Looking for Luther?

Martin Luther in His Own WordsWhen it comes to some of the giants of the faith, there are some whose catalog of written works is condensed enough that the task of determining just where to start reading does not seem such an ominous one. Take for instance the Apostle Paul. His letters are found within the New Testament and even if you didn’t know where to start, the works are brief enough that one could potentially tackle them within a month’s (or less) period of time.

At the same time, there are theologians across the centuries whose works are so many that to determine a starting point can seem like such a monumental task that one chooses instead not to dive into those works at all. In cases like the reformer John Calvin, or more modern theologians such as Charles Hodge, Karl Barth, and N.T. Wright, it would be incredibly helpful to have a tool that would be useful to find that starting point.

Enter Jack Kilcrease and Erwin Lutzer. Kilcrease and Lutzer have edited Luther’s writings and compiled and arranged them in a very approachable way in their work “Martin Luther In His Own Words.”

In the introduction, Lutzer writes, “We can neither forget Luther nor ignore him.” Through his words, we can see the reformer’s theology as well as his influence that continues to reach far beyond his lifetime because of the availability of his writings and works.

Appropriately, the book is divided into five sections based on the Five Solas of the Reformation: Sola Fide (Faith Alone), Sola Gratia (Grace Alone), Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone), Solus Christus (Christ Alone), and Soli Deo Gloria (To God Alone be the Glory). Each section contains two or three separate excerpts from Luther’s writings.

The sections are well-footnoted with helpful content. Context and word definitions that are specific to Luther and his time are explained so as to assist the reader, especially those with limited knowledge of the Reformation and church history. With the addition of these footnotes, there is no background information required prior to reading this book. It is a work that can stand on its own.

Lutzer begins the introduction by saying, “This is a book you will want to read more than once.” He is right. The works of Luther that are excerpted and cited are rich and deep, requiring multiple readings to fully drink in all that he expounds upon and shares. All of the specific source material is cited at the end of the book so as to ensure the reader knows just which translations of Luther’s works were used.

Whether you are already familiar with Luther’s works or if you are seeking to venture into them for the first time, this book is a great primer that might act as an appetizer and compass to know just where to start in digging deeper into Luther’s expansive works. While it may seem dry and even too scholarly at first hearing of it, this book gave me new insights into Luther and also helped me to realize that his works are approachable and more easily understood than I initially expected.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

The Most Misused Stories in the Bible – A Book Review

most misused storiesIt’s not uncommon for people who have grown up within the church to have heard many of the stories in the Bible time after time during their days in Sunday school. Some of us who were raised in that vein didn’t fully realize just what some of those stories were about until later on in life when we opened up our Bibles and actually read the stories for ourselves. We realized that some of the stories had only been told in part while others had been somewhat whitewashed and sterilized to take out the more mature elements of them.

There are many stories in the Bible that take on a life of their own depending on who gets a hold of them. These stories are the stories that Eric Bargerhuff focuses on in his book “The Most Misused Stories in the Bible.” Bargerhuff picks a select number of stories from the Bible that seem to have been hijacked for uses other than for what they were intended.

David and Goliath. Jonah and the big fish. Zacchaeus. The wise men. Cain and Abel and more. These stories have been used and abused to make points other than what they were originally intended to make. The main points and lessons that were to be gleaned from them seem to have taken a back seat for secondary lessons that have been elevated as more important.

Bargerhuff does an adequate job going through each of the stories on which he chooses to focus. This is not a book for biblical scholars, but I think that scholars would appreciate Bargerhuff’s focus here. His main intention is for people to be reading the Bible with an intelligent lens, one which thoughtfully approaches the Bible. He encourages the reader to dig deeper into these and other stories to study and determine what they are all about, leaving preconceived notions and prior experience behind.

Context. Biases. The overall big picture of the entire Bible. Bargerhuff does just enough exegetical and hermeneutical work to give a teaser to the reader who may be interested in going further into the study of the Bible. That is the best part of this book to me. Bargerhuff is encouraging people to dig in deeper to the Bible.

While he is promoting the idea of not reading our own agendas into our reading of the Bible, I never got a sense that he was being honest about his own. Each and every one of us bring a certain bias with us when we come the Bible. We will hopefully do our best to make sure that we do our best to remove those, but it is impossible to be completely objective in our readings. With that in mind, Bargerhuff encourages the reader to do all possible to study and bring new light to our readings of the Bible that we cannot arrive at on our own, without the aid of other resources.

It would have been helpful to have had a list of helpful resources at the end of this book in an appendix. Although Bargerhuff includes a Notes section that is extensive and which includes the resource that he used in the writing of this book, a separate section pointing the reader to helpful resources would have been a great addition to this book.

For those who are seeking to dig deeper into the Bible and study more on their own, this might be a good spring board to encourage that. This is a helpful book for those who are just starting out in their journey of studying the Bible. If you are already one who has a fairly well=proven method by which to engage the Bible, this may very well be a book that you can skip.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Bethany House Publishers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

The Imperfect Disciple – A Book Review

The Imperfect DiscipleOn the last page of “The Imperfect Disciple” Jared Wilson writes, “I wrote this book for all who are tired of being tired. I wrote this book for all who read the typical discipleship manuals and wonder who they could possibly be written for, the ones that makes us feel overly burdened and overly tasked and, because of all that, overly shamed.” And if we start with the ending, reading this page first, it really gives us a synopsis of “The Imperfect Disciple.”

Wilson’s sub-title for the book is, “Grace for people who can’t get their act together.” He reminds the reader throughout the book that discipleship is not just working harder, better, or more efficiently. We can only get to where we need to go through Jesus, not through our own efforts. Jesus is not looking for people who have it all together, Jesus is actually looking for people who can’t get their act together. It is those of us who don’t seem to be able to get our acts together that understand better that we are unable to get to where we need to get on our own.

Jared Wilson shares stories from his own experiences in ministry as he walks through what discipleship really can look like. We cannot simply manage our sin and think that’s enough to make us good disciples. In fact, if all we are doing is sin management, then we’ve missed the gospel and the essence of discipleship as it goes so much further than simply outward appearance and action. The essence of discipleship and the gospel penetrates to our hearts and souls, changing us from the inside out. That kind of change is not something that we are able to achieve on our own and the harder we try, the more frustrated we will become.

We cannot think that discipleship is all about us fitting God into the nooks and crannies of our lives. But Wilson says, “…God owns all of life, and worshiping God means we must revolve around him, not us. So God shouldn’t be confined to his own compartment in our schedule. Jesus does not abide in his assigned time slot; we abide in him.”

Wilson explores sabbath rest, worship, and other key areas of the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ. He challenges those of us who think we can achieve and encourages those of us who feel like we will never measure up. While there was nothing here that was earth shattering to me, Wilson’s writing style and delivery made this book a worthwhile read. If you’re looking for encouragement after having tried to measure up to impossible standards, the message of grace that is presented here could be salve for your soul and encouragement for the way forward.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

God Is Still There

As I drove home from spending the day with good friends yesterday, my phone began buzzing, indicating that there was a message for me. Someone wanted to get in touch with me.

I checked the message to find that tragedy had struck my community in the loss of a young man. A message had gone out from the principal of the school alerting parents of the situation and letting them know that the school would do whatever they could in the midst of this tragedy to accommodate and care for students.

I looked in the rearview mirror at my three kids. These situations always feel close to home when I look into their eyes. My wife and I carried on our conversation, injecting questions and thoughts as we went. It was hard to wrap my head around this kind of news. When tragic news strikes, I’ve always felt like there are more questions than answers. Who? What? Where? Why?

Why?

Three simple letters that seem to be as invasive as the surgeon’s scalpel. They cut deep but unlike the scalpel, they don’t always get to the heart of the issue. There is pain. There is sorrow. There is anger. The emotions run rampant and wild as we wrestle with a new reality as it begins to set in.

Late last night, I got a text from someone struggling with the news. Words of comfort seem trite to me in times like this. Even as a man of deep faith who has experienced his own losses, the freshness and newness of loss demands something so much more than words can offer.

This morning, I was reminded of the shortest verse in the Bible, John 11:35, “Jesus wept.” The context is important here. Jesus’ friend, Lazarus, has died. His sisters insist that if Jesus had been there, he would not have died. Jesus comforts Mary and Martha with words. He tells them that their brother will rise again and reminds them that he (Jesus) is the resurrection and the life, that whoever believes in him, even though they die, will live. Then Jesus asks where his friend has been laid. When he reaches the tomb, he is greatly moved by the mourners and by the heartfelt pain of these sisters, and Jesus weeps himself.

Jesus’ response in the midst of this tragedy speaks deeply to me. He knew that he was going to heal Lazarus and raise him from the dead. He knew that death would be averted for a little while. Yet he still wept.

Sure, Jesus pointed them towards truth in the beginning, but then he simply wept with his friends. Jesus didn’t get on his soapbox and begin to preach. He said what he needed to say and then he got onto the task at hand: mourning and weeping.

To be honest, I don’t really think that we do that well. I’ve experienced it on both ends of the situation, as the one who is seeking to comfort another and as the one who is seeking to be comforted.

On the day that my father died, I had two friends with me. As I loved on my father and spoke gentle words to him, one of my friends began to weep. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t offer any words. He simply wept.

Sometimes the best thing for us to do is to simply come alongside those who are suffering and experiencing loss and not provide answers, but weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn. There will be a time for asking questions and a time for seeking answers.  

The great Scottish author George MacDonald wrote, “The Son of God suffered unto the death, not that men might not suffer, but that their sufferings might be like His.” While we weep, we are not alone. In the pain, in the tragedy, in the heartbreak, God is still there. His voice might not always seem decipherable in the loudness of death, but his presence can be felt as he weeps with us. We are not alone.

 Yes, there will be a time for questions and answers, but in the freshness of loss, the best thing that we can do is to weep alongside those who are weeping. There may be a time when the answers that we’ve arrived at are appropriate to share, but that time is not now. May we practice the presence of Jesus alongside those who are grieving and mourning.

The Tech-Wise Family – A Book Review

techwise familyUnless you’re living in a bubble, you’re aware of the vast influence of technology on our society and culture (and if you’re living in a bubble, you’re most likely not reading this review). Like so many other tools, technology can simplify our tasks and make things easier for us, but it can also present challenges and pitfalls that we need to be aware of and for which we need to create boundaries. As Andy Crouch says, “If there’s one thing I’ve discovered about technology, it’s that it doesn’t stay in its proper place on its own…”

In his book “The Tech-Wise Family,” Andy Crouch lays out his top ten tech-wise commitments for families. He divides them, more practically, into three separate sections: the three key decision of a tech-wise family, daily life, and what matters most. Crouch leads the reader through each section, pointing to data from the Barna Group to bring some levity and reality to just how serious the technological situation is among families in our culture.

Crouch doesn’t call for a straight boycott and abandonment of technology, just a means and method by which it can be held in check. Either we get it under control or it will control us. Technology has a way of creating a culture where we see “easy everywhere.” In other words, we’ve simplified tasks and other things to the point that all that is required is a screen swipe or a button push, tasks that once required much more brainpower than they now require.

Andy Crouch pushes for creating spaces where we live “tech-free,” once a day, once a week, and once a year. How do we create Sabbath from everything, including technology? The challenge that this presents to families is that our kids might try to lead an uprising and a revolution, but Crouch suggests that, like his family, we need to make sure that the phrase “our family is different” becomes a regular part of our vocabulary.

Crouch pushes for the need to build family who are about wisdom and courage, which is not always easy, but so worth it. Are we instilling good values into our kids? Though he doesn’t explicitly say it, he certainly implies that if we aren’t instilling good values in our kids, values will come at them by whatever is at arm length, like their devices. I don’t think that’s an alternative that many of us who are parents would gladly choose.

While the tendency for parents might be to overreact at the potential pitfalls and dangers of technology, Crouch doesn’t advocate for isolating our children, just doing things differently with them. He writes, – “The path to health is not encasing our children in some kind of germ-free sterile environment that they will inevitably try to flee; rather, it is having healthy immune systems that equip us to resist and reject things that do not lead to health.” Using technology wisely isn’t an abandonment of it but a call to be more strategic in just how we use it.

At the end of each chapter, Crouch includes a “Reality Check” section where he talks about his family’s experience with the tech-wise commitment covered within that chapter. He is honest, not candy-coating the struggles that he and his family have had with some of these commitments. The honesty and candor here is a draw, especially for those families who will have to implement guidelines and commitments after having little to no boundaries around technology.

As I look at technology and its development, it seems that it might be easily compared to a high-speed train. Parents can’t simply sit back and hope for the best, there needs to be intentionality in a family’s approach to technology. Andy Crouch offers a clear, thoughtful, and thorough approach. He never claims that it’s easy, but he does say that it’s effective. For any parent wanting to navigate these waters for their family, “The Tech-Wise Family” is a helpful resource. It’s not foolproof but it offers a good place to start.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Jesus Journey – A 40 day journey

Jesus journeyThroughout the history of Christianity, there have been two ways that people have looked at Jesus. Jesus was God in flesh, incarnate, revealing who the Father is by the things that he said and did. He was seen as more superhuman than human and much more divine than just a man. This is a view of God from above.

The other way people have looked at Jesus was simply as a man, someone that we could relate to who happened also to be God in the flesh. His pain was experienced so that we could know we were not alone. The oppression he faced was faced so that those who are oppressed can relate to him and find comfort in who he is and what he has to offer. This is a view of God from below.

No one has ever existed before or since Jesus who was fully human and fully divine. Trying to find the balance between Jesus’ humanity and divinity can be problematic. Trent Sheppard sees the emphasis having been much more on Jesus’ divinity, which is why he wrote “Jesus Journey.”

In “Jesus Journey,” Trent Sheppard looks more at the humanity of Jesus. He doesn’t deny or diminish his divinity, but he draws from the stories of the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, to paint a picture of Jesus that helps the reader to see him more human than maybe they have in the past.

Jesus was hungry, Jesus got angry. Jesus was stressed. Jesus needed sleep and rest. It might be easy to gloss over the humanity of Jesus in a reading of the gospels, but Sheppard tries to accentuate the accounts that help the reader see Jesus more realistically. He also does a good job of reminding the reader that the way that we see Jesus, two thousand years later, is not necessarily the way that the disciples and others of his time saw Jesus. It was a stretch for them, a process of belief that they entered into, to come to the place where they saw him as the Messiah.

Sheppard also breaks up the book in sections to look at the relationships that Jesus had with his parents, his Father, his friends, his death and suffering, and his resurrection. Through personal stories and anecdotes as well as the accounts found in the gospel, Sheppard weaves his way through the life of Jesus helping the reader to see the humanity of Jesus.

While I didn’t find anything outstanding here, I appreciated what Sheppard wrote. Having grown up in the church, it’s too easy to look at Jesus as the superhero and forget about his humanity. Sheppard does a good job of not deemphasizing Jesus’ divinity while reminding his reader that Jesus went through all of the things that ordinary humans have to go through as well.

“Jesus Journey” was a worthwhile read and could be useful as a devotion. Sheppard lays out his book in such a way that the reader can go through it in 40 days. The chapters aren’t too long and this could easily be a book that someone could read through during the 40 days of Lent in preparation for Easter.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

A Book Review of “One” by Deidra Riggs

one deidra riggsThe back cover of “One” reads, “Our world needs fewer walls and more bridges. Be a bridge builder.”

It seems that’s exactly what Deidra Riggs is promoting in her book. she makes a case for Christians not necessarily having missed the boat on the gospel as much as we have missed the boat on our understanding of love in the kingdom of God. We are divided within the church and our example and witness hardly seems consistent when we talk about a God who accomplishes the impossible.

Riggs writes, “As members of the body of Christ, our language and cultural differences and our music and sermon length preferences seem like weak and empty reasons for separating ourselves from one another and thinking it’s okay to do so.” We have separated and segregated ourselves, sequestering ourselves in homogenous communities, churches, and other places. Riggs indicts Christians as having chosen, “churches and faith communities that envelop us in the comfort of people who look like us, think like us, vote like us, and dream like us.”

We’ve chosen to divide ourselves by our issues rather than looking past them to our commonalities. Our differences seem to be the one thing that our God can’t seem to conquer, at least in our own minds. We don’t work to move past these things because of the potential mess and discomfort that would be involved. Instead of looking to understand differences in ideas, opinions, and viewpoints, we choose instead to turn them into lines in the sand. Riggs writes, “…distilling a moment in a person’s journey to categories – pro-life or pro-choice, criminal or upstanding citizen, sinner or saint – limits out ability to let God be God in the life of that person.” She adds later, “When the people on the other side of our argument become our enemies, and we identify them as such, we have let our argument become our idol.”

“A faith that uses Jesus to justify any type of division, prejudice, injustice, or superiority needs to be examined and brought back into alignment with the truth of Christ’s message of good news.” We can’t remove our call to love our neighbors from the message of Jesus Christ. While that may feel uncomfortable, justifying our division, as Riggs says, needs to be evaluated in light of that message.

Riggs is incredibly honest about her own part in this. She admits her struggle and candidly shares of her own story. She is not perfect and never comes across as such. She admits, “When I mistake my position on an issue as being critical to my identity, I’ve let these differences stand between me and others in the body of Christ.”

We often struggle when we don’t fully understand from where someone is coming. Our lack of understanding, or ignorance, should be no excuse for downplaying how someone experiences something that is completely foreign to us. Instead, we need to lean into the relationship to try our best to understand where the other person is coming from. We cannot dictate how a person should or should not respond to a situation, especially when they’re coming to it from a completely different perspective or viewpoint than us.

When it comes to racial divides, It’s inappropriate for white people to be telling black people to “get over it” or “move on from the past” when the past continues to rear its ugly head and prove that it’s not as far back in the past as we’ve made it seem. Love and understanding need to be our primary goal when we encounter these situations that divide us. In fact, downplaying and diminishing the experiences of others in the midst of this will actually increase the divisions that already exist.

So much of what Riggs shares speaks to my heart. I’ve spent a significant amount of time in the past months exploring the issue of division and race. There is a tension that I feel though as I read “One” and I keep trying to put my finger on just what it is. Is it my own discomfort in having to change my ways or is it a discomfort in something that just feels wrong or different?

Riggs writes, “If we let our convictions take the place of Jesus in our lives, we could very well be standing in the way of the same Holy Spirit with whom we profess to be filled.” As I read this, I’m trying to understand just what Riggs wants us to do with our convictions. Isn’t it the Holy Spirit who gives us those convictions? How can the convictions that we have received from the Holy Spirit stand in the way of the Holy Spirit himself?

Of course, we can easily be reminded of the story of Peter in Acts having a vision of animals that had been called “unclean” to him coming down from heaven while he heard a voice telling him to eat. His own convictions ended up being wrong because God had expanded the menu. As Riggs writes, hiding behind spiritual convictions to justify our own prejudices is unacceptable.

I read Riggs’ arguments as being specifically pertaining to the racial divide that we see within the church, but there are times when I wonder if she’s moving past that to other areas that are seemingly dividers within the church. While she never explicitly mentions it, it’s hard not to think about the current state of the church in America and some of the other divisions that we see over convictions and the interpretation of those convictions. While I don’t condone unloving or ungodly prejudices, there is a tension that we will feel as followers of Christ when we hold to conviction of sin while still loving our neighbors, regardless of where they stand.

I may be reading too deeply into what Riggs has written and my own bias may be expanding her arguments past what her intentions were. Despite my discomfort with my interpretation of what Riggs is saying, I applaud her for speaking into this topic of division and race with such conviction and raw honesty. What she offers in “One” is an opportunity to engage a difficult subject by someone who has been far more impacted by it than I have and whose understanding can help me with my own.

“One” is an opportunity to begin to understand, especially if you are like me and are coming at the issue of racial division within the church from one who is not the minority. I would encourage you to hear what Deidra Riggs has to say. Let it challenge you, but more importantly, let it move you.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Every.Single.Milestone

Yesterday was kindergarten registration and I brought my baby girl to register. Seriously, how did these years go so fast? This is the last one, my baby, my only girl, my princess, which is one reason why it’s that much harder. Sure, she’ll always be “daddy’s girl” but it’s just one of a series of milestones that I just have to get used to, no matter how hard it is.

Compounding the kindergarten registration, it’s just been a rough week. We had some minor issues with our house, nothing unusual or serious, but for some reason, every issue with houses, cars, and family always seems to be monumental when I’m going through it.

My emotional state wasn’t helped at all when a dear family in my church tragically lost their twelve year old grandson…

And it probably also didn’t help things any when I backed our van into my car on Saturday…

Then it was the four year anniversary of my dad’s death on Monday…

Then the father of my oldest son’s friend passed away…

Then another friend was handed a breast cancer diagnosis…

And the hits just keep on coming. But that’s life, right?

In the midst of these moments, the ups and downs, the high points and the low points, I feel the loss of my parents that much more. Just the comfort of hearing my mom’s voice on the other end of the phone and ending our conversation with prayer was a game changer for me. I’m no longer able to benefit from their experiences, other than the ones that they shared with me, which in less than 40 years just doesn’t really seem like much.

But God…

Yup, he’s still there. He is still not surprised by any of this. He still cares. He hasn’t removed himself from the picture. In fact, in the shadow of Easter, we remember that he suffered anguish and pain, that the difficulties of this world are not unfamiliar to him. He walked his own journey, felt his own loss, struggled with his own pain, and wept his own tears.

Sometimes it feels like every single milestone requires an exorbitant amount of strength just to get through or over. It’s like the fatigue that you feel on the last set of your workout. I sometimes feel like the little engine that could, continually reassuring myself with the simple words, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can….”

I want those words to be replaced with something about how I know God can, but I’d be lying if I said that those words were always at the top of my list or on the tip of my tongue.

In Bible study the other morning with the eighth grade boys that I mentor the lesson was on Mark 9 and the man whose son was demon possessed. When Jesus asked him how long his son had been like that, the father answered, “But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

You can just hear the frustration and exhaustion in the man’s voice. He’d probably been to person after person who he’d been told could help his son, only to come to another dead end, another disappointment, another ounce of hope dashed to the ground. I can completely understand his response to Jesus, regardless of whether or not he knew who Jesus was. I’ve been there before, I’ll probably be there again.

But God…

Yes, he’s still there, but sometimes he seems silent. Maybe he’s just speaking softer than we can hear. Maybe we just need to find solitude and quiet in order that we can actually hear him. Maybe he knows better than most people in the midst of dark times and instead of filling the air with empty words and platitudes, he simply offers us his presence, choosing rather to grieve with those who grieve and mourn with those who mourn. God has not left the building and he, in fact, knows how best to minister to us better than anyone else around us, but it’s not through prescribed solutions and quick fix answers.

Life continues to march on. Milestones come and go, registrations happen, sickness happens, loss happens, transitions happen. They are all a sign that things continue to move. We cannot stop the passing of time. 

But we are not alone, nor were we meant to be alone. We have been given the gift of God’s presence, those of us who call ourselves his children. We have been given the gift of the presence of each other, which can sometimes feel more significant because of its tangibility.

As I drove away from the elementary school after registering my daughter, tears welling up in my eyes, my mind jumped to my family’s cross country trip last summer. I thought about the Grand Canyon and the Hoover Dam and Carlsbad Caverns and New Orleans and Memphis and Los Angeles and Denver and all of the places we went. I thought about the many miles we drove, packed together in a minivan. I thought about the absurd moments that took place, I laughed at the shared moments by which we are all bonded together, and I wondered whether or not my kids have any friends who have dads who are as goofy, inappropriate, and unrefined as me. I thought of all those things……..and I smiled.

Hope for the Same-Sex Attracted

hope for the ssaOne of the most compelling aspects of Ron Citlau’s book “Hope for the Same-Sex Attracted” is that he writes from his own personal experience. CItlau is someone who has struggled with same-sex attraction and allows that to be the lens through which he sees things.

Citlau divides his book into three parts: obstacles, gifts, and final thoughts.

In the obstacles section of the book, Citlau looks at same-sex identity, claiming that for Christians who struggle with same-sex attraction, this can’t be a viable option. He says that embracing that identity does not leave room for the possibility of transformation that can be done through Jesus Christ.

Another obstacle that Citlau identifies is the obstacle of gay marriage. One of his main points in this section is that coming together in marriage is based on differences rather than sameness. One of the main purposes of marriage, Citlau claims, is procreation and creating a family through children. He also claims that gay marriage tells a fundamentally different story and creates a different narrative than traditional marriage.

His final chapter in the obstacles section is on the spiritual friendship movement. There has been a push among those who struggle with same-sex attraction to push this movement forward. Citlau claims that the men and women who are behind this movement are people who have been suspicious of evangelical methods of dealing with same-sex desires. But Citlau is critical of this approach of finding spiritual friendships because it seems like a compromise of the biblical principle of dying to one’s self rather than embracing your struggles. While Citlau applauds those who are pushing this movement forward for some things, his tone indicates a concern for the dismissal of the possibility of transformation.

In the second part of the book, Citlau moves to a more productive focus by looking at things that can act as gifts to those who are struggling with same-sex attraction. Within this section, he looks at the gift of the church, the gift of healing communities and Christian therapy, the gift of singleness, the gift of marriage, and the gift of prayerful lament. Citlau points towards positive things that can be beneficial and helpful to those who find themselves struggling with same-sex attraction and who still see it as contrary to the teachings of the Bible.

Relationships are key and Citlau suggests that it is within the church and the community there that relationships can be formed. Citlau puts major responsibilities on the church to function as the type of community that loves, supports, and encourages those who are struggling with their attractions and desires. He has strong words for the church, challenging the church to be a place where testimonies of transformation are constantly told. If testimonies are not shared, it will not be a place where hope will be found. He is critical of the lack of depth in relationships formed in general, not just the church. In order for deep change and transformation to occur in all of us, we need to be willing to move past the superficial and allow ourselves to know others and be known by them.

Citlau pulls no punches when it comes to same-sex attraction, writing that it “is caused by sin and finds its roots in a fractured sexual identity.” He points to healing communities and Christian therapy as a means to become whole in our sexual identity as males and females. He explains what healing communities are and gives examples of some that may be helpful for those who are struggling. While healing may not be the end of the struggles, he points towards it as a means to achieve wholeness.

The next sections under the gifts section have to do with singleness and marriage. Citlau quotes from the Bible and points to the fact that singleness is a calling, either temporary or long-term. He lays out the advantages of it and gives multiple examples of some who have found benefit in this gift. Citlau also talks about marriage and how he himself has experienced the benefit of heterosexual marriage despite his struggle with same-sex attraction. He is quick to say that marriage will not “fix a person’s same-sex attraction.” He is not calling it a fix all solution but says that it may be an option for some who struggle with same-sex attraction.

The gifts section of the book concludes on prayerful lament. Citlau points to the Psalms as a means for raw honesty with God. God promises to be with his children and to hear them and the Psalms are a shining example of how we can share our struggles with God while still acknowledging that he is Lord over all. Citlau does not make light of the struggle nor does he try to explain or pray it away, but he does say that admission of the struggle to God can go a long way in moving towards wholeness.

In the final section, Citlau challenges church leaders in the midst of the culture in which she finds herself. There were two things that stood out to me in this section. First of all, Citlau reminds leaders to stand “what is right and true” while at the same time not couching hatred and disgust in religious terms. Second of all, he challenges the church to constantly remember that the God that we serve is a God of the extraordinary who changes and transforms his people. Citlau holds to his convictions while at the same time challenging the church to move forward in a different way than they have in the past.

It is evident throughout this book that Citlau is passionate about that which he writes. His own struggle with same-sex attraction makes a compelling case for his writing. While his convictions are strong and he is honest and true in what he says, he never comes across as condescending or simplistic. He admits the struggle over and over again and never diminishes that at all. At the same time, he has pointed out what he sees as errors in judgment of the church, bending to the ways of the culture or running from them to hide and surrounding herself with sameness and couching hateful language in biblical rhetoric.

Transformation and wholeness are common themes within this book. Ron Citlau seems to allow for the struggle while at the same time seeking to allow for the transformative work of God to take place. He never claims that it is easy, but he offers hope for those who continue to see their own same-sex attraction and the following out of their desires as contrary to the Bible and following Christ. As with many books, there are things to take and things to leave. It’s unlikely that someone who has not faith in Jesus Christ would find this book helpful, not because of Citlau’s tone or even his convictions but simply because of a difference of ideologies and beliefs.

While not necessarily a convincing read for those who hold no spiritual convictions, I think that Citlau shares some insights in this book that are at least worth a glance for those who struggle with same-sex attraction and who find themselves wondering how to still follow after Jesus Christ.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Bethany House Publishers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

What’s so “good” about Good Friday?

Today is Good Friday, at least for those of us who consider ourselves followers of Christ. It’s the day when we remember Jesus’ death on the cross, his suffering and beating, the injustices done against him, his abandonment by those who called themselves his followers. As I think about all that happened on Good Friday, none of it seems to add up to giving it the moniker “good.”

But we can’t look at Good Friday on its’ own. The only way that Good Friday can really be called “good” is if we look at it in light of what happens just three days later. Good Friday becomes good when we realize just what it led to, the celebration of Easter Sunday.

As I think about Good Friday and all that Jesus did, I realize that his work is nothing that can be duplicated by any of us. He alone was able to live a perfect life. He alone was able to be a sacrifice for our sins. He alone was able to rise again after three days in the tomb. But I think we can learn lessons from what Jesus did, at least one lesson for every day that he was in the grave (give me a break, good things come in threes, right?).

1) The will of the Father was more important than his own

Jesus knew his purpose and mission from the beginning. From the moment when he began his public ministry and was baptized by John the Baptist, Jesus exhibited submission to the Father. The Father’s voice rang out from the heavens, “This is my beloved son in him I am well pleased.”

While most of us may have gone the selfish route, Jesus did not waiver in deed from his mission. He submitted to the Father’s plan and accomplished the perfect work. Jesus’ agenda was the agenda of his Father, not his own.

How many of us can say the same thing? Do we really allow the will of our Father to take priority to our own?

2) He knew there was a bigger plan at work

Not only was Jesus submissive to the Father, but he also kept the bigger plan in mind. Jesus knew what the end result needed to be and he did not waver from it. Jesus had every reason to get caught up in who he was, the Messiah, and what he was able to do, but he didn’t. Jesus, in fact, continued to try to conceal who he was until the moment was right. He knew the bigger plan and did not want to derail that plan or for anything to happen before the appointed time.

How often do we remember that God has a bigger plan in mind? Do we get hijacked in thinking that our plan is more important than the master plan?

3) He didn’t open his mouth

In fulfilling the prophecies that had been spoken of him, when Jesus was arrested and tried, he did not say much at all. He did not defend himself. He did not use his divine powers. He simply kept his mouth shut.

I don’t know about you, but this has to be one of the most difficult things for me to do in following the example of Jesus, especially when I feel that I am under attack. It’s hard not to be defensive, let alone not opening my mouth. My reflex and automatic response is always self=preservation, yet Jesus was less concerned about himself and more concerned about what we saw in lessons 1 and 2 above. The will of the Father was more important than his own and the bigger plan was more important than his own plan.

As I reflect on Jesus’ work over the course of these days leading up to Easter as well as the lessons we learn from him, it’s a little overwhelming to think about. No matter how hard I could try, I could never measure up to Jesus and all that he did. While that may seem deflating, it’s actually freeing to understand that Jesus’ work was enough and there is nothing that I can add to it. While I can follow his example, even when I don’t, he offers me forgiveness and grace.

Good Friday is indeed good. What happened on Easter was great. May we constantly pursue the example of Jesus as we are constantly transformed into the image in which we were created, the imago dei, the image of God.