Shelf Life Book Review: Exodus and Leviticus for Everyone

James R. Hamrick

Exodus and Leviticus for Everyone
Westminster John Knox Press, 2010

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In this third volume of the Old Testament for Everyone commentary series, John Goldingay introduces the text with engaging personal stories and humorous titles—like “Surviving in the Wilderness” (Exodus) and “You Are What You Eat” (Leviticus). His brief section-by-section commentary examines the events of Exodus and the Jewish law in Leviticus, while drawing lessons from the text.

Goldingay brings a scholar’s knowledge and a pastor’s heart to the Bible, giving his discussions both depth and accessibility—a combination that is hard to find in many commentaries. He makes the notoriously difficult book of Leviticus understandable. Unfamiliar terms are highlighted throughout the book and explained in the glossary. This book is a great resource for personal or small group study.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 3 No. 3

He Hears

Matt Dabbs

It felt like God wasn’t listening.

Scripture is full of verses about God hearing and answering our prayers. “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him” (1 John 5:14–15). 1

There was a time in my life when I could easily digest these verses. But one day, everything changed: My wife and I had a miscarriage. When one of the most pure and legitimate prayers of my life seemed to go unanswered, I felt like God came up short. I had never had my faith shaken so badly.

It’s hard to reconcile these seemingly unanswered prayers with passages that declare God’s faithfulness. It’s even more difficult when anger and grief cloud your thinking.

Making our requests with confidence doesn’t mean that God will grant every request. John states that “if we ask anything according to his will he hears us” (5:14). He may not answer our prayers in the way that we expect, but He will do what is right within His power and will.

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The problems we face are even deeper than our tragic circumstances. What about basic necessities? Praying for those seems like something we shouldn’t have to do. John proves otherwise when he prays: “Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul” (3 John 2). John’s prayers for basic necessities suggest that we should pray about everything—regardless of how God answers our prayers.

It may seem that God comes up short at times, but maybe it’s because we don’t understand the entire picture—the picture that God sees. Since we ultimately belong to God, our feelings or understanding isn’t what matters most. What matters is our belief. This is the context of John’s comment about prayer: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:14).

But how can we believe when horrible things happen, like losing a child? John hints at the answer: “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). We may be connected to God, but the world is not.

We can’t make sense of everything in this fallen world, but we can take hope that over time we will have more understanding. John says: “We know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:20). In Jesus, we can find eternal life and hope. In Christ, God is expanding our understanding of precisely what it means to be heard by Him.

The way God answers our prayers may not make sense to us now, or ever. In a broken world, we’ll experience pain. Living in fellowship with God means trusting that He hears us, no matter how He answers our prayers. It means patiently waiting for the day when it all finally makes sense.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 3 No. 3


1. All biblical references are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

Church Courtside

Tim Newcomb And Rebecca Kruyswijk

“It’s a different world,” says Jeff Ryan about ministering to professional basketball players. “I’m trying to get these guys to study the Bible.”

As chaplain for the NBA Orlando Magic, Ryan makes the Bible relevant to a community of athletes. Since most of the players don’t have the opportunity to attend church, Ryan is their pastor. The arena is their church.

Ryan isn’t just reaching out to the team. He tries to reach out to point guards and security guards alike. “I feel God has called me to minister to anyone in the building. I want to engage them where they are.”

An avid sports fan, Ryan worked in sports marketing and advertising before his call to the ministry. At age 20, he left his hometown of Philadelphia and hitched a ride to Florida with only $20 in his pocket. He rode a free bus to the arena for the games.

Ryan applied for an unpaid internship with Orlando. Through his internship, he met Shaquille O’Neal, who offered him a job working with charities in the Orlando area. After O’Neal left for Los Angeles to play for the Lakers, Ryan again worked for Orlando by helping out with the chapel program. When the existing chaplain left, the players selected Ryan to replace him.

Ryan’s existing relationships within the sports industry have paved the way for his ministry. “I’ve been blessed that I worked there for 10 years before the call to ministry … so I have access where maybe other chaplains don’t. I feel blessed that I can walk into any locker room, go up to any guy, and I’m not going to have a coach look at me funny.”

Feeling a call to full-time ministry, Ryan enrolled in seminary with the support of his wife, Kristi. In 2004, he obtained an M.Div. from Reformed Theological Seminary. Since 2005, he has balanced his chaplaincy with full-time ministry at College Park Presbyterian Church in Orlando.

Bringing Church to the Arena

The Magic play 41 home games a season, not counting pre-season and playoffs. Ryan runs two chapels for each home game: one for Magic players and the visiting team, and one for Magic staff. With the support of the owner of the Magic, Richard DeVos, he ministers before, during and after games.

Ryan shows up at the “O-rena” a few hours before game time to speak with the support staff. He doesn’t shy away from asking probing questions about their lives. He goes into the players’ locker room before the game and checks in with the guys as they come in—sometimes even pulling them aside.

His 15-minute chapel message takes place in a room adjacent to the locker room. Ryan ties in athletic analogies to impress his message upon players and “tap into their world.” He will say things like, “Are you playing for wins and losses on the court, or wins and losses for the kingdom of heaven? You’re representing Orlando, but more importantly, you’re representing Christ. Do people know that?”

Staying Focused

Ryan challenges the players: “If you can channel all that energy and all that focus into your career, you can do it in a Bible study.”

“I say to the guys, ‘You had to work very hard to sit in this room right now—an NBA locker room. You had to put time in. You had to sacrifice. You had to suffer a little bit because you had a goal, and you were going to get here.’ And then I say, ‘Why don’t we do that in our spiritual faith? Why aren’t we in the Word of God as much as we’re in the gym? You take 100 jump shots a day. How long do you take to pray a day? You break down film every day. Do you study the Bible every day?’ ”

Bible Study as the Best Defense

Ryan says he tries to show the players that “there’s a method to studying God’s Word on a daily basis. There’s a way to take the Word of God and have it be your best defense, and your best offense—to protect you from the oncoming attacks of the devil.”

He follows up with players who want to talk on a personal level. Often, he will meet one-on-one with players to support, challenge and pray with them. He approaches each player with a different game plan to help them study Scripture. With young guys, Ryan creates a monthly plan to discuss a proverb a day. To keep them on track, he puts together a check-off sheet. He also suggests books to foster future dialogue.

Ryan involves his family in building relationships with the players. He says the call to ministry isn’t just his. “It’s neat because my wife and I have been able to do Bible studies with players and their wives. [It’s] been exciting to dig into the Word of God and try to help young players and their spouses understand some things.”

Meeting the Challenge

As elite competitors, the players are always up for a challenge. Ryan says he was given advice when embarking on his 11-year chaplaincy. “One of the guys said to me, ‘Everybody caters to us. God doesn’t cater to anybody. We want to feel like we get a punch in the gut, spiritually. We don’t want you to tell us how great we are. Tell us the truth of the gospel.’ ”

Ryan makes a point of getting real and raw with the players. “You can say, ‘Did you go to that strip club in Milwaukee?’ or ‘Did you look at that girl?’ ” He says it may be difficult to deal with these issues in a Bible study or a church “unless you’ve really got a deep, deep group. In some ways, these guys respond to that challenge more passionately than regular folks because they know what it is to give everything they have. So when a guy commits to the Lord, he commits to the Lord.”

When the team is on the road, Ryan keeps in touch by texting. He challenges players to read short New Testament books and be ready to talk about them when they get back. “I know of personal situations they’re going through and just want to let them know that we’re still praying for them; we’re still wanting to serve them.”

Reaching Out

One player on the team has been struggling personally, and Ryan has been regularly meeting him for breakfast. This past year hasn’t worked out well in terms of the player’s NBA career, but that isn’t his focus now. “The player says, ‘I am as happy as I have ever been because I know that God’s Word is true and that God’s Word will guide me. I read my Bible every day and find comfort and peace in that my identity is not found in what I do but [whom I belong to]. I belong to God.’ ”

“I think they respect the authority of Christ,” says Ryan. “I’m trying to show them the [value of the] lordship and kingship of God in all of our lives. His Word is freeing. It’s empowering. It’s real. It helps them understand [that] basketball is what I do; it’s not who I am. Who I am is a sinner saved by grace, a child of the Kingdom.… I think that these guys respond to the challenge of God because [to them,] it’s a challenge. God is challenging.”

Sometimes players are challenged in ways they don’t expect. He remembers one young player—who is now out of the NBA and a full-time minister—who wanted to evangelize to his team. When the player and his wife personally invited every teammate to their house for dinner and an informal Bible study, only Ryan and his wife came. “They had the best spread of food you could imagine, so this player was really kind of downtrodden. I told him, ‘Maybe it wasn’t about them coming. Maybe it was about you asking. Maybe it was just about you showing your faith.’ ”

“As I tell the guys, there are a whole lot of guys in church, but not a whole lot of church in guys. There’s a difference—and they need to understand that.”

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 3 No. 3

Honor, Credit, and Godly Wisdom

Rebecca Van Noord

1 Samuel 15:1–35; James 3:13–18; Psalm 119:121–136

We’re primed to seek validation. Earning “likes” on our social media outlets gives us a sense of self-worth. Getting kudos for a good idea at work makes us feel important. When this is how we derive our self-worth, the opposite will also be true: Being overlooked can crush us, making us angry and jealous if others have stolen the limelight.

If we’re not careful, we can easily become ruled by our need for validation. James calls this mindset and behavior “earthly,” “unspiritual,” and even “demonic” (Jas 3:15).

When we are guided by it, chaos reigns: “For where there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there is disorder and every evil practice” (Jas 3:16). We may be aware of how often we are tempted to follow our earthly responses, and we might try to practice restraint. We try to filter the forces at work inside us, but this won’t solve the heart of the problem, as James shows us. He contrasts human ambition with godly wisdom, which “comes from above” (Jas 3:15). He lists the virtues that display godly wisdom: “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceful, gentle, obedient, full of mercy and good fruits, nonjudgmental, without hypocrisy” (Jas 3:17).

We can’t attain these virtues on our own. When we’re tempted to follow our gut response, to protect and promote our own image, we have to examine our hearts and confess our earthly desires to God. Then, we should seek the wisdom from above—the wisdom found in Jesus. Only He can make us new, and His Spirit can enable us to intentionally follow Him and seek godly wisdom.

How are you seeking and praying for godly wisdom?

This article was originally posted in Connect the Testaments: A One-Year Daily Devotional with Bible Reading Plan.

Shelf Life Book Review: Introducing the New Testament

Heather M. Brooks

Introducing the New Testament
Zondervan, 2010

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This study is a condensed version of an earlier volume by the same title. Authors D.A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo explain that this shorter version is more “user-friendly” for a wider audience.

The book is divided into 26 chapters and contains discussions of the four Gospels, the letters of Paul, and the writings of the other apostles. Each chapter devotes sections to the books’ authorship, time frame, audience and other issues.

Both new and longtime Christians will find this introduction helpful. The authors have also included lists of suggested further readings for beginning, intermediate and advanced users.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 3 No. 2