"Gospel-Driven Ministry" by Jared C. Wilson - Book Review

There are a few authors who are on my "buy the book as soon as it is available" list. Jared C. Wilson is one such author. His books focusing on the gospel and specifically on church and ministry leadership are golden. Most recently, he has released a book titled Gospel-Driven Ministry: An Introduction to the Calling and Work of a Pastor. At first, I thought this may be a restructured or rereleased version of his book The Gospel-Driven Church. It is not. This book is focused more on the qualifications of the pastorate and the focus on gospel-centrality in ministry. (BTW - The Gospel-Driven Church is a must read as well.)

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I mentioned recently to some peers that Wilson's latest book is one I wish I had been able to read decades prior. The insight into the joys and challenges of pastoral ministry is so valuable. However, to be honest, even if this book was available a few decades prior, and even if I had been given it by a trusted pastor, and even if I had read it...I likely would not have been able to digest the depths of truth offered in needed and beneficial ways. The arrogance of my youth would have left me with a book full of highlighted phrases and healthy insight, but most likely not as impactful in my life and ministry as needed.

Nevertheless, I now have a stack of these books in my office. I have the honor of working with many church planters and new pastors in my city. Often over coffee or when meeting with one of these young men I give them a copy of Jared's book along with instructions to read, highlight, and think deeply on the insight offered. I am believing these men are more mature in their walk and less arrogant than I was at their age. I also have come to grips with the reality that I have shifted into the role of "older pastor" whom others believe may have some wisdom to offer. I may not have wisdom...but I do have a listening ear...and a free book by Jared C. Wilson.

What I love about Jared's writing is his clarity and boldness in declaring truth while also inviting the reader into his own stories of victory, pain, and pastoral calling. Jared writes about authentic situations and not just about ideal circumstances. He has a way of explaining the very true, challenging, fulfilling, and at times painful realities of serving as a pastor of a church while also seeking to be a godly husband, father, and friend. He reminds the pastor reading that church life is messy at times, but so very worth it as God is glorified when the gospel is central. I find myself reading through the book and pausing to say "Yep, that's true." It may not be new news, but it is comforting to know that the issues I face are not special, but are similar to what all pastors face (though certainly the context and circumstances may be unique.)

This book is a good read for all Christians, but a must-read for pastors and ministry leaders. The practical insight offered through easily understood story-telling, with real-life illustrations and stories remind the pastor/shepherd that ministry faithfulness is less on doing everything, but trusting that Christ has already done everything.

Being driven by and centered on the gospel is freeing and Wilson's writing is a breath of fresh air in an age of church-centered stress.

Here are just a sampling of quotes that I highlighted as I read Gospel-Driven Ministry. They're "tweetable" but ultimately are worth more than likes on a social media post. The wise will take these to heart:

  • "A call to pastoral ministry is the inclination to conform one's desires and direction to the aspiration of shepherding a church. it must not simply be a desire to preach." (p. 17)
  • "The pastorate is not a right or an entitlement. The pastorate is a sacred stewardship reserved only for the qualified, called, and commissioned men." (p. 24)
  • "If we do not preach Christ from the text, we are not preaching a Christian sermon." (p. 37)
  • "Ask yourself this: Could this sermon be preached in a synagogue? A Mormon temple? A Jehovah's Witness kingdom hall? Each of these religions affirms the moral uplift of the Scriptures. Each of them uses the Bible to make inspirational, spiritual points about doing god to others and honoring God. But the one thing that we have that they do not is the gospel. It is the gospel that chiefly distinguishes Christian preaching from unchristian preaching." (p. 65)
  • "Do not preach an illustration in search of a text." (p. 95)
  • "The heart of ministry is a heart that doesn't see people as the interruption to your ministry, but sees the interruptions as the ministry." (p. 121)
  • "Worse than an unfeeling, uncaring pastor is a sullen, whiny, sad-sack pastor." (p. 145)
  • "Be transparent. Be honest. Don't just share the what; explain the why." (p. 160)
  • "It may sound noble and godly to keep convenience store hours, but it's a fast track to physical exhaustion and gradual resentment of the flock." (p. 201)
  • "I used to think pastoral ministry was about helping people live. Then, I learned it was actually about helping people die." (p. 217)
  • "You are not ready to shepherd until you have been spiritual discombobulated by the gospel and essentially reconstituted by the gospel." (p. 226)
  • "Christian ministry is the overflow of the mystery of God in Christ coming to bear on your soul and, through yours, on the souls of others." (p. 227)

Certainly, it is clear by now. I highly recommend this book. Buy it. Read it. Highlight it. Thank God for the insight. Then, give a copy to another pastor or ministry leader. They will thank you for it.

And...in case you, like me, are now one of the "seasoned pastors" in your community. Read the book. Put it on your shelf. Then, in about a year, take it off the shelf and reread it. You will thank Jared for this.


What Burdens You?

Last year a book titled Younique: Designing the Life that God Dreamed for You by Will Mancini, Dave Rhodes, and Cory Hartman was published. Mancini and his team are well-known among pastors and church leaders for their practical, easy to comprehend, and contextual works on church leadership, vision development, and contextual engagement. Books such as Church Unique and the recently published Future Church have proven and are proving to be very helpful to many pastors and ministry leaders.

Younique is a book focusing not on the organization or organism known as the local church, but on the individual Christ-follower seeking to live obediently and abundantly (that's how Christ defined our lives as Christians.) I do recommend the book as a whole, but in this post, I want to address one element that Mancini and team reveal.

The Passion Funnel

There is much presented in the book about personal giftedness, interests, and calling. I won't get into the details of each as Mancini's group - Future Church Company is available for consultations and will gladly provide such training for churches and leadership teams. 

Life funnelHowever, in reading about and working through a cohort with other leaders on this subject, the concept of the Passion Funnel continues to resonate with me. To best understand, picture a funnel (duh...thus, the name.) At the top, think of FIVE THINGS THAT INTEREST YOU. These are things that you enjoy doing. At first, you may try to overly spiritualize these things, but think more broadly (and yes, I know ultimately, everything is spiritual, but work with me here.)

You have your five interests. They could be things like: fishing, reading, watching sports, playing board games, collecting coins, etc. These are your hobbies, the things you enjoy doing in your free time.

Now, slide down the funnel a bit to the next level.

Think of THREE OR FOUR THINGS THAT EXCITE YOU. These would be things that give you energy. These are things you look forward to doing. 

The next level down are the TWO OR THREE THINGS THAT DRIVE YOU. What are the things you must do? These are those things that get you up in the morning. They energize you. They make the day seem shorter and feel productive.

Now, for the bottom of the funnel. This is the ONE THING THAT BURDENS YOU. This is not what gets you up in the morning, but what keeps you up at night. This is not something that creates unholy worry or anxiety, but that which God has placed within your unique design that others just may not have. Even other brothers and sisters in Christ may not resonate with that which burdens you. It often is a challenge or a quest. This burden is your holy discontent. It is the calling that reveals God's love for you, your love for him and others, and your answer to why you were born when you were, where you were, and why you have been placed by God where you are now.

This is the burden that keeps us from just existing and waiting out our days on this earth. It motivates us to live full and abundantly as Christians for God's glory and the impact for his Kingdom.

What burdens you? 

For me, the overwhelming lostness in our community and throughout the world keeps me up at night. This is expressed in my great concern for the families who are struggling, for the marriages that are failing, for the children who are questioning truth. 

Thankfully, God is not relying on me. I am relying on him. He has created us in his image for his glory and has called, commissioned, and placed us where we are.

As our church's leadership team discussed our unique individual designs this past week we realized (or more likely remembered) that God has not created us as clones, but as unique works of art with glorious differences all for his glory. This is not a reality simply for pastors or ministry leaders.

Imagine what God's church would do if every Christ-following image-bearer within the body lived fully from their uniquely created and redeemed heart, recognizing that which burdens them (and knowing that is part of God's design as well,) and prayerfully following God's calling within their own heart, family, community, and ultimately the world. 

Don't get stuck in the funnel. That opening at the bottom of the funnel is strategic, so that as you live in community, you do so in a healthy, God-glorifying, other-impacting way.

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This concept and more are explained much better and in more detail in the book Younique: Designing the Life that God Dreamed for You by Will Mancini, Dave Rhodes, and Cory Hartman. I highly recommend it. Click the title of the book to secure your own copy. 


You Might Be a Consumer Christian If...

Jeff Foxworthy has made a living off one joke. The "You might be a redneck if..." joke launched his career and he has done very well, to say the least. 

My friend Mike Williams has done stand-up comedy in churches for years and he had a set where he copied Foxworthy's model, but gave it a Baptist identity. I still remember some of his punchlines.

You might be a Southern Baptist if:

  • Your pastor's name is written in dry-erase marker on the sign out front.
  • You ever bummed a cigarette off a deacon.
  • You have never sung the third stanza of a hymn.

There are more, but these are the ones I remember.

It was earlier this week as I began reading a new book by Will Mancici titled Future Church. This book, along with his others Church Unique and God Dreams should be read by all church leaders. It clarifies some things about the American church and how we are structured that need to be addressed. As Mancini and co-author Cory Hartman were working on this latest book and moving toward publication date, the pandemic hit. As I read now, it is clear that the revelations given by Mancini and Hartman are not only timely but essential for the local church today.

Upper and Lower Room Churches

I won't go into all the details of what the authors are defining. You would need to get the book for the nuts and bolts of all this. However, the concept of Upper Room and Lower Room churches is so essential I will try to summarize it here.

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People who go to and stay at a local church (we'll talk pre-pandemic era) often do so for one of four reasons (in addition to the Holy Spirit's lead.)

These are:

  1. Place - the location of the church building or gathering is important. For some, the building holds memories (the sacredness or "sacred cow" syndrome) for the members. Often these are of bygone days when great spiritual moments occurred in the life of a person (where they were saved, where they met their spouse, where they were baptized, etc.)
  2. Personality - the pastor is not only an initial draw, but that which keeps people coming. How many friends of yours tweet or post graphics featuring their pastor and comments or phrases he said during a sermon? He's engaging. He's funny. He seems to care. Then...if he leaves a percentage of attenders drift away as well. Oh, it may not be the lead pastor either. In some cases, it is the associate pastor of the designated "most favorite ministry program" who is the draw. That leads us to the next element.
  3. Programs - whether it is AWANA, the women's Bible study, the senior adult trips, the youth group, or any other such ministry or program, these draw many people. These are not bad, but they certainly are not the fullness of what church is or should be. Think of these programs as entry ways or onramps to the church. Sadly, some tend to stand in the entry, or park on the onramp. You know how frustrating that can be, especially if you are behind them. Lastly...
  4. People - the people are the church, right? Yes and no. The people who are Christians make up the church and it is the people gathered who are the church. We (all of us) are relational beings and that means we need others. Even introverts who secretly want to live as hermits actually need others to be healthy and obedient to all the "one anothers" of Scripture. What happens is even in open groups, a tendency for perceived "us four and no more" develops. Why? Not because we do not like others, but that we are like Lego pieces and all our connections are snapped together with no room for others (thanks to Larry Osborne for that illustration.) Mancini states, "When people get their identity from friendships at church, they resist the proverbial open chair." (Future Church, p. 27)

Mancini and Hartman reveal that these four elements of church connectedness and church growth are part of the lower room. They are the most easily accessed areas (if you picture a house with a lower floor and an upper floor.) Yet, it is the upper room where the church's vision, mission, and disciple-making strategy is cemented. The challenge we all face is moving those from the lower room to the upper room. It could be said that Jesus had thousands in the lower room of his ministry (remember the crowd who received free food from Christ) and at one key moment only 120 in the upper room (a literal upper room in Acts 1:15.) 

The clarity in this illustration helps me in understanding some of the challenges and realities we now face in the local church. The pandemic is revealing much of this, not creating it. Like other pastors, I have decried the growth of the consumerism in the church (while confessing that much of our programming and structure actually fuels this reality.) Now, I see that most people are not intentionally desiring to be consumer Christians. It may simply be that they are just enjoying the lower room and have never been led to the staircase leading to the upper room.

But beware, consumer Christianity is so very easy.

Consumer Christianity and the Lower Room

So, as I seek to help brothers and sisters with a bit of self-diagnosis, here are some things that may reveal you have slid into consumerism (and this is no joke)...

You might be a consumer Christian if, (since the pandemic hit):

  • You haven't watched your church's online service in its fullness.
  • You long to get back to "normal" so you can take the kids back to the fun mid-week program at your church.
  • You haven't joined a Zoom or online group with others in your church family.
  • Your Sundays have been filled with other activities and you aren't sure you will adjust your calendar to attend post-pandemic.
  • You have "attended" numerous other churches online and like the music at Church A, the preaching at Church B, and the events of Church C. You basically created a buffet church (it's the Golden Corral of Christianity...let that sink in.)
  • You haven't prayed with other believers.
  • You haven't partaken of the ordinance of the Lord's Supper with your church family (and you never thought about that until you read this.)
  • You use the pandemic as your reason excuse for not gathering as the church, but have gone to grocery stores, restaurants, shopping centers, the zoo, theme parks, ball games, and other places where crowds are gathering (without as many guidelines as your church has put in place for safety.)
  • You don't miss the church.

Consumer Christianity has been manufactured well in our nation. The church growth movement that fueled the offering of ministries and events as custom-fitted, marketable religiously-themed items not only left many people in the lower room of what should be the healthy church, but left them with many others people (thousands even) so that it felt normal.

This cancerous, sinful, short-sighted church strategy does not make disciples, but only creates fake disciples (thanks to Mancini for that term.)

So, you may discover that you have found a nice, comfortable sofa in the foyer of the lower room of church. It's comfortable, but does not transform lives. 

But this is not an easy shift.

I am shaken by Mancini's revelation on this. He says "The bottom line is that I underestimated the power of the Lower Room. Its gravitational pull is not the tug of a minor moon. but the force field of a black hole." (Future Church, p. 35)

The good news is that no one has to remain in the lower room. While the lower room is not bad. It is not unChristian. It is not evil. It simply is not enough. It is not the fullness of church. When the lower room is all there is, consumer Christianity reigns. No one has to settle in to consumer Christianity. That is not the way.

It is time to move up to the Upper Room. Praise be to God, he has removed many of the items that left many settling for religious God-stuff, with no transformation and ultimately...no maturation as a Christ-follower (and for some, a revelation of a non-existent relationship to God through Jesus Christ.) Repent. Come home. And...come on up.


The Pastor's Kid Responds to "The Pastor's Kid" and Other Stuff (Guest Post by Ashley O'Brien)

Ashley (Tarkington) O'Brien has read the book The Pastor's Kid:What It's Like and How to Help by Barnabas Piper and as a pastor's kid (my kid) she has written this review of, or rather a response to, his book. Yet, this is more than a book review, it is a wise discourse from one who grew up in the fishbowl known as the "pastor's family" and her perspective of how this impacted her view of God and the church. 

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I recently read the book The Pastor’s Kid: What It's Like and How to Help by Barnabas Piper. Barnabas Piper is the son of Pastor John Piper, known by many as the 33-year pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, founder of Desiring God ministries, author of numerous books, speaker at Passion Conferences and more. I initially saw the book advertised on my social media pages (apparently my pages know the occupation of my father...that's scary.)

I was interested on Barnabas’ perspective as a pastor's kid (for obvious reasons) and what he had to say.  I enjoyed the book and could relate to Piper's stories and understood how some would struggle under the identity of their father's title. I could also see how some would be benefited by the role as well. I talked to my brother about our experiences growing up in a pastor's home, just to get his perspective. We grew up in the same God-honoring home, were active in the same church and ministries, had many of the same influences in the church, but as teenagers and adults diverged into the two most common and opposite stereotypes of a being a "Pastor’s Kid" or "PK."

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This is not a picture of Ashley, but these look like church kids.

As my brother and I discussed points highlighted in the book, we concluded that our dad’s occupation and position as pastor of the church had little to do with how we were raised. What I mean is that we were not raised to be good PKs, but were raised to know the Lord, know about him, to love God, love people, love God's church, and become his disciples. We "grew up in church" as did many others, and were loved, taught, and prayed for by many in our church family. My brother and I concluded that none of those things would have changed if dad were not the pastor. In other words, we determined that our family simply was seeking to be authentic Christians and our upbringing was not any more Christian just because our dad stood on the stage and preached each Sunday. 

We agreed that due to dad’s position we were able to experience places and people that we would not have otherwise. So, we selfishly are thankful for that. Nevertheless, a negative aspect of being a PK would be the expectations placed on us by others. This is understandable, but a bit frustrating. Adults have expectations of children and teenagers, especially related to behavior. For any church kid, there are expectations and since the church is supposed to be family, there comes a collective expectation from "family" members and a heightened level of responsibility. 

Based on Piper's book, the concerns and issues experienced by a PK can actually be valid for any person who grew up with a church family. This is not a bad thing. It is just a reality. 

To the person who grew up in church and abandoned church upon entering adulthood, there are many reasons as to why that exit occurred. Statements like “That's my parent's faith. It's just not for me" or other similar reasons (excuses) are common.

Growing Up Is Inevitable

At some point, the church kid (not just the PK) grows up. It's unavoidable. The church kid has to graduate from the kids' ministry (or at least they should) and move up to the next level of age-graded ministry. Maybe this was the shift to the “cool” youth group (at least "cool" as it pertains to church youth groups.) In some churches this means gathering in a separate room designed by concerned adults seeking to create place where teenagers would feel welcome. Maybe it included the designated seats in big church where teenagers would sit together, rather than sitting with their parents. It is a rite of passage of sorts. Then comes the next step into "big" church–high school graduation. For the few who remain in the church, moving from the youth room with all the smoke machines, old couches, broken ping pong tables, loud praise music, pizzas, and games to the "boring big church" services is required. It is here that the music volume decreased, many people seemed disengaged, most didn't sing along with the music, and the music was not new or cutting edge (or at least it seemed the songs were strange versions of those performed by the youth band.) Church was now boring, it seemed. It was no longer fun. Gone was the weekly social hour where you could gather with friends during the middle of the week. No one was making you attend any longer. Friends moved away to college. Some stopped attending after receiving their free gift from the church during the high school graduation recognition. In fact, for many, that was the last time some former members of the youth group (at least some of them) were seen at church.  And you are tempted to walk away as well. Perhaps using the old excuse of “I am not being fed," but deep down knowing you just do not want to be fed what they are feeding you. You had rededicated your life to Christ many times, especially at youth camp, but now...church just isn't the same.

This isn't the biography of PKs only. There are many kids who grew up in the church who can relate because this is their story as well, whether they were a PK, a deacon's kid, a committee member's kid, or just a kid who went to church a lot.

We collectively nod our heads in agreement and think of all those fond memories of our childhood and teenage years. As adults, some of us become frustrated with the church. Some shop around for new churches, always seeking the newest experience (while actually being driven by an overwhelming sense of nostalgia resulting in a search for a Sunday experience that is basically an updated version of the youth worship at camps from years prior or the mid-week student gatherings of our high school years.)

Though I loved all the camps, mission trips, and pizza nights, I believe we may have unwittingly done a disservice over time. We created silos of ministry and rarely if ever integrated generationally. This led to an easy exit for active attenders upon high school graduation. Certainly, the individual has a choice. We cannot force anyone to remain in the church, but we must not put all the blame on the individual if the church as a whole never intentionally connected church family members beyond those of the same age or demographic. 

While Piper's book is focused mainly on his experiences as a pastor’s kid, it can easily relate to everyone who grew up as a church kid. 

Jeremy Noel is quoted in the book stating...

“Finding God was the greatest challenge. Being raised in an atmosphere where God was ministry, vocation and hobby makes it hard to be amazed by the gospel. Being raised where life is always about showing God to a group makes it hard to see God individually.”

At some point, the child has to own it. The now adult, former "church kid" must own their decisions and their relationship (or lack of relationship) with Christ and his church. Take responsibility. Noel's quote is real and reveals authentic challenges. It also explains why so many leave the church after high school. We can blame parents, teachers, and preachers…but, at the end of the day, when the now adult does not take ownership for his or her relationship with Christ, it falls on them. Children have to grow up. There is a needed graduation from the “fun” church and the “feed me” church that is built upon a consumer mentality.  

Barnabas Piper stated well...

“PKs (church kids) despite all these struggles cannot wallow in and bemoan them. Rather, we must own what responsibilities are ours; to honor Jesus, to honor our fathers and mothers, to love and support the church, and to go about our lives not as victims but as the redeemed. Grace is here for us all!” 

For the Pastors

To the pastors–love your children. Be willing to listen. Be a parent first, not always their pastor. Cheer for them at ball games (but remember who you represent so maybe don’t yell so much at the referee.) Don’t elevate your children in a way that they believe they are better than their church peers. They are surely the most important to you, but no one wants some little snot (sorry - I'm venting a bit) saying to his or her Bible study teacher “But don’t you know who my dad is?”

None of this may stir up issues for you or them initially, but it could be harmful in the long run. It can impact how your children view church and Christ. It will affect how they function as a teenager and adult when you are not there to tell them the right church answers or force them to be at church with you. Those outside the church do not care that their dad was a pastor (or they may have some unfair preconceived ideas about what that means.) Just remember that your children did not choose to be the child of a pastor or to be in the spotlight (even if it's just the spotlight of a local church.) They do not typically enjoy being illustrations in your sermon. Be sure to have a genuine conversation with your children about his or her decision to be a Christ follower. Do not doubt, of course, but understand that this decision could have been easily made due to the pressure and assumption that they should be a Christian simply because you are the pastor. Help your children make the decision to surrender to Christ as Lord their own, and not yours. Remember, God has no grandchildren. Be real with your children. If your child never sees you struggle or knows that you doubt at times, then they will feel as if they are not allowed to either. Allowing them to wrestle with their salvation or relationship with Christ and his church is healthy and all believers experience this. Offer up transparency and allow your children to ask you the hard questions so they may view their relationship with Christ and his church more real and their own. When their dad is supposed to be the “super-Christian” it is tough to be raw and real, especially when they feel they do not measure up.

For the PK

PKs–understand that your identity is not founded on what your father or mother do for a living. It is not what you excel at or how you look. As a child of God, your identity is solely found in Christ. The sooner you realize that, the sooner you will feel free from others expectations. Standing strong in Christ and his church and growing up to be a bold follower of Christ is truly what your Christian parents desire. God gave you the parents you were intended to have for a reason. So, appreciate them and love them, it is not easy being a pastor. It's not easy being a pastor's wife. And, we know, it's not easy being a pastor's kid either. But...who said this was supposed to be easy? That's just one reason we can rely on God and his grace. 


A Good Reminder About Frustration, Anger, Our Need to Control, and Relationships From...Superman?

When I was a child, I began reading and collecting comic books. Back then, it was a trip to the local 7-Eleven and time spent perusing the spinner rack to find three comic books I could get with my dollar. (I was really bummed when they bumped the prices up to thirty-five cents.)

Back then I was collecting the basics like Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, The X-Men, and the Justice League. Over time, I expanded my preferences and began getting any and every book that had an incredible cover, a known character, or a tie-in to a film, television show, or even the most recent toys my parents bought me. My budget soon suffered from my spending.

Eventually, I just put all the books in a box and stopped collecting. A few years back, I met Jonathan Bates, owner of Altered Egos Comics and Games here in my town and we began to talk about the stories presented in these books and how they have captured so many fans over the years. We began hosting a monthly discussion group called CHAT (Costumed Heroes and Theology.) It's a diverse group where a few of us are Christians, Jonathan and others are not, and others may have differing views on religion and faith. One of the reasons we started this is covered in a previous post from 2017 here.

Jonathan and I discussed CHAT recently on my podcast. This is available below.

Last Sunday, during our monthly meeting called CHAT (Costumed Heroes and Theology) I brought up something I read recently in a Superman comic. Yes, since beginning our monthly conversations on how these fictional heroes and stories often have deeper meanings and even theological undertones, I began reading some Superman comics again. It’s a quick read between my books on doctrine, church leadership, biographies, and current issues.

The Hero Who Can Do Everything

Over the past few decades the hero in red and blue tights with the long red cape has gone through many changes. Created in 1938 by two young Jewish men in Cleveland, Ohio named Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Superman was the hero that young people wanted and needed. The All-American hero in the era of the Great Depression and the onset of the Nazi threat in Europe, Superman was good, right, strong, and as we know, fought for “truth, justice, and the American way.”

Even when superhero comics were fading out and such books were deemed dangerous and a waste of time by those in authority, Superman prevailed. He became the all-powerful Boy Scout with radio shows, movie serials, and even the popular television show starring George Reeves. I remember seeing him appear on an “I Love Lucy” rerun. Superman was everywhere. He was the good guy.

He could do anything.

As the years passed, the writing of the stories became even more outrageous and Superman’s powers were off the chain. Beyond stopping bullets, and leaping over tall buildings (eventually turned into flight) Supes could do things like shoot miniature versions of himself out of his hands to fight bad guys, he could use “super-________” (just fill-in-the-blank) to do whatever the writers needed done in just a few comic panels to bring the story to a conclusion.

His books were campy, corny, and fun. They weren’t realistic (or even realistic-ish considering he was an alien who was indestructible, kryptonite notwithstanding.)

After decades of stories, shows, and films, DC Comics rebooted the hero in 1986 under the creative writing and art of John Byrne. Superman was more “humanized” in these stories.

Reboots have happened multiple times since. All done to make the oldest and most familiar comic book hero more human. He is fictional and changeable based on the whims of DC’s editors and writers. He is make-believe, but still very popular in pop culture.

Even Superman Needs Counseling

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DC Comics: Superman #23

With all that history, we now have a Superman in the comics world written by Brian Michael Bendis, creator of the Miles Morales Spider-Man character featured in Marvel Comics and in the recent “Spider--Man: Into the Spider-Verse” film. Bendis is considered by many to be one of the best and most sought after writers of comic fiction today.

He, not unlike John Byrne in the 1980s, rebooted Superman to a degree. He has done so not by starting over with the character, but by placing him in storylines that resonate with readers because…well, even with all the fantasy and sci-fi, seem so human and realistic. (I know, a flying man from Krypton being realistic is a stretch, but I hope you get my point.)

In this iteration of the Man of Steel, Clark Kent (Superman) is married to Lois Lane. They have a son named Jonathan Samuel Kent (named after Clark's earthly dad, Jonathan Kent.) Superman has also revealed to the world that he is Clark Kent, which has put his writing awards with the Daily Planet under scrutiny. One other thing – his Kryptonian father, Jor-El is still alive. And…he’s not a very good guy. Jor-El convinces Clark and Lois to allow him to take young Jonathan, who is a pre-teen, on a journey into space to teach him about his heritage. It’s a weekend adventure with granddad, and Jonathan is pumped.

The thing is, in comic books and sci-fi, rules of time and space get mixed up and after some adventures that only lasted a few days for the Kents in Metropolis, Jor-El returns with Jonathan who has now aged about eight years. In other words, mom and dad have missed the formative years of their son who is now an adult.

When Superman Can’t Fix Things

Here’s the story that is unlike anything I read as a kid. While there is an alien monster being who shows up to fight Superman, the entire issue is ultimately a counseling session featuring Superman and another character named Dr. Fate.

In this, the Man of Steel expresses his anger, his frustration, and his deeply held father wound. He is angry that he has lost these most important years with his son. He is angry he cannot do anything to get them back (Don’t even bring up flying around the world backward to turn back time like Christopher Reeve did. That’s not an option here.)

Superman mad
DC Comics: Superman #23

I know it’s just a story. It’s a fictional story. It’s a fictional story in a comic book about an overly-muscled guy who flies while wearing his underwear on the outside of his pants. I know.

But…there’s something here that I’ve seen before.

There’s something here that I have faced in others, and to a degree in my own heart.

In a culture that elevates and celebrates the self-made man and woman, that idolizes those who can get things done, who are not shaken by circumstances, the fact remains…there are more things out of our control than within our control.

Sometimes it seems that nobody understands.

Superman nobody
DC Comics: Superman #23

Perhaps Bendis is venting through Clark Kent? I don’t know. What I do know is that many men face wounds from their earthly fathers, even good, godly earthly fathers. These are real and only the Heavenly Father can bring that healing.

I also know many who, when faced with the uncertainty and the craziness of the world that is out of their control, seem to break. It may be in outbursts at home, maybe towards one’s spouse or children. At times, it’s the seeking for answers in places where they will never be found.

Comic books, not unlike other literature, can sometimes reveal an uncover some very human realities, even when featuring fantastic and out-of-this-world characters.

When Superman says “I can move the moon…but I seem to have somehow lost complete control of my life,” the reader says “I can relate, well not the moon part, but the control part.”

Superman moon
DC Comics: Superman #23

This is a solid reminder to me that identity is key. I am not what I can do. I am not what I can control. I am not what I can think. I am an image-bearer of God and I am truly incapable and unworthy of anything.

That is who I am, but my identity is secure because though I am not so many things, I know I AM.

As crazy as it seems, even a story about the fictional Superman can help us realize some of the realities of own humanity and our need for a Savior.

 

________________

Bendis, Brian Michael. Superman Issue 23. Burbank, CA: DC Comics, 2020.


"The Gathering Storm" by Albert Mohler - Book Review

Dr. Albert Mohler has become one of the best-known Christian leaders in the United States over recent years. As president of The Southern Baptist Seminary (SBTS) he has a particular platform in evangelicalism that offers him opportunities to speak and respond to the many issues impacting the world today from a viewpoint described by Mohler and others as a "biblical worldview." 

I, for one, have appreciated his input on numerous cultural issues, especially over the past decade and a half, as seismic shifts in cultural norms and the now-termed "moral revolution" has sought to change the landscape of our understanding of right and wrong.

In addition to serving as the president of SBTS, Dr. Mohler has a prolific speaking schedule, as he is sought by many to fill pulpits and speak at conferences and special events. He is the host of two podcasts–"The Briefing" and "Thinking in Public." He is also the author of numerous books and this article focuses on his latest published by Thomas Nelson Publishers titled The Gathering Storm: Secularism, Culture, and the Church.

Mohler book
Image from https://www.thomasnelson.com/p/the-gathering-storm/

Churchillian Title

One of Dr. Mohler's favorite figures of history (known to anyone who regularly listens to his podcasts or has visited his personal library) is Sir Winston Churchill. The British Prime Minister, known for his solid and tenacious leadership of the United Kingdom during World War II, wrote the first of his six-volume series on the Second World War covering the growing threat of Nazi Germany. Churchill used the title The Gathering Storm for this volume. Mohler credits Churchill's book title as the reason he chose his book's title.

As the threat of Nazism was growing in Europe, many in the UK and elsewhere minimized Hitler's potential impact and most saw Germany's revival as something that would remain within the German borders, not impacting the neighboring nations, much less the world. Churchill, on the other hand, was a voice crying out for others to take note of the growing threat. When it became clear that Hitler and his powerful Third Reich was bent on European (and eventual global) domination, Churchill seemed prophetic as one who had warned of the storm.

In the same way, Dr. Mohler speaks in this new work of the growing and present threat of secularism to the culture and to the church. This is not a cry heretofore unmade. Dr. Mohler, as well as others, have been speaking of these threats for decades. Not unlike many in the UK who heard but ignored Churchill's warnings, sadly it seems that many Christians have either willingly or unintentionally been ignoring the warnings of secularism to such a degree that now the storm is not simply something that may impact us, it is clear that landfall has occurred.

For those, like me, who live in Florida, hurricane preparedness is a way of life. Floridians have different seasons than other regions in the nation. We have spring, summer, football, and hurricane seasons. When hurricane season begins, we begin to watch our local meteorologists more intently as they share of new storms forming off the west coast of Africa. We know those storms often build up, begin spinning with more intensity, and at times, move from tropical depression to tropical storm to hurricane with eventual impact somewhere in the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, or the southeastern coast of the US. The "cone of concern" is developed and we watch daily wondering if we will be impacted personally. Watching the daily hurricane updates is like watching a turtle run a race. It's slow and plodding and uncertain...until it isn't.

Hurricane Warnings

Living in a state where hurricanes are part of our annual schedules, there are often times where warnings are given, but ignored by many. It is akin to the ignoring the flight attendants in commercial flights as they give instructions regarding how to wear the seatbelt, put on oxygen masks, and emergency exit rules. Since most who have flown numerous times have never experienced an in-flight emergency, these repeated warnings go unheard. Yet, when something mid-flight does occur and the oxygen masks fall from the console, it is clear that many would be doing their best to remember what was said pre-flight as they slide into panic.

In our culture wars and shifting sands of morality and rightness, the storm is no longer on the way. It is here. For those who have listened to Dr. Mohler's daily podcast "The Briefing" and at times felt overwhelmed with the data and daily updates of issues that run counter to a biblical worldview, his new book is a welcome resource. Many of the illustrations and delineated accounts in the book have been covered at some point by Dr. Mohler in one of his briefings, but to have the book available giving a systematic unveiling of the history of secularism and the subtle (and overt) impacts of this philosophy in our lives is telling and helpful. In some cases, the shifts have seemed immediate (e.g. the 2015 Obergefell vs. Hodges Supreme Court case legalizing same-sex marriage) but in truth are simply the latest visible impacts of the storm gusts upon culture.

Responding to Landfall

When hurricanes make landfall, the impact varies depending on wind speed, the structural strength of the buildings nearby, the depth and health of the roots of trees, and the preparedness of residents. Once the storm has passed, disaster relief teams arrive (many wearing yellow hats representing Southern Baptists serving and helping in Christ's name,) damage assessment occurs, and next steps for recovery begin. 

Unlike a natural hurricane, the storm we now face seems to be only increasing in intensity with an ever-widening cone of concern with no end in sight. Yet, as Christians we are affirmed that as we stand firmly on the gospel of Christ, though a narrow foot-hold certainly, we will not only withstand the storm, but thrive in its midst and in the aftermath. So, be encouraged.

In Dr. Mohler's book, he focuses on nine specific issues impacted by the rising secularism. Sadly, this is not only a secular, godless worldview present outside the church, but also at times visible within. The chapter titles categorize these areas so the reader can more clearly see that which has occurred and is occurring. Chapters speaking of "The Gathering Storm in..."

  • Western Civilization
  • The Church
  • Human Life
  • Marriage
  • Family
  • Gender and Sexuality
  • Generational Divides
  • Engines of Culture
  • Religious Liberty

After reading The Gathering Storm, I cannot help but see indicators of the growing secularization and worldview shifts daily as new headlines appear on my newsfeed. In fact, yesterday, the US Supreme Court ruled in what I deem a disastrous ruling, that "that 'sex' does, in fact, include sexual orientation and gender identity, despite the fact that legislators repeatedly voted against including those categories in the legislation." (ERLC - "After the Bostock Supreme Court Case") Where would this lie in Dr. Mohler's analysis? It is clearly part of the storm related to gender and sexuality, but also impactful in the area of religious liberty, not to mention family and generational divides.

This is just one headline from today. 

One can simply peruse other current and recent stories to see how the moral revolution and the rise of secularism continues to impact all avenues of our culture on a daily basis.

What Now?

Dr. Mohler's concluding chapter hearkens once more to Churchill's warnings prior to World War II. While Churchill, along with the other Allied leaders, entered into the storm against Nazism, fascism, and imperial despotism with a united, military campaign that proved to be essential for victory, Dr. Mohler is not calling for a militaristic movement. He is, however, clearly reminding the church that what we face today is truly a battle. The church has been in this spiritual battle since the very beginning, but the storm of secularism is our most recent and current beachhead.

Dr. Mohler gives reasoned, practical, and timelessly biblical encouragement and insight into how Christians and the church must live in such times. The concluding chapter is titled "Into the Storm" and that certainly is our calling. 

I recommend The Gathering Storm highly and encourage readers to subscribe to "The Briefing" for continued daily updates of current trends and shifts in culture from a biblical worldview.

Insightful Quotes from The Gathering Storm

  • A central fact of the storm now gathering strength is moral liberalism, which cannot be explained without the dechristianization of society. (xv)
  • Secularizing societies move into conditions in which there is less and less theistic belief and authority until there is hardly even a memory that such a binding authority had ever existed. (5)
  • We do not need a political movement. We need a theological protest. (13)
  • A true church does not give a non-answer to a direct biblical question. (27)
  • What morally atrocious age we have slipped into where we sacrifice babies on the altar of "women's health, autonomy, and their right to the pursuit of happiness"? (47)
  • Secularism has paganized the culture. Pagans speak of holy things as if they were lowly while speaking of lowly things as if they were holy. (64-65)
  • The headlines will continue down this trend–we will see not only liberals versus conservatives but revolutionaries versus revolutionaries; feminist ideology versus transgender ideology; gay and lesbian activism against transgender activism. (97)
  • We should lament the brokenness and understand the many failings of the Christian church toward those who identify with the LGBTQ+ community. But we dare not add yet another failure to those failures. (115)
  • In response to the storm gathering over gender and sexuality, Christians must do at least two things: preach true gospel liberty in the face of erotic liberty and stand ready to receive the refugees of the sexual revolution. (119)
  • Teenagers have been listening carefully. They have been observing their parents in the larger culture with diligence and insight. They understand just how little their parents really believe and just how much many of their churches and Christian institutions have accommodated themselves to the dominant culture. (128)
  • Liberalism often fails to distinguish between conservatives and the extremists on the right. this can be driven by intention or by carelessness, but the result is the same. (153)
  • Consider the fact that religious liberty is now described as religious privilege. By definition, a privilege is not a right. (166)
  • Where you find failing churches and denominations, you find a loss of faith in God. (191)

 


"The Gospel According to Satan" by Jared C. Wilson - Book Review

I'm slowly working through the stack of books in my home office that I intended to read during the COVID-19 quarantine. Let's just say that I struggle to find the time to read as much as I would like, even when it seems I should have more available time.

I recently completed Jared C. Wilson's latest book The Gospel According to Satan. Apparently, there are half a dozen books available with the same title on Amazon, covering a variety of subjects that could be considered Satan's gospel, so be careful when ordering your copy of the book. Get the one with the cover below and this subtitle "Eight Lies About God That Sound Like the Truth."

Gospel satanWilson is an accomplished writer with numerous books focusing on the Christian life, church, theology, and more. Prior to the release of The Gospel According to Satan, our church staff read The Gospel-Driven Church together (a recommended read for any pastor or church leader.) This led to numerous healthy conversations regarding the focus of church ministries and the need to continue shifting away from the easy draw of "attractionalism" as a church marketing tool.

The title and cover of his latest book is intriguing. As one who grew up in the 1980s, this initially seemed like it could be a Ronnie James Dio song (or maybe a Stryper song for those in the church youth group?")

While the title could lead one to believe this is a deep dive into spiritual warfare or demonology, it is not as some would think. It is about the lies of the enemy. There are clearly points related to the demonic lies that permeate our world, but Wilson's book delves into what some may say is the subtlety that characterizes the one who first said to God's image-bearers "Did God really say...?"

Wilson states early that the writing of this book was spurred after the publication and popularity of William Paul Young's book Lies We Believe About God. I had almost forgotten about Young, most well-known as author of The Shack (not recommended by the way.) Young's faulty theology sounds like other heresies that have arisen throughout the centuries. As Tim Challies stated in his review of Young's book, "There is barely a chapter in the book that does not do damage to one or more precious doctrines. " (full review here on challies.com)

Thus, Wilson began putting together the outline that would eventually become The Gospel According to Satan. Wilson carefully deconstructs a number of well-known and oft-stated "truths" about life and God. These statements are not reserved for those outside the church, but have even crept into the current evangelical lexicon and when stated enough by those who claim to be children of God, eventually are believed by many to be true. 

The lies of the enemy began in Eden with the "Did God really say...?" question as mentioned prior, but also fall under the categorical accusation that "God is holding out on you." Wilson goes to these as the main plays in the enemy's playbook and and helps the reader see that the deception is so subtle that many well-meaning Christians find themselves doing just as Adam and Eve did by believing lies that that comprise this "gospel" according to Satan.

The chapters are titled as follow:

  • LIE #1: God Just Wants You to Be Happy
  • LIE #2: You Only Live Once
  • LIE #3: You Need to Live Your Truth
  • LIE #4: Your Feelings Are Reality
  • LIE #5: Your Life Is What You Make It
  • LIE #6: You Need to Let Go and Let God
  • LIE #7: The Cross Is Not About Wrath
  • LIE #8: God Helps Those Who Help Themselves

These lies likely sound familiar. The challenge is when you read one of these lies and think "What? I say that all the time. I'm not sure that's a lie." Thus...the need for the book. 

Wilson cuts no corners on relaying the depths of biblical theology and doctrinal soundness in refuting these lies. Yet, when reading his book it seems as if you're sitting across a table at a coffee shop discussing these things with the author. This ability by a writer is definitely a skill to be admired, and perhaps a gift. As Wilson dissects the aforementioned lies, there is no condescension offered to the reader. This is the loving invitation to see how that which is commonly believed by many actually stands at opposition to the true gospel.

Wilson's transparency regarding personal thoughts, challenges, and issues appear throughout the book. By the end of the book, you feel as if someone who loves the Lord dearly actually loves you as well (even if he never has met you) simply because you too are an image-bearer of God.

The lies are shared as life-or-death warnings, and truly they are. 

This book will be the next one our staff reads together. This time, it won't be a focus so much on the shifting away from a church ministry process, but a focus on the subtle shifts away from gospel truth that we all re susceptible to believe.

I highly recommend the book and am glad it was near the top of my stack of quarantine books.


"Reset" by David Murray - Book Review

Burnout.

It is a concept that most men, regardless of vocation, understand.

We have all heard the warnings. We have heard, and even likely repeated some of the statements related to pacing oneself better for health living.

  • We know that we cannot continue "burning the candle at both ends." 
  • No one wants "He worked too hard for things that don't really matter" on their tombstone.
  • Climbing the ladder of success is fruitless when you realize years later the ladder was leaning against the wrong wall.
  • Success in life is not success when family is sacrificed.
  • "I wish I knew then what I know now" is a tragic theme for one's life, especially when you really did know then what would have helped now.

All these and more are true statements that I have heard, read, repeated, and even used in teachings of men's conferences and Bible studies.

Like many men, I agree with these realities while I continue to push harder, faster, forward...falsely believing that these are great concepts, but not things that affect me.

Then, all the sudden, you have a few more years (decades) behind you and you realize that to have a maximum number of years ahead requires some wise readjustments, or as David Murray calls, a reset.

David Murray's book Reset was published by Crossway in 2017. It is one of those books I purchased  a year or so ago. I placed it on my shelf in my office and categorized it on Goodreads as "Want to Read." 

David Murray (PhD, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) is professor of Old Testament and practical theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. He is also a counselor, a regular speaker at conferences, and the author of Exploring the Bible. David is married to Shona.

Reset

When the COVID-19 pandemic began to change all our schedules, I went to my office at the church and gathered some books to bring home for some intentional pandemic reading. I have a stack of over twenty, but this book just stood out. I read the sub-title "Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture" and knew this was the time to slow down and check out Murray's book.

Have you ever read a book that seemed to be a bit too personal? I mean, it is as if the author is prying, going places you didn't expect? That's what soon was realized as I worked through Reset.

Repair Bays for Men

Murray takes the reader through a series of "repair bays" that bring to mind a garage not unlike those on the renovation television shows designed to take a beat up, classic car and return it to its former glory. The imagery works, for what man of a certain age does not long for the days when joints didn't ache, muscles weren't strained, hair was not grey (and actually was still attached to one's head,) and feeling "ten-feet tall and bullet-proof" were the norm?

This book is not some fluffy, surface-level, pop-psychological self-help guide. 

Murray goes to scripture to express and define ways that men often get off track, even when doing good or godly work. 

As Murray takes the reader through his repair bays, he writes not as one who looks down from the ivory tower simply giving opinions on how to live better, but as one who personally faced physical health issues related to stress and overwork as well as other man-made speed bumps. Therefore, his insight is from one who is on the journey as well, who has experienced the need and value of a reset and has helped other men do the same.

There are numerous passages and paragraphs that I highlighted in this book. Here are just a sampling of some that resonated with me:

Be cautious about seeking advice from someone who stands to lose if you need to slow down. (p. 44)

 

God put a special curse on men's work (Gen 3:17-19) to make sure that our idolizing of work would never fully satisfy. (p. 48)

 

(Regarding the need to rest and sleep well) What I do instead of sleep shines a spotlight on my idols, whether it be late-night football, surfing the internet, ministry success, or promotion. (p. 55)

 

Pastors seem to think that "Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work" (Ex 20:9-10) has an asterisk (*unless you're a pastor, in which case you must work seven days a week.) (p. 99)

 

Some men struggle to accept changes in their identities when they age, change jobs, experience ill health, or retire. (p. 120)

 

Remember, it's rarely one extra big thing but the addition of lots of little things that tends to overwhelm us, because it is much more difficult to say no to the little things. (p. 137)

 

The joy of the journey depends so much on who's riding with us. (p. 157)

These are just some of the clear statements that make this book a must-read for men, especially pastors. Yet, here is a warning–don't read this book just to complete another book. It is always a goal of mine to finish a book. In most cases, that is not a problem at all. I love to read and I love to complete a good book. Yet, in this case the intent of Reset is not just to be able to move the book from the "Want to Read" shelf on Goodreads to the "Read" shelf (though I did that.) The insight and steps needed to actually slow down, reset, and spend some needed time in the repair bays are vital.

I recommend Reset for my friends, pastors, and any men finding that they're running hard and fast, but fear they may be doing little more than running on fumes (i.e. burning out.) 

The book is available wherever you purchase books. The link for purchasing from the publisher, Crossway, is here

David and his wife Shona have also written the book Refresh: Embracing a Grace-Paced Life in a World of Endless Demands with women in our fast-paced culture in mind. It is available here.


"The Loneliness Solution" by Jack Eason - Book Review

"Loneliness is killing us, and we don't even realize it." (p. 6) 

This opening line in chapter one of Jack Eason's forthcoming book The Loneliness Solution not only draws in the reader but makes a bold declaration. Loneliness is a very real problem in the world. This seems strange since the living generations today are the most interconnected (and perhaps over-connected) generations in history. In an era where the word "friend" has become a verb to describe the act of confirming a connection on social media rather than simply a noun to describe another person whom is invited into a person's life in a close way, loneliness rages.

Loneliness

A few weeks ago, Jack sent me a pre-published copy of the book to read. I was honored to receive this from him and share a bit here of what he covers and why I recommend you get a copy.

Eason shares a story in the initial chapter of a fifty-four-year-old man was found dead in his home four months after his passing. Eventually, the smell from the apartment grew so pungent as the weather shifted from cool to warm, that neighbors starting taking notice. This man's remains were removed and a company was called in that specializes in cleaning the homes of those who are categorized as "lonely deaths." The fact that such a business segment exists startled me.

The research information that Eason provides is staggering, especially when it is revealed that younger adults (those categorized as Generation Z) are the loneliest generation alive. The loneliest generation is also the most interconnected generation in history.

It is true that one can be lonely in a crowd. Even if the crowd is virtual or only on social media.

Not Just "Them"

As the book unfolds, the categorizations of people groups merge when loneliness is clearly not something only young people, or senior adults face. It is a human issue and the heart of man and woman is susceptible to this great attack by the enemy of God. The enemy has attacked the image-bearers of God with subtle and strategic ways that cause many to believe they are okay and have many close friends. Yet, when the layers are peeled back, many of these same individuals find themselves in dark places socially and mentally as their concepts of friendship wane.

Loneliness is therefore, not just something "those people" face. All are potentially affected by the loneliness problem. There are many circumstances and situations that feed into this. Jack Eason delves into the depths of these issues well.

The Problem Has a Solution

As the book states in the title, and clearly lays out in the early chapters, loneliness is a problem. God stated as much in the story of creation.

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Genesis 2:18 (ESV)

It is not good for man, or woman, to be alone. In the Genesis account, God provided a solution. Throughout scripture, he provides a solution to the loneliness problem. Even today, he provides the solution.

Jack Eason exposes why the most interconnected and over-connected generations in history self-identify as the most lonely. He doesn't leave it as simply a description of a state of being, but reveals God's solution. With engaging and relatable stories, Eason expresses God's desire that man or woman not be alone, and provides practical, biblical steps to remedy the issue. Each chapter concludes with a list of recommended action steps. This is more than a theoretical treatise, but a call to action in the community, and as revealed in the final chapters, even within the church.

I strongly recommend this book, especially during this season of isolation. I was sent the pre-release copy of the book (to be published by Revell in October 2020) and have completed the read, with many highlights and underlines. During this time of self-quarantine due to COVID-19 it was a welcome read. What I previously considered a normal, busy schedule has been shifted and slowed. This is true for all. It is during these days that many are, as the country song stated, "finding out who their friends are." The church must, and is proving to, rise up to reconnect with those who were perhaps over-connected, but not really connected. 

Loneliness is a problem. It is a deadly problem. Nevertheless, God has a solution. Be sure to order your copy of The Loneliness Solution today when it is published in October. In the meantime click here to be notified and to receive a FREE downloadable chapter from the book.


"What Is A Girl Worth?" by Rachael Denhollander - Book Review

In 2016 after the IndyStar ran an exposé on USA Gymnastics (USAG) and how the organization turned a blind eye to sexual abuse perpetrated by coaches for years, a young woman in Louisville, Kentucky responded. She sent an email to the writer of the story stating that it was not just coaches, but one of the premier doctors for USAG who was also an abuser. When this email arrived at the IndyStar, it was soon answered by the reporter responsible for the story. It was at that moment Rachael Denhollander stepped out of private life and began the journey to become whom BBC News called "the five-star general in the army of survivors."

Rachael Denhollander, a wife, mother, attorney, former gymnast, and survivor of sexual abuse by Dr. Larry Nassar stepped into the public eye and became the voice for hundreds of women who had been victimized sexually. In many cases, these women felt they had no voice. Sadly, some felt they were to blame for that which was done to them.

The last few years have been a whirlwind for Denhollander, her family, and the other survivors. After a long, tedious, painful, and revealing journey of testimonies, interviews, and trial dates, the battle against a culture that often protects and enables abusers continues.

Yet, there has been victory–great victory. In January 2018, Larry Nassar was sentenced to prison for his crimes. The victory is that the voices of these victims survivors were eventually heard.

The battle continues because the reality of systematic, ignored, and enabled sexual abuse continues in our nation. It continues in organizations (businesses, schools, churches, etc.) where protecting the brand is more important than protecting people. It continues in states where laws designed to bring abusers to justice often do not have enough teeth to actually provide help for the abused. It continues in communities where subtle statements such as "Well, did you see what she was wearing?" and other heinous statements point the blame at the victims rather than the victimizers. It continues in a world where the depravity of sin remains and the only hope for true healing is through repentance and total surrender to Christ.

I was given a copies of Rachael's soon-to-be-released books for review.

Denhollander's books
Rachael Denhollander's books

How Much Is a Little Girl Worth?

One book is written for parents to read to their little girls. How Much Is a Little Girl Worth? is a beautifully illustrated (by Morgan Huff) storybook showing images alongside a poem written by Rachael. I haven't read books written for little girls in a very long time (my daughter is now in her mid-twenties) but as I read this I could clearly sense a mother's love for her daughter throughout. I shared this with the preschool and children's ministry leaders in our church and they stated that every parent of little girls should have this. It declares clear messages intended to be preemptive strikes against the enemy's attack on a girl's identity. The world is a dangerous and a girl's identity is often attacked early, and continually. This portion on page 23 is a great example of the focus...

Your value is found not in what you can do

Or the things you accomplish and win.

It is found in how you were made, precious girl–

Created and cherished by Him.

What Is a Girl Worth?

What Is a Girl Worth? is the autobiographical account by Denhollander giving insight into her upbringing in Michigan, her desire to become a gymnast, and her eventual meeting with Dr. Larry Nassar at his Michigan State University clinic following an injury. Rachael's writing is clear, and narrative. The reader is quickly brought into her world and can begin to see how she transitioned from an innocent young teenager just wanting to become a gymnast to a young woman who, by no desire of her own, had to become the voice of silenced ones who have suffered abuse. 

The reader gets a first-hand view of the fear, frustration, risks, and reality of life that Rachael and her husband Jacob faced. For those who followed the story once it became a media firestorm, there really is no spoiler. Just as those who watched the film "Titanic" knew the ship eventually sunk, the readers know that Larry Nassar was eventually convicted. Yet, while reading (even knowing the outcome) there is a sense of nervousness and a need to turn the page to get to the next portion just to see how the next phase of the account plays out.

It is almost as if you want to read the book as quickly as you can just so you can be assured that Nassar gets convicted. You know he does, but Rachael's writing makes her story personal for the reader and suddenly, even if you never have personally been victimized sexually, you begin to hurt with those who have and want their voices to be heard.

I believe Rachael begins her book with the very best opening line she could have. 

Why didn't you say something sooner? (p. 1)

In this age of #MeToo and #ChurchToo, I have heard many say similar things. Every accusatory statement made for those bold enough to speak about their victimization is referenced in Rachael's book. Suddenly, you discover how easily (maybe unknowingly) people accuse the accuser rather than believe the harmed. 

I have highlighted many portions of the book. There are numerous statements that stood out and made me think more clearly on the issue of sexual abuse and victimization. Here are just a few:

I couldn't choose what had happened, but I could choose how I responded. (p. 87)

Church wasn't safe. Nowhere was safe. (Related to how her Bible teacher chose to teach the David & Bathsheba story plus bringing up an abuse issue in her life that occurred in her church. p. 90)

I noticed that fellow Christians pretty much talked only about our need to understand the wrong things we'd done. No one talked about God's supposed hatred for the wrongs done against us. (p. 99)

Doing good didn't erase the bad. (p. 101)

I care about the survivors. I care about the church. I care about the integrity of the gospel. When we get this wrong, it does terrible damage. (p. 147)

The dynamics survivors have to navigate just to be heard are no-win situations. (p. 157)

"Little girls don't stay little forever. They grow into strong women that return to destroy your world." - Kyle Stephens, abused as a little girl by Larry Nassar while addressing him. (p. 298)

The book is filled with such nuggets of truth and clarity.

The phrase that Rachael puts in the book numerous times, as a reminder of her upbringing, her faith, and her resolve is "The more you love, the harder you fight." This is why she persevered and why she was called the "Five star general" of this army of survivors. 

This book is a systematic account of how God brought Rachael through her pain to be used by Him for His glory and the very good of many other women. It is also the story of how her own wounds found healing as God brought her husband Jacob into her life. I told my wife that the book is a combination of a legal thriller, a sports story, a battle between good and evil, with just a little Hallmark movie in the middle (Chapters 11 & 12).

Denhollander is a Christian and her book is replete with messages related to biblical truths such as sin, grace, forgiveness, true love, and justice. While Christians will connect well with these stories, even non-believers will be able to relate. In other words, while What Is A Girl Worth? is not a "Christian book" (I'm not sure books can become Christians) it is a book written by a Christian and since one's Christianity is not something that can be turned on or off, biblical truths resonate throughout. 

In addition to the pointed story regarding USAG and Larry Nassar, there is a subtext related to the Denhollanders church and how sexual abuse among God's children is often addressed wrongly. Sadly, this was their experience, but as stated in the final chapters, God has brought healing there as well.

I highly recommend Rachael Denhollander's books. For those with little girls, the storybook is a must buy. The autobiographical account in the adult book is for all who have been victimized, know someone who has, or is part of an organization or institution (church, team, business, etc.) that could easily be positioned to protect the "image" of the organization rather than the image-bearers of God within. It is a must read. It will challenge you. It will grieve you. Hopefully and prayerfully, it will be used as a catalyst for change so that other little girls don't find themselves taking the blame for horrendous acts perpetrated on them. 

How much is a girl worth? They are infinitely worthy. 


Grieving For and Reaching the Lost Person in Your Family and Church

I recently purchased and just completed reading the new book by Pastor Dean Inserra (who, by the way, when I talk about his new book to people outside Florida or pastor's groups, am asked "Dean and Sarah who?" This is apparently common.) Dean is the founding pastor of City Church in Tallahassee, Florida.

Unsaved christianHis book The Unsaved Christian: Reaching Cultural Christianity with the Gospel has proven to be very popular among evangelical pastors and church members. This is due, in my opinion, to the fact that Dean has put to paper many of the thoughts and experiences that pastors and church leaders have faced over the past few decades. In some cases, the frustrations have left church leaders wondering what to do next. Dean's book is a primer for next steps of engaging and reaching the American Christian who has unknowingly traded (or never had) the true gospel for the accepted version in our culture.

Many people think they're Christians but have no concept of the severity of sin, necessity of repentance, message of grace, or the overall message of the gospel.1

The struggle is real and for any pastor who laments the latent lostness of church members and attenders, this book provides more than just details on the current state of Christianity in America, but steps for engaging gracefully and strategically with those in need of salvation. 

Over the past couple of decades, I have experienced just about every example of lost "saved" people evidenced in the book. Each evangelical pastor I know echoes this reality. It is heart-breaking, but also very difficult to address. For these reasons, I am thankful for Dean's concise explanations and descriptive steps for evangelizing those who think they're already saved.

This is a slippery slope for some, mainly due to the strategies used by some traveling evangelists over the years that sow seeds of doubt simply to gain presumed decisions at camps, crusades, and revival services. These same strategies have even been used on mission trips or Vacation Bible School to elicit "results." While the numbers of decisions may increase, the numbers of truly saved individuals does not. 

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Grieving Over Lostness

For the cultural Christian (that term refers to the one who is good by cultural worldview standards, may attend church a few times, probably a member of a church, is the neighbor you want, very nice and friendly...but not actually a Christian because he/she has never surrendered to Christ and been redeemed) lostness is not thought of much, if at all. Church is a place, not a people. Deeds are weighed highly. Political beliefs, tolerance, and good citizenship are viewed as the most desired characteristics. 

Yet, for the born again follower of Jesus Christ the lostness of friends and family members remains a constant burden and focus for prayer. To claim to be a Christian and care not for the lives of others is to sinfully ignore the Great Commission and greatest commandment.

It is this burden that motivates Christians to not simply sit idly by while others falsely hold to a "faith" that requires no faith at all. 

When Christians no longer grieve over the lostness of friends and family members, they no longer recognize the urgency of evangelism and of speaking truth. The teaching, falsely attributed to Augustine that states "preach the gospel at all times and if necessary use words" has become a theme for those hoping their loved ones come to Christ, but ignoring the command to make disciples. J.D. Greear states it this way...

You cannot preach the gospel without words. The gospel is and explanation about an act that occurred in history once and for all. We testify through words that Jesus did for us what we could never do for ourselves by living the life we should have lived and dying the death we should have died, in our place, so that others can believe the message and trust in it. Saying, "Preach the gospel; if necessary use words," is like me saying, "Tell me your phone number; if necessary, use digits." Apart from digits, there is no phone number. Apart from words, there is no gospel.2

May we never cease to grieve over the lostness of others. Once we stop grieving, we stop sharing.

Barriers to Truth

I'm convinced that most all evangelical pastors and believers believe in the necessity of salvation through Jesus Christ. In the evangelical world of what is termed conservative Christianity, the concept is loudly affirmed. Those who hold to biblical inerrancy and seek to have a biblical worldview get this.

Yet, we know that cultural Christianity exists. We know that family members, friends, and even some (not all) church members have never truly surrendered their lives to Christ. It's evident in their words, their stated beliefs, ignoring of sin, tolerance of wrong, and their elevation of deeds over faith. It is seen in the devotion to church only when it does not interfere with other events or activities. It is not new as some active members of the church are more committed to the Rotary, the Kiwanis Club, Lions Club, or their lodge than the community of faith. It is inferred or voiced in eulogies at funerals where universal salvation, and particularly the salvation of the recently deceased, is inferred if not clearly stated as the dead person is declared to be in a "better place." 

Well-intentioned Christian leaders desire to see change. They hope for transformation among their congregants. Pastors preach clarity. They refuse to apologize for calling sin what it is. In their desperation they are said to be entertaining at first, but eventually may be accused of being negative, angry, or lacking grace. Church members shift to another congregation to avoid the weekly diatribes. A seeking of positive-worded, deistic therapy is sought and many "churches" offer such.

The fear of offending often keeps Christians from sharing. The fear of losing members can keep good pastors from preaching the fullness of the Word.

When fear wins, people lose (or remain lost.)

When truth is compromised, lostness goes unaddressed.

Comparative Analysis 

Well-intentioned adults may actually live their entire lives believing they have everything in order. It may be because they repeated a prayer at one time, but never surrendered to the lordship of Christ in their lives. It may be because they vote a certain way, are faithful to their spouse, raise their children with good manners, provide financially for their family, and maybe give to charity regularly. All are good, but without Christ, they are worthless.

Not everyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord," will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?" And then will I declare to them, "I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness." - Matthew 7:21-23 (ESV)

Sometimes the largest barrier to surrender to Christ becomes the religiosity of deeds that leaves our friends and family members doing comparative analysis with others. From any equation used, they likely are better people than others. However, compared to Christ, they fall short...just as all of us do.

They need a Savior. They need rescuing. They need redemption. That is only found in Christ. The surrender may be initiated through prayer. It likely will be, but it is more than just repeating words. 

May we never let fear keep us from sharing the truth. 

May we never presume that our loved one or friend is a child of God simply because they are better than the next person. To ask a believer if they are a Christian and have them tell you about their faith journey will not offend a true Christian. So...ask.

Then, be prepared to tell.

May we see a decline in the number of cultural Christians in our communities and an increase in children of God.

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    1Dean Inserra, The Unsaved Christian: Reaching Cultural Christianity with the Gospel (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2019), 12.

    2J.D. Greear, Gaining By Losing: Why the Future Belongs to Churches That Send (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015), 123.