Real Marriage by Mark & Grace Driscoll

As a fan of Mark Driscoll, I was excited to have the opportunity to receive a free copy of Real Marriage when it was first introduced.  I’ve read many books on marriage, and this is certainly one of the better ones – but also not the best.

_225_350_Book.550.coverThe Driscolls’ book is frank and honest regarding marriage, and at times I found myself feeling like I didn’t live up to the ideal they described for the Christian husband.  That’s not to say shame on them, but rather shame on me – for everything I found myself convicted of was something that I agree with them on, and I do want to do better at.  The best part of the book was the first few chapters, but I was disappointed that nearly half the book focused on sex.  I understand why this is the case, but I also understand that while sex for Christians can only happen in marriage, marriage is much more than sex.  But it would be difficult to understand that from the way it is portrayed in this book.  I’m no expert on the topic, but my understanding is that just as many marriages fail due to issues of finances as anything else, so I find it interesting that they never once brought this up in the book.

Overall, I’ll give the book 4/5 stars.  I would recommend it for married couples and for newly-weds, but for those who haven’t read Gary Thomas’ Sacred Marriage or the Eldredge’s Love & War, I would recommend starting with those books.

For the record, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily favorable, review.


Best Books for 2011

Considering we’re over two weeks into 2012 and I’ve had this on my to-do-list since the end of December, it’s time for me to compile my list of favorite books I’ve read and reviewed in the last year.  But I’m going to do this a little differently than you’d probably expect.  I’m not going to pick my highest-rated books based on my reviews, but I’m going to list the books that have had the biggest impact on my life.  Yes, I read for enjoyment, but most of the books I’ve reviewed on this blog have also been because I’m seeking to learn and grow, so at the end of the year I’m looking back to reflect on which ones led to the most growth and change in my life.

So here goes – my best books of 2011 – and what I learned from them (for the record, these are listed in the alphabetical order, not in rank-order):

  • Beautiful Outlaw by John Eldredge – This one almost seems obvious, given my love of Eldredge’s works, but when you also consider that I’ve reviewed other books by favorite authors (Yancey and Lucado to name a couple) and not included them on my list, you’ll realize this isn’t an exercise in listing my favorite authors. No, this is an exercise in listing those books that had the biggest impact on my growth over the past 12 months. It’s sad to say, but when I looked at the list of all my reviews I found myself saying, “Wow – I don’t even remember what that book was about!” That’s not the case with this one, though. Beautiful Outlaw challenged my view of Jesus in a way that few other books have ever done so. While I have some reservations (mentioned in the two reviews I post), I put this book down with a desire to know Jesus more personally and deeply than I had when I started – and it motivated me to spend more time in the Word and in conversation and fellowship with Him and others. To me that’s the mark of a book leading to change and growth.
  • Behind the Veils of Yemen by Audra Grace Shelby – just like Now I Walk on Death Row and While the World Watched helped me once again see the world through another’s eyes: this time through the eyes of those who are lost believing the lies of Islam. And it opened my heart to the necessity of reaching those people through my own actions – including gifts and prayers.
  • Church Diversity by Scott Williams – take Transformational Church and combine it with While the World Watched and you have an idea of the impact of Williams’ book. This book challenged me to think about worship and leadership in many new ways, it confirmed much of what I thought was happening in situations I was facing at various times throughout the year, and it offered insight into how I needed to approach some of those situations. This book is definitely deserving of being named to my list.
  • Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me by Ian Morgan Cron – Here’s the surprise book on my list, especially considering I gave it such a horrible review. But here’s why I’ve got to put it on my list of best reads: it caused me to reflect on how often I share Jesus with other people and ask myself the question, “Do others see Jesus in me?” My complaint about the book was that it didn’t focus me enough on the life and work of Christ – which then convicted me to say, “How can I do a better job than this book did?” I guess it’s like the old adage that says “You can learn just as much (if not more) from a non-example than you can from an example.” As I said in my original the review, the book is an absolute blast to read – it just didn’t have the focus I was looking for. But, six months after I read it, I still find myself thinking about it and recognizing it had a positive impact on my spiritual growth, so I’ve got to put it on my list.
  • Money & Marriage by Matt Bell – I wish I could say that all our money struggles were fixed after I read this book and that I was able to take every suggestion Bell had and put it into practice. What I can tell you is that it did lead to changes in how I view and manage money – all for the better – and so in that sense this book marked the beginning of a slow process for the better.
  • Now I Walk on Death Row by Dale Recinella – Here’s a book that tells the story of a real-life person who gives up everything this world counts as precious and trades it for the opportunity to minister to “the least of these”. I’m not suggesting everyone needs to be a prison chaplain, or even that I am looking to be one, but this book helped remind me there are lost and hurting people everywhere who need the love of Jesus – and that it is possible to be an agent for good in a lost and hurting world.
  • Radical by David Platt – to this day I still think back to the seemingly simple challenge Dr. Platt refers to as “radical” (read your Bible, pray, and give). And to this day I still struggle to do it! One of the best lessons I learned from the book, though, is the importance of sharing Jesus with other people and being motivated to do it. Platt’s comment that there “is no plan B” has been on my mind practically every day for the past year – and I find it convicting and motivating.
  • Simply Sacred by Gary Thomas – I’m still reading this book every day and finding more and more truth in it than the first time I read it. Melissa and I have been working through it as our daily devotional now for a couple of months and the insights Thomas shares have caused me to really examine my own beliefs and behaviors as I work to match them up with what God has called us to be and do. And since it’s the book we’re using for our couple’s devotional, it’s also challenged me to reflect on how we can grow spiritually as both a couple and family. Perhaps more than any other book on the list, this book has led to real change in how I act.
  • Transformational Church – I’ve spent the last eight years studying and working to better understand what it means to worship and what a church should be. Transformational Church is one of the best book I’ve ever read that answers that question. Without going into a lot of detail, the concepts and teachings in this book are ones that I applied in my own ministry and ones everyone in ministry should study, learn, and implement.
  • While the World Watched by Carolyn Maull McKinstry – I really didn’t anticipate or plan for this to be a “Top 10” list, but I guess it has ended up that way. This book really helped me see what it was like to live in a segregated society through the eyes of a black person. While segregation is something we learn about in school, since I was born after it was illegal (and because I grew up in the North) it was never anything I experienced. When I moved to North Carolina eight years ago I was shocked by the amount of racial tension I found here. While the past certainly doesn’t justify certain actions and policies that are present now, it absolutely helps explain them. This book really helped me see the world through someone else’s eyes.

So there you have it – my list of the most influential books on my life for the year 2011.  While I don’t make resolutions, I did start last year with a goal of reading at least one book a month – a goal I more than kept when I looked back and realized I reviewed 33 books last year.  While most were wonderful (and there are some I really considered putting on this list), the ones listed here are the ones that a year after reading them I can look back and say (without even looking at the list of my reviews), “I remember reading this book – here’s what I thought of it and here’s how it changed me.”  To me that’s what reading to grow is all about.  Sure, in reviewing the list of books I read I saw titles that caused me to say, “Oh yeah, I remember that – that was a great book!”  But their recollection needed a little reminder.  The ones on this list, though?  No reminder at all was needed.

So what’s coming next?  Here are some on my “To Read” shelf that will have reviews posted as soon as they’re completed:

  • Real Marriage by Mark & Grace Driscoll
  • Every Body Matters by Gary Thomas
  • Radical Together by David Platt
  • Out of a Far Country by Christopher Yuan
  • Why Jesus? by Ravi Zacharias
  • Doctrine by Mark Driscoll and Gary Breshears
  • Steve Jobs by Walter Issacson

That’s just a small list – thank you to all those who follow this blog and listen to my ramblings and reviews.  Hopefully you find them enlightening, encouraging, and maybe even a little entertaining.  Here’s looking forward to another year.

God’s Favorites

For those who don’t live on the East Coast, last week Hurricane Irene visited Eastern NC and did quite a bit of damage – at our house we lost a 45′ tree, part of a fence, and a ton of shingles off our roof, not to mention power for 12 hours and phone and internet for three days.  But we weren’t even the worst hit.  We had friends here without power for 4-5 days (one couple in our neighborhood is STILL without power after 12 days!), trees fell on houses and literally killed people, and schools and businesses were shut down for at least two days (some districts are still out two weeks later!).  It’s not that Irene was a terribly strong storm (it was only a Category 1), it’s that it was a BIG and SLOW storm (roughly 900 miles from north to south and moving at only 14 mph here).  We had sustained hurricane force winds for, well, 20+ hours.

It hit two Friday’s ago overnight and all day on that Saturday.  On Sunday church was cancelled (as were most churches since roads were still impassable because of downed power lines, trees, and localized flooding), so when I got up on Sunday AM I decided to go for a walk around the neighborhood to see how everyone had fared.  I loaded the girls in the stroller and the three of us set out about 8:00am to see the world outside our four walls (Melissa was still sleeping).  I have to say that the entire time I was just in awe at the devastation around the area; below are some pictures I took while on my walk around the neighborhood.

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As we walked Chloe kept saying over and over (and she said it for days afterwards), “This storm made a mess, Daddy.”  The overwhelming response I had while I walked was just thanksgiving and praise to God that he protected my family, and at one point I said to Chloe, “Chloe, do you realize how much Jesus protected us yesterday?”  And she said, “Yes.”

As I spoke with other people in our church and at work I was amazed at the stories I heard – stories that I used to just hear on the TV or read in the newspaper but I was not experiencing first-hand.  I also spoke with many people who said they felt guilty because they had no damage – not even a loss of power.  I heard myself saying (and hearing other people say), “We were very blessed that we didn’t have any more damage than we did.”  And we spoke with the girls repeatedly about how important it is to pray and how God answered our prayers for safety and protection during the storm.

But here’s where I struggle: I also know that at the same time I say these words (“We were blessed” or “God answered our prayers”) people will naturally hear that if they suffered significant loss then they are not “blessed” or God did not answer “their prayers”.  Several days after the storm I was speaking with a couple from my church and I made the comment to them, “We were kept safe and we were blessed – but it wasn’t because of anything I did or any value I have – it was completely the grace of God.”

Too often I hear people shout how God saved them from disaster and protected them from harm – which they should proclaim – but we need to be careful our choice of words does not also communicate a sense we are “God’s favorites” – because he doesn’t have any.  At the same time, we need to accept the reality that sometimes the disaster/tragedy itself is God’s work.  Job said, “The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord!”  We love to talk about what the Lord gives – but read that verse again.  It doesn’t say Satan takes away, it doesn’t say we loose it, it says “The Lord has taken it away.”

Now, here’s the mystery: do I believe God answered our prayers for safety?  Yes.  Do I believe those prayers were powerful?  Yes.  Do I believe the reason we didn’t suffer any major damage to our house or life is because of those prayers?  Now that’s the hard one.  While I want to say “Yes, absolutely”, I also can not ignore the fact that there are people out there who prayed for safety and yet suffered extreme loss.  Shoot, 12 years ago I prayed for God to heal my sister from cancer and she died – and even Jesus prayed to avoid the cross but his prayer wasn’t answered… By saying “Yes, absolutely” to the question “Is the reason we didn’t suffer any major damage because of those prayers” it implies that the power to stop the storm rests in my hands – that if I prayed just a little less then disaster would strike, but thank God I prayed enough.  It gets us all mixed up in this whole works-for-salvation mess that I want to stay far away from. What I refuse to accept and believe (translation: what I don’t have enough faith to believe in) is that the power of prayer rests in the strength of the one praying (translation: if I had just prayed a little bit harder or a little bit longer then God would have answered the prayer OR it’s a good thing I prayed as much as I did because if I hadn’t then God wouldn’t have heard).

Now before I get attacked from multiple sides with scripture verses and teachings from the Bible that say God answers our prayers and that the reason we don’t have is because we don’t ask (yes, I’ve read the book of James), I know there is a very scriptural truth that prayer moves God’s heart and causes him to act.  Jesus did say that whatever we ask for “in his name” will be “given to [us].”  Yes, I know that – so cool your jets and take a deep breath before you call me a heretic 🙂  Here’s what I am saying: The power of prayer rests not in me (or us) but in the one to whom we pray.  And, what I’ve learned over time, is that the number one thing (or person) prayer changes is me.  I have to believe that when I pray for safety God keeps me safe because he redefines my definition of safety; when I pray for healing God heals because he redefines my definition of healing to match his.  In Isaiah I read, “’My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,’ says the Lord. ‘And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.’”  Or as the NIV translates it, “Neither are my ways your ways.”  God doesn’t operate in ways that often make sense to us!  Let’s go back to my sister for a second.  The fact is she died.  The reality is that God healed her forever – and what I prayed for was healing.  In a very real sense God answered my prayer – maybe not how I thought I wanted it answered, but he answered my prayer.  And the real answer he gave me was that he changed my perspective on life, sickness, death, and prayer through the whole process to align more closely to his perspective.

Too often we (and when I say “we” I probably mean “me”) approach praying to God like the ancient rubbing the genie in the bottle issue – if we just say the “magic word” then we’ll get what “we wish” for.  Sometimes I think we even reinforce this by how we (again, perhaps I should say I) raise our kids: so often while teaching manners we tell them that the word “please” is what?  The “magic word”!  Until they say “the magic word” we ignore them, and then once they say “the magic word” – BAM!  They get what they ask for.  It’s the genie in the bottle routine played out multiple times a day in every household in America with children in it!  We raise our kids this way because we were raised this way – so is it any wonder we start to think God owes us something when we ask “in Jesus’ name,” like tacking on “Jesus” at the end of our prayers is the “magic word” and divine equivalent of saying “please” to our parents?  Again, I’m not saying it’s wrong to train children to use good manners – don’t get lost and distracted by the analogy here – what I’m saying is we can’t approach God in the same way we often teach our children to approach us.

And therein lies the real problem.  Mark Driscoll compares talking with God to a toddler talking with his daddy – and I can think of no better analogy than that one.  But we also need to get rid of the junk we put into that picture (like the “magic word” issue) and look deeper and see the heart of the daddy and the heart of the child.  That’s the point of the image – but first we need to get past the baggage we bring into it.

Now I’m not trying to be super-spiritual or anything, but here’s the question I found myself asking after the storm: “Is the reason we (translation: I) didn’t suffer any further damage is because my faith wasn’t strong enough to withstand any more?  And if the answer to that is yes then shame on me.”  Now I’m not going to say that the reason I didn’t suffer any more loss than I did is because my faith is “too weak” because I also know that God does – for his own reasons and because of no value of my own – protects us and blesses us, so I’m not going to get all guilt-ridden because I didn’t suffer a major loss.  So the question becomes, how can we view even the disasters as a blessing from God.  Look at Job’s words again: he had lost everything except his own life (but even that wasn’t great because of all the health problems he had), but he was able to praise the Lord even in disaster.

In the New Testament we read to give thanks in “everything” and rejoice “at all times”.  Those are two verses I think were meant to be taken literally but we rationalize away (even those of us who claim to take the Bible “literally”!).  So here’s a radical thought maybe we really are supposed to rejoice in suffering.

This post is getting very long and I fear it’s degenerating into rambling, so I’ll wrap it up.  Here’s the question we all (myself included) need to come up with an answer to (how many times have I said that in this post?): Do I believe in a God who is all-powerful and in control at all times or do I believe in a God who relegates the outcome of situations to me, a sinful, weak, selfish human?  The answer to that question will dictate how we live every minute of our lives.  Either we rest in the grace of God or we don’t; either we trust in God’s goodness or we don’t; either we believe prayer changes us or we believe that when things don’t go as planned it means our prayer and faith just weren’t strong enough to change him; either we believe our perspective is sometimes (often?) wrong or God’s is; either we believe we are in control or God controls it all.

I don’t know about you, but I’m going with God on this one.

The Student Becomes the Teacher (3.27)

Note: This devotional is an adaptation of a blog post I did on Reflections of a Christian Daddy

Celeste is not an affectionate child by any stretch of the imagination – if I ask for a hug or a kiss I’m promptly met with a curt “No.”  She is not a big cuddler and has only recently started to allow me to rock her after reading her stories at bed time (but I still have to put her down before she falls asleep).  For the record, yes, she is a Daddy’s girl, and yet she still sometimes treats me like the plague

This past week, though, two special moments happened.  She has, in the past couple of months, allowed me to rock her for a little while after we read stories and before she goes to bed.  One evening I was rocking her with the lullaby playing and she rolled over and said, “Shoulder, Daddy, shoulder.” (translation: “Daddy, I want to lay my head down on your shoulder.”)  So she promptly rolled over and put her head on my shoulder.  We rocked for several minutes listening to her lullaby and she looked up and gave me a kiss on my cheek – out of the blue.  I said, “Lestee, did you just give me a kiss on my cheek?” and she replied, “Yes, Daddy.  I wuv oo much.”  Then she did it a second time.

The other new thing that happened this week is that twice (read that again – TWICE) she fell asleep while I was rocking her.  Both times she told me, “Shoulder, Daddy, shoulder.” and the next thing I knew she was fast asleep.  So I just continued to rock her for another few minutes and enjoyed my daughter resting in my arms.

Now she doesn’t do it often – I can count these incidents on one hand (and still have fingers to spare!) – but when she does it is very special.  As I sat there today I realized that part of the reason she can rest like that in my arms is because she trusts me: trusts me to protect her, care for her, treasure her, and not to harm her.  And within that trust she can lay down and rest.

Isn’t it interesting that God told the Hebrews to call him “Abba”?  The best English translation I’ve heard for “Abba” is “Daddy”.  Mark Driscoll once said in a sermon that if we want to understand prayer we need to listen to how a toddler talks to their Daddy.   If Celeste can rest in my arms because she knows I will protect, care for, and treasure her and never harm her – me, imperfect Tom – then why is it I have so much trouble resting in the arms of my Daddy – my perfect Daddy?  Surely He will protect, care for, and treasure me infinitely more than I do Celeste, and surely he will not harm me.  Why is it my little girls can talk to me about the most mundane things – and I love it when they do – but so often I treat God as nothing more than the Cosmic Santa Claus who is there to grant my “wishes” and then I get upset when he doesn’t?

Check out these scriptures:

Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” (Rom 8:15)

And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” (Gal 4:6)

So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him. (Matt 7:11)

I believe this is one of those examples where our kids teach us more than we teach them.  What’s that saying?  “Out of the mouth of babes?”  Well, in this case, it wasn’t out of the mouth of babes, but it was certainly from the actions of one…

It's All About Jesus (Issue 2.14)

Originally Written for 1/17/10

My devotional is fairly simple and straight-forward this week.  I was reminded of a quote this morning during the AM service.  Pastor Bill was talking about the Christology of the book of Philippians, and this quote came to my head:

“It’s all about Jesus.  It’s always about Jesus.  And it’s only about Jesus.”

That’s from Mark Driscoll, the founding pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington – who’s quickly becoming one of my favorite pastors to listen to.

I’ll just leave it at this: even though that’s a statement, what would happen if we changed it to a question?

“Are you all about Jesus?  Are you always about Jesus?   Are you only about Jesus?”

Now there’s a question worth asking and meditating on.

(see, I told you it was short, but sometimes good things come in small packages)

To Quote Someone Else (Issue 2.2)

Originally Written for 9/27/09

One thing I’ve come to enjoy over the years of being a music director is writing the weekly devotional for the choirs I serve.  But while I enjoy it, it does take time and effort and sometimes I have a hard time figuring out what to share and how to compose it.

As we prepare for this year’s Christmas canata, The Ornament, I will be taking a break from writing weekly devotionals.  That’s because there are devotionals written for groups that are preparing the musical – tied to the themes of the music and drama.  I figure, Why reinvent the wheel, so to speak.  So this will be my last devotional I write until Thanksgiving time (I plan to do my annual Thanksgiving list), and then I won’t write another one until after Christmas.

This week I do want to share some quotes that I’ve been meditating on over the past several weeks, though, and I hope you find they enrich your walk with your Saviour as they have mine.

“The open secret of healthy spiritual growth is to know and settle upon…Romans 8:28, 29.  When we see that all things are working together to make us more and more like the Lord Jesus, we will not be frustrated and upset when some of these ‘things’ are hard, difficult to understand, and often contain an element of death.” (Miles J. Stanford)

“Here is the ‘good’ for which God is working all things together – His original purpose of making us in His image, which is centered and expressed in His Son.” (Miles J. Stanford)

“[J]ust look at [Jesus].  Just be occupied with Him.  Forget about trying to be like Him.  Instead of letting that fill our mind and heart, let Him fill it.  Just behold Him, look upon Him through the Word.  Come to the Word for one purpose and that is to meet the Lord.  Not to get your mind crammed full of things about the sacred Word, but come to it to meet the Lord.  Make it to be a medium, not of Biblical scholarship, but of fellowship with Christ.” (Norman Douty)

“The effortless life is not the will-les slife.  We use our will to believe, to receive, but not to exert effort in trying to accomplish what only God can do.  Our hope for victory over sin is not ‘Christ plus my efforts,’ but ‘Christ plus my receiving.’  To receive victory from Him is to believe His Word that soley by His grace He is, this moment, freeing us from the dominion of sin.” (Charles Trumbull)

“We do not fight [spiritual battles] for victory, but from victory.” (Sorry, don’t remember who said this – either Chris Goins or Mark Driscoll)