Married For God (Book Review)

Years ago my wife and I were given some misleading marriage advice.  “If you want your marriage to survive, you need to have a weekly date night.  Hire a babysitter, go out for dinner, romance each other, and have a grant time.”  We were doing fine together, but we decided to try out the date night necessity thesis.  It wasn’t long before we figured out the weekly date night rule is overkill for us.  Besides, unless you’ve only got one child, who can afford that kind of date night?

And yet the advice wasn’t all bad.  Over the course of 17 years of marriage we have found it true that we need devoted “couple time”.  If for no other reason than to get a break from the kids and some quiet adult time.  One of the “dates” we’ve found that works for us is taking long, brisk walks.  That’s what we do when it’s not too cold outside and the sun is still up.  But when both of those conditions are not met, we’ve discovered another “date” that works well for us.  Reading out loud to each other.  My wife, being a busy mother and running a home-based business, has little time to pleasure read on her own.  She dreams of someday pursuing her passion and gift for counseling, and recognizes that gaining experience should be joined with education and training.  So together we’ve committed to read books that will help her as a lay counselor, and me as a pastor, to help others, better understand our own hearts, and strengthen our marriage.  One we recently finished reading and discussing is called Married For God: Making Your Marriage The Best It Can Be (MFG), by Christopher Ash.

This is by no means the first marriage book I’ve read.  Many books in the genre are self-help: how to improve your marriage by changing your spouse.  A few are scholarly works of psychology or sociology.  Those are interesting, but not exactly uplifting reading for date nights!  But there are a few that strike a balance between personally practical, relationally and socially insightful, and well-grounded in reality.  I call these types of marriage books “gospel-oriented” because marriage from a Christian perspective must deeply engage all three angles.  Most gospel-oriented marriage books include all of these angles but major on one.  MFG emphasizes the grounded in reality perspective.  As such it functions as a sort of primer on the basic questions surrounding the divine and human institution of marriage. Continue reading

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Disciple Making

I bet I can name one thing that will trigger a flurry of mental gymnastics.  The mere mention of this one thing is enough to launch your brain into overdrive excuse-making mode.  What is this dreaded thing?  The sign-up sheet!  “Here’s a sign-up sheet for all the ways we need your time, effort, and resources ASAP.  Since we know our need is the most important thing in your life, we feel we’re doing you a favor compelling you to sign our sign-up sheet.”  By now I’m sure you’ve got at least 7 air-tight reasons why, “just this time,” you regrettably can’t sign our sign-up sheet.  Or maybe you’re eager to sign-up, whatever it is!

Everyone has their reasons for being eager or skeptical regarding whether to follow Jesus. At root of our reasons is the assumption that we are in charge of our lives, what decisions we make, and who we choose to follow. We hold this assumption because it protects us and keeps us in control. Or so we believe. But what if it is actually the other way around? What if Jesus is the one in charge of our lives? What if, instead of you gathering your preferred teachers and role models to build your “best life now” according to your plan and schedule, what if Jesus is the one gathering disciples by calling people to follow him? If this is what Jesus does, then wouldn’t it be perfectly reasonable to expect surprises, challenges, spiritual insights, even a complete reorientation of priorities and direction in your life? The Bible’s account (found in John 1:35-51) of how Jesus built his Church by calling the first disciples to follow him reveals a pattern primarily driven by an invitation to “come and see.” Those who stay with Jesus will learn doctrine about him and powerfully encounter him. Come and see, then become a disciple-making disciple. Continue reading

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Confessing the Faith (Book Review)

There is a manly tobacco shop (is that a tautology?) in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania where a few of my friends visit about twice a year for a guy hangout day.  Upstairs in the smoking lounge is where all the deep discussion of work, family, life, and politics unfolds.  With this particular group of buddies, theology is usually one of the hobby horses we ride.  A couple years ago when we were splitting theological hairs—the fine threads that can only appropriately be argued over a pipe full of flavored shredded tobacco—off in the corner someone noticed a fellow puffing on a cartoonishly-shaped horn pipe as he flipped through the pages of the newly published (at the time) Confessing the Faith: A Reader’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith (CTF).  If you travel in the circles I and my friends do, we immediately pegged him as a likely Presbyterian pastor.  We were right!

Before you get the idea that CTF is technical theological minutiae, let me assure you it is not.  Rather than another commentary or study guide on the Confession (WCF), author Chad Van Dixhoorn, a recognized and renowned expert on the Westminster Assembly and its published documents (the WCF, and the accompanying Larger and Shorter Catechisms), the author has chosen to write a devotional guide to this historic and monumental Puritan-era Christian confessional document.  In this sense it is more warm and contemporary than the best WCF books printed in previous generations, such as Williamson’s and Hodge’s works.  This is one reason why those who have read earlier books on the WCF should consider getting CTF.  Another reason is it stays closer to the actual text of the WCF, rarely veering off course to follow rabbit trails such as millennial eschatological charts and positions.  But the best reason to dive into CTF is the author’s credibility.  Van Dixhoorn spent his doctoral study years poring through the mass of handwritten minutes of the Westminster Assembly’s business.  Although CTF is not his doctoral analysis and thesis (those are published in expensive scholarly tomes mostly inaccessible to the average Christian), it is the mature fruit of that study.  CTF came about through years of the author’s weekly study class lecture notes being revised and refined for use in devotion, instruction, and worship.  Thankfully we are the beneficiaries of his long labor of love. Continue reading

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The Case For Life (Book Review)

For a long time I had desired to get involved in the pro-life cause, but I just didn’t know how to do it in a way that suited my abilities and personality.  The church I attended in high school had a way in—but standing outside the local abortion clinic with a sign didn’t interest me.  And in those days there were well-known speakers that would tour around the country, gathering a crowd to make the case for life.  But when the party left town it seemed to be that business-as-usual returned.  Of course that was not the case—that was just my perception.  These were the days before the internet so it was not easy to find onramps to activism and other ways of helping save lives, love the vulnerable and at-risk, and change minds.  My difficulty in finding my way into the pro-life movement led to my desire to help taking a back-seat to other priorities.  And that’s the way it was for a while.

And then I found a local ministry called Care Net.  The church that eventually would call me to serve as a pastor had a simply onramp.  By partnering with a local chapter of Care Net, which I discovered supports one of the largest networks of crisis pregnancy centers in America.  One year our congregational Care Net coordinator invited my wife and me to attend the annual fundraising banquet.  Sensing this was my way in, we went.  The program and presentation that night moved my heart to sign up as a monthly donor and partner.  All of a sudden, it became clear to me that my long-time interest in and exposure to pro-life ministry had prepared me making a difference.  A series of memories flashed before me.  Hearing a pro-life talk during a high school youth group meeting.  Browsing a display table at a campus student organization fair in college.  Listening to the radio program Stand to Reason with their occasional guest speaker: pro-life apologist Scott Klusendorf.  Suddenly it occurred to me.  Don’t I have one of his books on my computer?  Yes I did.  The Case for Life: Equipping Christians to Engage the Culture [hereafter CFL], a resource in the format I hate to read (ebook) sat tucked away on my hard drive, forgotten shortly after I’d downloaded it years prior.  So I determined to read it soon, putting it near the top of my reading to-do list.  I’m glad I did. Continue reading

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Death and Eternity

The road goes ever onward…

I’m wrapping up a series on what I call “universal human longings.” This one, based on the Bible passage in the book of Romans 8:18-39, I’ve saved for last because, more than any of the others, it makes the transition from this life to the next. You’ll notice the first word in the title: death. What?!? This sound ridiculous. Who longs for death?

People don’t long for their own death because dying is awful and scary, but we do long for life after death. God has placed a deep longing for eternity in every human heart, not merely to live forever, but for the human soul to be with God. And yet, if we’re honest, nearly all of us are not in a hurry to get to heaven because we’re too busy longing for our heart’s desires to be fulfilled in this life. Worship, true identity, righteousness and being known, family, marriage, home, mission, work and rest, wisdom, peace, and justice. We’ve explored these universal human longings, how God’s Word says it is right and good to long for them, and how right now we can have a measure of what we long for—especially as we live by faith in Jesus who is the source of these longings and the blessings that fulfill them. But what about the enormous problem of our suffering, and at the end of this life…death? When we’re in the middle of it, doesn’t suffering feels like it holds us back from getting to God and the blessings he gives? Let me ask you directly: Do you believe suffering is a good or bad thing—does it help or hinder your hope for eternity?

If you’ve ever seriously asked this question, or if you’re asking it now in the midst of a difficult time in your life, then this passage in Romans gives a glorious answer to your longing to know and experience an eternity in heaven.  God will certainly fulfill the hope of Christians to be saved from agonizing sufferings because in the end nothing will separate us from Christ’s love for us. Following Christ’s pattern, suffering will end in death, but death is not our end. By dying and rising in Christ we shall conquer through hope and live forever. Continue reading

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Not You Too, U2!

Yes, but what is this “love” you sing of?

A friend of mine (a fellow U2 superfan) told me about the just-released music video for “Love is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way.”  (You can google the video and easily find it online.  I’m not going to link to it here.)  In his words, “I don’t know if I can continue to be a fan or even support them.  I’ve listened to and sung their music from the bottom of my heart for most of my life.  This feels like a death in the family.”  U2, if you are listening to your long-time fans who are incredibly disappointed at the message of this video, please understand what you are doing to us.  Remember that scene at the end of Star Wars Episode III when Queen Padme pleads with her husband Anakin to turn away from the dark side?  “I don’t know you anymore. Anakin, you’re breaking my heart. You’re going down a path I can’t follow.”  That’s how millions of us feel.  Yeah, millions.  Just read many of the non-hateful, rational, online comments about your video.  What is U2’s transgression?  It appears they are now “all-in” for affirming the homosexual and transgender movement.

I guess that over the years I have become too enamored with lead singer and songwriter Bono.  Upon reflection I hope that Christians do not turn on him and U2 like it seems the black community has quickly turned on Kanye West for his conservative political voice.  Even so, I miss the old U2 that seemed to believe in biblical justice and righteousness.  Those were their glory days.  U2, please come back.  For our sakes.  But (much) more importantly, for the sake of your Christian faithfulness.  You widely claim that you’re all Christians except Adam Clayton.  If three of you believe, as I suspect you do, that affirming and celebrating those who practice homosexuality is the essence of Spirit-led Christian faithfulness for our day, then I urge you to read a few books that argue otherwise.  Start with Kevin DeYoung’s What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?  This short book also has an annotated bibliography for recommended further reading.  Christians cannot afford to give in to sexual immorality.  Why? Because it’s a central-to-the-gospel issue, because Jesus Christ is not just the Savior that rescues us from our fallen condition, he is also the Lord who redeems us from a life of sin so that we might follow his ways in thankful, loving obedience.  Another way of putting it: no one can have Jesus as their Savior without bowing to him as their Lord.  Jesus always takes us as we are, but he never ever leaves us as we are.  God’s in the business of making us humble and holy and loving—like Jesus.

“But,” you say, “that’s just your interpretation of the Bible.  My Christianity is more progressive and affirming.”  Historically and biblically speaking, that is actually a foolish thing to say.  Progressive/Liberal Christianity is an altogether different religion than Traditional/Orthodox Christianity.  Continue reading

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The Glory of Their Times (Book Review)

Long-time and hard-core readers of Dangitbill might have guessed that I’m a big baseball fan.  I caught the fever around the same age most boys do.  The year was 1985, I was 10 years old, and my home team Los Angeles Dodgers were in the playoffs matched up against the St. Louis Cardinals.  My dad awakened me one autumn morning to the awesome news that he would pick me up early from school that day because…we had tickets!  Three memories are seared on my mind from that day.  The first, of course, was the messenger sent from the school front office to summon me out of class.  By then all my friends knew I was going to play hookie with my dad.  And with the school’s full knowledge and blessing.  “No way!”  “No fair!”  Excited taunts, objections, and eruptions of jealous disbelief had me riding a swell of pride.  As my classmates waved goodbye and I followed my rescuer to the front office, a shock of baseball adrenaline shot through my veins.  Even the school secretary flashed a bright smile as she signed the permission slip for my early escape, er, dismissal.  Dad was waiting in the getaway car just outside the grounds, poised to burn rubber and beeline down the 405 to beautiful Dodger stadium–the Elysian Fields and Baseball Cathedral of my childhood.  Felt like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off!  Over the course of my life I’ve been to dozens of baseball games with dad, but Game 6 of the ‘85 playoffs was the only one we made sure to be on time for. Continue reading

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