A Salve for My Soul

I posted a while back how excited I was for a new book coming out by Barnabas Piper simply titled “The Pastor’s Kid.” You can read some of what the book is about in Ed Stetzer’s interview with Barnabas here. I read the entire thing the day I got it and have already loaned out the 2 copies I had. So my incredibly short review about it is that I needed it.

Barnabas grew up not too far away from where I grew up and I even attended the church he grew up in after I graduated from college. While I’ve never had the privilege of meeting Barnabas I have met his little sister and parents and have benefited greatly from his father’s ministry. This book did an incredible job of revealing the temptations, weaknesses and issues inherent in growing up as a pastor’s kid. It brought some of my own sin issues to light and caused me to reflect on why I have ended up the way I have.

If you are a PK I would highly encourage reading this book, and if you are a P I would even more highly encourage that you read this book. It’s helpful for working through how to grow up in the spotlight and ways that PK’s are prone to sin that many other children aren’t. It can become so easy to hide behind Bible trivia instead of actually having a heart change. I’m grateful that God has continued to pursue me despite my lack of pursuing him, and despite my choices he still lavishly pours out his love to me.

Dealing with the “Gray Matters”

I was first introduced to Brett McCracken during my time at Taylor University when he came to speak about his first book “Hipster Christianity.” My time in college was right in the middle of the emergence of the “cool Christianity” taking off where many my age were dealing with the issues raise by the Emergent Church and doing our best to reconcile these new issues with our generally conservative Evangelical upbringing. I quickly found myself spending time with those of the more reformed persuasion popularized by Collin Hansen’s “Young, Restless and Reformed.” Along with our questions of faith came the questions of the legalistic upbringing we experienced including, but not limited to: no drinking, no dancing, no smoking, no R rated movies (unless it’s about Jesus), no swearing and no cards. (Ok, the no cards rule was my grandma’s when my dad and I took them out to play some Rook). As my friends and I grew during college we were also expected to sign an agreement saying we would continue to uphold these things during our time in college (Taylor recently lifted their ban on dancing, but I was already gone). 4 years after I heard Brett speak, I finally got around to reading his newer book “Grey Matters.” In it, Brett wrestles with 4 areas that have been divisive among Christians for many years: food, movies, music and alcohol, the latter being the most divisive in recent years (see John McArthur’s letter to the Young, Restless and Reformed).

Throughout the book Brett doesn’t shy away from recognizing that these areas can be divisive for people and does a fantastic job of acknowledging problems on both sides of these issues. The most surprising one for me was the section on food. How many of spend any time thinking about what we’re eating and why? Or why some foods taste so good and others don’t (those that don’t seem to always be the healthy ones. What’s the deal with that!?). Yet through all 4 of these areas discussed, they offer opportunities for us to worship God as we’re commanded to do in 1 Corinthians 10:31.

One of the keys that emerged from the book for me was how community changes all these areas. I really enjoy cooking-thinking through the spices and different ingredients can be combined together to form something that doesn’t taste anything like the separate ingredients on their own. And even better: pairing said meal with a good wine or beer. Yet when I cook a big meal and sit down to eat by myself, it’s never as enjoyable. I generally try to invite someone or someone’s over to enjoy it with me. There’s something even better about eating within the context of a community. And this is true of the other areas discussed as well.

All of us have a favorite band that we could listen to on repeat all day (or bands). How many people have you told about your favorite bands by giving them a CD or having them listen with you? And the same thing is said about movies. They’re so much more enjoyable when you can discuss the movie with someone later. And finally, the four letter word in some Christian circles: alcohol. Being able to discuss the different flavors accented by a beer or wine is a very enjoyable community experience that allows us to learn from each other (as long as everyone is legally able to partake, if you’re in the US and under the age of 21, this shouldn’t take place).

So I’m grateful that I finally took the time to read this book, it’s very helpful in thinking through a number of the ramifications that come from dealing with these gray areas in life, and all of them can either help or hinder our worship of God. How do you think you can use gray areas as an opportunity to worship God within the context of community?

Are You Boring?

For much of my life I’ve tried very hard to be someone who is interesting and will stick out in a crowd. This is generally easy for me because of my outgoing and extroverted nature. In fact, most people I’ve met wouldn’t describe themselves as boring people. After I turned 25, I realized I’m not nearly as exciting as I try to make myself seem. In fact, I might even be considered boring. I get up around the same time every day, do the same things during the day, and then go to the same church every Sunday to meet with and encourage those around me. This week I read the book ‘Boring: Finding an Extraordinary God in an Ordinary Life‘ after seeing it recommended on Tim Challies’ website a while ago, it had been on my list for a while.

Starting with Shane Claiborne, there has seemed to be a resurgence in living a “radical” or “sold-out” life to Christ. And generally this means that the way Americans live is bad and living on 10% of what we make should be the mark of a REAL Christian. Yet what about those who don’t make six-figure salaries, but are faithful in the jobs they’ve been giving? Those that lead their families faithfully, help serve in their church body and commune with God regularly? Is there room for a person like that in Christianity? I sure hope so, because that is essentially my life. In the introduction to the book, Michael says, “Chasing dreams isn’t the problem. Neither is maximizing what you have to make a difference in the world for the sake of Christ. The problem is in our definition of significance.” Throughout the rest of the book he does a wonderful job showing how the gospel affects our entire lives and purpose as we live out our boring lives to the praise and glory of God.

The first few chapters lay the groundwork for the specifics of following Christ in a boring life. First the story of Saul, who was called to be king when he was looking for donkeys. Is there anything more dull or boring than looking for donkeys? Yet God met him while he was looking for his families’ lost donkeys and used it as an opportunity to grab hold of Saul’s life and redirect his path. The problem is not many of us view or ordinary lives in view of God’s continual grace and guidance of our lives. We see ourselves as ordinary people, yet through Christ’s work in our lives we are anything but ordinary. Michael argues that the key to this is finding our contentment in Christ. He argues, “True contentment isn’t about settling for less. It’s about seeing the true value of what we already do have in Christ.”

This contentment and peace that comes from trusting that God is working in the ordinary means leads to a thankful and repentant heart trusting that God is using us for his glory. This includes regular times in God’s word, relationships with those around us, our spouse, our kids, our finances, our jobs, and our Sunday morning gatherings. All of these areas are things we see as ordinary parts of our lives, but because they have been infused by an extraordinary God, they are no longer ordinary. We are to continue to follow Christ in our daily monotonous lives. That is a truly extraordinary life. A life that is “radical” and “sold out” to Christ.

I would whole heartedly recommend this book to you. It removes the pressures of performance in our modern culture and allows you to rest in the grace and truth of what Christ has done for us. It views life through the lens of the gospel and demonstrates how to glorify God in the moments we consider boring and routine.

Book I’m Most Looking Forward to This Summer

In the midst of my life I often look back at how God has brought me through many experiences and difficulties to the point I am today. For those of you who don’t know, I’m a PK (pastor’s kid) who has now become a P (pastor), hopefully someday having my own PKs. Growing up as a PK can be incredibly difficult. It doesn’t often feel like you can have your own identity outside of the church or your parents (particularly your pastor father). And I had the double hit of always being told I look and sound like my dad. I’ve even been told today that my laugh sounds exactly like my dad’s. Even at school I was immediately identified as “the Jesus freak.” I look back on my times and thankfully didn’t feel a ton of pressure from people inside the church, but at the same time it’s always there. I remember at one point in the midst of a season of huge rebellion against God and my dad stumbling across the phrase in 1 Timothy 3 “He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive,” and realized that my dad’s job had the potential to be lost because of me. That’s a lot of responsibility for a 17 year old to manage! Were my parents at fault because of the choices I’d made? Not completely, it was my own sin that I take full credit for, but it still reflected poorly on my parents.

As I’ve transitioned from life as a PK to life as a P there have been some things I’ve had to work through with my dad, and there were some very difficult years of transition as we both had to figure out how to relate to each other, as father and son, as brothers in Christ, and now as co-laborers in the same denomination. When I was looking for jobs in ministry after college the one denomination I didn’t want to be in was the EFCA, because everyone in that denomination knows my dad. God has a funny way of answering our prayer requests, because I ended up in an EFCA church.

This leads me to a book coming out in July by Barnabas Piper (yes, John Piper’s son) who also grew up as a PK titled ‘The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity.‘ I’m very excited to read this and see some of what Barnabas has to say about growing up as a PK, and not just a PK, but the PK of a very well known P. This isn’t an issue that’s easy for everyone to deal with, and it doesn’t necessarily come naturally for PKs to struggle with their faith and who they are in Christ. I hope and pray that I can help my kids someday work through their faith in a Christ honoring way.

I’ll be posting a review about the book as soon as I can get my hands on it, but until then, will enjoy the discussions that take place between Barnabas and Stephen Altrogge.

Finding God in the Dark

I first heard of Ted Kluck when I was in college and was trying to figure out where my theology was and how it fit within the framework of my friends, many of whom were big fans of Rob Bell. Ted was the co-author of the book ‘Why We’re Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be‘ that was incredibly helpful for me as I processed what the Bible said and how I should live that out. He later came and spoke at my college and I discovered he lived on the same wing as my Hall Director. My world since that time has only gotten smaller.

This leads us to today, where earlier this week I got and read a new book which Ted Kluck co-authored with Ronnie Martin (you may know him better from his days as the band Joy Electric) titled ‘Finding God in the Dark‘ that I wish would’ve been around for me to read in college. The book deals with the personal stories of both Ronnie and Ted as they both faced difficult personal situations and began questioning God’s care for them in the midst of tragedy. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve questioned the goodness of God in my life when I’ve faced difficult circumstances. Ronnie’s intro to the book says, “For many of us, doubt and unbelief can be subtle poisons that gradually inoculate us over time from seeing the evidence of God’s grace working steadily in our families, jobs, relationships, and futures.”

The book is primarily just both authors telling the difficulties they had and the process they went through to find God at the end of the journey, and the hope they have that He will continue to provide for them. It is a good reminder for us as we seek God’s will in our lives. I enjoyed hearing perspectives of those who are a little older than me and have wrestled with some of the same questions I’ve wrestled with.

The book is helpful for reading if you’ve ever had times of personal doubt or struggle. It’s a good reminder of David’s thought in Psalm 23, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” How can we trust God when we are walking through the valley of the shadow of death? This book is a good reminder that He is faithful, and always will be. This book is a very quick read and worth the time that it takes to wrestle with God’s faithfulness.

It all stems from a fundamental disbelief that God is as good as He says He is. We can affirm it in our minds and say it with our mouths, but until it penetrates our hearts it will never transform our lives.

-Ronnie Martin

 

Worship Matters Study Guide

A year and a half ago I began a study with the music team I lead through Bob Kauflin’s book Worship Matters. Since that time, that has been consistently one of my most viewed blogs and the most googled phrase taken to my blog. So today I finally got around to compiling the entire study guide I did and putting it into an electronic format. I’ve got it in 2 different formats, a pdf or, for my fellow apple loving friends, as an iBook. Feel free to use them for your churches and let me know if there’s ways I could make this resource better. Thanks for checking it out!

Is Jesus Greater Than Religion?

A couple years ago Jeff Bethke broke on the scene with his viral YouTube video ‘Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus‘ which has since racked up over 26 million views. This led to him being a pretty hot commodity in the Christian community and has given him quite the opportunity to share the Gospel. One of the ways he has worked the spread the Gospel is through the book “Jesus > Religion” which came out last month.

In an open, real and gritty look at his life, Jeff shares  his struggles with God, but also how God has continued to reveal himself to Jeff throughout his difficult life, and with chapter titles like ‘Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?” I found myself chuckling but also very much relating to the themes Jeff addresses. When the video first came out there was a bit of discussion from within The Gospel Coalition circle on if Jesus really does hate religion. So aside from that, I really enjoyed the book. (But when Lecrae writes the intro to the book, it’s hard to not look forward to it)

One of the toughest chapters for me to read was the 4 chapter, “Religion Makes Enemies/Jesus Makes Friends.” This chapter deals with divisions in the church which is one of the issues that I face on a regular basis. The main issue he addresses is homosexuality. Only he doesn’t address it from a hypothetical perspective, but from a personal perspective. His mom was openly gay, and he struggled with how he should interact with her as a Christian.

In this chapter was one of the most profound statements in the book. Jeff says,

Last time I checked, I was my own worst enemy. No one has caused me more grief, pain, or heartache than I have. The Bible rarely tells me to fight against someone who doesn’t believe what I believe, but it frequently tells me to fight against my sin and the disease that’s drawing my away from Jesus.

The whole book is definitely worth reading, and one I would recommend for church small groups/missional communities. At the end of each chapter is some questions to work through the material in a practical way. This makes applying the book a very simple process. I’d keep it on your shelf and loan out on a regular basis.

I’d also check out Tim Challies’ review of this book.

Are You Crazy Busy?

I got and read Kevin Deyoung’s new book yesterday, Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book About A (Really) Big Problem which has since then dropped in price to $7.99. This is a very quick read, which is really helpful when I’m so busy!

The book is broken up into 3 main parts: the problem plaguing many in the Western world today (being too busy), followed by 7 plagues of busyness, and finally, a “what now?” conclusion chapter. The introduction set the stage for this current dilemma with some very helpful questions (like “Do you check work e-mails and phone messages at home?”) as well as some statistics that I had often pondered but never had concrete answers to (like the fact that our annual hours have increased from 1,716 in 1967 to 1,878 in 2000, which is an extra hour every day compared to the British, and 2 more hours a day than the Germans and Italians).

The meat of the book are 7 diagnoses Kevin suggests we need to use to self-evaluate. The most impactful for me were chapters 5 – ‘You Can’t Serve Others without Setting Priorities’ and 7 – ‘You Are Letting the Screen Strangle Your Soul.’ I far too often just say yes to everything that comes my way, and while this can be for very good things, is it always the best use of my time? Absolutely not! Kevin says, “Efficiency is not the goal. But if Jesus is any example, God does expect us to say no to a whole lot of good things so that we can be freed up to say yes to the most important thing he has for us.” I know for many people in my generation (early 30s even in to high school) the threat of technology invading our lives is a constant struggle. Even during youth group I see a majority of the students on their cell phones (always in their Bibles, right?). I just this week turned all the notifications off on my cell phone which has honestly been such a burden lifted off me (I’m planning to blog on that later).

The final chapter, while very good, seemed to be adding just one more mandate onto an already busy life – the need for prayer and devotions. While I agree this is something that needs to be the utmost priority in our lives, I don’t think it should be because we need to, but because we want to spend the precious time in communion with our God.

While this is a very good book about the busyness of our current lives, it felt a bit unfinished to me. As Kevin admits in the beginning of the book, “I’m writing this not because I know more than others but because I want to know more than I do.” David Murray has written a very good addendum to this book with some practical steps people can implement in their own lives in order to get rid of some of the busyness in their own lives.

“A man may preach from false motives. A man may write books, and make fine speeches, and seem diligent in good works, and yet be a Judas Iscariot. But a man seldom goes into his closet, and pours out his soul before God in secret, unless he is serious.”

-J.C. Ryle ‘A Call to Prayer

Rhythms of Grace – A Review

My dad suggested that I read a new book by Mike Cosper titled ‘Rhythms of Grace: How the Church’s Worship Tells the Story of the Gospel.’ My basic summary of it is that I loved it! The book starts off with a theology of music throughout the Bible. Mike starts off by saying, “The story of worship (like the story of the gospel) is all about God.” Mike traces worship from creation in the garden of Eden through Israel in the wilderness to Jesus.

Mike then goes on to explain the premise of his book, something he calls “Worship One, Two Three” That is: “one object and author, two contexts, and three audiences.” Obviously, the one object is God, the two contexts are scattered and gathered. “Worship scattered is the Spirit-filled life of the Christian in the world, and worship gathered is the meeting of God’s people to remember, encourage and bless each other. And finally, there are three audiences: God, the church and the world.

One of my favorite chapters was chapter 6, ‘Worship as Spiritual Formation.’ I have tried to emphasize this through my ministry, all worship, even singing, is spiritual formation. In this chapter Mike writes “Whoever dubbed the debate over musical style a “worship war” failed to realize that worship is always a war. The declaration that there is one God, that his name is Jesus, and that he has died, has risen and will come again is an all-out assault on the saviors extended at every level of culture around us.” We are always at war with our flesh as we attempt to submit ourselves to the will of God in our lives. This even ties in to music as we won’t always sing songs that every person in the congregation enjoys, but the two main points of our Sunday morning singing are to encourage one another and to give praise to the only God who is worthy of that praise. Mike goes on in chapter 9 titled, “Sing, Sing Sing,” to talk about some of the issues that we deal with in music. He says a couple things that get to the very heart of the matter. “We love what we love, and we think everyone who disagrees with us is ignorant.” This is so true, and something I feel when driving every day. If someone drives faster than me I assume they’re a maniac, and if they drive slower than me I assume they’re a grandpa. But then he goes on to say, “Today, when many worship services are reduced to preaching and music, it becomes very easy to equate music with worship-and that’s a dangerous slope to park your car on. If music is worship, then when you mess with someone’s musical preferences, you threaten their acces to God. No wonder the debates become so heated.” Finally, Mike says, “Worship is a broader thing than music, and music’s purpose in the church is bigger than my personal experience. It’s not merely my song, but our song. We sing together, uniting our voices and our words.” Amen!

I really appreciate Mike’s approach throughout the book as he continually brings the reader back to Scripture and to the history of the church. So often people live with, as C.S. Lewis called it, “chronological snobbery” where we think we know better than any other generation before us. It’s helpful to have a historical perspective in our theology in regard to our whole worship service. And his use of Scripture clearly permeates his whole being as everything comes back to the Word. I would encourage anyone in the church, both pastors and lay people who want to know how they can better use music in their church and worship of God.

Gay Is an Adjective – Review of Washed and Waiting

Gay is an Adjective – My Review of Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality

Adjective: a word or phrase naming an attribute, added to or grammatically related to a noun to modify or describe it.

Noun: a word (other than a pronoun) used to identify any class of people, places or things (common noun).

Many people use nouns to identify themselves, for example, I regularly tell people, “I am Norwegian.” Today, many people define themselves by their sexuality. This leads to many people saying, “I am gay.” I just finished reading Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill who says Christians need to begin switching the use of that word to an adjective, so he describes himself as a “celibate, gay Christian.” Christian is the noun and the other two words are adjectives. He has, through many trials, learned to place his whole identity in Christ, making Him the head of his life, as he battles his homosexual attraction.

This is a much needed book in our culture today. Is there room in the church for people who struggle with same sex attraction, yet are willing to call it a sin and trust Christ in their struggle against this sin? I hope that churches are able to see this book as a wake up call to reach out to those who are broken by sin, as the church is supposed to do. And if you look at Scripture, that’s all of us.

Wesley does a fantastic job of bringing us along with him in his journey through life and relentless pursuit of Christ. There were a couple occasions that the book brought me to tears as I was able to see this struggle through his perspective. I hope and pray Wes is able to continue to find strength in the only one who can give it, Jesus Christ.

 

“Faithfulness is never a gamble. It will be worth it.”

-Wesley Hill