Book Review – Resilience

I’m a consumer of podcasts.  Mostly, they fall into two categories – sermon podcasts and interview podcasts.  As a pastor, the former is probably obvious – but the latter is my “brain off” time where I like to drive and listen to strong, successful, driven, self-disciplined and very interesting people being interviewed about what makes them tick.   This leads me to listening to a lot of stories of Navy SEALs, whom I highly respect as they always possess all of those qualities in abundance.

51vib-HkB7L.jpgThis leads me to Eric Greitens.  Former Navy SEAL and current governor of Missouri.  As one can surmise immediately…this guy is probably going to have a great story.   Turns out, however that his book, Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life, is not his story.  It’s a series of letters written to a SEAL buddy who has hit rock bottom.  The contents are gold.  Get a cup of joe, this is going to be a long post. One that I will need to come back to repeatedly.

This is not a theology or Christian book, though Greitens quotes Scripture throughout.  It is an excellent book that Christians can interpret through the lens of Scripture and the perspective of the gospel. When we do this, it strengthens our faith and deepens our understanding of God’s word.  Part of what makes this post so long, is that I try to do that real time and bring in Scripture to balance/correct some of these ideas. I’ll try to do that as we go thru this, OK kids?

Zach Walker is Greitens’ SEAL buddy and the one he writes all the letters to.  They came up thru BUD/S training together, though after it they served in different areas and didn’t see each other much.  Zach was the toughest of the tough, and after doing the things that SEALs do he hit bottom hard when he tried to adjust to normal life.  Lost his business, lost his family, got arrested, and turned to alcohol to try and keep the PTSD demons at bay.

As the title suggests, the thesis of the book is resilience – “the virtue that enables people to move thru hardship and become better. No one escapes pain, fear, and suffering. Yet from pain can come wisdom, from fear cab come courage, from suffering can come strength – if we have the virtue of resilience.” [3]

Right off the bat, he is speaking of biblical truths of pain, suffering and perseverance.   Greiten writes tellingly “human beings can turn hardship into wisdom because we are born with the capacity for resilience, and we can make ourselves more resilient thru practice.”

This is why I will always recommend that Christians read “non-Christian” books and practice using a biblical worldview to interpret the world around us – while being cautious not to get sucked into it.

Greiten is so close to the truth on this, or maybe he is and he is just sand-bagging a bit so as to not make it a “Christian” book. [He is a politician so he can’t probably say how he really feels.]  We were “born with the capacity for resilience” because God our Creator put it there for his glory. However, it is not solely in our power to make ourselves anything.  It is only thru coming to an end of ourselves, admitting our need for transformation in the gospel that we can realize that therefore he will powerfully work in us to change us, and glorify himself in the process.  [See Colossians 1:28-29; and Ephesians 1:17-23 for a few to start…]  It is a cooperative work between God and us.  Our effort and diligence is required, but it is not our work exclusively.

The author says we need to chose to live this resilient life.  Indeed we do. We need to chose say no to sin and yes to righteousness.  Every day.  Many, many times.

This is part of the discipline of self-mastery – another biblical concept, and why I love listening to the life stories of guys like Navy SEALs.  They have to master themselves, they have to be experts at self-discipline.  So does every Christian on the face of the earth.  [2 Timothy 1:7; 4:7-10; Galatians 5:22-24…]

There are many implications of this. One of the most foundational is therefore we discipline ourselves to live for God’s purposes and his glory, not our own.  Again, this is how we were created, yet how many millions of people just wander thru life without any direction or goals.  Greiten is spot on [although again only in concept] that “in the long run deprivation of purpose is as destructive as deprivation of sleep. Without purpose, we can survive but we cannot flourish.” [16]

We need to struggle and work towards this purpose.  Indeed much disillusionment comes from not having a clear purpose.  How many people have succeeded in doing great things and then suffered the sudden onset of “Now what?!”   We need to keep going, keep learning, keep growing – as Christians – keep maturing.

This will come with it’s share of weakness and hardships and a refining of the definition of resilience – it’s not just bouncing back. “Resilient people do not bounce back from hard experiences; they find healthy ways to integrate them into their lives.  In time, people find that great calamity met with great spirit can create great strength.” [23]

This is the famous quote from Hemmingway “The world breaks everyone, and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” [24]  Christians – we are strong at the broken places because in Christ we are made strong.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  (2 Corinthians 12:10 ESV)

Resilience is then endurance with direction. [25]  YIKES!  That is the Christian life!  “-)

This leads to forming life habits and self-disciplines to endure and be resilient. “Practice builds habits. Our habits are our character. When it comes to virtue, practice makes a very great difference – or rather, all the difference.” [27] Romans 5:1-5 anyone?

As we act in these ways, our character development follows.  “We become what we do if we do it often enough. We act with courage and we become courageous. We act with compassion and we become compassionate. If we make the resilient choices, ewe become resilient.” [28] James 1:3

These things, like our sanctification, grow slowly. He mentions the “Stockdale Paradox” – where it has been observed that the POWs who broke the fastest were those who deluded themselves about the severity of their ordeal. “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end – which you can never afford to lose – with the discipline to conform the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”  In this we have to “maintain clarity about your reality. The paradox is that at the very same time you have to find a way to maintain hope.” [30]

I harp on this all the time and then am guilty of committing the same sin myself, that we Americans think we deserve a happy, comfortable, pain-free life.  Then reality hits and our world is crashing down around us.  “Soon enough, reality kicks down your front door and then you can’t pretend anymore. Pain is real and we do better dealing with is when we acknowledge it.” [30] He is right to say “keep in mind though, there is a big difference between acknowledging pain and wallowing in it.”  [31]

Greiten stresses another foundational biblical quality – humility.  This is where we start. Its humility of accepting our situation and enduring with direction.  I’m embarrassed to admit, that I never thought of Adam and Eve in this light.  Greiten points out “Adam and Eve left the Garden [after being kicked out] and went into the world: tilled the earth, had children, made a life. The knowledge of real evil and the experience of pain are always harsh. Often they are also a beginning.” [36]  We cannot wait for the world to change – we have to get going.  “When we accept what we cannot change – that some pain cannot be avoided, that some adversities cannot be overcome, that tragedy comes to every one of us – we are liberated to direct our energy toward work that we can actually do.” [36]

“Great changes come when we make small adjustments with great conviction.” [38] The growth and maturity of a believer comes in degrees. 2 Corinthians 3:18.

As believers we need to start now in growth in degrees.  As a pleasant surprise, Greiten quotes Augustine in Confessions – “When [Augustine] reflected on all the selfish ambition he began with, and all the false starts and doubts on his path, he could only say to God, “I have loved you so late.” [41]

We also do this together, in community and in deep relationships.  “Someone who cares about you, sweats with you, and corrects you when you need to be corrected is one of the most precious things in life: a true friend.” [44] Disciples of Jesus are supposed to come alongside other disciples in the tight community of the church.

When we put these principles into action – we flourish.  “Flourishing is rooted in action.  You work along the lines of excellence. You can’t just do things. You do them well. A flourishing life is a life lived along lines of excellence. Flourishing is a condition created by the choices we make in the world we live in.” [50] Flourishing usually produces happiness.  “Remember what comes first. A focus on happiness will not lead to excellence. A focus on excellence will, over time, lead to happiness.” [59]

I will again bust in and insert that “excellence” is supremely demonstrated in God Himself.  We purse GOD and we will receive the abundant life he promises [John 10:10], but not material abundance or pleasure.  Greiten, again so close to biblical truth here “The happiness of pleasure cannot provide purpose; it can’t substitute for the happiness of excellence.” [62…ie. God]  This is the restless striving of the human heart, which our friend Augustine reminds us “our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God.”

Greiten also touches on major biblical themes like maturity [“put away childish things – 77]; pursuing false idols [77]; and even our identity. And our identity has nothing to do with our feelings.

“How you are feeling? It’s often a sucker’s question…feelings lead to action and action leads to identity.”  Yes and no.  I was worried for a minute but he quickly got back towards biblical truth.

The typical identity flow goes like this: “Feelings – Action – Identity.”  That’s a trap.  It’s more accurately “Identity – Action – Feelings.”

We act from who we are [and who we are aspiring to be], which produces actions, which in turn produce feelings.  My church will hear me say “Feelings can’t drive the bus.”  Christians are children of God – dearly loved, cherished, made holy by faith in Christ.  We act from that identity and that aspiration, and feelings follow.  Most of the time…  🙂  Even when they don’t who we are cannot change, it is guaranteed by the blood of Christ! [Colossians 3:12]

This gets real practical real fast – “Sleeping, eating, exercising – these actions shape how you feel. Acting with compassion, courage, grace – these actions also shape how you feel.” [83]

He pushes harder against society, which I love.

“Here’s where this gets tough. Imagine that a friend tells us, ‘I feel depressed every morning.’ Society has taught us that we’re supposed to say ‘I’m sorry that you feel that way. Why do you feel depressed? What makes you depressed?, etc. The question we almost never ask, however, is the one that really matters – ‘How do you do that? How do you make yourself depressed every morning?’  When you feel miserable – even when you feel you are going to die – that’s not the end of the story. It’s time to start asking the hard questions.  How much of your pain is out there in the world? How much is in your mind? What is within your power to change? If the feelings you have are killing you, how can you change them?”  [85- see above!]

We act in line with our current identity [in Christ] and our aspired identity [more transformed, more mature.]  It’s a process.  Greiten is right when he says we might have to “wear the mask of virtue” in our actions until it becomes part of us.  I’m reminded of Luther’s quote – “This life therefore is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness, not health, but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it, the process is not yet finished, but it is going on, this is not the end, but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified.”  I think Piper said it as well “Become who you are…”

“To change the direction of your life, you have to reset your habits. Every time you act, your actions create feelings – pleasure or pain, pride or shame – that reinforces habits. When a habit becomes so ingrained that actions begin to flow fro you without conscious thought or effort, then you have changed your character.” [96]

“The more responsibility people take, the more resilient they are likely to be. The less responsibility people take – for their actions, for their lives, for their happiness [for their growth in Godliness] the more likely it is that life will crush them. At the root of resilience is the willingness to take responsibility for results.” [106]

“Whatever the world sends us, we have power over our intentions and our attitudes. Epictetus said that ‘it is not the things which trouble us, but the judgments we bring to bear upon things.'” [107]  The author goes back to Stockdale the POW – “Throughout his ordeal, Stockdale maintained that he held more power over his suffering than his captors did: his ordeal would only become an evil if he let it.” [108]  We are usually our own worst enemy. [113]

We shouldn’t look to the extremes here, again another trap I see people falling into.  Finding the extreme side of a situation and camping there.  “Fixating on extremes, like fixating on inconsistencies, can start to stand in the way of living well.” [134]

We need to live realistically – “In our security and comfort, we slip quietly into the false expectation that life will afford us completely happiness. We believe that we will move only from pleasure to pleasure, from joy to joy. When tragedy strikes or hardship hits, too many of us feel ambushed by pain, betrayed by the present, despairing of the future.” [137]

People like SEALs know the mistake that we Americans make in this first hand.  Seeing global suffering and evil up close.

“Resilient realists know that life – despite our highest ideals – is imperfect. Readiness means confronting the reality that life’s course is not completely under your control. Readiness is a form of humility, spurred by recognition of how little we can know or control. Hardship is unavoidable. Resilient people recognize this reality. Then they can prepare themselves for it, seeking to meet it as best they can, on their own terms.” [140]

Yes and no.  This world is imperfect, because of sin, and we shouldn’t expect it to be.  Humility is key, as far as our dependance on God who does completely control all things.  But, again, we can meet things ‘on our own terms’ to a certain extent.  We strive and labor and endure in the strength that God supplies.  Just as we should not think too highly of this broken world, we shouldn’t think too highly of ourselves.

Once again, Greiten pleasantly arrives at this truth a few paragraphs later “Recognize, as realists do, that life has a tragic character – human beings are flawed, and that both the natural and the human world are beyond your power to control, and you’ll have a better chance of serving effectively.” [140]

This is sin that dwells within us all in hearts.  “…the line dividing good and evil cuts thru the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” [141]  Greiten nailing biblical truth here, though not calling it that.  Jeremiah 17:9.  WE HAVE TO destroy the sin in our hearts! [Col 3:5; Rom 8:13]

Throughout the book, there is an undercurrent of “just try harder…” which as I’ve been saying, only gets us so far.  We need to be diligent with what God has given us, we need to accept reality, and be responsible – those things I’m in complete agreement with the author.  The danger here is that when you are dealing with things of eternal significance – “try harder” won’t cut it.  We need more faith in Christ, and less faith in ourselves.

I also agree wholeheartedly with the notion that we have to make resilience a part of our daily habits.  “What usually matters in your life is not the magical moment, but the quality of your daily practice.  Knowing is usually the easy part.  Doing is much harder.” [155]

This is particularly challenging when we are in pain – physical, emotional, or spiritual.  There is sometimes no answer to pain, and in that situation we accept what has been allowed into our lives by a sovereign, good, loving, and all-powerful God.  This is what Greitens says in a roundabout way talking about the Stoics – “…our choice to accept or reject what we cannot control is the only thing completely within our power.” [158]

This naturally comes with some negative effect on our mood and happiness sometimes.  Modern society will have us take that away with medication or something else.  It is true we don’t want to wallow in it, but just because we are sad doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be or try to remove it as quickly as possible. “Unhappiness in the face of a terrible loss is not evidence of a disease, and it’s not a mental disorder.  There are entire industries designed to persuade you otherwise, Walker, but if you are not depressed by some of what life throws at you, then you are not seeing or hearing or feeling all of the world around you.”  [161]  Yes, oftentimes God does his biggest work and we grow the most during times of pain.  He even quotes CS Lewis “pain is ‘God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” [165]  “Some pain is good and necessary. A lot of people in the modern world end to misunderstand this:  they believe that the ideal life is a painless life.” [166]

We need to respond to pain rightly “we do not grow because of the pain. We grow when we recover from the right pain in the right way.” [170]  There is also a difference, he notes, between pain and suffering – “You often don’t have a choice when it comes to feeling pain. You often do have a choice about whether you suffer, because suffering is created by your perception of, and relationship to, pain.” [171]

This is very prominent in how we talk to ourselves.  We all do it.  “We all talk to ourselves. You may not speak your thoughts out loud or share them with others, but there is always a conversation in your head about your environment, the people around you, and most important, about yourself.” [175]  Predictably, the author drives right down main street of humanistic “destructive self-talk.”  Spiritually speaking this is our sinful, twisted hearts trying to pull us away from our identity in Christ.  This is where the gospel comes in loud and clear and we need to inform our consciences, our inner voices, the truth according to God’s word. This is where preaching the gospel, over and over, to ourselves comes in.  “The main art in the matter of spiritual living is to know how to handle yourself. You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself. You must say to your soul: ‘Why art thou cast down’– what business have you to be disquieted?” [Spiritual Depression – Its Causes and Cures]

Once you identify the “destructive self-talk, you can – as with any habit – replace it with a new one.”  This is the core of growing and changing biblically as a Christian.  We put off the old, renew our minds, and put on the new!  [Ephesians 4:20-22;  Colossians 3]

People are masters at overcomplicating things.  I have a few friends that I tend to mutter to myself  – “that dude can over think a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.”  It’s true.  I see it as a Pastor and counselor – people paralyze themselves and are rendered unable to change because they have over-complicated everything.  Greitens agrees, “The more complicated you make something, the more excuses you create for yourself…people introduce complication to avoid beginning.” [187]  Break complex things down into small manageable tasks, set realistic goals and get started.

In one of my favorite quotes from the book he writes “A lot of people need more work, and less talk. More action, less complaining. We need to hear less about their feelings and see more of their effort.”  [197]

This is one of the many reasons why we need friends – and as Christians we need the church, because it’s not a building, the church is people – seeking to live their lives for God’s glory and grow to be more like Him. We all have blind spots and this is where good solid friends come in to help us, “…we can’t live our best lives or become our best selves without these kinds of friendships.”  [210]  Greiten, who definitely has a lot of Bible background, though I’m not sure if he is a professing Christian, quotes the story of David and Bathsheba – and his friend Nathan.  Nathan, the bold prophet of God who confronts David and David instantly knows his wrong.  I’ve said it myself, and it was nice to hear the author say that we all need a Nathan. “Who is your Nathan?” [213]

Good leaders understand resilience – “resilient living is the foundation for resilient leadership.”  As mentioned, humility is a big part of resilience and good leaders are humble. “Officers eat last. Leaders lead from the front [lines, I would assume?]. Never ask someone to endure more than you are wiling to endure yourself.” [247]

Greitens hits the importance of self-mastery again. “Some of our freedom can only be won through self-mastery.” [253]  This is precipitated by action – “many people try to find balance in their lives first, and then run.  Sometimes that works. But a lot of times it’s in the running itself that you find your balance.” [256]  As I like to say,  “You can’t turn a boat that isn’t moving.”  As Christians – what guides our direction and balance is the word of God!  Greitens, coming at this from the human side, writes that “you figure out the purpose of your live by living your life.  You give meaning to your quest by what you do and say and suffer. The challenges you face and the choices you make create the meaning of your story. The hardships, dangers, temptations and distractions that confront you are obstacles, yes, but its only by wrestling with those obstacles that your purpose can be understood.” [261]  Again – yes and no.  For Christians, the undeniable purpose of our lives is to bring glory to God with them – particularly as we walk thru suffering and hardship, which we all will.  That is always the main thing, but humans are thinkers and questioners and we want to know more of what we are supposed to be doing here.  God has gifted each of us, I agree that we need more action, but our action in ‘living our life’ should only shed more light on how we are to glorify God.

The author writes, and I agree, that our lives will not be movie-like perfect as we seek to live them out.  “You are going to live a real life. It’s not going to be perfect; it won’t always be pretty. But you can decide what the themes of your story are going to be.” [267]

I read this book over the course of several months while on airplanes or hanging by the pool.  It was a very helpful book for practically thinking about some of these things from a man who has clearly developed a deep sense of wisdom and maturity thru tremendous life experiences.  Christians can learn from men like this, but only as far as it propels us to translate what he is saying into biblical truth.  All truth is from God, and if we do not bring it back to God and clarify and refine it with God’s word, we can stray from it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review – What is a Healthy Church Member?

I’m a church guy.

I know, you are probably thinking “Duh.  You are a Pastor.”  But what I mean is that I believe in the primary and critical importance of the church in two things- (1) the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and (2) the growth in spiritual maturity of the Christian.   Boiling it down – therefore, I believe every Christian should be a committed member of a local [very important word, more on that soon…], Bible-preaching, gospel-centered Christian church.

Yet, I’m concerned to see this is not a conviction held in the majority.  So many Christians consider church almost “optional.”  Like – “We’ll get there if we can…unless something else more funner comes along.”  [I know…grammar…]  Sports.  Family days.  Sleeping in.  Whatever.  None of those things are bad in themselves, but what is that saying about our commitment to the local church.

Note I also said “local” church.  [Thought I forgot, didn’t you?]  I am also concerned with the trend of driving a long distance to get to your church of choice, or just participating in an “internet church.”  Why?  It completely cuts out your contact with YOUR community.  The people you see in the grocery store, Starbucks, kids sports games, etc.  Now, of course there may be issues with not having access strong local church – but to that end, I’d say that’s why we need church planters and church revitalizers – not just solutions that cut out community.

Get the impression that I’ve thought about this a lot? I have.  Which is why I’m a church planter in my own town.  I feel that strongly about it.  The church is God’s “Plan A” for salvation [as someone once put] and we are called to participate in it and grow in maturity.

I’m glad that Thabiti AnyabwileWhat_Is_a_Healthy_Church_Member_by_Thabiti_Anyabwile_large feels the same way and he wrote “What Is a Healthy Church Member?

In light of my opening monologue, I feel there is a real need for this book – and more like it.  We need a return to the commitment to the local church, and less of a consumer mindset.   This is on us, folks.

Keeping things linear and straightforward [the way I like ’em], Thabiti gives us 10 marks of a healthy church member. [I hope Dever approved of going past 9 marks?!]

Mark 1:  An expositional listener.  Ah.  To be an expositional lister, the pre-requisite is an expositional sermon.  Such a sermon makes the main point of the passage, the main point of their sermon.  Needless to say, this is not always the norm.  I’m not hating on topical sermons, they have their place for sure, but it’s God’s word…God’s thoughts that we should be hearing, interpreting, and applying.  NOT some dude’s man-centered, pragmatic points on “5 Ways to Live Your Best Life Now.”  An expositional listener stresses [to the family if applicable] the importance of hearing and applying God’s word – not just on Sunday’s either.  In the family, in life Monday-Saturday, in prayer and in submission to it.

Mark 2: A biblical theologian.  Yes.  Theology.  It’s not just for eggheads.  Anytime anyone says anything about God they are a theologian.  The actual question is – are they a good [accurate = biblical] theologian or not?  Thabiti writes “too many Christians have neglected their first great calling: to know their God. Every Christian is meant to be a theologian in the best and most intimate sense of the word.” [27]  We know God thru God’s word!  This means knowing the Bible, but knowing the bigger picture of the Bible, and how the passage fits into the character and redemptive plan of God. [Yes…even Leviticus…]

Mark 3:  Gospel saturated.   “The greatest need in the world […and the] church is the gospel.” [39]  The gospel is the center of the Bible and it has to be the center of the church. We desire to hear the gospel and preach the gospel to ourselves by walking in it every day.  As Thabiti writes “order your life around the gospel.”and let it “animate every area of our lives.”[42]  This means intentionally living our lives with gospel purpose – even the restaurants we frequent and the conversations with our friends and neighbors.

Mark 4: Genuinely converted.  This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s really not.  I don’t pretend to think everyone sitting in church is a converted follower of Jesus.  But especially when we are talking about membership – we need to be certain a conversation has actually happened.  This means a change – a radical reordering of a life trajectory based on faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Mark 5: A biblical evangelist.  The “e” word.  [See my other recent book review for help on this] Healthy church members look to spread the good news of the hope of the gospel to those they come in contact with.  This includes a biblical understand of evangelism…and before that…a biblical understanding, period.  We must have also of course experienced the transforming work of the gospel in our own lives and have a compassion for others to see the same.

Mark 6: A committed member.  I know that there are scores of people out there that have been burned by a church.  I get that.  It hurts.  BUT, that can’t mean that we divorce ourselves from the primary way God designed to spread the hope of the gospel and grow in maturity.  There aren’t any perfect churches, but membership is super important and if you are a member – be committed.  Thabiti gives a great list of what that looks like: attend regularly, seek peace, edify others, warn/admonish others, pursue reconciliation, bear with others, prepare for the ordinances, and support the work of ministry thru financial giving and working hard.  [68-70]  Anyabwile doesn’t pull any punches here “to fail to associate ourselves in a lasting and committed way with the Head of the church by joining his body is surely a sign of ingratitude, whether from an uninformed or a dull heart.” [70] #ouch.

Mark 7: Seeks discipline.  As in not punishment, but correction. Aren’t we all endeavoring to live lives that are worthy of the name Christian here? Isn’t that a thing still? This isn’t easy, but it is necessary.  Thabiti breaks this up into two categories based on 2 Timothy 3:16 – formative discipline [teaching, training] and corrective [rebuke, correction] [75]

Mark 8:  A growing disciple.  The author writes “this is speculation on my part, but it may be the case that the most chronic problem facing churches and Christians is the lack of consistent spiritual growth and progress in discipleship.” [83]  Ephesians 4:15 instructs us to ‘grow up in every way…’ In many other places we are instructed to be mature.  Folks, the best way to do this is within the local church!

Mark 9: A humble follower.  God is a God of order.  Pastors/Elders lead the congregation and the congregation follows. Not like mindless sheep, but as committed participants.  And Pastors and Elders:  This falls on US.  “A healthy church member patterns his or her life after the godly lifestyle of the elders of the church.”  [101]

Mark 10: A prayer warrior.  Pray for everything – the effectiveness of the church’s gospel work, the Pastor’s sermons, the Elders leading, the needs of the body.  We show our dependance on God thru prayer.

Even if you aren’t a reader – [which you NEED to be] you can get thru this little book.  Then take these ideas and dig in to a solid local church and see what God does!

Book Review – Sharing Jesus [without freaking out]

I can’t avoid the reality that I once had a near terminal case of CKD – “Christian Kid Disease.”    Those at risk for CKD include children of the 80s who went to Youth Group, went to church at least 4 times a week, listened to awful…and I mean AWFUL Contemporary Christian Music with even worse theology, and had a deep seated terror and a near co41eNHDPEIKL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgmplete paralysis when it came to “witnessing” [80s word] – or as it’s better known “evangelism.”  Fortunately, CKD has a cure – a heaping dose of the pure, unadulterated gospel.

Dr. Alvin Reid (Pastor and Professor of Evangelism at Southeastern Baptist Seminary) gets this, and thankfully wrote “Sharing Jesus [without freaking out}” to help those suffering with CKD learn to love sharing Jesus. As he states “We need to reboot our understanding of evangelism.”  Oh. I like this book.

Right away, Reid doesn’t fall into the CKD trap of making evangelism a super awkward Christianese-filled monologue where one pressures someone to ‘invite Jesus into their heart.’  Instead, “its in our everyday conversations that we can help people see that their life matters, that their passion to live comes from God and that he good news of Jesus can rescue them from pain.”  [2]

Reid makes many solid points, and one of the first that resonated loudly with me is that one of main reasons why Christians don’t share the hope of Jesus more often is because typically Christians surround themselves with other Christians…and spend life in a Christian bubble.  We need to be more intentional in our relationships – start real friendships that are based in love and naturally sharing Jesus.   He then goes on to outline several principles for being fruitful.

Principle 1: God created you for his glory, to advance his gospel with the gifts, talents, and opportunities he gave you. [11]  We need to be more intentional about owning the mission, not just feeling guilty about not participating in it. We need to back up the mission with credible lives, proclaiming the gospel in word and deed.

Principle 2: In order to share Jesus confidently and consistently with others, first share him confidently and consistently with yourself. [23]  We need to be biblical theologians. Not only do we need to know our Bibles, but we need to know the story of the Bible.  All the Bible points to Jesus, the center of the redemptive plan of a holy God who rescues a human race that rejected it’s Creator.  He writes “They need to see the story of Jesus is as big as the Bible itself, the story of Jesus is bigger than our times na dour individual lives, or even the spiritual aspect of our lives alone.” [25]  This is the grand metanarrative – the overarching ‘big story’ of the Bible – creation, fall, rescue, restoration.

Principle 3: Shifting from giving and evangelistic presentation to having an evangelistic conversation takes pressure off the witness and relates the gospel more clearly to an unbeliever.  [41] This is the weakness of the CKD model of the 80s where an awkward monologue was the tactic of choice.  Reid calls for more “gospel intelligence” and “gospel fluency” to introduce the gospel in everyday conversations.  He also calls for three vital things people can tell about us in a conversation:  (1) If we care about them, (2) If we believe what we are talking about, (3) If the hand of God is on our life. I also appreciated the realism in this book, for example the author writes “most times your conversations will not lead to a conversion, but will help nudge the person further along in their gospel understanding.”

Principle 4: God has sovereignly placed you in this world at this time with the abilities and gifts you have to bring glory to him and show the joy of the gospel to others. [56] This includes “starting with the why” – understanding why we are doing evangelism, even before the “how.”  [This is the great mistake of pragmatism.]  You were made to do this, he writes, with the personality, limitations, and circumstances of YOU!

Principle 5: Effective evangelistic conversations connect the unchanging gospel with the specific issues people face. [68] This is a realistic, non-programmatic approach – again in contrast to years gone by.  He gives five approaches to being a conversationalist in today’s different [social media[ world.  (1) The power of stories, (2) asking good questions, (3) genuine affirmation and encouragement – ie. not condemning a person for their sin, nor condoning it – affirm them as a person made in the image of God, (4) speak to the person’s mind and heart, and (5) connect beneath the surface.

Principle 6: Expect people to be open to the gospel, and learn to share Jesus where they live. [84] Quoting Bruce Ashford, Reid points out four areas which we are called to live out our faith: home, culture, workplace, and community.  [87] Reid reprints Thompson’s “Concentric Circles of Concern,”  and in so doing again points out the weakness in a programmatic, plastic evangelistic method – most of those “techniques” were geared towards “Person X’ – all well and good, but more realistically how about our family?  Our neighbors? Our co-workers? Those that God has sovereignly placed in our lives through relationships!  [see Principle 4!]

Principle 7: Talk to the actual person in front of you about the Jesus inside you; let them see and hear the change Jesus makes in you.  [99] The truth is “God uses people just like [us] to impact people just like those you know for his glory.” AMEN!  This principle included a helpful section on dealing with objections, in a gracious and accessible way.

Principle 8: Developing a lifestyle of sharing Jesus consistently flows out of a plan to share Jesus regularly. [112]  This speaks to living an intentional life.  This includes prayer [though covered more in Principle 5], but realistically understanding your giftedness, calling, and our passions.

I loved this book and highly recommend it, especially for those recovering from the effects of CKD.  It’s an easy, well-written, yet convicting and highly practical read – with all the theological grounding one would hope for.  Onward to the evangelistic revolution!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review – Anger and Stress Management God’s Way

So, my knee jerk reaction upon seeing this book was probably reflective of 99% of other Americans.  “Yes, please.”  We all battle our sinful emotions – probably the top offenders are stress and anger…and it’s cousins: fear, worry, and anxiety.  We all probably can relate a little too easilydownload. That’s why Dr. Wayne Mack has written “Anger and Stress Management God’s Way.” (P&R, 2017).   Being a proponent of biblical counseling, I’ve found Dr. Mack’s writing to be consistently helpful and challenging.  (Take “Strengthening Your Marriage” for example…)

Mack splits the book into the two subject areas – anger and stress.  To kick things off, Mack asks “Is it always a sin to be angry?” and then delves into the details.  Our anger is sinful when we become angry for the wrong reasons [13], when we allow it to control us [19], and when it becomes the dominant feature of our lives [21].  Our anger is sinful when it involves brooding or fretting [25], when we keep a running record of how we have been mistreated [27], when we pretend to not be angry, prolonging the problem with our unbiblical response [30], when we return evil with evil [34], or when we attack or hurt a substitute [37].

Getting convicted yet?  Yeah…me too.

Mack then teaches how to be good and angry.  First, we are commanded in Ephesians 4:26 to deal with our problems on a regular, daily basis. This takes courage and intentionality.  Likewise, we need  to have the self-discipline to realize that we actually can control and restrain the expression of our anger.  Third, we need to take time to examine the reasons for our anger.  Pointedly, he writes “the bottom line reason for much of our sinful anger is because we have an agenda and someone or something is standing in the way of our fulfilling that agenda.” [51] Fourth, we need to learn to harness the energy created by our anger.

Mack provides even more practical steps by giving us six questions that can make the difference.  (1) What is happening? (2) How am I interpreting it? (3) What am I wanting? (4) What am I being tempted to do? (5) What is the biblical, God-honoring thing to do? (6) Will I chose to obey God or self?  We all will get angry – and we all need to therefore have a plan to deal with it properly when it comes up.

The author then moves on to the topic of stress.  One that is very near and dear to my heart, as currently my church is moving into a new building.  (What, me worry?!) Where does stress come from?  Our limitations and deficiencies, other people and situations.  How do we typically respond?  Debilitating fear or anxiety, worry, bitterness, anger, resentment, depression, discouragement, envy and jealousy, annoyance, irritability, and impatience, and denial…just to name a few.

Are the consequences?  You betcha.  It affects our relationships.  It affects our spiritual growth – sin stalls sanctification!  It affects our spiritual usefulness- we can be very busy in the church, but have you ever stopped in the midst of the stress to ask if you are actually bearing any fruit?  Here, have a stinger from Dr. Mack – “If you don’t handle stress differently than believers do, don’t expect to make an impact for Christ.” [95] It also affects our jobs and education, and finally one that I have noticed a lot is the affect that stress has on our health.

Have we ever thought that we are sick because we are not responding biblically to stress?  Christians overall, we need to do a much better job of caring diligently for our bodies and that includes obeying what the Bible says about stress.  One doctor told him that at least 65% of the people he operated on wouldn’t need the operations he performed if they would only learn how to handle their stressors in a biblical way! [98]  Another physician friend was so convinced of this that he was tempted to abandon the medical field to do full time biblical counseling because he thought it would do more good!  [98]  Aptly quoting Smith, “The real problem is not your counselee’s problems, but their response to those problems.” [100]

Dr. Mack then gives us a two part way of escape and biblically dealing with stress.  How can we properly overcome?  He gives us a few factors – first we must deliberately choose to see everything that happens to us within the framework of the sovereignty of God – see Ephesians 1:11.  [Oh…yes, I said the S word…] Second, we must also deliberately chose to give God thanks in the mist of everything and for everything. [1 Thes 5:18; Eph 5:20].  Third, we should seek to discover God’s purpose for each stressful situation – realizing that it may not be immediately clear to us. This calls for more biblical research – the answers to God’s will are in God’s word.  He provides some helpful examples from Scripture on the biblical principles at work here. One of the main reasons, that we love to discount…is that God uses the trials we encounter to help us identify pockets of immaturity and our areas of incompleteness. After we see them, we confess (acknowledge), seek God’s help, commit to discipline, and develop a plan for making that godliness more of a reality in our lives!

Fourth, we must seek to discover what God wants you to do in the midst of the stressful situation – again he gives us the answers in His word!  How can we glorify God in the midst of stress?  We CAN!  Fifth, we must avoid unnecessarily putting ourselves in stressful situations! Some people have a drama magnet…why?

Last, we need to look at ourselves in light of our great God.  Mack points out that “sometimes we become annoyed, angry, and resentful because we think that some right of ours is being denied.”   God has shown us incredible mercy and grace by providing us forgiveness, restoration and healing in Jesus.  Our calling is to “fulfill your Biblical responsibilities and leave your ‘rights’ to God.” [136]  Amen!

 

 

 

Book Review – The Curious Christian

Barnabas Piper is a curious dude.  I’ve recently become more acquainted with him via the Happy Rant podcast he co-hosts.  He has a position on just about everything.  Which, occasionally is irritating, but most of the time it makes me realize that he knows a lot of stuff.  People know a lot of stuff because they learn stuff.  They read, they research, they investigate. They ask questions.  They are curious.  Let’s face it.  I’d like to know more stuff, especially as it relates to maturing as a Christian.

Enter The Curious Christian515d3fl4iNL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_.  (Lifeway/B&H 2017)  This was my first foray into “Son of John Piper’s” writing, having read boatloads of Papa Piper.  Definitely different writing style, definitely has a bit of an opinionated edge to it, definitely not a theology book – but overall, very readable and very challenging.

When first digging into the book, I thought the thesis might be a bit of a stretch, but quickly realized that it was very applicable and accessible. Piper diligently gathers many quotes from well known people pointing to the value of curiosity.

By curiosity, he means the quest for more – more knowledge, more depth, more understanding.  We should do this by digging, asking questions, seeking answers.  The opposite of curiosity is “uncuriosity” and Piper asserts that Christians can fall into this trap and “miss the wonders God has for us” – we settle for “flannel graph depictions of God instead of relentlessly and eagerly seeking to know Him.”  This struck a chord with me, and I’m sure with many others. [Plus, anytime you mock the flannel graph, it’s bonus points in my book.] It is far too easy to become stale and stagnant.  God calls us to grow and mature [Ephesians 4:15] in our knowledge of Him, in our growth in maturity as a believer, and in our love for one another. [Phil 1:9].  If we are lazy, content with where we are, “uncurious” – we will not be living in line with God’s word.

Piper points out that children are naturally curious, but “somewhere in the midst of aging and “maturing,” nurture defeated nature, locked it in the dungeon of history, and left it to die It started in junior high school when we realized being a bright-eyed question asker wasn’t cool…”  Ain’t that the truth.  I remember the kids who asked the most questions in class were mocked, but usually they were some of the brightest academically. (I mean…that’s not as important as being cool…right?!)  Later in life,  when I was deep in the heart of the corporate world I noticed something else along those lines.  The “Big Dogs” – the executive brass – always asked questions.  Constantly.  Why do we do it that way?  What does that mean? Why not? So what?  Countless project status presentations made me anticipate their questions.  Piper’s point is one that I have witnessed myself – smart people are smart because they ask a ton of  questions…because they are curious.

So when talking about the most important thing – the gospel of Jesus Christ and our growth in that – why would Christians not be the most curious people on the planet?  Piper points out that curiosity seeks answers – truth.  God’s word is the ultimate truth. [John 17:17] Shouldn’t Christians then be more curious?  Um….Yes.

So why not?  Piper nails this with ouch-like conviction.  “Most things don’t cross most peoples minds or spark a question. Most people’s minds are stupefied by comfort and overwhelmed by business. The structure and pace of life leaves little room or motivation for asking questions or noticing anything new.”  I told you.  #Ouch.  Once again – our American prosperity and comfort is a blessing and a curse.

Christians are called to swim against this tide.  To not be lulled to sleep by the comforts of our culture.  To set our minds on the things above, [Col 3:2] to be striving with all of His strength as He powerfully works in us. [Col 1:28].  “Curiosity enlarges God in our minds…without the desire to see and understand and experience – without curiosity – we are content with a God-loves-me-so-I’m-all-good ‘relationship.’ That is barely a relationship at all.”

The implications that flow from this are many.  God is infinite in wisdom and knowledge – we should be seeking Him in His word daily, in prayer, in community with the church.  But we should be pressing the boundaries of our comfort zones for his glory.  Talking to your neighbors or people (strangers?) in line at the checkout (seriously?); digging deeper in our relationships that the usual “How are you doing?”  “Good, you know…staying out of trouble. Keeping busy”  smalltalk.  Even boldly stepping out in things like leading Bible studies, leading our families, fostering children, biblically counseling others, planting churches.  None of this happens without a curiosity for God and to see His glory made known.  (This is starting to sound more like Papa Piper after all…)

Piper is grounded in keeping God central in the quest for curiosity.  I appreciated this, and honestly I was concerned going in to this book that there would be no anchoring in the centrality of God in the thesis.  I was happy to see him include continual references to the fact that it is not curiosity for curiosity sake.

The author leads the reader into a practical application section in the 2nd half of the book.  Pushing on spiritually content and asking “So what?” and seeking to put the knowledge to use.  Piper calls us to take “advantage of every movie, every conversation, every book every everything to see how it might be something worth curating to connect people to the truth that saves.”  AMEN!  I’m a child of the 80’s where “everything in the world is bad and we must flee it!”  was the prevailing attitude. Nonsense.  All that did was raise a generation of Pharisees who didn’t know why we believed what we believed because were never were exposed to questions that tested it.  [I’m really not bitter anymore.]    This is not a license to sin [Romans 6:1…], but rather the call to engage curiously in this world and develop a biblical filter to which all things pass thru as we sift them – why?  To connect people to the truth that saves.

Piper develops this and it is appreciated.  Good parenting is hard, it’s scary – but we must let our kids learn and grow.  The temptation is to just say “no” but good parents don’t just say no – they teach their kids to ask questions.  “Why do you want to do this?”  “What are the implications?”  “How will this cause you go grow?” “What is biblically true about this and what isn’t?”  These are curiosity fueled growth questions, not legalistic management.

Again, he goes deeper and probes that theme with questions like “How does this shape my life?”  “What is this taking from me?”  “What is it giving me?” “What worldview is this espousing?” “How do I know this is trustworthy?” “Do I see God’s world better because of this?”  His point is well taken – embracing curiosity deepens us spiritually and God uses this pursuit to make us more effective and fruitful.  [2 Peter 1:8cf]  Shutting the door to curiosity our of laziness, or fear of the world can stifle us.

We should foster a culture of God-honoring curiosity.  Piper nails this in my favorite quote of the book —  “Of course, if asking questions is forbidden, most people stop thinking altogether. They just muddle ahead in whatever theological or biblical framework they were handed until life drunkenly runs a red light and smashes into them crushing the framework and leaving them with nothing but questions.”  Will all become curious, either voluntarily or not.

Overall, he points us back to the main goal of a believer (Papa would be proud) – glorifying God.  Well, he doesn’t say it like that, but that’s what it is.  He writes “One thing determines whether something is out of bounds for a Christian’s curiosity: does it honor God?”   That is the main reason to be curious – to honor God by submitting to him, growing as a believer, finding those “gospel intersection points” with others and sharing the hope of Christ, learning more from his word, more effectively serving him in his church.

As children of the God who created all things and works all things for his glory, Christians should perhaps be the most curious people indeed!

 

Book Review – The Essential Trinity

Essential-Trinity-1

The Essential Trinity (P&R, North American Edition, 2017) is a collection of chapters by various contributors, edited by Brandon D. Crowe and Carl R. Trueman.

This book is definitely on the theologically academic side of the spectrum and that is appropriate given the nature of the subject matter.  The trinity needs to be explored at a good depth – our God is unmatched in his depth and complexity.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33 ESV)

This book is very solid and thoroughly researched, while not being too deep so as to make for tough sledding.   It’s divided up into two parts – (1) New Testament Foundations – which essentially is a trinity-centric commentary of the NT books and (2) Practical Relevance – which, as titled, provides practical application of the doctrine of the trinity for personal and church contexts.

In Part 1, the various contributors diligently mine the Scriptures to shed light on their overall trinitarian structure.  As a pastor preaching through the gospel of John at the moment, I perhaps most enjoyed the chapter from Bauckman – “The Trinity and the Gospel of John,” though he does get a bit bogged down in the eternal existence of the Son nuances.  As Bauckman writes “The Gospel of John has played a hugely important role in the formation of classical Christian doctrine and in continued reflection on the Trinity” [91], and he solidly expounds that for us.

As one would expect, the letters of Paul are highlighted “alongside the Gospel of John as containing the richest vein of trinitarian theology in the New Testament.” [118] I appreciate the depth in which Brian Rosner wove together the trinitarian construct from various Pauline writings, with a particular focus on salvation.  Highlighting the perfect harmony of our three in one God and each role in salvation he writes “salvation is the narrative of the saving Trinity’s acting on behalf of human beings.” [122] I found myself welling up in worship and gratitude (with a healthy bit of awe) as “nothing magnifies the grace like appreciating the triune God’s work in salvation. And nothing gives believers more confidence that they are known and loved by God than pointing out the collaborative activity of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, and God’s Spirit.” [125]  AMEN!

The book has an appropriate balance of theological practicality in Part 1, touching on how the trinity impacts good works and conformity to Christ, and upholding the divinity of Christ and substitutionary atonement. As “some have argued (Gungor anyone?) that the Father’s sending of the Son to die amounts to an abusive, tyrannical act. However this misguided view severely misunderstands the trinitarian works of God.” [168]

Part 2 is really where the book powerfully shines in it’s application of the doctrine of the Trinity.  “Not only does the doctrine of the Trinity identify God; it also illumines all of God’d works, enabling us to perceive more clearly the wonders of the Father’s purpose in creation , of Christ’s incarnation and of the Spirt’s indwelling.” [213] This impacts prayer, revelation, worship, and preaching and each are thoroughly addressed in their own chapters in Part 2.

What we believe about God affects our prayer life – “a healthy, vibrant prayer life depends to a large extent upon a good understanding of trinitarian doctrine.” [228]  I was more than slightly convicted to remain diligent in promoting a robust understanding of the trinity from the pulpit, as was written – “not as an abstract truth, but as something with obvious, vital, practical significance.”  [239]

Our three-in-one God speaks to us, through His word and as he reveals himself to us – as “the goal of revelation is not just knowledge about God, but the knowledge of God” [257] and the “centerpiece of God’s revelation is the gospel.” [262]  We see the roles of the Trinity front and center as God the Father plans the redemption, God the Son fulfills the plan, and God the Spirit impresses the truths of the gospel on human hearts. [“Initiated by the Father, accomplished by the Son, and applied by the Holy Spirit – 270]

The basis of church worship must be an accurate knowledge of who God is and what he has done, according to His Word. Letham reviews key passages relating the doctrine of the Trinity and worship.  [Eph 2:18; John 4:23-24]  “Since Christian worship is determined, initiated and shaped by, and directed to, the holy Trinity, we worship the three with one undivided act of adoration.” [274]  There was an air of opposition to an “anti-liturgical movement” in this chapter, which came off as having an axe to grind, but the points of intentionality in Trinitarian worship were well taken.  However, getting real practical, a properly informed Trinitarian worship perspective should affect the way we treat people – specifically, it should unite, not divide.

Finally, the chapter on the Trinity and Preaching was the one that I found the most helpful.  It encouraged me in the importance of proclaiming God’s word where our three-in-one God actually speaks to us. “Without God’s word we simply would not know God.” [292]  There seems to be a frustrating increase in preachers and authors claiming direct revelation from God, and this chapter clearly reinforces the power and uniqueness of God speaking through His Word. “The fact that God is triune, and always speaks in a trinitarian way, should inform both the content and the intent of Christian preaching.” [298]  As Reeves writes, “preaching should foster sincere worship” [307] and this book as a whole strikes a good balance between the academic and the inspirational.

 

 

Book Review – Married for God

51nwKRzG+wL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I know what you are thinking – it’s just like what my friend said when he saw my copy of the book “We need another book on marriage?”  I honestly thought the same thing, but it was Tim Challies who included Married for God on his “Favorites of 2016” list that caught my eye.  Because after all, if Challies thought this book was needed…that’s probably saying something.  Right from the beginning, this book didn’t move in the “customary” marriage book topic flow.  Sex is literally the first word, and carries an important undercurrent throughout the rest of the book.  The books focus is on the centrality of wanting what God wants, in our sexuality, but more to the related point – in our marriages.  We need to want what God wants, Ash writes, because he is not a god in our service, we are in His and we need to ask God what he wants and then line up our goals behind his, rather than expecting him to line up his goals behind ours. God has given us all we have and what God wants is actually in line with how things actually are, because he is the Creator and we are the creature. When we ask what God wants, we really are asking what is best for us. [16-17]

Pursuant to having a book that is based on what God wants, particularly in our sexuality, Ash starts with grace, because unless we start with grace we will end up either with despair or self-righteousness.  With that in mind, Ash boldly enters into gospel-fused discussions of the brokenness of sexual sin and how that profoundly affects marriage  – because the Bible speaks to men and women who are all spoiled in the area of sex. Even for those of us who think that we are pretty much in the clear, the gospel teaches us that we are not, when we are talking about the areas of sexual desires and things of the heart. [22-23]. Ash quickly brings in the powerful hope of the gospel, that there is forgiveness, but realistically even though there may not be sexual fulfillment in this life.  This then points to his empowering grace, which allows us to live lives of purity, based soundly on the hope of the gospel.

The author biblically traces the topics of gender, marriage, loneliness, and companionship – noting how we have reoriented these things to be self-serving and not God-serving. It is a serious mistake to think that marriage is made to meet my needs – for two reasons.  First, Genesis 2:18 needs to be rightly interpreted.  It’s not sex in the service of me, it’s sex in the service of God.  Second, simply – the rest of the Bible doesn’t support such a view.  God has bigger purposes in all things than just meeting our perceived needs.  AMEN!  A marriage is made to meet my needs mentality is wrong, self-focused, and destroys marriages.

Ash aptly pushes on the Western undercurrents of children being either curses or something to be idolized.  “We idolize education, caring more about their getting good grades and getting to into a good school than their faith and godliness.” [53]  He boldly (but sensitively) takes a minority position on having children in marriage which I found bold – that deliberately choosing to not have children is wrong.  This goes with this thesis of our lives being not for our own needs but for others, as any parent will attest to – this is inescapable in having children.

He then spends more time developing a convicting and biblical position on sexuality in marriage.  While Christians tend to focus on the epidemic of sexual activity within marriage, he calls us to focus on the epidemic of sexual inactivity within marriage. [67]  As a Pastor this rings true, I’m still saddened to see so many marriages that have a sexual relationship that has all but died, and it’s poison has spread to many other areas in the marriage.  All the while neglecting what is to be the supreme act of intimacy reserved for husband and wife, as other much lesser pursuits have taken priority.  He cautions from having too high a view of sex, nor too low a view.  A husband and wife’s delight in each other, should overflow into areas of service, usefulness and blessing to others.

This is also exemplified in the roles of husband in wife in the “shape” of marriage, in which Ash appropriately balances both the wife submitting to the husband, but also the husband loving his wife, as Christ loves the church.  He notes that Paul writes forty words to the wife about submission, but 115 words to the husbands about sacrificial love. [85] This again has everything to do with sex and making sure that all sexual energies are reserved exclusively for one’s spouse, as a primary way of honoring marriage in a culture that dishonors it.  I appreciated again his boldness and clarity on biblical sexuality and the multitude of implications within sexual sin.  Marriage after all is a covenant promise, and a promise is to be kept, whatever the cost – see Psalm 15:4. [111]

The author has a helpful chapter on singleness. Stressing again that the whole duty of every person on Earth is to love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength – married or single. The question then becomes how we are going to love and serve God. [120] Ash pushes on the ‘gift of singleness” stressing that whatever circumstances God has allowed are his gracious gift to me, and I am to learn to accept them from his hand as such. Just because we have been gifted with singleness or marriage, doesn’t mean he can’t change that status either. [126] One point that I found challenging was that neither status is an easy option.  There are unique challenges to each, and we need God’s grace and strength to fulfill God’s calling on us, particularly as sexual purity intersects life and the pursuit of holiness.

Ash closes with a chapter on the heart of marriage, as faithfulness, emphasizing that faithfulness in marriage comes from the faithfulness of God. This understanding is even cloudy in “Christian” marriage materials who instead can focus on feelings, instead of faithfulness. As God promises eternal faithfulness to us in Jesus, we are to life lives of faithful obedience to Him, whether we are married or single.

This is a highly recommended resource for all aspects of marriage!