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Archive for January, 2020


This has been a long time coming.

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My Wedding Reception in 2001

Long, long ago (so it seems) in this here galaxy, I began to notice that my mom began faking it. While talking on the phone she stopped answering questions with any detail. I began to get very short answers that were excruciatingly vague. Things like “It was good.” “It was okay.” And really long pauses. I knew something was up. Shortly after this she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

When we visited she would obsess with where the kids played as if they would do serious damage to their manufactured home with their toys. The next year my kids didn’t go inside, but if they got within 20 feet of the road she got worried. The fear she had hidden for so long (and so well I didn’t know about it) had taken over as her ability to control it was gone.

When she didn’t recognize me I didn’t realize how much it affected me. I mean, how can a mom forget her kid? But that is what this disease does. I had visited while we were on vacation. For the rest of that vacation (and beyond) little things set me off. I had so much anger and didn’t put the pieces together. It is so obvious now, but it wasn’t then. Grief seems so difficult for me because I grew up on a family that seemed to avoid grief. Ain’t nobody got no time for dat grief.

From afar I watched my dad care for her. It was like he was a different man- a better man. The first time we’d visited my parents after getting married, they began to bicker about how to put the growlers of beer I brought in the fridge. CavWife’s experience with them was VERY limited (she married me on faith!). “Oh, they’re kinda like the Costanzas,” I said. That changed after his heart stent. They realized the party would eventually end.

While Alzheimer’s brought out the not so good in her, it brought out the best in him. He was so patient with her. I think the right parent got Alzheimer’s. As the disease progressed, he struggled with when to put her into a nursing home. When I’d visit I was his friend, not her son. Her hallucinations were ordinary- her little brothers in the other room. Unlike other people with Alzheimer’s I knew there were no little friends hiding by your feet. But then she largely stopped talking.

Caring for her was tiring. He was always on duty because she’d get up in the middle of the night and try to flush the adult diaper, flooding the bathroom. But, understandably, he had trouble entrusting her into someone else’s care. The doctor and his staff would say she was ready. He wasn’t. For some reason I remember one of those conversations with him during the Red Sox 2013 World Series run. I was driving home from a hospital visit and the Sox game was on the radio. Yet, the timing is off. Odd how the memory can work.

Hanging Up PosterI remember starting to watch Hanging Up with Meg Ryan, Diane Keaton and Lisa Kudrow one Saturday afternoon during this period. Pre-plastic surgery Meg Ryan. When Meg’s character put her father (Walter Matthau) in a nursing home I completely lost it. I had to hang up, so to speak, on the movie. The kids didn’t need to come downstairs to find their father in a pool of tears and snot because he was watching a movie. This would be one in a long series of grief stuffing moments to come.

She wouldn’t end up in a nursing home until the fall of 2017. Those were 4 long years of visits when I was on vacation. I had started going alone, initially because I wasn’t sure how the kids would react to her declining condition and inability to understand why she didn’t talk to them or know who they were. But I went because I knew my father needed me to be there. It was hard to be so far away, but it was obviously so much harder on my father.

I struggled with guilt, false guilt. He wanted me to move closer. I thought about moving closer. There was a big church nearby looking for a pastor. The fact they had a woman as the interim pastor was a big clue to me that I would not be their first, or 30th, choice. Most of the churches that would be a fit were small. I was nearing 50 and a pay cut combined with a higher cost of living didn’t seem wise. I also knew myself, once she died I’d want to get out of the cold and snow. There’s a reason I’ve lived in Florida and Arizona for the last 30 years.

While the disease initially seemed to proceed quickly it seemed to have stalled. She was still mobile. My father was thinking about financial realities. Their long-term disability insurance would cover about 2-3 years of care and he was trying to maximize it. He hung on as long as he could because he loved her. Visits were with my father while she was the quiet spectator. We’d go to lunch and he’d order for her knowing what she’d like based on 50+ years of experience. At the house the Game Show Network would be on since she couldn’t follow a plot. The crosswords and Suduko she loved to do were put away. Soon the mirrors were covered because she’d yell at the old woman who was following her.

Eventually he couldn’t do it any more. She could get angry. I experienced that a few times when my attempts to be kind and convey warmth were misunderstood (or perhaps that squeeze on the shoulder was stronger than I realized), and there it was. It was sort of like Gollum fighting over his precious. And he lived with that 24/7. It got to be too much.

Going into the nursing home didn’t start well. She wandered into someone else’s room. When the care giver tried to lead her to her own room a fight erupted. I laughed out loud thinking about my 80+ year-old mom punching someone in a fist fight, but she was sent to the hospital. And my father was crushed. He wondered if he’d done the right thing (he did!). He didn’t want her sedated all the time. But sedated she was, and they backed it off to the minimal level necessary.

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Summer of 2018

It is hard to face the good and the bad of my mother. My parents didn’t talk about their childhood. She was the oldest of 8, having 7 brothers. Her father was not in good health (he died when I was 4 or 5. She was likely engaged in child-rearing at a very young age. She was likely robbed of a childhood and adultified.

Her ethos, shared with a Mormon missionary at the door when I was older, was “do your best.” I think she did, but I suspect she didn’t have all we might want in a mother. She loved me as best she could, I don’t deny that. Yet I found myself “adopting” other moms to supplement, never realizing what was really going on until many years later while in a counseling program. I began to sort through some of this as I read books like The Mom Factor. I learned the phrase “good enough mom.”

“For one, she was my mother. Who knew her better than me? Who knew her stories? Her triumphs and losses? Who knew what she had overcome? Who knew her great loves and dreams? I did…” Mike Glenn in Coffee with Mom

I read the above and thought … I don’t know those things. So much was hidden, undisclosed. She was shut up tighter than a house ready for a cold New England winter. I knew her from my experience with her, but I didn’t know her experience. I feel like a man trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle with more than a few pieces gone.

She got her nursing degree but was quickly married and having children. I’m not sure she had a firm sense of herself apart from raising kids. For a time she worked at the hospital, as an operator not a nurse. But when I was in middle school she began to watch kids for teachers at the school down the road. She’d do this until they moved to California.

She confused me at times. She taught me to save. But in round about ways. She made me save for driver’s ed. So, I put aside money from my paper route, mowing lawns and shoveling drive ways. I saved the money and took the course, which she then proceeded to paid for. She hid her motives at times, but when you are a teenager it was very frustrating.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. When I was young (5 or so) her mother gave me $5 for my birthday (that was quite a bit in 1970). While going somewhere my mom stopped to get gas. My grandmother said I should offer to pay for the gas with my birthday money. That didn’t make sense to my young, greedy, selfish self. “Don’t you think I’d give you more?” was her reply. Confusing. And my mom could be the same way. Life was a series of tests of my character.

We didn’t talk about emotions aside from the admonition to not to get so angry. Like many in her generation, she couldn’t really go there. As a result, I wasn’t sure how to go there and didn’t really grasp that it was an issue until a girlfriend got angry with my obvious struggle to empathize with her own loss. I’m not making excuses, but she loved me (us) as best she could.

When I graduated from high school we all went out for dinner. I think she had a tad too much wine because for the one and only time she mentioned she had miscarried a daughter. In talking with one of my brothers later, he indicated they knew something had happened but not what it was. The timing was shortly before I was conceived. This had to be incredibly painful for her. She had only brothers, and give birth to only boys. It was a wound she didn’t share, wouldn’t share and probably couldn’t share. When I had a daughter, she was filled with joy. They made a trip to Florida in order to meet their granddaughter. But I was left with the sense of “I wasn’t supposed to be here, someone else was.”

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With the first grandchild.

When I moved to Florida in 1991, my parents moved to California for a job. She’d never lived more than 40 minutes from where she grew up. That decade in California was hard for her. They lived in 3 different cities for 3 different jobs until my dad retired early. He loved southern California, but with the birth of the first grandson she wanted to move back.

I visited them a few times while they were in California. The only of their 3 children to do so. They flew me out twice. They were generous toward me in many ways. During a few times I lived at home post-college she kept a mini-fridge in the basement family room stocked with Bud and Sipps (still a joke with one of my old friends). When my car died while I was in seminary, a check arrived so I could buy a used car another student was selling. I borrowed money to buy my next car. There was a loan when I was in between pastoral calls and under-employed. They showed their love through gifts like the money I needed to buy an engagement ring, and a new washer & dryer when we moved to AZ.

I also extended a work trip for Ligonier to spend some time with them. But those trips were also hard. It was like I was still a kid (Let’s do the time warp again!). She had a hard time hearing my ‘no’. This sounds stupid, but I didn’t want her to do my laundry. I was an adult for the love of Pete. But she’d do it anyway. She did it out of love, but I felt disrespected and treated like a child. I struggled with that. It was like a time machine, and I wasn’t liking it. She struggled with boundaries.

They traveled to New Hampshire in September 2001 to look for a new home as a result of that grandson. They were originally booked to fly back to Los Angeles from Boston on 9/11 but decided to stay longer. I got the gift of two more decades of my parents as a result. I had also learned to accept my parents’ limitations better. I was learning to love them better instead of demanding that they be the parents I wanted instead of the parents I actually had.

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2011 by the source of the joke that bombed.

She had a strange sense of humor. Like many teens I wanted a car for my 16th birthday. So she got me a matchbox car. That’s okay when your 16. But when you’re 6 or 3, not so much. After we moved to Tucson they came to visit us. During that visit we put in a swing set. While I was working on it, and my kids excited about it, she told them it wasn’t for them but for other kids. They were confused, and hurt. I have to be careful that my sense of humor doesn’t hurt the ones I love. She loved them, but didn’t always know how to show it.

I guess that is how I process my experience with my mother. She loved me, but didn’t always know how to show it appropriately.

Loving someone with Alzheimer’s is difficult. It is like they are gone, but they aren’t. You feel like you should grieve, but there they are. Sort of. When I visited her in 2018, I tried to use my phone to show her pictures of her grand kids and AZ. She took the phone and studied it as if it was something new and strange. To her it was. On a later visit she largely ignored me and my brother, wandered the common area and straightened just about everything. As my dad noted at the time, she always kept a clean house. This was a remnant of who she was. The woman I knew was there, but not there. And I was no one to her.

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Summer of 2019

You struggle with wanting her to live and also wanting her suffering to end. You know there is likely a high level of fear in there precisely because they don’t understand much of what is happening. There are also the realities of the physical decline, the inability to do what you used to do for yourself. She had become like a child in many ways. Add to that what you see your father enduring. You become seriously conflicted.

I had hoped to visit after Christmas. But it just kept snowing and I’m 30 years removed from regularly driving in ice and snow. The journey from my in-laws to my parents goes thru Vermont and Killington ski area, not a place I want to drive right after a winter storm. I was also struggling with plantar fasciitis in my right foot. A 4-hour drive would be incredibly painful.

A niece was heading to NH to visit her brother and I could have gone along. But it was during my daughter’s birthday which I didn’t want to miss. I also had that flu/cold going through the family. I made what I thought was a wise decision. While my niece was in NH my mother collapsed and ended up on the hospital. I wished I could be there for my father. It was likely the result of a virus, but after a hospice consultation she was approved for hospice care. Another mile marker.

While I wasn’t physically there, my dad and I had a long over-due conversation about her care. CavWife and I had talked about this over our anniversary lunch a few days earlier. I didn’t want a repeat of his delay in putting her into a nursing home. She met the markers for hospice care, and they could provide him with experience and wisdom in questions of appropriate care based on her terminal disease. It also helped him with out of pocket expenses. This was a win even though she could live much longer.

She seemed to bounce back. She was eating again, and with her walker make it to the dining area. She was talking more than she had in quite some time. It didn’t make any sense but she was verbal.

A few weeks later she walked to breakfast and all seemed fine. While he was visiting something suddenly seemed wrong to him. She suddenly seemed unable to walk, and any sign of recognition of my father vanished. He wondered it her knee was giving her trouble again. But then he discovered she couldn’t use her right arm. She’d had a stroke. Everything changed.

And so I travel home tomorrow. I might make it in time to say goodbye. I might not. She hasn’t been eating and drinking. Her breathing has finally become labored. Flights are harder to come by last minute these days. I want to go, and don’t want to go. My inner conflict continues.

 

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Christmas means vacation. And vacation means reading a book from the Theologians On the Christian Life series by Crossway. I wasn’t sure which volume to read although my options were diminishing. I chose D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.

The Doctor, as he is often called, is a favorite of Tim Keller (who is also deeply influenced by John Newton, C.S. Lewis and Richard Lovelace). I’ve found his books very helpful when I’ve read them. That can be tough in sermon preparation though because he’d preach multiple sermons on a text for which I’ll allot one. That means lots of reading. It is beneficial reading but time consuming.

I borrowed the documentary, Logic on Fire, from an elder in the congregation I serve. I found it funny that he would watch pro wrestling with his grandsons. It seemed “beneath” a man of his stature. It humanized him for me, actually. (Remember, this is 1970’s England not the jacked up sexualized WWE that arose in the 90’s).

The subtitle of Lloyd-Jone on the Christian Life is Doctrine and Life as Fuel and Fire. The premise of author Jason Meyer is doctrine is the fuel for life as a fire. Lloyd-Jones on the Christian Life: Doctrine and Life as Fuel and Fire (Theologians on the Christian Life) Meyer, Jason C. cover imageDoctrine is necessary to have a life on fire, a life alive and vibrant for the glory of God. Where there is no fire there is no doctrine. Doctrine hasn’t done its work until a life is on fire. Lloyd-Jones is not advocating for dead orthodoxy, mere intellectualism. We watch life and doctrine closely because Jesus joins them together.

This was what stood out about Lloyd-Jones’ preaching. The doctrine he preached “set him  on fire” so to speak. He was moved by it. When you are preaching, the greatest moments come when you are caught up by the doctrine. It produces holy affections in you (to borrow from Jonathan Edwards, a kindred spirit of Lloyd-Jones). The doctrine you preach affects you, filling you with a zeal and passion which is often called anointing or unction.

Jason Meyer is another interesting choice to contribute to this series. He is the “new” pastor for preaching and vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church and an associate professor of New Testament at Bethel College and Seminary. He has literally stepped into John Piper’s shoes. He’s not the first contributor connected to Desiring God ministries/Bethlehem. Tony Reinke’s volume on John Newton remains my favorite. I’m not sure if Meyers shares Piper’s charismatic leanings but it is interesting that he writes about a charismatic English congregationalist. In the second appendix on the Secession Controversy, Meyer notes he does approach that with a bias (more on this later).

The volume begins with a forward by CavFavorite Sinclair Ferguson. He relates receiving a letter from The Doctor while he was a young pastor serving in the Shetland Islands off the north coast of Scotland. He was amazed that The Doctor knew who he was. And so began a correspondence that encouraged this young pastor-theologian. He suspects that Lloyd-Jones was behind the invitation to give 2 addresses at a minister’s conference in Wales (among his first?) since the other speaker was in fact Lloyd-Jones. The Doctor was concerned with Christ’s church, and this meant mentoring and encouraging younger men like Sinclair Ferguson. Ferguson affirms Meyers’ thesis for this volume.

Meyer begins his volume in this series with this thesis. “The combustible combination of doctrinal precision and experiential power creates an explosion called the Christian life.” He then lays out 3 points for clarification:

1. Doctrine and life should be inseparable;

2. the right order is essential;

3. criticism is inevitable.

In explaining the first he notes that “Doctrine should start in the head, catch fire in the heart, and create a life aflame with true obedience in the will.” Christian life begins with doctrine, not experience (regeneration excepted, obviously). Like Paul, we follow what Ferguson calls the gospel logic of first gospel indicatives and then gospel imperatives (yes, toss some Ridderbos in there too). Criticism is inevitable, and inevitably from both sides (or extremes) if you are walking the line, to borrow from Johnny Cash. True gospel preaching is called legalistic by the antinomians and cheap grace by the legalists, as an example. If you only get criticism from one side, you have likely lost your gospel balance. As Charlie Peacock sings, “there’s no insult like the truth.”

He begins with a brief account of Lloyd-Jones’ life. Meyer frames it from his birth in South Wales to Barts, from London to his return to Wales as a pastor, and his return to London as the pastor of Westminster Chapel. When he was 10, his father’s store went up in flames. His father threw Martyn from the living space above the shop into the arms of men on the street. All lived but financial problems plagued them for years. Four years later his father declared bankruptcy.

Martyn began to take his studies more seriously and excelled. He did so well that he was accepted into St. Bartholomew’s Medical School (aka Barts) at the age of 16. As a student there he stood out and he caught the eye of the king’s physician. He was known for his diagnostic skill and soon was Sir Thomas Horder’s junior house physician. Lloyd- Jones began to note the connection between the presenting symptoms and “moral emptiness and spiritual hollowness” experienced by the royal family and other dignitaries of the land which resulted in “wickedness, excess and jealousy.”

Disillusioned, Lloyd-Jones began to attend Westminster Chapel. Dr. John Hutton’s preaching was powerful in his life. He became convinced of God’s power to save and change lives. Now a Christian, he wanted to get to the root of people’s problems. He spent over a year, losing over 20 pounds wrestling with whether or not to leave medicine for ministry. In early 1927 he married Bethan and moved back to Wales to begin a new career as a pastor among the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists.

In a time that de-emphasized preaching, Lloyd-Jones removed the drama society, musical evenings and preached Christ. In the eleven years of ministry there, it is estimated that 500 people were converted and joined the church.

Vocal problems caused him to leave Wales for London. Dr. Campbell Morgan, the pastor of Westminster Chapel, invited him to come and share the pulpit. He agreed thinking it a temporary situation. Within a few months, World War II broke out. Eventually the congregation and giving dwindled so they could only support one pastor. Morgan retired in 1943 and after the end of the war, rebuilding the congregation began. From London he gained great prominence as a preacher. He retired in 1968 after a diagnosis of colon cancer. His retirement allowed him to travel and preach until 1980. He died on March 1, 1981. His final recorded words were, “Do not pray for healing. Do not hold me back from the glory.”

What is interesting is that Lloyd-Jones is technically not a theologian. He was a prominent pastor. His books are collections of his sermons. They contain theology, but we tend to think of “theologians” as men who teach in seminaries, write books of theology and often make some significant theological contribution. That isn’t what he did, but he was one of the most significant men of the 20th century as far as the church is concerned.

Meyer then walks us through Lloyd-Jones’ doctrine. The Doctor did a series to theological/doctrinal lectures on Friday nights. His lectures seemed to loosely follow the pattern of the Westminster Confession. Meyer covers God the Father Almighty, Christ and Him Crucified, the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit, Redemption Applied: Justification and Sanctification, the Church and Last Things. This section takes up about 70 pages. There is nothing too surprising here. He does explore Christ as Prophet, Priest and King which is a pet doctrine of mine. In each of these Meyer addresses how to apply the doctrine.

There is a confusing section on the Holy Spirit, however. Meyer writes:

“The Scriptures reveal that the Spirit is subordinate to both the Father and the Son.”

This sounds like a new and different ESS with the Spirit taking the place of the Son. But I don’t know, it is unclear if Meyer is speaking of the ontological or economic Trinity. With the swirling ESS controversy (which includes Crossway due to the ESV Study Bible notes) you’d think this would be crystal clear. Meyer does hold off the questions regarding the baptism of the Spirit for the first appendix.

Lloyd-Jones was a Congregationalist, yet in the chapter on the church Meyer says “The Doctor lays great stress on regenerate church membership because he believes he was not regenerate when he became a member at his local church.” And then, “The names on the local church membership roll should be names that are already written in heaven.” This is Meyer not Lloyd-Jones and I wish there was a citation or two.

Most Congregationalists hold to infant baptism. For The Doctor to reject infant baptism would be unusual. For him to reject it based on his personal experience would be eisegesis. I find the idea of “regenerate church membership” to be an example of “over-realized ecclesiology.” We can’t know who is regenerate and who isn’t. This is a misnomer at best. It is covenant promise denial at worst.

The book then shifts from doctrine to life. Each chapter he offers a definition, a diagnosis and prescriptions. He begins with the Word. Meyer starts with Lloyd-Jones’ doctrine of the Word (inspired, propositional, superintending work of the Spirit). He moves into why we find it difficult to read the Bible and then a number of prescriptions to cure our ailment.

Additional chapters in this section are on prayer, faith working through love, life in the Spirit at home and work, spiritual depression and the hope of glory as an acid test. There are discussions about the flesh, the world and the devil as part of the diagnoses of our spiritual ailments. We are not simply supposed to be “on fire” at church but also at home and work. He talks about emotionalism and counterfeits of love.

There is plenty of good material here, particularly in the chapter on spiritual depression. Here we see Lloyd-Jones’ advice to stop listening to yourself and talk to yourself; his version of preaching the gospel to yourself. While reading this chapter I synthesized a thought found there for my sermon that week.

“You can’t glory in Christ and salvation if you minimize your sinfulness and corruption.” CavPastor

Lloyd-Jones consistently pointed people back to Jesus. Our hope is found only in Christ. We receive Him, and His benefits, only by faith. As he addresses hope and assurance, Meyer essentially describes a three-legged stool: doctrinal test, experience test, and the morality test. None is sufficient in themselves. They are all held together, so to speak, by what he called the acid test, the hope of glory. This is where we sit when times are difficult.

Meyer than writes about the legacy of The Doctor. It is quite a legacy. You can still listen to some of his sermons on line. But his books which worked through books of the Bible are plenty and beneficial. At times one can forget that those books have sermons from various points in his ministry. As a result there may be multiple sermons on the same text with different concerns.

The books reflect his commitment to expositional preaching. He was important to the re-emergence of expositional preaching (working thru books). Anyone wanting to learn how to preach expositionally is well served to read his books.

Lloyd-Jones was also one of the key figures in reintroducing the Puritans to the Church. He was involved in the formation of Banner of Truth Trust, and sponsored a regular conference on the Puritans.

The first appendix covers a controversy surrounding The Doctor and one of the places where he seems inconsistent. Meyer notes some possible instances of eisegesis. At the very least his views are idiosyncratic on this issue. He doesn’t really fit in the common categories. He’s not Pentecostal, and not an ordinary charismatic (which has gotten more confusing for the rest of us with each successive wave). He does depart from historic Reformed Theology in separating the baptism of the Spirit from conversion. Reformed Theology generally affirms subsequent filling of the Spirit. MLJ seems to speak of those fillings as baptism. At times he used baptism to refer to the witness or sealing of the Spirit.

Lloyd-Jones rightly connects Word and Spirit throughout his theology. He also connects doctrine and experience. He thought, at least in this issue, Reformed Theology separated doctrine and experience. He thought they focused on doctrine while the Charismatic movement focused on experience. Where he errs (or is it Meyer’s interpretation) is thinking this was in asserting the Reformed intellectualism is a response to Charismatic fanaticism. This neglects the fact that the Reformed view predates the rise of the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements.

On the one hand the baptism of the Spirit is to be sought, and on the other it is given sovereignly by God’s secret will. Seems a bit inconsistent. Does God only grant it if we seek it? Or does God grant it, like regeneration, so we receive blessings? A bigger problem is this could be considered not only as creating 2nd class Christians but also dividing Christ as though I can get some benefits and you get other benefits.

The second appendix is on the Secession Controversy begun with a sermon of his in 1966  at the Second National Assembly of Evangelicals. Lloyd-Jones was reacting to the ecumenical movement’s emphasis on unity in structure. Lloyd-Jones believed (rightly) that our unity rests in doctrine (and, I’d add, union with Christ). As a Congregationalist, Lloyd-Jones understood the Church differently than his Anglican friends J.I. Packer, John Stott and Philip Edgecomb Hughes. They wanted to see reform within the Church of England, not removal of faithful congregations from the Church of England. Lloyd-Jones saw denominations as fundamentally flawed and unnecessary. Faithful churches should form loose associations. The others saw denominations and state churches as part of the providence of God and sought to work in and thru them.

While relationships were strained, they seem to have recovered. But much damage was done in congregations and other relationships. As I read this appendix I thought of my denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America. It struggles with groups seeking purity, and withdrawing from the denomination. It makes sense, we were born of such a thing. But the stakes, in my opinion, are significantly lower. Like the Secession Controversy, relationships are broken and bitterness sets in. I lament this.

Overall, this is a very good book. Meyer has done good work here in helping us understand Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ understanding of how we are to live. It is generally well written, aside from the instances mentioned above that lacked citations. This volume in the series is well-worth your time.

 

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2The Works of John Newton (4 Volume Set) Newton, John cover image019 was the Year of John Newton. This means I read his works throughout the year. In the 4th quarter I read the 4th volume of the new edition. Due to the length of the volume and Christmas vacation, it took me a little longer to finish the volume.

As a side note, I found the editing in this volume to be much better than the 3rd volume. Maybe someone had a really bad stretch of time (crisis) when editing the 3rd volume. Maybe it was a new editor who needed experience. I don’t know, but I was glad I wasn’t stumbling on mistakes every time I opened the book.

“Keep always in mind that you are a sinner, and Jesus is a Savior of sinners.”

This final volume begins with letters to his wife. There are two main groups of letters to her. The first is during three voyages to Africa. He provides some glimpses into life as a 19th century sailor. You see a progression in these letters. They begin focused on the various events of the trips. Over time he begins to apply his growing theological convictions to the matters at hand, including some problems she was experiencing. A common theme or frustration he expressed was the fact that our hearts are idol factories, and he feared making her his idol.

‘I leave you in the hands of him who is able, and I trust willing, to preserve you from all evil, and to make everything easy to you. … a protecting Providence will surround me, and is no less to be depended on in the most apparent dangers, than in the greatest seeming security.”

These were trips furthering the slave trade. He seems not to grapple with the reality of that trade, yet. In a note on page 81, while in the section of his 2nd voyage, he explains why it didn’t bother him yet. He confesses that “custom, example, and interest, had blinded my eyes.” He, at the time, saw his trade as part of God’s providence. It was, but not for the reasons he imagined at the time. He would regret his part in the slave trade and work to end it. Had he never been in the trade, his attempts would have less passion, urgency and weight. We should struggle with God’s providence at times because His paths are beyond tracing out. It was also God’s providence that he was struck ill prior to a 4th journey, ending his career on the sea and in the slave trade.

“That powerful love, which brought down the Most High to assume our nature, to suffer, and to die for us, will not permit those who depend on him to want what is really good for them.”

This continues in the second main group of letters to his wife after ending his days upon the sea. There were periods when they were separated due to health or travel. His penchant for pastoral theology is evident, and his fear of idolizing his wife. We also see Newton’s affinity and admiration for George Whitfield which would eventually cause him problems as he sought a pastoral call in the Church of England. If you could put a label on a man who eschewed labels, it would likely be a Calvinistic Methodist like Whitfield.

“I still feel that you are my idol, and though the Lord has lately afflicted you for my sake, and is now raising you up for me again, as it were from the grace, I am not yet instructed.”

He also gives some insight to the deepest recesses of the soul. He speaks of “wild, foolish, and dreadful thoughts which often pester my mind.” Mr. Self is utterly corrupt, and people rarely see the depth of that corruption. We hide the worst parts of ourselves.

The next section of the book is a collection of previously unpublished (before the Works) that was intended to be a sequel to Cardiphonia. These letters cover a variety of subjects to a number of people: pastors, laymen and women he knew.

These are generally more theological than the letters to his wife since he is often responding to specific questions or debates he and the recipient engaged in. There is much about the providence of God regarding marriage, illness and other circumstances. He explores the reality of our sinfulness, that we are prone to wander. But he repeatedly reminds us that God is faithful. He struggles with people who have left the faith. Marriage, as he tells one woman, produces new temptations.

In one section he counsels a man considering ministry. He was a lay preacher in the military until forced out. Newton shares his own struggle with an internal call complicated by his associations as a lay preacher seeking ordination in a state church opposed to them.

“And the more simply we can reduce all our efforts to this one point, “Looking unto Jesus,” the more peace, fervor, and liveliness shall we find in our hearts, and the more success we shall feel in striving against sin in all its branches.”

We see Newton interacting with earlier theologians. For instance, he mentions disagreeing with Herman Witsius about degrees of glory. There is also a series of letters to a pastor struggling with assurance (I’ll post on this separately). He also “debates” Calvinism with another pastor. In this exchange they differ in their assessment of William Law and his book on a  Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life. He finds Law to have fallen into the trap of legalism through a denial of double imputation.

JohnNewtonColour.jpgLet us not forget that Newton keeps bringing us back to Jesus, a Jesus he keeps exalting in a variety of ways. He wants us to look unto Jesus, not simply doctrinal positions.

Periodically we see references to world affairs connected with the Empire. He refers to the American Revolution (or Rebellion from his perspective). The French Revolution and expansion shows up periodically. He dreaded, it seemed, all things French due to their collapse into atheism.

The next main section was a series of theological miscellanies. He speaks about the government of the tongue, Pliny’s letter to Trajan, preaching with power to a young minister, the causes and symptoms of spiritual decline, reading the Bible and the tests of true doctrine.

Then there are a series of articles extracted from an evangelical magazine. This section begins with thoughts on the Trinity, recollections of a deceased pastor and author, modesty among women (largely focused on the financial cost of following current fashion), faith and the assurance of faith, and covetousness.

The volume continues with a sermon about the constraining influence of the love of Christ. This is followed by the long awaited Thoughts upon the African Slave Trade. His focus is mostly on how individuals became slaves, and not how they were treated. He’s speaking from experience which was then decades in the past. He saw the Trade as “a stain upon our national character.” England paid a price for engaging in the slave trade too. Nearly 1/5 of the sailors, but his estimate, died on these voyages. This is on top of the moral corruption and greed.

“I have seen them sentenced to unmerciful whippings, continued till the poor creatures have not had power to groan under their misery, and hardly a sign of life remained. I have seen them agonizing for hours, I believe for days together, under the torture of the thumb-screws; …”

Some slaves were captured in wars between tribes, similar to what we see in earlier times. Others were convicts, sentenced to slavery. At times, tribes wanting to get slaves started wars. This would be “man-stealing”.

“I verily believe, that the far greater part of the wars in Africa would cease, if the Europeans would cease to tempt them, by offering goods for slaves.”

The volume greatly shifts gears to an address to the inhabitants of Olney. This is one of the congregations he served, and it is followed by a “token of affection and respect” to the yoked congregations he served in London. The latter in particular laments those members of the congregation who resisted his ministry.

The volume ends with a letter on political debate to another pastor. A pastor wanted some changes to the political system forgetting that sin is behind the abuses of any political system. God chastens nations for sin, but nations often refuse to repent but rather seek to make “fundamental change” that never addresses the sins of the culture. It finds scapegoats, like the rich, forgetting you don’t need to be rich to be greedy and covetous.

Newton was not known for his great theological mind. He was known for his great pastoral theology. As Josiah Bull noted, it is about Newton’s goodness of heart produced by grace. These volumes, this one included, are all about pastoral theology. Newton applies theology to particular problems, and consistently points people to Jesus. It can greatly shift how you go about pastoral ministry. I owe John Newton a great debt.

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As you read the afterward, you get the sense that writing this book was like building Swamp Castle. The first two manuscripts burned down, fell over and fell into the swamp. But Tim and Kathy Keller had a contract for a devotional based on  Psalms.

The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the PsalmsBut they did not give up, and eventually there was a manuscript that stood. That manuscript became The Songs of Jesus.

Also in the afterward, the Kellers give credit to Derek Kidner, Alec Motyer and Tremper Longman for their commentaries on the Psalms.

As the title indicates, the goal is to see these as songs by and about Jesus. They are by Jesus because we see in 1 Peter 1 that Spirit of Messiah was at work in the prophets, including those who wrote these songs. They are about Jesus in light of Jesus’ instruction to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. The Kellers keep bringing us back to Jesus on a daily basis.

IGod's Wisdom for Navigating Life: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Book of Proverbsn 2017 I read their devotional on Proverbs, God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life. Reading The Songs of Jesus after that may have been a mistake. I found God’s Wisdom to be an excellent devotional. I had high expectations for his devotional. It didn’t meet them.

That doesn’t make it a bad devotional. There is some very good material in it. Often the devotions were shorter than expected. There was frequently lots of white space at the bottom of the page. The page isn’t very big either. I, for one, was wanting more from this devotional.

So, if you buy both of these devotionals you might be wisely served to read the one on Psalms before the one on Proverbs.

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I was a reluctant Rush fan.

There were kids like Johnny Atkins in our school, sporting the 2112 and Moving Pictures t shirts. But most of them seemed to be among the pot heads. I heard Rush on the radio but like Erica Goldberg, I just didn’t get it. Yet.

John Graves (aka Jolly) prevailed upon me about the time Signals came out. Many of the songs were about things I thought about or expressed the longings and frustrations of my suburban teen heart. I was hooked.

Rush onstageI went as far back as Permanent Waves in terms of my enjoyment of their music. 2112 was just not my bag. Grace Under Pressure, despite the rather muddy mix, was also filled with great songs. I listened to them quite a bit. I began to appreciate their musicianship.

My favorite drummer remained (and remains) Ian Paice of Deep Purple fame. But Neil Peart was one of the great drummers. He was one of the first with the massive sets and he made great use of it. He was perfect for a power trio. He continued to learn and grow as a drummer, picking up new styles to incorporate into the music even within the last decade.

He wasn’t just the drummer but the chief lyricist. I didn’t get into his mythological beginnings. When he started to address contemporary views I was engaged. It was intelligent progressive rock.

Somehow Jolly and I never saw Rush live. I’m not sure why. I guess they didn’t tour in our senior year when we saw Rainbow, Yes, Van Halen, and the Moody Blues. I never saw them live, which I regret.

After I became a Christian, Peart’s lyrics began to reflect his own atheism and not just Ayn Rand’s philosophy. I began to be turned off to Rush’s music around time of Roll the Bones.

Two things happened.

First, I got robbed. My entire CD collection with the exception of what was in the CD changer was gone.

Then CavWife and I decided to adopt. My vinyl collection was offered up to raise funds. I no longer had my stereo equipment anyway.

This meant I didn’t have any Rush music left.

About 5 years ago I saw Moving Pictures as a Black Friday special on Amazon. Such an incredible album. Then I started picking up live albums on iTunes. I love working out to Rush live. YYZ is just a tour de force. The Grace Under Pressure live album in particular brings back plenty of memories of home and growing up. I remember old friends that I miss and times we had together.

I considered going to see them during the last few tours. But when you have 4 kids, it can be tough to justify that ticket price.

Now the reality sinks in, they are done and I’ll never get to see them live. A man’s life is over. He was a man who brought joy to many with his incredible musical skills and his intelligent lyrics. Yet, some of those lyrics, in my opinion, were the product of a darkened understanding filled with futile thinking of a man led astray leading others astray. And so I feel sad for him, not just for his fans.

 

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Song of Songs (Reformed Expository Commentary)About 4 years ago I taught a SS lesson on The Song of Songs. One of the resources I used was Iain Duguid’s new (at the time) commentary on the Song in the Tyndale Old Covenant Commentary series. It was one of the more helpful commentaries I used. At the time, there was also notice of his Reformed Expository Commentary series volume on the Song. I had hoped it would come out in time, but it hadn’t.

When the volume was finally published, I bought a copy. While on vacation/study leave I decided to read for reasons I’ll lay out in the follow-up post.

The Reformed Expository Commentary series is rooted in expository sermons on the subject at hand. They are a popularization, so to speak, of the material he presents elsewhere. He’s making it accessible and applicable to his congregation. So, in addition to some background and linguistic material there is a focus on application not as readily found in his commentary.

In his preface, Duguid notes that this was the first sermon series for the church he planted in Philadelphia. In addition to being a professor he has also planted churches near the schools in which he’s taught. When we re-started our church in FL eons ago, we had been in Ephesians and I decided to begin our newly renamed and relocated congregation with a series on marriage which would end up in Ephesians 5 where I’d left off. I thought it would be an “attention getter” in the flyers we handed out. It got no one’s attention, apparently. But Christ Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia is still going so it was moderately effective for him.

The Introduction covers issues of interpretation. This seems shorter than in his TOTC volume, which is understandable. It is Hebrew poetry and this must be taken into consideration when interpreting the text.

“Poetry is the art of condensation: expressing maximum meaning in the minimum number of words. … Poetry tends to be open ended, leaving us pondering and wondering rather than tying up every loose end with a watertight argument.”

As a result, what it means is not always very clear especially due to the great distance in time and culture. There are plenty of times you need to toss out caveats and address varying interpretations.

He briefly discusses and rules out the allegorical method which so many reject in every book of the Bible except this one. An allegory is typically a story in which everything represents something else. Pilgrim’s Progress is an allegory. There was no real Christian and all that transpired was intended to be a picture of the Christian life. There are lions, giants and more that represent something else. In the case of The Song of Songs, this is to avoid discussion of … sex. This is because we somehow think Christians should not talk about the beauty of sex. Or something like that.

The way many Christians who use an allegorical interpretation for this book makes it incomprehensible for the original audience. The original meaning is not about God and His people. Duguid sees The Song as a love poem which does have a typological function in pointing us to Christ and the Church (iow God and His people). There is an original meaning with application to people about marital love which must be reckoned with first.

He also addresses the issue of Solomon. You really have to stretch things to make Solomon the hero or the Beloved. Solomon is viewed as a contrast to the Beloved. He has many wives and concubines and cannot know them like the man and woman here know each other.

“For these reasons I take the Song of Songs to be a poem by an unknown and anonymous author about two idealized people, a man and a woman, whose exclusive and committed love is great but, like all loves in this fallen world, is far from perfect. … Thus, the Son is designed to show each of us how far short of perfection we fall both as humans and as lovers, and to drive us into the arms of our true heavenly Husband, Jesus Christ, whose love for his bride is truly perfect.”

This is the understanding behind these twelve sermons that work through the Song. He speaks often of romantic love as friendship on fire. The Song begins before marriage as they express their longing for on another but also maintain boundaries. In many ways it was counter-cultural in that it begins with her desires and longings. She is interested in him physically, not just emotionally. She is neither a feminist nor a traditionalist. She communicates her desires, and those include him providing leadership and direction. She wants him to kiss her, but isn’t kissing him first.

One of the things that Duguid stresses often is the connection, in the Song, between sex, marriage and children. This couple wants to possess one another, when the time is right, and sees its logical and desired end in having children together. He also stresses the role of family and community that is found in the Song. At times it is negative (like her brothers) but also often positive.

The Song functions to correct our fallen views of sex and relationship. Each culture should experience correction. While, for instance, purity is prized here it is not an idolatrous pursuit as can often happen. Duguid explains this in terms of beams and bombs. We find sturdy beams of truth upon which to build a biblical worldview, and bunkerbusting bombs that explode our false notions and worldviews. The Song reminds us that we need to positively teach the good things God says about sex, including in the Song. Duguid reminds us that one of Satan’s biggest lies is that God is a cosmic kill-joy and that His law is repressive rather than the law of love and freedom. God designed our bodies to enjoy sex. On the other hand, our desires are disordered so not all we want to do sexually is good and conforms to God’s law.

He speaks much about purity. We see the couple refusing to act on their desires until they are married. They still have desires for connection that are person specific. Purity is not simply a good unto itself. We can make an idol virginity losing sight of it as a faithfulness designed to minimize our sexual baggage that disrupts and corrupts the marriage bed. We are mirroring His fidelity to His people.

In his application Duguid regularly addresses single adults and those struggling with same sex attraction. The Song is for them too, as God re-orders their disordered desires (however slowly at times) as well as pointing them to Jesus.

The twelve chapters bring us from the awakening of their love to marriage, the reality of struggles in marriage and ending with the power of love. While the Song is not a relational handbook, it does teach much about fidelity and passion in a love that moves toward and continues in marriage. Duguid applies this in chastising those who put off love for careers when in reality love finds us at unexpected times. Putting off marriage at the height of sexual desire sets many up for failure. Yet neither should we make an idol of marriage as if it will satisfy. No one person can meet all our needs. The limitations of human love are intended to drive us to Jesus, not serial monogamy. Or polygamy/polyamory.

Love is powerful, as the Song warns us. It can make us crazy. There is the repeated warning not to arouse or awaken love until it is time. We can’t give full reign to our desires until the right time and context.

All in all this is a great book. Because it is a series of sermons the focus is on the relationship between them and our relationship with God. It is a volume I’d recommend to the single adults in my life so they can develop godly and realistic expectations. He dispensed plenty of wisdom without trying to advance the norms of some bygone culture. He brings us to Jesus in each sermon (providing great examples of Christ-centered sermons). I appreciate this book as a pastor & preacher, husband & father.

In part 2, I will compare this expositional commentary with his other commentary. I’ll try to see the differences in how he handles the text for those different audiences.

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Confession: I have a love-hate relationship with the culture war.

I’m torn in two. I have strong convictions on some things that I think are important. But I’m weary of how we as a culture, including the church, discuss these matters. I’m becoming more concerned with ministering to struggling people than trying to be right. I do want to explore nuances on some issues.

The subtitle of one of Scott Sauls’ books interested me. That book is Jesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who Are Tired of Taking Sides. Sauls is a PCA pastor in Nashville who used to work with Tim Keller in NYC. In many ways he is like Keller, making distinctions and exploring nuance. He tends to tick off both the left and the right. If the Bible is true, Keller notes, it will critique every culture and every person. That means that everyone will be annoyed by something it says. The same will be true for faithful pastors. The left thinks you are too right and the right that you are too left.

In his introduction Sauls puts it this way:

“Are we known by what we are for instead of what we are against? Are we less concerned about defending our rights- for Jesus laid down his rights- and more concerned about joining Jesus in his mission of loving people, places, and things to life?”

While we believe in truth, we also believe in grace and peace. This means a Christian should be pursuing all of them, not just one. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians he calls them to end what we’d call their tribalism in light of the fact they’ve been baptized into Christ. Their union with Him and one another takes precedence over the divides that kept people apart in their culture. In light of this we keep truth and love together, as Paul notes in Ephesians 4. Sauls wants us to see beyond the polarization to affirm what is true about each side of an argument in the process of finding the truth in the middle so we can love both sides and hopefully bring them together.

The book is divided into two main sections. The first addresses issues between the various “Christian tribes”. The second addresses some of the issues that polarize the church and the world.

The first issue he addresses could be in both sections of the book: politics. Reflecting Keller he argues that no political system or party is fully aligned with Jesus and therefore subject to critique. Politics is like a religion in America. There seems to be no middle ground.

God has instituted government, and raises up and casts down leaders. Those governments and leaders don’t serve Jesus. In our own context the two parties grab hold of part of what Jesus says. As Christians we can think they have the whole (or none in the case of THEM). We each have agendas and choose the candidate or party that best represent them. And one of those agendas tends to be political power. It is not just the evangelical right that courts earthly power, as the evangelical left would have you believe. Both sides have made compromises to gain cultural power so the current dust ups are largely disingenuous to me.

“Kingdom politics reject the world’s methods of misusing power and manipulating the truth.”

As we consider politics we should recognize that Christians should be involved in terms of voting and also holding office. Yet we should do this understanding the limitations involved. No candidate or platform is perfect. We are not electing pastors, and being a Christian doesn’t necessarily make one wise or beyond corruption. This is another way of saying that politics is not a means to usher in the kingdom of God. It is, however, a means to help human flourishing so the work of the kingdom can take place in and through the church.

Sauls notes that Christianity tends to be healthier when it is part of the minority, not the majority. As the minority we are generally less conformed to the world, and less likely to trample other groups. As the majority we tend to cling to power and can abuse it. We are fallen humans after all.

He also notes that “Christianity embraces both conservative and progressive values.” It is neither. Christianity teaches that women are made in the image of God. As such it should embrace equality for women. Christians have long had a prevailing ethic of life contrary to many an earthly government and culture. If we treat women well, the pro-life movement is not assumed to be a war on women.

I don’t want to spend as much time on the other polarizing viewpoints. But in discussing politics with some from the evangelical left recently I’ve heard the accusation that I’m actually pro-birth and don’t care about the poor. That’s a nice talking point, and the second chapter: For the unborn or the poor? Oddly, I’ve found many conservatives at the forefront of care for the poor through groups like the Salvation Army, Compassion International and through funding soup kitchens, pantries and homeless shelters.

It is difficult to discuss this topic without getting back into red state-blue state. But the question is not a new one: who should care for the poor, the church or the state? Calvin argued that church should, and Luther thought it was the state. We have a similar divide between the evangelical right and left. It isn’t really about whether to care for the poor but who and how. Our problem is we tend to see the other side not caring because they don’t do it the way we think it should be done.

Sauls brings us back to the reality of both the unborn and the poor bearing the image of God. This should lead us to have a comprehensive ethic of life. Mine would go something like this: The state should protect the unborn while the church/Christians should provide for the unborn and the poor. The state should protect the living by bearing the sword against the wicked who forfeit their lives for certain heinous crimes.

The section also addresses personal faith or institutional church, money guilt or money greed, racially the same or racially diverse, and him or her. These are important issues that we tend to take extreme positions on and fight about in the church. These, of course, are false dilemmas for the most part. We should value both personal faith and the institutional church. One tends to be dead without the other. Sauls notes that the early church was FAR from perfect, so the problems of our churches shouldn’t mean we reject “organized religion”. Rather, the church is a place where we learn to love people who are very different from ourselves. As he argues, we need the church and the church needs us.

In discussing money he reminds us that the underlying issue is contentment. Most people are not content with their wealth. This can manifest itself in either hoarding or spending. We inevitably have to see the God-man who was rich but became poor to enrich others. As we consider Him He makes us people who also enrich others.

Racial questions are difficult because we have such a hard time moving beyond our experience. We tend to normalize our experiences and can’t see other people’s experience (especially minorities) as valid or true. People in the majority need to begin listening to minorities. Privilege, I’ve found, doesn’t have to do with having an easy go of things so much as there are things you never have to think about. For instance, when I get in my car I never wonder if I’m going to get pulled over by the police. Many blacks and Hispanics do, and that is because they are pulled over far more frequently than me. When I get pulled over I don’t think that I’d better record it just in case things go south. I’ve always been treated with respect by the police. But many blacks and Hispanics are viewed with more suspicion by police than I am. Their experience is so different than mine. There are negatives I don’t experience due to my race, social status or both.

The same is true regarding men and women. I don’t go for a jog (when I used to) and wonder if I’ll get jumped and raped. I don’t pay attention to the cars on my walk to see if the same one keeps going by. I don’t pay more for a car or repairs because of my sex. Studies show that women are often taken advantage of by sales and repair men.

Where Sauls goes is inequality in the church in both chapters. Minorities often feel forced to fit in with the white culture of a church. They feel like a token instead of someone who has a seat at the table with decision-making power. Women also have decisions made for them without seeking their wisdom and counsel. God gifts women for ministry too. They don’t have to hold office to exercise those gifts like egalitarians think. Some complementarians need to remember that this is true and not unnecessarily restrict the ministry of women.

In the second section he discusses affirmation or critique, accountability or compassion, hypocrite or work in progress, chastity or sexual freedom, hope or realism, self-esteem or God-esteem and then provides some quick pointers on living outside the lines in the epilogue.

He spends time discussing our need for affirmation and encouragement. He also distinguishes critique and criticism helpfully.

“Because an affirming critique always comes from the motive of restoring and building up, unlike criticism, which aims to harm and tear down.”

We all been victims of criticism. You feel worthless, humiliated and exposed. Critique is not focused on fault-finding and assigning blame. It is concerned with how we can do better. Affirmation should not be devoid of critique, but it should be devoid of criticism. In this context he shared a story of a bad relationship with another pastor that brought out the worst in each of them, and how it turned the corner into a healthier relationship when they considered how God was sanctifying each thru the other.

He invites to consider both the justice and compassion of God that is revealed in the cross of Christ, as well as the final judgment. This is not a book whose message is “can’t we just get along.” It brings us often to the gospel while reminding us that divine truth is not simplistic. Our positions may have elements of the truth but not the whole truth. As we interact with people of differing opinions we may discover they have some of the truth too. Sauls is not selling relativism, but is reminding us that the truth can be more complex than we want to make it in our quest to be right. Seriously, who wants to be wrong?

There is much to make you think and move beyond the false dilemmas we find in life. There are also some great stories. I loved the story about Doug and how Scott struggled with a competitive spirit with a man he hadn’t been in contact with for over a decade. Scott is vulnerable in this book. He’s not the hero who has it all together. He comes across to me as a guy who’s trying to figure all this out and shares a few of the things he’s learned. See this as critique instead of criticism and you’ll benefit from the book. See it as criticism and you’ll just get ticked and retreat to your own tribe within the lines. It might feel safer, but then so is a prison cell sometimes.

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