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Tim Chester has a number of books in a Gospel-Centered series. The latest I have read is Gospel-Centered Marriage: Becoming the Couple God Wants You to Be. It follows the same formula of the other books. It is short and has very short chapters. It begins with a page relating a scenario in marriage to introduce the need for the material. There is some Scripture to read, a short chapter and then some questions for discussion.

In some ways I was reminded of my book (hopefully to be released this fall). I cover some of the same ground though I develop a different theological orientation, and in more depth. I probably try to say too much. Here he seems to say too little at times. Being succinct is generally a good thing. But at times things beg for qualification.

For instance, in the 3 chapters on sex in marriage he talks of serving one another by being willing to have sex even when you aren’t interested (addressed primarily to women). This is not really qualified, and while the problem of pressuring is mentioned, the emphasis clearly is on serving. There are legitimate reasons for a spouse to say “not today”, and they shouldn’t feel guilty about it. But that really isn’t addressed. Brevity can create problems at times.

He covers more than sex. He addresses love and submission, grace, conflict and resolution and forgiveness. He rightly places marriage in the context of mission (or creation mandate). There are some subjects that are not covered directly: leaving & cleaving, honoring dignity, and finances for instance.

The majority of the material is very good. I’m not sure if I would use it for pre-marital counseling. But it does serve as a good check-up and could be used by counselors to supplement counseling sessions by providing some instruction and aiding discussion. A chapter can be read in less than 15 minutes.

It is a worthwhile book to read, but remember that Tim Chester isn’t trying to say everything, or even close to it.


One of my new study leave traditions is to read one of the volumes in Crossways’ series on theologians on the Christian life. Each volume looks at one man’s thought and tries to identify their contributions and understanding of how we are to live in Christ and in the world. So far I’ve read the volumes on John Newton (whom Sinclair Ferguson repeatedly called “perhaps the wisest pastor of the Church of England” in his series on Romans) and Herman Bavinck. This study leave it was Jonathan Edwards.

Edwards has long been a favorite of mine, in part because he was a favorite of R.C. Sproul’s. In seminary I took a class, The Theology of Edwards’ Sermons, with R.C.. We read so much of Edwards it may have ruined me for a spell. I haven’t read many of his sermons since then, but have gone back to volumes life The Religious Affections and Charity and Its Fruits.

Dane Ortund’s volume Edwards on the Christian Life boils Edwards down to being live to the beauty of God. He begins with the beauty of God, moves to regeneration as to how we become alive to God’s beauty and then focuses on its affects on us (love, joy, gentleness, obedience) as well as how we grow in our knowledge and experience of that beauty in Scripture, prayer and pilgrimage until finally our fullest experience of beauty in heaven.

This is one of the shorter volumes in the series which is ironic when we consider the great length of Edwards’ sermons and how complex his thought can be at times (The Freedom of the Will is a challenge).  In many ways this serves as an excellent primer on Edwards’ and is much shorter than Gerstner’s Rational Biblical Theology of Jonathan Edwards.

In many ways Ortlund paints an attractive (beautiful?) portrait of the Christian life from Edwards’ view. Who can argue with love, joy and gentleness? What Christian doesn’t want to be loving, joyful and gentle? Yet we cannot separate these fruit of the Spirit from the Word of God, nor the growth in obedience as we live as pilgrims in this world. Yet, missing here is explicit reference to work and marriage. One of Ortlund’s critiques of Edwards was a neglect of the doctrine of creation in favor of redemption. This is one evidence of that neglect. Our life can’t be abstracted out of work and marriage for those are the places we most need the fruit of the Spirit (as well as church life).

One of the ironies that Ortlund points out is that while Edwards’ sermon series on justification was the means for the Northampton revival prior to the Great Awakening, Edwards’ focus seemed to be on sanctification, God’s work in us (subjective), rather than justification, Christ’s work for us (objective). Perhaps this is one reason why the sacraments aren’t mentioned much here or in Edwards’ sermons. This leads to another of Ortlund’s criticisms- that Edwards was overly introspective and more frequently called us to examine ourselves than to look to Christ. Assurance was focused more on Christ’s work in us than for us. He flipped the emphasis. His work for us is the primary source of assurance, with His work in us as the secondary source.

One thing that Edwards focused on that the church tends to neglect is regeneration in which God makes us alive to His beauty. He takes a Reformed position of regeneration preceding, indeed producing, faith rather than the common evangelical view of faith producing regeneration as if that is God’s response to our faith. We need to recapture this more biblical understanding that reflects God’s sovereign grace.

In his criticisms at the end of the book, Ortlund notes that Edwards did have some imbalance in even this. He failed to emphasize that unregenerate people are still made in God’s image, and are not as bad as they can be. They are still capable of civil righteousness even though they are morally incapable of delighting in Christ and the gospel. Additionally, he seems to give “too much” to regeneration this side of glorification. There is a great tension in the Scriptures. It is a total change (every aspect of our being is affected by regeneration) but the change is not total. As regenerate people we want to obey and we grow in obedience but we also feel more acutely our failures to obey. We still, or rather have begun to, struggle with sin. There seems to be a hint of over-realized eschatology in Edwards on this point. But I understand, I think, why. At times I’ve preached like that to get that point across that we have been changed and Christ is at work in us by the Spirit (see Titus 2). Too often we can minimize our need for obedience as a fruit of salvation, and our ability to obey. We live in this tension and it can be easy for us to err on one side or the other. At other times in ministry I note the admission by the Westminster Standards and Heidelberg Catechism that our progress in this life is meager. This is because some people so beat themselves up over their sin. This person needs to hear of Christ’s perfect imputed righteousness and to have more realistic expectations. The lazy and slothful Christian needs to hear the call to obedience. Edwards presumably thought he was preaching to the latter and not the former.

Ortlund puts together a very good volume. He sees Edwards as one worth imitating in many areas. He points out some of his imperfections in the final chapter. One was missing, and that one is particularly pertinent in our particular day. Despite his theological convictions, Edwards (like many in his day) owned slaves. Perhaps the reason why Ortlund doesn’t mention this is because Edwards doesn’t address this in his sermons or writings (at least what I’ve read). Edwards didn’t defend slavery, but did practice it. This should humble us because while we don’t explicitly defend sinful practices, we can certainly practice them (often without realizing their sinfulness). This is one big bone for us to spit out as we consider his life, and it would be great if Ortlund mentioned it.

All in all this is another solid contribution to the series. It should enrich not only my life but my preaching. I am reminded of the need to integrate them more fully.


We really weren’t sure of what to make of the 2016 Red Sox coming out of Spring Training. There were a large number of unknowns to consider. It would have been a very good year, or yet another really bad year. So far it has been a good but frustrating year for the Red Sox. They are only 2 games out of first place, and in some ways it could be worse, but in others it could be better. That has been the story of this season so far.

The Kids Are Alright!

The Killer B’s have been producing for the Red Sox at a very good pace to say the least. JBJ had one of those months in May, but after a slow June is still hitting .296 with 22 doubles, 6 triples, 14 HRs and 55 RBI. Bogaerts has been mostly steady, and was hitting over .340 for a long time. He’s down to .329 with 22 doubles, 10 HR and 56 RBI. Betts started slowly but has come on strong lately to clock in at .304, 23 doubles, 4 triples, 18 HR and 59 RBI. Toss in 15 stolen bases and Betts is worthy of his All-Star selection. All of them are worthy of the All-Star selection. Their defense has also been excellent (aside from a few off games for Xander).

The Old Man Keep Rolling

Big Papi seems untouched by time. It is an illusion of sorts as he gets extra games off to protect his feet/Achilles’. But his production has been amazing: .332 with 34 doubles, 22 HR and 72 RBI. Toss in 2 SB and 48 walks.

These 4 guys have been largely responsible for a potent offense which has sustained the team, flashing dominance at times. Pedroia has had a very good year so far as well. He’s been healthy and hitting like he used to hit.

The Fair to Middling

Shaw started the season strong, but slowed down. He’s been largely underwhelming. We are not in Will Middlebrooks territory for a sophomore season. He’s had some nagging injuries but still has 48 RBI despite a .269 average and only 9 HRs (not enough for the mayor of Ding-Dong City).

Ramirez has done a good job at first base. Capable might be a better word. His defense will only make you forget how horrible he was in left field last year. Offensively, he has only shown glimpses of his former self at .288, 19 doubles, 8 HR and 48 RBI.

The big problem in the everyday line up has been left field. Brock Holt started strong, and the Red Sox are far above .500 with him starting in left. But he did have a slump in May followed by a concussion that kept him out much of June and sprained his ankle stealing a base shortly after coming back. This has created a revolving door in left. Blake Swihart took over, seemed to start hitting and promptly destroyed his ankle hitting a wall. They are pleased with his recovery but we probably won’t see him until August at best. Enter Chris Young who really started stroking the ball until he too fell victim to an injury: a hamstring. So left fielder #3 went down too. Currently Bryce Brentz, who played right field in the minors, has been playing the majority of left and hitting well in a small sample size. If this position can become consistent, things will be better for the Red Sox.

The injury to Holt, and the nagging injuries to Shaw and Ramirez as well as Pedroia’s extra days off due to age create a need for utility infielders. A number of minor leaguers have been called up to fill that role, but Dumbrowski finally made a trade for Aaron Hill. This should help stabilize the infield in case of injuries and for pinch hitting.

The Really Frustrating

Catching! Swihart started out of the gate and was sent down to AAA as soon as Vazquez was healthy enough to play most of the time. He wasn’t much better as pitchers started to wave him off too. Hanigan hurt himself catching Wright so we had to turn to Sandy Leon. Last year Sandy was a solid defensive pitcher and an offensive black hole. So far Sandy has been stroking the ball (small sample size) as our 4th catcher. When Hanigan was reactivated, it was Vazquez who got sent down to AAA, not Leon. In a CSNE report, he credits a change in his stance and better plate discipline- he’s not chasing pitches out of the zone.

Pitching! Steven Wright and Rick Porcello have been the outliers here. Wright won a spot on the All-Star team and his knuckle ball has been dominating except in rain or very humid conditions like in Texas. Porcello has had the occasional bad inning, but overall has been worthy of his contract.

Price has had some problems. He’s been fixing his delivery, had some really bad innings, and outings. He’s also had some good and outstanding outings. He’s been inconsistent which really isn’t David Price. We hope the real David Price shows up for the rest of the season because DD wants this team 1) in the playoffs and 2) deep into the playoffs. With this offense we just need a passable rotation. So far it hasn’t been.

Rodriquez got hurt and missed Spring Training. He has yet to get his mojo back and was sent to AAA to get his mechanics sorted out. He’s a question mark. Crazy Clay has been at his frustrating best, which is bad. He’s been sent to the bullpen, twice because he lacks confidence and gives up big innings, frequently. Too frequently. Especially for a guy so incredibly talented.

Joe Kelly is also incredibly talented but just can’t seem to get that whole starter thing down. The end of last season provided hope, sadly a false hope, as he has struggled this season with the exception of one start. He’s been to AAA on rehab assignments twice and has been banished to the bullpen.

The bullpen …. inconsistent. Carson Smith was injured early and had Tommy John surgery which really messed things up. Then with large leads the wrong guys were pitching late so Kimbrel didn’t get the work he needed. That led to some non-save situations mishaps and even some blown saves. At other times he’s been dominating. He’s currently on the DL after knee surgery after a mishap shagging fly balls. Uehara is just plain old and can’t be overused. Tazawa has been over-used in the last few seasons and currently has some shoulder issues we hope don’t become a big issue.  Barnes has pitched well, but trusting him with a vital role is still a risk due to his lack of experience. Any number of guys have been rotated through from AAA to little or no avail.

In deep need to save the pen, DD traded for the D’Backs closer Brad Ziegler. He should help stabilize things until Kimbrel is ready to pitch in late August. To save both the rotation and the pen, DD dropped the bomb by trading much-heralded prospect Anderson Espinoza for Padres’ All-Star starter Drew Pomeraz. It has risks. Drew has yet to throw 200 innings, and is setting new career highs in innings pitched with each start. He was helped by the hitters’ hell they Padres play in. He is under control for 2 more seasons though. This year his job is to help the Sox get to the playoffs. Hopefully Price, Porcello, Wright and Rodriquez can carry you then. Espinoza has been struggling this year, and we see that prospects don’t always pan out. Guys with great stuff don’t always become great pitchers (see Crazy Clay and Joe Kelly).

Manager!

John Farrell drives many of us crazy. Early on it was pinch hitting Young for Shaw. Shaw was hitting well at the time, including against lefties. So it made no sense. He leaves Wright in when it rains, knowing it destroys his bread & butter pitch. He makes this really strange moves on a consistent basis. Thanks to DD he no longer has to play the high priced guys, but can play the best guys, but his in-game moves leave many people scratching their heads, frequently. If we are scratching our heads, are the players? I’m ready for him to be gone, but the Red Sox are more successful than they have been in since winning the World Series.

What will the rest of the season bring? Depends on health, and whether or not Price and Rodriquez can be the pitchers we know they can be.


On a previous vacation I read Shot All to Hell by Mark Lee Gardner which was about the final robbery of the James-Younger Gang. Having enjoyed it greatly, this year I decided to read his book To Hell on a Fast Horse: The Untold Story of Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett.

This is a slight misnomer since Billy the Kid is dead by page 175 of 260. The last 90 or so pages deal with the remainder of Garrett’s life with the positives and negatives of having been the one who killed Billy the Kid.

It is also appropriate in that Billy, a horse and cattle thief and murderer, was dispatched without notice and apparently unrepentant. To adapt a popular phrase, he who lives by the gun shall die by the gun. Garrent, an atheist, was ambushed and killed, also apparently unrepentant. I don’t think Gardner intends to make a theological statement, but does nonetheless.

It is a good read and I enjoyed it. Billy the Kid is largely a ghost prior to the Lincoln County War. We can’t even be positive of his given name. Gardner tracked it all down as best he could. He portrays Billy as an oddly charismatic person for whom ordinary life found no allure. He was content to steal from others, manipulate others, and if he couldn’t charm his way out, kill others. Like the book on the James-Younger Gang, I thought it would make the basis for a very interesting movie, as long as they don’t give it the Young Guns treatment.

Pat Garrett was another man who found no allure in the ordinary life. He ended up with a badge and developed the reputation of a man hunter. He was a gambler and adulterer who, while parlaying his fame into high positions including a tax collector on the border under Theodore Roosevelt (perhaps I’ll read Gardner’s book on the Rough Riders next year), died deeply in debt. He was a polarizing man who appeared to have a hard time maintaining friendships. Some, based on rumors, thought him cowardly for never giving Billy a “fair shot”. Would you give such a man a “fair shot”?

This the story of two men on different sides of the law, but the same side of sin & grace. If you have any interest in the old West, this would be a great read for you. Gardner is not trying to glamorize these men, but does acknowledge our nation’s propensity to do that. It has done it with Billy the Kid, and he mentions that one of the biographies of Billy was found in the back seat of Bonnie and Clyde’s car after they were shot to death.

These two books did make me wonder about the influence of the Civil War on this period in history. It was very clear in the book about the James-Younger Gang since they fought in the war as guerilla fighters. The connection is less explicit in the events surrounding Billy the Kid. There may be more of a “spirit” that affected the post-war generation. Some of the minor figures in this book served. But there was a brutality that could not help but affect the larger society, particularly those who moved west. It makes me wonder about our society today, and the effect the Post-9/11 conflicts have had on us. Is that part of why we see an increase in violence? I don’t know but it is worth considering as a part of the picture (there is also the reality of Romans 1:18ff that weighs heavily).


While on vacation/study leave, I typically read a book for personal growth. This year I chose Slogging Along in the Paths of Righteousness Psalms 13-24 by Dale Ralph Davis. In light of current events is was clearly appropriate.

I forgot I had this book when preaching through this section of the Psalms recently. To my congregation, I apologize. This book most likely would have made those sermons better, even if just a bit.

Davis has written a number of helpful Old Testament commentaries. This is not a commentary on the Psalms, but seems to have been taken from sermons or lessons on the Psalms. As a result, this is not an academic book. It is not highly technical. The occasional discussion of Hebrew is easily understood. He has many understandable illustrations to help along the way.

This is his second volume on the Psalms. The first, The Way of the Righteous in the Muck of Life, covers the first 12 Psalms. I hope he continues this series because the first two volumes have been quite encouraging.

The point of these Psalms, illustrated in the title is that we may walk along paths of righteousness but they do not lead us through a righteous world. We walk through a fallen, sinful world that hates the righteous. We walk through a world that rejoices in sin, at least of particular kinds depending on your time and place. We walk in a world filled with injustice. This week we’ve seen a presidential candidate not charged after repeatedly breaking the law because she supposedly didn’t intend to, even though she has been less than honest in interviews, hearings and with law enforcement. We’ve seen a black man being restrained by officers shot and killed by them. We’ve seen another black man pulled over for a broken tail light, presumably obeying the law and officer, still get shot 4 times with a 4 year-old in the back seat. We’ve seen officers ambushed or attacked at a protest in Dallas. We’ve seen law restricting abortion struck down. I just can’t go on or I’ll be hear all day. But this is the world in which we live.

This is also the world in which the Psalmists wrote and lived. Walking the paths of righteousness is not easy. The Psalms continually point us back to God as Redeemer, Defender and more.

Davis understands the Psalms, and communicates the Psalms well. This is book worth reading in these days when social media, on top of the media, keep putting these ugly realities in our face. You don’t have to walk in the path of unrighteousness, if you are in Christ. We have hope in this world, in Christ.


Mid-Life Crisis.

Often this conjures up images of old men in sports cars, newer & younger trophy wives, and perhaps even trips around the world in an effort to “find oneself.”

I’m not talking about any of those things. I can’t afford a sports car, I love my wife and kids and I know who I am.

When you’re 50, I suppose it is normal to look at you life and go, “this is it?”

Things didn’t turn out quite the way I thought they would. Academically I was a 5%er. Years ago I had plans, dreams: successful pastor, successful author, Ph.D. and shaper of young men for ministry.

The reality isn’t quite any of that. I’ve been a largely faithful pastor of an average church hoping to break the 100 “barrier” in the near future.But I’m already seeing that ministry looks different than it does with 50-60 people. I’ve survived a building project, but thought the church would be bigger by now. It is a me thing? As a sinner, is there something I’m not doing that I should, or am doing that I shouldn’t? Is there something about my personality that rubs too many people the wrong way? I’m neurotic, so I have these thoughts even though I know I can’ t be all things to all men (and women) at the same time.

I hope that my first book will be published this year.  It has been an excruciatingly long and painful process. I have this fear that I’ll sell about 100 copies, and I’ll never get the chance to write again even though I have a few good ideas I want to work on (and even a few books written though on obscure subjects).

I love my kids but there is no indication that any of them is an outlier academically, athletically, artistically or any other way, although they sure are beautiful. My kids are amazingly average (and I’m not pushing them to excel- one perfectionist in the family is enough).

My mid-life crisis seems more about the disparity between my dreams as a younger man and my reality as an older man. Largely the problem is my dreams, the dreams born of a younger, more arrogant man.

The road to humility is not chosen, but thrust upon you by One who loves you too much to leave you in your arrogance. He opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore He makes me humble to pour grace out upon me. Humility is born of the failure and frustration of life. Even the ordinariness of life if you start with a big head.

So, what am I to do? I’m called to find myself right where I am, in my marriage and family, in the church I serve. Christ has placed me there and is sanctifying me there. I’m not to run away, and have no inclination to (most days- sometimes the kids make we want to run away).

Years ago I had an electric guitar. A candy apple red Ibanez Roadstar with a Floyd Rose locking tremelo, Seymour Duncan humbucking pick ups and 5 position switch. I left it behind when I went to seminary. I didn’t play much guitar while in seminary after a rather humiliating experience when there where no other guitars to mask my mistakes. My plan was to return home after seminary, and that never happened. Rather than bring the guitar to Florida, I needed money and sold it to a friend.

I’ve been thinking about that guitar. In the intervening years I’ve been playing guitar in our worship services and gotten better. Though maybe it is my playing that runs people off. I wondered if my friend still had it and would sell it back to me.

Well, I have her back. My mid-life crisis will be shaking the house with electric guitar. Just another way to embarrass my kids. It’s time to master those power chords.

I forgot how heavy it was.

Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. Ecclesiastes 8

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