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


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.



Be a Man…

lightstock_205409_jpg_user_1188538.jpg In a world where there has already been much confusion – gender confusion is unsurprising.  What does it mean to “be a man?”  There is no shortage of opinions.  What do we do when we need to know truth?  We go to the source of truth.  God’s word – the Bible is where God has revealed his truth to us.

We read in the opening chapter of the first book of the Bible that God creates humans “in his own image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.”  [Gen 1:27].  We know three things right off the bat – (1) God created humans, (2) He created them in his image, therefore every single human has dignity, value, and worth, and (3) He created male and female to be distinctly different.

So, this being true [God’s word…remember?] what does it mean to be a man?   Someone who is rough, gruff, physically intimidating, superior in sports, makes tons of cash, or has been with scores of women?  Are there any differences at all between men and women? I’m going to suggest that perhaps one hopefully helpful way of defining a man is “leader.”  All over Scripture we see men as leading – and let’s maybe look at 3 ways men are called to lead in particular:

  1. Sacrifice.  This has to be said first, because it is the attitude that undergirds the leadership.  Men should lead in service.  Selfless service.  Considering other’s needs above his own [Phil 2:3-4], in humility, [Eph 4:2] in love.  This includes helping others, honoring others, and being patient and gentle with others. Think of how Christ sacrificially served others! [Galatians 2:20, Romans 8:32]
  2. Sustenance.  Men should lead in providing for themselves [as in try not to be 28 and still living with your parents] or if they are married, providing for their wife and family.  God commanded Adam, before the Fall, to work the garden. [Gen 2:16] This means financial security, but also physically – taking care of the house, the cars, protecting, helping [see #1] in all aspects of housework, [not just “Man’s Work”] and taking care of themselves physically. Truth hurts –  so many men are just unhealthy and undisciplined!
  3. Spirituality.  Men should lead in knowing God, but this should be done in service too others and sustaining their own spiritual growth.   Husbands are called to love their wives in such a way that it makes her grow more mature as a believer. [Eph 5:25-27] Much is made of the wives’ submission to the husbands – but before that happens a husband must submit to Christ. We are also called to bring up their kids in fear and instruction of the Lord. [Eph 6:4].  Single dudes:  you need to be growing in Godliness long before a wife and kids to do this well when the time comes.

One summary “truth hurts” comment perhaps – men have largely punted on leading, or restricted it to one or two areas of their lives. [Leading in Fantasy Football is not what we are going for here…] As a result, we see the devastating results in marriages, families, and a glutton of young men drifting without direction or passion.  Being a man isn’t a secret trait, or something that you either “have it” or not.  I’d challenge us all to give serious consideration to what the Bible calls men to and ask God humbly to give us the grace to live it out!

PS:  Many thanks to the men that I had review this and add their thoughts!

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!

Book Review – Walking with God through Pain and Suffering

Tim Keller is oimgres-2.pngne of those particularly gifted and effective evangelical Christian thought leaders.  He continually serves the church with his writing, his church planting efforts, his work with the Gospel Coalition, and perhaps most importantly – his pastoring.

Indeed, it would be near impossible to write a credible book about walking through pain and suffering if (a) you hadn’t walked through it yourself and/or (b) you walked closely with others during their time of trials.   Suffering is a universal topic, and one that – short of Christ’s return – will never go away.   It effects us all deeply, profoundly, and personally and our theology of suffering will go a long way in preparing us for when it inevitably comes for us, or someone close to us.  Particularly for pastors – we need to know how to help those in suffering well.  Keller, in his brilliance, succeeds in writing a challenging, informative, honest, and helpful book that everyone should read.

This book is not for the faint of heart – not only for it’s subject matter (the classic “no one wants to learn about this until we absolutely have to…”) but it’s a long book and sometimes deep sledding, but well worth it.  So…let’s mush on…

Keller divides the book into three parts, and what he says unites them is the central image of suffering as a fiery furnace.  Part 1: Understanding the Furnace; Part 2: Facing the Furnace; Part 3: Walking with God in the Furnace. Fire, can destroy – but if used properly does not.  Things put into the furnace can be reshaped, refined, purified, and even beautified.   Going thru suffering well is not a matter of technique.  Suffering can refine us rather than destroy us because God himself walks with us in the fire. Ours is to orient ourselves towards God and this purpose in suffering, instead of away from him.

Keller sets a philosophical foundation by examining various cultures and how we as Americans have one of the worst and weakest views of pain and suffering of them all. the older Christian idea that we exist for God’s glory receded and was replaced by the belief that God exists to nurture and sustain us. [54] This is the weakness of modern secularism – if this world (and possibly the God who created it) is designed for our comfort then how can the undeniable reality of pain and suffering fit into that worldview. It can’t.

Even the professional mental, psychological, social, civlil, health experts are only there to not help us deal with the big questions (because they can’t) of “Why is suffering here? How do I deal with it?” their job is the alleviation of the pain by the removal of as many stressors as possible. [24] This is a major premise to understand and I was delighted to see Keller include it early on in the book.  Christianity comes out as the only worldview that answers the big questions of pain and suffering – and empowers it’s people to sit in the midst of this world’s sorrows, tasting the coming joy. [31]

At the end of each chapter is a story detailing, sometimes in quite painful detail, the sufferings encountered by “everyday” people.  These are powerful, emotional, life-applicational evidence of how a biblical worldview can give strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.

One of the things the I found most helpful in the book’s first part was how Keller pointed out that sorrow is not to be denied, but rather Christians do not see grief as a useless thing to be suppressed at all costs. Not all weeping proceed from unbelief or weakness. [44] Pain and suffering is hard – let it be so.  So many times we do so much damage by trying to cliche away the pain, or remove it as fast as possible – God is at work in the pain.  It hurts…but there is purpose in the pain.

Keller masterfully tackles the age old conundrum of the problem of evil, surveying several theodicies, but the teeth of the argument again goes back to our Western cultural perception of suffering – the problem of evil was not widely perceived to be an objection to God until modern times. [99]  To think that we would demand an explanation (that we couldn’t ever understand anyway) from the almighty sovereign God as to his defense for allowing pain and suffering is more than a little arrogant.  Quoting Anderson – he writes “To bring God under obligation to human morality is a threat to his sovereignty.” [277], and again “There is a rebuke for person who, by complaining about particular events in his life, implies that he could propose to God better ways of running the universe.”  Elisabeth Elliot furthers this point “God is God.  If He is God, He is worthy of my worship and my service. I will find rest nowhere but in His will, and that will is infinitely, unspeakably beyond my largest notions of what He is up to.” [287]

As Keller points out repeatedly – just because we cannot see a logical reason why pain and suffering are allowed, it doesn’t mean that God doesn’t have any.  [97]  A better question might be why in light of our human race, does God allow so much happiness? [115]

Evil, suffering and pain must therefore be looked at in light of God’s big story – Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration.  Without the hope of this eternal big picture,  one can easily spend the entirety of suffering in hopeless despair.  Christianity is future focused – Keller pushes on this truth by asking “Buy why could it not be that God allowed evil because it will bring us all to a far greater glory and joy than we would have had otherwise?” [117] One day, by his glorious grace, he will return and permanently “undo” the damage the evil has wreaked on the creation. [156]

A god (intentional lc ‘g’] who simply supports our plans, how we think the world and history should go is a god of our own creation, a counterfeit God. Powerfully quoting missionary Elisabeth Elliot after her husband was murdered “If God was merely my accomplice, he betrayed me. If on the other hand, He was my God, He had freed me.” [172] Am I serving the sovereign God of all creation or the god of my plans?

One of the greatest comforts we have as Christians is the truth that our God identifies and knows our suffering, because he himself suffered – exponentially more than we ever can.  He allowed himself, in the person of Jesus Christ, to be rejected, tortured, and executed – all the while having the crushing load of emotional and spiritual darkness placed upon him, in our place on the cross.

Because of Jesus, there is always hope, even in the darkest moments of your life. [251]

This has powerful application in real life and the realities of pain and suffering must be faced by all believers – particularly before suffering actually hits.  As Keller writes, “the stakes are high. Suffering will either leave you a much better person or a much worse person than you were before…trials will either make you or break you. But either way, you will not remain the same.” [190]

The truth is that God uses suffering in innumerable ways – to transform our attitude toward ourselves, to profoundly change our relationship to the good things in our live, and to strengthen our relationship to God as nothing else, it is also a prerequisite if we are going to be of much use to other people, especially when they go thru their own trials.  We have to be weary of getting trapped in our suffering mindset, getting accustomed to our pain as our identity – “Suffering can turn the soul into it’s accomplice…we become complicit with the affliction, comfortable with our discomfort, content with our discontentment. This complicity impedes all the efforts to improve…even going as far as to prevent someone from seeking a way of deliverance…sometimes even from wishing for deliverance.” [215] Think of the crippled man by the pool in John 5…

When helping others, we must be leery of real truths applied poorly.  Things expressed at the wrong time or in an unreasonable manner.  Talk to anyone who has suffered and they can give you a catalog of unhelpful things that anxious friends have said to them in an attempt to act as an interpreter and find something to say to make it all better.   Sufferers need to be able to weep and pour out their hearts, and not to immediately be shut down by being told what to do. Nor should we do that to ourselves if we are grieving. [245]

One such biblical truth is “rejoicing in suffering.”  This is much different though than rejoicing “for” suffering.  We need to learn to rejoice more in God and his love, but the evil was evil and would always be painful. [217] Likewise, we should be wary of trying to interpret, understand, and digest the whole trial at once.  God never promised to give you tomorrow’s grace today. He only promised today’s grace for today, and that’s all you need. (Matthew 6:34).  [218]

The final section of the book was extremely helpful – how do we walk thru pain and suffering?  Keller points out that the walking metaphor points to the idea of progress.  Again, us modern Western people view suffering as bad weather that we have to endure.  We cannot lose our footing and just let the suffering have it’s way with us.  We are to meet and move thru suffering without shock and surprise, without denial of our sorrow and weakness, without resentment or paralyzing fear, yet also without acquiescence or capitulation, without surrender or despair. [226]

As hard as it is, we must let the grief and sorrow drive you more into God.  Feel the grief – the joy of the Lord can happen within sorrow.  The weeping drives you into joy, it enhances joy, and then the joy enables you to actually feel your grief without it sinking you. In other words, you are finally emotionally healthy. [253]  This is a difficult concept for modern Western people, since we think our feelings as almost holy, sovereign things.

Quoting Lloyd-Jones, he makes this point “we are not to expect God will exempt Christians from suffering and inner darkness, nor that he will simply lift the darkness as soon as we pray. Rather than expecting God to remove the sorrow and replace it with happiness, we should look for a ‘glory’ – a taste and conviction and increasing sense of God’s presence – that helps us rise above the darkness.”  It is not an absence of feeling! [253-4]

This usually all boils down to trust.  Evelyn Underhill said “If God were small enough to be understood, he wouldn’t be big enough to be worshipped.”[255]

Continually citing scriptural examples, he points out Joseph – “The Joseph story tells us that very often God does not give us what we ask for.  Instead, he gives us what we would have asked for if we had known everything he knows.”[264]

Suffering should then drive us to God in prayer, John Newton said “If we are not getting much out of going to God in prayer, we will certainly get nothing out of staying away.”  All of this means that if we cannot feel God in our darkest and most dry times, he is still there.  Like Job, you must seek him, go to him. Pray even if you are dry.  Read the Scriptures even if you are in agony. Eventually, you will sense him again – the darkness won’t last forever. [288].

Keller gives practical instruction in how to find God’s peace in the midst of pain and suffering – thinking, thanking, and loving – per Philippians 4:6-9.

Think hard and long about the core doctrines of the Bible. Reckon these things. [Romans 8:18; Phil 4:7-8]  You will see Jesus coming to earth, suffering, dying, rising again – think primarily on the gospel.  If you are a Christian today and you have little or no peace it may be because you are not thinking. Peace comes from a disciplined thinking out of the implications of what you believe. [300] Phil 4:6 encourages us to be thankful, for everything he sends, even if we don’t understand it.  Phil 4:8 challenges us to love differently – to love not indiscriminately, but to love the right things.   The final way to get the calm, the tranquility, the peace is to love him supremely.

This comes down to the heart – you will never understand your heart when things are going well.  It is only when things go badly that you can see it truly. [308]








Book Review -No Little Women

Author, blogger, speaker, and podcaster Aimee Byrd has boldly written a very helpful book for the church in No Little Women.  I’ll put my cards on the table early here – I loved this book and I think every Pastor, Elder, and Women’s Ministry Leader should read it immediately.  It is clear, brave, biblical, sometimes funny, and extremely timely with the current publishing and media landscape of watered down women’s ministry books, Shack-like movies, and increasing misunderstandings of women’s roles in the church.  She states that she would like to “open up the doors of biblical womanhood and let the sunshine of theology for every woman shine through.”  Byrd accomplishes this extremely well.  [Disclaimer:  I’m pretty passionate about the issues in this book and I agree with where the author is coming from, so consider yourself warned.]


Byrd immediately identifies the well-founded need for theological clarity in women’s ministry and the usual weak and sometimes outright false doctrine that is contained within it’s books.  Byrd boldly comes out against a “Christian” publishing industry that knows all too well that women are a big revenue stream, and one that can put operating income at a higher priority than correct biblical teaching.   I echo a hearty AMEN to this and thank Aimee for being so candid.

She writes, “many books marketed to women that appear to be godly, while a closer look reveals that they are not in accord with Scripture.”   Pastors, Elders: we need to hear this – the responsibility for what people are being taught in our church falls squarely in our court. (Titus 1:9) Byrd is correct in pleading “please do not let your women be susceptible targets. This is a pastoral issue.”  We also have a responsibility to train and equip our people to know biblical doctrine and be able to spot false teaching. (2 Tim 2:23-26) Frankly, we can do better.  I know I can.   The women and families in our church are far too important.

Women, as all new creations in Christ, need to be good theologians and the church needs to clearly understand the true biblical roles which they are called to.   “[Women] are being transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. So there should be no little women.”  I greatly appreciated how Byrd explored the issue of gender roles in the church. While holding to an orthodox complementarian view, she pushes against an over-realized view of it that, I agree, most likely goes beyond the boundaries of Scripture’s intent and can pigeon hole men and women into a mere “men can do this, and women can do that” mindset.  “Women should thrive alongside the men as they are serve according to their giftedness and the needs of the church.”  While I support what I believe to be the biblical view of male leadership in the church (Pastors and Elders), I do believe we can, and have, stifled women’s ministerial growth by regulating them to roles solely within women and children’s ministries.  There is more than this – I have much to learn from the Godly women of our church.   There is more of a need, gifts need to be used, but biblically.  This is what has contributed to the explosion of parachurch women’s ministries and the gangrenous spread of weak or false teaching contained therein.

Two additional perspectives added to the book’s significant helpfulness for me.  First, this is not a book written just for women, but rather Byrd consistently and powerfully speaks to the Pastors and Elders of churches.  The author provides practical biblical insight that challenges us as leaders of the church.  She also provides an entire chapter at the end of the book about preaching to the women’s perspective, while supporting a sound exegetical and expositional pulpit.

Second, Byrd boldly identifies false teaching by some of the most beloved female authors and ministry leaders…by name and writing excerpts.  I especially appreciated her tone in this – one that wasn’t mean spirited or malicious, but thoroughly biblical – while all the while not hiding the serious damage done to theological underpinnings of many women.  I have seen this first hand, and am thankful that Aimee was so bold in doing this.  The need to clarity in biblical teaching will only grow in the future.

Thank you, Aimee Byrd, for skillfully and passionately articulating the many nuances on this important topic that, until now, have not had a loud voice in reformed biblical circles.