducing. In the spiritual life, that equates to sin. My friend above fits into this category – not because of his infirmity, but because of someone else’s.

Sometimes a family member is so sick that a spouse must serve as a caregiver. Being a nurse by training, I am well aware of hundreds of people who can’t leave their home without arranging some type of qualified replacement to care for a loved one.

But more accurately for my friend, sometimes the sin of a family member may “disqualify” someone from ministry – and making disciples IS ministry. The Apostle Paul lists some qualifications of a deacon and elder, which includes being the husband of one wife and having their children under control (1 Timothy 3).

There are times when problems in the home should “override” the Great Commission. Granted, we may expect these problems to be temporary and afterward to be able to begin making disciples again. But, in my opinion, as long as there is discord in the home, it is best to focus on making the home righteous, even at the cost of making disciples.

There are situations when someone may not make disciples. For the reasons given by Leroy Eims, the solution is simple: mature, get close, or get well. But in the case of my friend, he probably can’t do this on his own. So I turn to determine how to come alongside him, in prayer, edification, and encouragement.

What I shouldn’t do is hold him to s standard that he can’t meet. Instead, I walk with him in the struggle and pray that God makes the rough places smooth (Isaiah 40:4).

~

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

Book Review: Building a Ridiculously Great Marriage

Building a Marriage

I received an electronic copy of Building a Ridiculously Great Marriage: Premarital and Marital Habits, by Gil Stieglitz, and was asked to review it in return. I should start out by saying that I had difficulty reading the ebook as a mobi file or an epub file, that that’s because I generally use a Kindle to read ebooks and Kindle doesn’t like us circumventing their software. That said, I enjoyed the portions that I was able to read.

When I started reading this book, I was cautious about what the writer was proposing: that if you implement all the points of advice he provides, you can have a ridiculously great marriage. Here’s where I was hesitant, and still am: the writer gives fifteen (15) points or actions that you need to take to have the promised great marriage. I thought, who’s got time to implement 15 points. There’s a reason the title contains the word ridiculous!

However, the first point redeems the book (granted I wasn’t able to read everything). The first action is to set up a time, preferably when both husband and wife have arrived at home and spend 30 minutes catching up. When I first read the timeframe (30 minutes), I questioned the writer’s sanity! But he defended the idea well.

His thought is the for over 8 hours, the two of you have been in different worlds; either both working outside the home, or one working outside and the other in the home. By spending time together catching up and asking some key questions, it gives the couple time to re-unite and avoids some conflict. He even talks about how to train children that mom and dad are talking privately, and they cannot interrupt.

Since I read that action point, I have talked with a few guys that I mentor about setting aside a time to re-unite after the workday. I don’t give them a 30-minute idea, just mention taking the amount of time needed to catch up with each other. Two of those guys have implemented the idea and are interested in buying this book (which just came out in October 2019).

Book Review: Be a Disciple, Make a Disciple

Be a Diciple, Make a Disciple book cover

I recently received a free copy of a Bible Study that came out back in April 2019 entitled Be a Disciple, Make a Disciple: A Bible Study by Ellie Littleton, a teacher from Alabama,  and I was asked to provide a review – so here it comes!

All my readers of the Discipling4Life blog know that disciple-making has been a passion for most of my adult life. As a result, I’ve read just about every book about being a disciple and/or making disciples that has ever been printed. Ellie Littleton brings us the latest book or rather a Bible study that is meant for both personal study and group discussion.

My immediate observation when I received that book is that its best audience is female. The cover title includes a script font that you would normally see on a romance book, and the well-done photo is of two women talking together behind a table with Bibles and notebooks. A woman would probably be very attracted to the cover, a man, not so much.

The written portions of the book set a casual tone, and Littleton gives the reader glimpses of her family and the impact of a family that lives a Christian lifestyle. At the same time, Littleton uses terminology that may be less familiar to some of her audience. For example, she will refer to her pastor, who suggested that she write this book, as “Brother Tom.”

It would be helpful if Littleton gave a definition of a disciple. She seems to use “disciple” and “discipleship” interchangeably with an expectation that the reader knows what they mean. Since theologians continue to try to arrive at a universal definition of “discipleship,” her use of the word leaves people to their own interpretation. Littleton also uses “mentor” as a synonym for discipling or disciple-making.

Much of the informational (non-Bible study) portion of this book contains quotes from other popular books. Three books, in particular, are quoted extensively: Hull’s Jesus Christ, Disciplemaker; Platt’s Radical; and Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship. These are three fine books, but they are quoted so extensively that it leaves little room for new content regarding the main topic. I would suggest that some of the historical people be introduced, rather than just quoted. Most younger Christians no longer recognize the name A. W. Tozer.

I find the Bible study portion, for the most part, quite useful. Throughout the study, there are several absolute statements that I would prefer to be softened or backup with references of some sort. The study chapter on the Great Commission contains popular Christian thinking that may not stand up to deeper theological understanding.

Littleton guides the reader to identify four “directives” found in the Great Commission. This shows a lack of understanding of Greek grammar. There is only one imperative verb is the entire Great Commission (Matthew 29:19-20) – that would be the word mathēteuō which we translate to “make disciples” in English. I assume that Littleton thinks the participles (go, baptize, and teach) are the other “directives” she is looking for – although a participle is rarely directive.

In general, I would not complain if I found a small group of women using this Bible study together. I would surmise that they would spur one another on to grow in some key traits of a disciple: being in the Word, prayer, fellowship, and witnessing. They would be off to a good start. However, I would not expect to see men using this study since it has such a feminine tint to it. Perhaps they should just read the three books most quoted within this study.

What God Desires

receive-hand-1314554-Photo by Ricardo Utsumi from Pexels

In my yearly Bible reading, I am using the NIV (New International Version) Bible, and today I read the Epistle of James. Most translations present this as slightly different, but the NIV got me thinking about James 1:20-21:

“because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.”

I have not included verse 19 because it distracts from the thought that I got out of this (you can read the full chapter for context). The NIV also puts verse 21 at the end of a paragraph with verses 19 and 20, while other translations have verse 21 begin a new paragraph. That can also influence how the two verses I’m quoting impact the meaning.

Notice that the last phrase of verse 19 reads, “the righteousness that God desires.” And there’s my first thought. Sometimes we focus so much on grace that we neglect righteousness. Yet this verse clearly states (in the NIV) that God desires righteousness. (Other versions also speak to righteousness, but we must meditate more on the passage to see that this is what God desires from us.)

It is our character that produces or does not produce the kind of righteousness that God desires. In this specific case, James was writing about anger; and we’re more familiar with verse 19 – being quick to listen and slow to anger. But James seems to be working from the specific to the general – from anger to righteousness.

Then comes the “therefore.” Many of us know that when we see “therefore” we should look back to see “what’s it’s there for.” When the NIV puts verses 19, 20, and 21 together in one paragraph, it’s easier to see the connection between the righteousness God desires and the direction that James gives us in verse 21.

In this case, it’s a two-fold direction. To “get rid of moral filth and the [prevalent] evil and humbly accept the word.” God wants more than a believer who listens well and doesn’t get angry. God wants us to be righteous. We spend so much time making a point about righteousness by itself does not save us, that we tend to ignore that God does want us to be righteous.

But one of my major thoughts about this passage is whether we can do one part of the directive (or command) with doing the other. Can we “accept the word” without getting rid of filth and evil? Some of us come dangerously close to the idea that we don’t have to make any changes, because God loves us and all we have to do is accept what the Bible says about His love for us.

Here’s why that is important. Verse 21 ends with the statement, “which can save you” (the NASB reads, “which can save your soul.”) We tend to want to exclude the getting rid of evil portion and focus solely on accepting the word. But they go together.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about the idea of “cheap grace,” a grace that accepts the good news without any life change. I would expound on his thinking that this life change is not feeling better about myself because God loves me. This life change is a continual change in my character that is becoming more and more like Jesus Christ.

I choose the picture above that help me understand what following James’ two-fold directive looks like. With an open hand, I want to reach toward the word that has been planted in me – to accept it. Yet to accept the word, I must let go of other things; in this case, moral filth and evil. When I do both, I can be confident that this action is able to save me.

A Movement of Disciple-Makers

Movement - Skateboard Park

Truth be told, I’ve always been skeptical when I have read about movements in the past. I concerned the movements of the past to by “organic” in nature. By organic, I mean that it happened with or without me (or someone else). After attending an evangelism conference at Wheaton College and hearing Ed Stetzer talk briefly on that, my attitude is changing a bit. I am beginning to embrace not only the idea, but the role that I may play in seeing a movement happen. That makes sense now that I’ve moved into a role that is dependent on movement.

When I got back from Wheaton, I began to read a book titled The Rise and Fall of Movements (Kindle was offering it at a reduced price!). While I haven’t embraced everything that the author wrote, his thoughts on movements has helped me think through my approach to developing disciple-making cultures in San Antonio, Indianapolis, and Salt Lake City.

Here’s a key thought that is presented in the Introduction:

“A ministry mindset focuses on what we’re doing (our worship services, our youth ministry, our online presence, our community ministry), whereas a movement mindset is all about releasing authority and responsibility to the newest disciples who make disciple.”

      As the Navigator staff overseeing Nav20s activities in three cities, there’s no way I can approach things from a my ministry mindset. Every Nav20s full-time staff is interested in seeing men and women make disciple in their own context. This requires less structure and control – and that means things look quite different from a military ministry (which I came out of) or a college ministry (which can feed into our Nav20s work).

As emerging adults in their 20s begin work life, whether coming from college, trade school, or even high school, they also begin to develop in personal ministry that extends far beyond a Nav weekly or monthly event. They choose (thankfully) to go to churches located across the city. They get involved in small groups (thankfully) within those churches. But some begin small groups of their own outside the “authority and responsibility” of the church.

Let me add that things can get messy as emerging adults try out new ideas. Just yesterday, I spoke with someone who was already having problems in the small group he started. With the “ministry mindset,” my role would be to dig him out of trouble. With the “movement mindset,” my role is to help him think through what he should do, both currently and in the future.

Churches can have the luxury of developing specific curriculum, training specific leaders, specifying specific meeting nights. There’s a lot of control that they exercise in their “organic” growth. Ed Stezter would say that there’s a careful balance between being intentional in outreach and being serendipitous (a word that has been hanging around since the 60s or 70s).

A movement loses that kind of control; either on purpose, by attrition, or, in the worst-case scenario, by revolution. I would prefer a purposeful move toward the growth of disciple-making cultures in the places that I can directly influence.

As a result of allowing movement to overshadow ministry, I’m getting to see a growing number of disciples who are beginning to make disciples in their own contexts. It would be easier to have a group that meets in one place at one time. But seeing disciples freed up to reach neighbors, co-workers or others is worth the effort.

Photo by Gustav Lundborg from Pexels

Spirituality at the Crossroads

Dr Todd Hall of BIOLA University presented research findings on Emerging Adults at Wheaton College in April 2019. My primary takeaway was in the general themes of the research results, which included, Emerging Adults are:

  • Pursuing authenticity in their relationship with God
  • Guarded against vulnerability and seeking protection from emotional hurt
  • Maturing in spiritual development; from behaviors and practices to relationship
  • Fluctuating in their connection with God; sometimes near, sometimes far; sometimes loves; sometimes distant (described as being like a slinky)
  • Seeking corrective emotional experiences with God
  • Feeling emotional insecurity with God

Emerging Adults are beginning to own their faith but do not yet have complete ownership; they are struggling to feel loved but do not yet choose to follow in times of turmoil; they are passive but are not yet purposeful; and they are disconnected but not yet connected. Many of them are facing spiritual pain and are struggling to grow.

We can help Emerging Adults through this phase by normalizing instability, facilitating their personal ownership of faith, facilitating intentionality about spiritual community and develop authoritative spiritual communities.

Most importantly, they study shows that Emerging Adults are hardwired to connect, report biases in connecting to very similar people, and need multi-generational depth and contact in order to successfully move into young adulthood.

What are You Doing at 2:42 every Afternoon?

Clocks

Do you have a cell phone? If you do, and you probably do, you also have an alarm feature on your phone. I’d like to make a suggestion regarding that alarm. Set it for 2:42 p.m. every day.

Acts 2:42 reads, “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

We all understand that this process describes the beginning of the Church on Jerusalem. We may also understand that the four activities listed there (teaching, fellowship, breaking bread, and prayer) are essential items for the exponential growth of the early church. And by inference, the growth of our own churches today.

The phrase “continually devoting themselves” is actually one word in Greek (proskartereō) and found only here and in Acts 1:14. Both include prayer as a primary activity people were devoted to.

Finding time to pray can be difficult with our busy schedules. We often feel like we need 30 minutes of dedicated time to pray. But what if we took just four minutes and 20 seconds to pray at 2:42 pm?

Many working people may be ready for a coffee break around 2:42 pm. Maybe a little before or a little after. I would suggest that you use less than five minutes of your time to pray daily, even on the weekends. The time might vary slightly based on your activities, but using your cell phone alarm (probably a silent vibration alarm at work!) can help you develop a disciple of daily prayer.

What should you pray about at 2:42 pm? First, I would suggest praying about the other three items mentioned in Acts 2:42 – things that you have recently learned (teaching), friendships (fellowship), and your community (breaking bread).

What you have learned may come from a personal devotion that day, or a sermon; the sky’s the limit. Friendships include family members, co-workers, neighbors, whomever. Community can include your city, government leaders, and the non-Christians you are making friends with.

Secondly, sometimes I simply pray about what’s going on at the very moment my alarm goes off. We have no specific information about what the Acts 1 & 2 Communities were praying about, just that they were praying.

How about joining me? Set your cell phone alarm for 2:42 pm daily and let’s start praying daily. If you do set that alarm, drop a comment in the comment link below (a link not a box). I’d love to know who’s praying with me!

~ ~ ~

Photo by Andrey Grushnikov from Pexels

Immediate Ministry Need

Boeing 747-400

In a week, I will fly to Chicago for a special seminar on ministry to “emerging adults.” This is a relatively new term for people between the age of 19 and 30. It includes both Millennials and the oldest of Generation Z.

From there I will fly to Nashville for a second conference simply called Q (described as a place for church and industry leaders to thoughtfully navigate today’s culture).

From there I will fly to Indianapolis to meet with Nav20s staff and local leaders as we further develop the Nav20s ministry there.

It will be a very busy ten days of ministry and I need your help with the costs. The cost will include two conference registrations, five hotel nights in two cities, rental cars in three cities, and 21 personal meals (for a total of 31 different expenses). So, I am asking that you consider donating toward one of these 31 items.

Here’s the specifics:

Twenty-one meals at an average cost                                   $    10.50  ($220.50 total)

Flight to Chicago Midway on Southwest                              $  245.17

Rental car in Chicago                                                               $  130.99

Conference cost in Chicago                                                     $    40.00

Hotel stay in Chicago                                                                $  133.54

Flight to Nashville on Southwest                                            $  190.87

Rental car in Nashville                                                             $  199.96

Conference cost in Nashville                                                   $  409.00

Hotel stay in Nashville                                                              $  151.92

Flight to Indianapolis on Southwest                                       $  146.51

Rental car in Indianapolis                                                         $  132.95

Flight home to San Antonio on Southwest                             $  162.33

Total cost of this ten-day trip                                                           $2,163.74

Since this is an immediate need, please consider giving any of the indicated amounts (or another amount as God leads) in this next week (today would be great). It may take a few days for your support gift to process and I will need to declare all my expenses after I return to San Antonio.

The link to give electronically is: http://tinyurl.com/BruceStopher (this will take you to a secure webpage). You will receive a receipt for your gift from The Navigators.

You may be interested in why I am attending the two conferences. The Chicago conference is back-to-back talks from men and women in direct ministry to emerging adults. The focus here will be from “top Evangelical scholars presenting on what we know about the exodus of the younger generations from the church and how we can recapture a theology and lifestyle which draws them back into a relationship with God AND his church.”

The Nashville conference focuses more directly on the shifts that are occurring in our culture. They offer help me to “be equipped for the difficult conversations and extraordinary opportunities that lie ahead.”

As you can see, both these conferences will help me learn more about the people I seek to reach as non-Christians and influence (disciple/mentor/coach) as Christians. I also hope to be able to bring key concepts home to the staff I supervise in Indianapolis, Salt Lake City and San Antonio.

Again the link to provide any amount of support is: http://tinyurl.com/BruceStopher

~ ~ ~

Photographer: Salvatore Ventura