Overwhelmed

I’ve been thinking about the word “overwhelmed” a lot lately. It’s probably because I’ve been feeling it…..a lot. Overwhelmed with emotion. Overwhelmed with activity. Overwhelmed with thoughts. Overwhelmed with worry. Overwhelmed with anxiety.

The word “overwhelmed” means “to turn upside down, to overthrow.” But like so many other words, it can mean something so different based upon its context. While we (or I) may use it more often as a negative word, it can easily be used in a more positive way.

Lately, my use of overwhelmed has felt much more negative. Tomorrow is the six year anniversary of my mom’s death and no matter how far I get from that day, it seems that it still has as severe of an impact as it did when it first happened. I can feel the anxiety and sadness rising up within me. I can feel myself getting overwhelmed.

I’ve had some additional responsibilities on me over the last two months. I’ve found myself growing in many ways, learning how better to manage my time and be more efficient. At the same time, there are moments when I feel incredibly overwhelmed, overcome and overthrown.

Even Jesus, as he prayed in the hours leading up to his death in Matthew 26, was overwhelmed. At least that’s how the New International Version translation of the Bible renders it. “My heart is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”

But I think we can be overwhelmed with good. I think we can be overwhelmed when people do things for us that leave us speechless. I think we can be overwhelmed as we look at the blessings that we have in our lives rather than looking at what we don’t have.

As I’ve pondered it, I’ve thought more and more about how I want to be positively overwhelmed. I know that I will not stop being overwhelmed by other things, but how will I choose to respond?

I had a rough night last night. Didn’t sleep well. Tossed and turned. Dreamed restless dreams. Other than the overwhelming emotion of what tomorrow represents to me, a few other things were thrown at me in the past few days that completely threw me off. I’ve felt vulnerable, detached, disconnected, and aloof. While it was nothing compared to what Jesus talks about in Matthew 26, I woke up in the middle of the night feeling overwhelmed.

I really felt like I had no choice but to do my best to allow myself to be overwhelmed by God. My go-to place for that is the Psalms. I have always appreciated the raw and honest nature of the Psalms. So, I put on my head phones, laid on the couch, and let the Psalms be read into my ears.

And you know what? It worked. I was overwhelmed.

I was overwhelmed with the goodness of my God. I was overwhelmed with his presence with his people. I was overwhelmed with his faithfulness. I was overwhelmed with the salvation that he brings and offers to us.

I think the key to finding the positive aspect of being overwhelmed is to know where we need to go to find it. I will oftentimes go to the wrong place, some place that doesn’t fulfill, that doesn’t really meet the need. When that happens, it does the reverse of positively overwhelming me and I feel even more overthrown. We can all find places that will give us a temporary reprieve from the overwhelming feelings we face.

But in the Psalms, we find the God who is there. We find the God who walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death. We are not alone. We may be overwhelmed, but if we really stop to think about it, we can be overwhelmed by all that God is and all that he has done for us.

This past Sunday, we sang this song in our worship service. It’s a song that I’ve loved from the first moment that I heard it. I had forgotten about it until Sunday and as the music washed over me, I was truly overwhelmed.

Slaying the Giants

goliath must fallAnyone who has attended Sunday School for any length of time is most likely familiar with the story of David and Goliath. David, the young shepherd boy, is on an errand to deliver something to his brothers who are in the army. He hears Goliath taunting the army of Israelites and can’t get over the fact that this Philistine giant is disrespecting the God of the Israelites. David talks to King Saul, who offers for David to wear his armor which is way too big, but eventually, David faces Goliath with only his shepherd’s sling and five smooth stones. Goliath’s confidence is in his strength while David’s confidence is in the strength of God.

Many people read this story and put themselves in the place of David, suggesting that they are the ones who are supposed to conquer their own giants. In his book “Goliath Must Fall,” author, speaker, and pastor, Louie Giglio, suggests that WE are not David in the story, but God is. We don’t fight our battles ourselves, but God fights them for us. In fact, it’s God’s strength that propels us and in order to see true and lasting change in our lives, “we need to understand our dependency on the all-sufficiency of Jesus Christ. Our change is more about trusting and less about trying.”

Giglio suggests that most of us don’t struggle with hundreds and hundreds of giants, but really with five big giants: fear, rejection, comfort, anger, and addiction. The bulk of “Goliath Must Fall” deals with these five giants and the ways that we can battle them.

Words are important, as are titles, Giglio says, thus the name of the book. It’s not that Goliath WILL fall or that Goliath HAS fallen, but Goliath MUST fall. In other words, our giants will not fall in the future at some designated time. Our giants haven’t been conquered even though Christ has won the battle. Instead, in order for us to really live a life of freedom in Christ, our giants MUST fall. It has to happen.

Giglio presents all of this with a sincere honesty. In fact, having recently read Giglio’s other book “The Comeback,” I thought that this book was more honest, real, and even raw. He does not present giant-slaying as something that we do on our own nor does he try to convince the reader that difficulties and hardships won’t exist in our lives. God may just set up a table for us in the presence of our enemies. That table represents God’s provision to us, even as we face and sometimes fail against our giants.

Throughout the book, Giglio continued to return to the story of David and Goliath, giving background information about David. He focused on many of the aspects of the account that can often be overlooked, especially when we jump to the Sunday School version of the story. I was glad to be reminded of the richness of the biblical account of David.

I would recommend “Goliath Must Fall” for anyone who has struggled, is struggling, or will struggle, which means pretty much all of us. Giglio presents his message with encouragement, humor, and honesty. His classification of the five types of giants that we all face seemed spot on as well. This book is a great reminder who is fighting our battles and who is walking alongside us as we face each of our giants.

(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.)

The Comeback – A Book Review

The ComebackComeback stories seem to draw a lot of attention. Some might call them “Cinderella Stories” and others might talk about the underdog, but when it comes to comeback stories, most people seem drawn to them. Maybe it’s the unlikelihood of the stories or the cast of characters that seem to litter the landscape of such stories. Maybe it’s the fact that we’ve all probably experienced a moment or a time in our lives when we’ve needed our own comeback and we’ve been the underdog or the “Cinderella” in the story.

Louie Giglio writes of our own need to experience this and be part of these stories in his book “The Comeback.” We all have come to a place when we’ve needed a comeback. Perhaps we’ve gotten our lives off track by ourselves. Perhaps we’ve just had a number of unfortunate events happen to us. Regardless of the cause of the turmoil in our lives, many of us have come to a place where it’s the bottom of the ninth and we are seemingly down by an impossible number of runs. When we come to that place, we need a comeback.

With his balance of wit, wisdom, and Biblical truth, Louie Giglio shares stories of others who have experienced comebacks in their lives. Some of the people of whom he shares are in the Bible and others are people he’s met along the way. All of them have experienced some kind of comeback in their lives, a second chance, an opportunity to get their heads above the water and begin swimming again. That comeback that we need to experience can only be experienced in Jesus Christ.

It can be easy for those of us who are in need of a comeback to get to a place where we don’t think we deserve another chance. We think, and sometimes the church tells us, that we need to have it all together. Giglio writes, “See, we don’t need to shine ourselves up and sit in a beautiful church sanctuary. We don’t need to gather our children and spouse together and figure out how to become the world’s most functional family. We don’t need to get well before we meet Jesus. That’s what he does for us.” Jesus is the one who provides the comeback for us, we don’t do it ourselves.

Giglio shares a lot of stories in this book. Some of them seem almost as if they came straight from a Hollywood script. In fact, it was hard for me to read a good portion of the first half of this book as there were so many stories of success and comeback that it was difficult to take considering some of the experiences that I’ve had myself. I began to ask myself, “What happens when there is no comeback?”

At just the right time, Giglio gets into that, talking about how comebacks don’t always look like we’d like them to look. Sometimes there is just no cure. Sometimes there is no repairing the relationship. Sometimes the child just doesn’t come home. When we come to that place in our lives when the comebacks don’t match what we had envisioned in our heads, we need to remember that Jesus experienced the ultimate comeback in order that we might experience the same.

There is a life beyond the temporary comeback, a salvation that is eternal, and we can’t lose sight of that. As difficult as it is to accept, the answer doesn’t always match up to our expectation. But just like Lazarus was raised from the dead and would still eventually experience death again, there was something beyond that physical death and we need to remember God’s faithfulness and love in the midst of those times. We need to remember that because of the ultimate comeback of Jesus, we too can experience the same.

“The Comeback” was full of inspiring stories. Louie Giglio is engaging as a storyteller. At times, he can seem to ramble on and maybe overshoot his point, maybe even to the point of ramming it into the ground rather than gently sticking the landing. He never comes across preachy so much as he might come across as wordy. “The Comeback” probably could have been at least twenty to thirty pages shorter.

At times, when it felt like Giglio was edging out into a prosperity gospel, he reeled it back in again and brought in biblical truths that showed just where he stood.

If you have been experiencing frustration and difficulty in your life and you need encouragement, “The Comeback” is for you. This book is geared towards those who are looking for answers and encouragement and Giglio provides both. They might not always be the answers you’re looking for, but they’re the ones you probably need to hear.

(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.)

5Q – A Book Review

5QIn the early days of the Christian church, the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus laying out the various roles of those in the church. He wrote in Ephesians 4:11-13, “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors (shepherds) and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” This description has come to be known as the fivefold ministry of the church.

In the introduction of his new book “5Q” Alan Hirsch writes, “It is sobering to consider that, as far as we can tell, Christianity is on the decline in every Western setting…” This decline of which Hirsch speaks of is due, in his opinion, to the abandonment of the bulk of this fivefold ministry of which Paul wrote. He says, “As for the church’s ministry, the historical church has largely opted to exclude apostolic, prophetic, and evangelistic frameworks and has viewed ministry through the now severely reduced categories of the pastor (shepherd) and the teacher (theologian).” Using the acronym APEST to describe this fivefold ministry, Hirsch claims that the Western church has done a good job of eliminating the APE ministries and accentuating and even overemphasizing the ST ministries.

Hirsch asks his readers to read through this book with soft eyes, doing their best to let go of the ways that they’ve looked at things in the past in order to see more clearly what we’re missing by excluding these crucial elements of ministry for the body of Christ. Hirsch goes so far as to say that, “the fivefold ministry is the way, or mode, by which Jesus is actually present in the church, and by which he extends his own ministry through us.”

Hirsch proceeds to support the idea of fivefold ministry with a biblical foundation. As we live into our own gifting and encourage others into their gifting as well, we begin to fulfill the purpose for which Christ left the church on the earth as his ambassadors and representatives. We move towards the fullness of Christ as we live into this ministry. The church has been sorely lacking by not living into this paradigm and ideology. This lack has led to a “fatal and degenerative dis-ease into the body of Christ.”

Jesus epitomized this fivefold ministry in his own life and the church has been called to carry out and continue to use this paradigm to accomplish his work on the earth. The cultural mandate to which the Church has been called should fulfill this purpose through these ministries. This fivefold ministry of the church Hirsch terms 5Q. As Hirsch writes, “Once we have identified 5Q as perfectly exemplified in the life and ministry of Jesus, we can then see how he grafts these into the foundation of the church.”

Hirsch lays out the five ministries: Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Shepherd, and Teacher. He gives descriptions of the various characteristics of each, also giving examples of how these gifts may manifest themselves in both sacred and secular environments. Hirsch says that these fivefold archetypes can actually be found throughout creation and history, giving them ontological weight.

Hirsch then moves from Christ to the church, describing just what it would look like if the church should embrace 5Q and live into this fivefold ministry and archetypes. He also describes just what happens when there is a deficit in these areas, giving examples of just what that would look like within the church. To live into this paradigm is to move towards a much more functional means of doing things. The apostle Paul described the church as a body and Hirsch agrees. Just as the parts of the body work together with their strengths and functions, so should the church follow suit. To neglect an area is to be deficient. “To remove one is to undermine all the others. We need all five to mature.”

Over and over again while reading “5Q” I found myself nodding my head in agreement with all that Hirsch lays out. The APEST model is something that he has spoken of in his other works as well, but not to this same depth. It makes sense. It’s logical. It’s biblical. In theory, it seems like it should be successful, in a biblical and spiritual sense, not necessarily in a worldly sense.

In order for the 5Q approach to really work, there needs to be a paradigm shift within the Western church. That shift may be easier for some local communities and harder for others. That shift may be easier for some congregations and harder for some pastors. Egos can’t get in the way because they will surely short circuit this approach in a heartbeat. The purpose of a body is shared ministry and experience, if personalities who can’t handle being the center of attention or the primary focus can’t step aside to embrace a fivefold ministry, we can expect that the Western church will continue the decline that we have already been experiencing.

5Q is not a new idea. It’s as old as Christianity itself, but the focus and shift within the church has moved away from a more balanced approach towards ministry and placed the emphasis and weight on a select few. Should we then be surprised when we see some of those crumble beneath the weight and when we see so many longing for something so much more significant than they have experienced? I think not.

I’ve been a fan of Alan Hirsch for years. I had the pleasure of sitting down with him in a little Irish pub in Long Beach, California a few years back. There was no pretense about him in person and his writing reflects the genuine personality that he possesses. He writes not with a pretentious confidence but with a loving desire to share the knowledge and wisdom that he has gained through his own experience, seen both personally and second hand.

If the Western church were to shift back towards this fivefold ministry which Hirsch is encouraging, I think we would see a significant change in effectiveness and in staying power. Of course, if we instead choose to embrace the things that we have always done, we shouldn’t be surprised if we see history repeating itself.

There are plenty of resources in this book for local communities to use to help more towards 5Q. I look forward to exploring them myself to see just how the community of which I am a part can move back towards ministry the way that Christ intended.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from 100 Movements. 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.)

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.)

How Do I Hold This?

On my way to an appointment yesterday, I got a text message from my wife with an update on the father of one of my son’s friend’s dad. Any time I hear the words, “It’s not good,” I always feel like a boulder gets firmly planted in my gut. My shoulders sag, my heart aches, and I do my best to keep the waterworks from starting. Tears seem inevitable, yet I still try to contain them.

There’s so much hurt, pain, and brokenness. I get so frustrated with those false prophets who say that God never gives you more than you can handle. That’s a load of garbage. I can’t find one place in the Bible where it even remotely says that. In fact, I think it says the opposite, that in this world you will find trouble and that if you choose to follow after Jesus, pain will be part of the journey.

As I sit here feeling the weight of all the stuff swirling around me, I keep asking myself, “How do I hold this?” How do I hold onto hope while standing in the face of turmoil?

I’ve always struggled with those who consider themselves Christians and who talk about an absolute assurance with no doubt. My speculation and cynicism makes me think that they’ve never really experienced anything significantly difficult in their lives to be able to hold to that. I’m not saying that I doubt God, but I certainly wonder about his ways at times.

When you’ve seen a godly man like my father who served God for years as a pastor come to a place of brokenness and defeat in his final years and months, it’s hard to have such bulletproof assurance. Again, hear what I am saying, I still believe, but like the man in Mark 9, I continue to ask God to help my unbelief.

I honestly don’t know how people do it without hope and without faith. I recently read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book “Between the World and Me.” It’s a heartbreaking read of a father’s letter to his son. But that father has no hope and without hope, it’s hard to just know what to do about the future. What are we sailing towards if we lack hope? How do we step with one foot in front of the other without hope?

In the words of the old hymn, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” The problem is, sometimes I wish that my hope could be founded in something that I could see and even touch. Sometimes I wish that I could get a little glimpse of that hope for myself rather than having to hold onto God’s promises. It’s not that I don’t think that they’re true, it’s just that sometimes you want something a little bit more tangible.

After hearing of some more difficult news this morning, I almost told my friends that I think it’s time for a prayer meeting. What else is there to do?

While it might seem that I am in despair, I’m not. There’s a difference between discouragement and despair. Despair happens when we lose hope, and I haven’t lost it.

I’m reminded of the words of the prophet Habakkuk in the Bible. Despite the difficulty of the circumstances surrounding him, he still maintained his hope in the Lord when he wrote the following:

Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.

The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights.

My circumstances and the circumstances of the people around me don’t need to dictate my response to them. If those things bring me to my knees, then they draw me closer to the One who holds all these things in his hand…..so that I don’t have to.

How’s Your Soul? – A Book Review

hows-your-soul“You can have millions in the bank, a Maserati in the driveway, and more Instagram followers than the pope, but unless your soul is healthy, you won’t be happy.” So Judah Smith writes within the first pages of “How’s Your Soul?” and then he spends the whole book talking through just what it means to take care of your soul.

As I dove into this book, I entered skeptically. I knew that Judah Smith had risen through the ranks to become one of the most popular hipster pastors of late. But was he for real? While I’ve read his book “Life Is…” the jury was still out in my mind as to where he stood. I’m fine with people writing encouraging and inspirational books, but I was wondering whether or not there was any depth to Smith. After all, there’s already one Joel Osteen in the world, I’d rather not see any more like him.

Judah Smith is the real deal. He’s funny. He’s quirky. He’s self-deprecating. He’s grounded. As much as he is all these things, he brings gospel truth, not compromising the message of the cross or the gospel and clearly laying out the essentials of the Christian faith. Smith writes with a winsomeness that allows for those who aren’t quite there yet in discovering who Jesus is. He’s not pushy or arrogant, but neither does he pull punches when it comes to the truth of the gospel. That won me over.

As Smith talks about the soul, he’s honest about the beginnings of our problems. He doesn’t shy away from the word “sin” and says, “…if we try to apply these…elements to our souls without dealing with the sin issue, it won’t work.” He’s also honest about the work that we do for ourselves and the work that God has done for us when he says, “Self-effort is noble and admirable, and it will carry you through some things; but a love birthed in self will never be strong enough for all things. We need a love that transcends human ability and experience.”

His words are reminiscent of Augustine’s words when he writes, “As our souls find themselves in God, our lives will find their purpose, place, and value in him as well.” We will not find rest in our souls until we find that rest in God alone. He speaks of living lives that are surrendered and surrounded. We surrender to God and surround ourselves with others with whom we can walk. Even if we don’t fully get it or fully believe, it’s important to belong as we enter the process.

I appreciated what Smith said about belonging before believing. Too often Christians can be guilty of asking people to clean themselves up and then coming to Jesus. Smith encourages us to seek ways to allow for people to belong first rather than getting all the behavior right. It is a journey, we belong, then we believe, and then we behave. To try to behave first without belonging and believing is not only counterintuitive, it’s contrary to what Jesus taught us.

“How’s Your Soul?” was a pleasant surprise to me. There is no deep theology here, but that’s not what Judah Smith is going for, he’s just reminding his reader of the importance of soul care for living. It’s a fast read with some worthwhile truth. Check it out!

(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.)

Who’s In Control Anyway?

Clinton, Trump pick up big winsLast night, as I sat in my chair listening to the news on the television in the other room, I opened my Bible to 1 Kings. The kingship of Israel was a tumultuous position. David was a man after God’s own heart despite his flaws. Solomon was the wisest man to live despite his affinity for foreign women. Rehoboam exploited his people and threatened to be more harsh than his father had been.

And on and on the story goes. While there were some bright spots here and there for Israel, there were far more duds.

And you know what? God was still in control. Just because the kings weren’t obedient didn’t change the fact that God was still there.

When he was writing to the church in Rome, the Apostle Paul told them, “…for there is no authority except that which God established.” Eugene Peterson’s The Message paraphrases it by saying, “All governments are under God.”

The thing is, I don’t think that the Church has been doing a really good job in the past days of really believing this and living as if it was true. I think we’ve been driven by fear. I think we’ve believed that the president of a democracy has the power to somehow seize control of that democracy and make it a dictatorship.

It’s hard to think about evil rulers without considering King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. When the Hebrew young men who were in exile refused to worship the image of gold that the king had set up, Nebuchadnezzar was furious and threatened to cast them in the fiery furnace.

I love the way that the young men responded to the king. They said, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

I think that their response is such a foreign one to the ears of so many of us who consider ourselves western evangelicals. God is for us, right? Who could possibly be against us? The United States is a Christian nation, right? God has shed his grace on us, right?

Jesus spoke often about how those of us who follow him would experience persecution. As many times as I’ve read the Bible, I’ve still failed to find the section that talks about how following Jesus sets me up for health, wealth, power, and comfortable living. Maybe I’ve been looking in the wrong place, but I don’t think so.

I’ve not been thrilled coming into yesterday’s election. To be honest, I didn’t vote for either of the party nominations. In good conscience, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. But I’ve got friends who voted for both candidates, and I still consider them my friends today. I’m not judging them, I’m not angry with them, I still love them.

Yesterday was an election, and going into that election, I don’t think that the Church has done a very good job of exhibiting our confidence in a sovereign God. I think some of us have been led by fear. I think some of us have been led by anger. I think some of us have let our imaginations get the best of us after having read too many apocalypse novels.

I truly believe that this is just the beginning of a season of opportunity for all of those who believe in the sovereignty of God, all of those who consider ourselves to be faithful followers of Christ. People will be looking at us to see how we respond, not so much when we agree with the powers and authorities over us, but more when we don’t agree. We’ve not always done a good job in the last eight years of modeling a Christ-like attitude in following our president, will we continue in that vein for the next four years?

If I could have gone back and lived yesterday again, I think I might have made a pin or sticker for myself that said, “I’m with Paul” because Paul’s words still ring true today, “…for there is no authority except that which God established.” They were true back then and they still hold true today.

So, I’m going to do my best to let this be an opportunity for me to shine Christ in the midst of it all. I want my children to see that when I say that I believe in the sovereignty of God, that I mean it. I want my children to see that when their dad gets up and preaches about trusting in God, that he means it. I want my children to see that authority is still authority, regardless of whether I agree with that authority. While I won’t go against anything that God speaks against, I see this upcoming season ahead as a crucial time for the Church to be an example of what it really means to believe in the sovereignty of God.

#ImwithPaul