Book Review: Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

Seveneves by Neal StephesonWho can imagine a catastrophic event causing worldwide devastation spanning thousands of years, causing humanity to pursue previously unthinkable survival strategies? In a profoundly complex and unpredictable way, Neal Stephenson does just that, while combining science, technology, drama, psychology, and philosophy in his latest novel, Seveneves.

While the length and scope of the book may deter some readers, those who commit to reading this story through to the end will be rewarded with many surprises and plenty of room for the imagination to explore the written and unwritten details of the dozens of characters and plots developed by Stephenson. You will find yourself wondering how far and how deep the story will go, and how the author intends on solving his self-conceived problems.

I offer two warnings to those considering this book. First, the story has some graphic language, scenes and references that not every reader will be comfortable with. Second, part three of the book requires a special level of dedication on behalf of the reader. Stick with it, and take your time to soak in every detail.

Resolutions for 2016

NOTE: This is an edited manuscript from a sermon I preached last Sunday.

For many of us, this time of year marks a time of reflection and anticipation. We reflect on the past year and we anticipate a new year.

As we think about these things, we tend to think about what we could have done differently, and what we would like to do differently. This leads us to possibly come up with what we refer to as resolutions.

Resolutions are firm commitments we make to do something or to not do something. We resolve to improve our health, develop a good habit, or get rid of a bad habit. Regardless of the details of our resolutions, they are mainly meant to improve our quality of life.

There are three resolutions in Hebrews 10:19-25 that we can all receive as believers, to improve the quality of our spiritual lives. They are easy to see because they start with the words “let us…” I’ll replace the words “let us” with the words “resolve to.”

Resolve to draw near to God

Think about what it means to draw near to something or someone. What is required for this to happen? What is required to draw near to your child, to your spouse, to your friend?

What would prevent the embrace of two people who are in each others’ presence? What prevents a true closeness?

If you have done wrong to your spouse, to your child, to your friend, to your sibling, is it easy to just embrace them? What needs to happen in order to experience a nearness to them once again? Reconciliation needs to happen. An apology and offer of forgiveness needs to happen.

Restoration of fellowship requires repentance and forgiveness. James 4 says that if we want fellowship with God, we must experience sorrow and grief because of the ways we have disobeyed God. This is mostly for our own sake. God is ready to offer forgiveness and is ready to embrace us.

Stop and think about this for a bit: Do you want to draw near to God? Do you truly want fellowship with God? You will not experience fellowship with God if you don’t want it. Let that question linger as you continue to read.

The Christians at the time of the writing of Hebrews were facing persecution. The church was under heavy pressure, and fear must have gripped many of the Christians during that time.

The author wrote to remind the Christians of the hope and eternal security they have through Jesus. He reminded them to place their hope in God through Jesus, not through obedience to the law.

The author was saying to them, “there are enemies of the church seeking to destroy your faith. But the one you profess as Lord and saviour is greater than any evil you can ever face, and greater than any attempt to save ourselves.”

Now, what does this mean for us? The author reminded them to draw near to God and to trust him in the midst of their trouble. What trouble do you have?

In the face of your trouble, to what or whom are you embracing for comfort? This letter tells us that if we are not embracing God through Jesus for our comfort, for our hope and peace, we are embracing something that is inferior.

If God is not our safe place, if he is not our refuge, we are settling for something that will fail us. What have you embraced? We all know how easily people fail us, how easily substances and entertainment and distractions fail to give us hope.

For all of us, there needs to come a day when we turn from those weak substitutes and embrace God, and receive his forgiveness and enjoy his peace.

Resolve to hold fast to your faith

Once we have embraced God, once we have drawn near to him as our ultimate source of comfort and hope, I can guarantee we will not stay there. Things will come at us that will lure us away from the presence of God.

Think about your faith. What is it you believe about God? How do you know God can be trusted? Hebrews 11 is known as the Hall of Faith in Scripture. There is a list of people who were declared by God as righteous because of their faith. They believed what God said was true, and they obeyed. The nature of their faith was trust in God through active obedience.

11:1 says, “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.” The promises of God are not clearly visible to us. We read about them and hear about them, but we do not see them.

This is all about the fact that God has kept his promises. It is the same in our relationships. If I make a promise to my wife to take her out for dinner, but every other time I have made that promise I didn’t actually do it, she will not believe me. She will not have faith. But if it is something I have never failed to do, she will live with a certain expectation that it will happen.

That’s the faith we need to hold on to. God has never failed, never lied, never broken a promise. He will not fail you!

In 12:2 the readers are encouraged to run with endurance the race God has given us, to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. We lose sight easily when we get distracted. A marathon runner will not finish if he stops off for dinner and a movie in the middle of the race. He needs to keep his mind focused on the goal, on the finish line.

We need reminders, daily reminders that God can be trusted. We need to be reminded about what is true, what we have to look forward to, how God has been faithful in the past, and what he has promised for the future. We get distracted by the things right in front of us, and we need to be pulled back into the presence of God.

Whatever you need to do in order to be reminded of your faith, resolve to do it. Find a way to be drawn back into fellowship with God each day. Regardless of what has pulled you away from him, he is ready to receive you. He is ready to forgive you and embrace you. God can be trusted. He has proven himself faithful.

Resolve to consider one another

I’d like to share an illustration with you to demonstrate why this resolution is important. We have heard already that we need to draw near to God and hold on to our faith. There is no better way to do this than to be a part of a community of people who have the same resolutions.

Imagine a bag of marbles and a bag of grapes. The bags they are in represents the local church: the building, the ministries, the preaching, programs, etc. The grapes and the marbles represent us.

What will happen when we dump the marble and grapes out?

When the marbles leave the bag, they will separate from each other. When the grapes leave the bag, they will stay together.

Hebrews says that we should consider one another, to not give up meeting together. If we take it at face value, it would seem that we are faithful to this command by coming to church on Sunday. But I do not believe that is the full extent of the meaning of this passage.

You see, the marbles in my illustration represented a gathering of believers in the context of a worship service or ministry. But once they left that gathering, they became separated. This represents a spiritual separation.

With the grapes, however, the believers stayed together once they left the worship service. This spiritual togetherness is possible because each grape is connected to the vine.

Jesus is ultimately what joins us together. We gather together to be physically and emotionally connected, which is critical. But, we are united, gathered, by Jesus.

Let us not forsake the practice of meeting together, because in being gathered together through Jesus in worship and in services of love to others, we are demonstrating to each other and to the world what God sent Jesus to accomplish: an eternal Kingdom of peace, of love, of joy.

But our gathering together will not result in unity unless we are connected to Jesus. And our being connected to Jesus is the best way we can support and love one another.

So, I challenge you to these three resolutions in 2016: Draw near to God. Hold fast to your faith. Consider one another.

Permission to Forget My Last Sermon

A question many pastors ponder is how to preach in a way that sticks in the minds of the hearers. Preachers have shortened their messages, made them more memorable through illustrations and multi-media, and increased interactivity through dialogue in an attempt to help hearers remember what was said Sunday morning.

Jonathan Edwards helps us gain some perspective:

The main benefit that is obtained by preaching is by impression made upon the mind in the time of it, and not by an effect that arises afterwards by a remembrance of what was delivered.

This is relieving to me as I prepare to preach. The goal in preaching is not to deliver a memorable message, but one that will stir the hearts of the hearers in that precise moment of delivery.

I’ve heard preaching be compared to eating. Remembering what we ate this morning is not a requirement for being nourished by the food. Regardless of our memory, the food gave us sustenance. It gave us what our bodies needed to go on living.

Similarly, the edification of preaching is not dependant on memory. It acts as a sort of nourishment, providing sustenance for the life of the soul. It also offers gentle, or at times not so gentle, nudges that correct our bearing for the day or week. We listen to the Word of God proclaimed and it shifts our hearts so that every step we take from that moment forward moves us closer to holiness.

Book Review: A Life with Words by Richard B. Wright

A Life with Words by Richard B. WrightA question that weighs on the minds of many is that of the difference between reading a story and watching a visual presentation of the same story. Anyone who reads a book before watching the movie version of that book will offer their strong opinion about which version was “better.”

In a charmingly transparent manner, Richard B. Wright draws his readers into life as a novelist in his memoir A Life with Words. With great artistic skill, He lays out the challenges and triumphs that come with attempting to make a living with writing. Readers are encouraged to enjoy a story for what it is; to feel a sense of companionship with the ones who sacrificially offer their dreams and visions to the world through the art of writing.

Wright offers his perspective on the importance of literary reading, a pastime that has all but vanished in a society of ever increasing visual stimulation. We are being entertained by countless moving pictures, forced to conclusions about the details of characters and scenes, which are skillfully presented by visual artists and set designers.

However, as is encouraged in this short memoir, literature still offers the subtle invitation to be drawn in by a story. Reading brings ideas to life through the colliding imaginations of author and reader, as we meet in the middle to form pictures in our minds not like any other can envision.

How Great is God?

How you answer this question will determine how you live. Read the words of Mary, the mother of Jesus, upon discovering the news that she was carrying the Son of God in her womb.

My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name. (Luke 1:46-49, ESV)

None of us can imagine the experience of Mary and the emotions she must have felt throughout her pregnancy. She truly stands alone in humanity as the one who brought the Messiah into the world.

However, her response demonstrates the view of God she already possessed prior to this spectacular event. She truly held a high view of God.

The truth is, God reveals himself differently to everyone. Our experiences with the Creator depend on how He chooses to interact with us. Our responsibility is to present ourselves humbly before God, seeing Him as truly glorious and worthy of our worship.

If God is merely a wish-granter, someone who sits around waiting for us to ask him for something, we will not be in a position of worship. We will have a view of God that is lower than even ourselves. We will find ourselves not looking up at Him in wonder, but down on Him in contempt.

But if God is mighty and holy, worthy of honour and praise, we will have a posture of submission and humility. Like Mary, we will be ready servants, looking for ways to show others the wonders of our great God.

Awaken and Take Hold of the Lord

There is no one who calls upon your name,
who rouses himself to take hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us,
and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities.

But now, O Lord, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
Be not so terribly angry, O Lord,
and remember not iniquity forever.
Behold, please look, we are all your people.1

I was struck with the language of this familiar passage this morning. I had to ask myself, “do I rouse myself to take hold of the Lord?” I’m afraid I do not.

We, as God’s people, are being summoned by this passage to awaken and cling to God; to embrace His presence each morning. If you are like me, this is not a regular occurrence. Instead, we awaken to the beckoning of our phones, email, social networks, and news feeds. We awaken to wonder what the world has been saying about us and about our situations. Our first thoughts are not about the Lord, but about ourselves.

Praise be to God that, although we fail time and time again to embrace God as our first and foremost thought each day, He is gracious and will forgive our selfish behaviour. He is patiently working on us, shaping us and making us into beautiful vessels for His glory. Commit yourself in this moment to allow God to continue this process of reshaping, and pray for an increased desire to awaken each day and take hold of the Lord.

  1. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Is 64:7–9. []