Archive for August, 2022

Recently this book was mentioned in other books I was reading, and mentioned by Ray Ortlund, Jr. at a seminar I attended. I figured I probably ought to read it.

That book is The Mark of the Christian by Francis Schaeffer. James Sire has two forwards in the edition I purchased for under $6. It is part of the IVP Classics series. It is a mere 59 pages long and can be read in a few hours, or more slowly. I read it in chunks over the course of 3 or 4 days. It is not hard to understand, though at times you may not want to hear what he’s saying.

It made for some good sabbatical reading, however it is a book that bears reading by anyone serious about following Jesus. The mark Schaeffer has in mind is love, not doctrinal precision, activism, how we dress, or anything else. Love.

In that forward, Sire notes that love for those who didn’t yet believe and those struggling with doubts is something the Schaeffer excelled in.

33 Little children, I am with you a little while longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so now I tell you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34 “I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13 (CSB)

This little book is an exhortation of this passage from John 13. Jesus gives the disciples (and us) a command. He’s given us plenty of commands. What is different about this command is that if we obey it, people will realize we are His disciples. Therefore is serves as an identifying mark.

Schaeffer makes it clear that real Christians can disobey this command. There are times when we don’t look like Christians in the eyes of the watching world. What is supposed to stand out to them, however, is that we love one another. We are to do this, as Jesus has loved us.

He begins with the image of God. People have value and dignity as image bearers. Sadly, we live in a time that devalues human beings through abortion, speciesism, moral relativism and evolutionary theories.

Additionally, all people fit in the category of neighbors who we are to love as we love ourselves. We are to love all people as ourselves, and all Christians as Christ has loved us. It is not one or the other, but both. The particular mark is that we love other disciples in this sacrificial way. Schaeffer brings us to passages like 1 Thessalonians 3:12 which also reveal and preserve this balance in our lives. This love is not something that comes easily or automatically.

This Christ-like love is to be shown to all who stands in the historical-biblical faith, including those who are not in our own branch of the Church. History has too many examples of Christian groups hating and sometimes killing one another.

He then gets into the quality of that love, as I’ve mentioned above. We can’t love one another infinitely, but we can lay down our lives (and our agendas) for our friends. Jesus has just washed the feet of the disciples. If we are to love one another we are going to get our hands wet (or dirty) serving them according to their need as opposed to our preferences.

The church is to be a loving church in a dying culture.”

We do live in a fallen world, and remain sinners. We will not always love one another. Our personal prejudices can get in the way. Our limitations get in the way. We will not love perfectly, completely and in every moment. People may accuse us of being unloving. They might be right (at that moment) or they might be wrong.

There was once a woman who had romantic interest in me. I did not return that interest. She then sent an email to my Presbytery and denominational offices about how I was not a loving person as a result. She defined love as returning her romantic interest. I tried to love her by limiting our contact, but that was “unloving”.

The dying culture around us often argues on the basis of love to justify its sin. It calls us unloving for not approving of their sin. These are false accusations in many cases (some Christians may hate them and not just their sin). But love is supposed to be, as Schaeffer says, the “litmus test” for the world.

Here Jesus is talking about our responsibility as individuals and as groups to so love all other true Christians that the world will have no valid reason for saying that we are not Christians.

He then brings us to John 17 as Jesus prays for the unity of the Church, a oneness that reflects the oneness of the Trinity. This oneness is a manifestation of love. In John 17 Jesus says that by this the world will know that the Father sent the Son. Our unity reveals not simply that we are Christians but that Christ is really God the Son come to save sinners. This is because unity doesn’t exist in this sin-filled world that is subjected to corruption and in bondage to decay apart from the amazing grace of God.

He does note that the Church discerns whether or not we are Christians on the basis of doctrine, what we believe, and a credible profession of faith in that doctrine. The doesn’t evaluate us that way, but by love and its expression in unity.

As an apologist and evangelist, he recognizes that unless we love one another they will not listen to us. Yes, we must give proper answers. Proper answers and love are not opposed to one another. Love must be there for people to listen to our proper answers (this predates Haidts discussion of building better discussions over differences, love opens ears).

That love for one another should cut across all of the boundaries that the world uses to separate people: race, class, gender, cultural practices, regions and more. We love, not because we are the same, but that we have the same love for Christ who came to save sinners like us.

Schaeffer then addresses false forms of unity: organizational, doctrinal/confessional, the mystical unity (a reality, but not what Jesus is talking about since it is not observable). True oneness is something practicable. He mentions the hard task of practicing both his holiness and his love. Purity and love, not one or the other. Neither harshness nor laxness.

This love and holiness is made visible in how we conduct ourselves in community. He focuses on confessing sin against one another, and the forgiveness that should accompany it. We are to be repentant and forgiving people. This renews our fellowship. This pardon is one way we love one another like Jesus has loved us. We show each other mercy and grace instead of being filled with bitterness and holding on to grudges.

To often in our differences, we have been harsh in our words and unforgiving toward them. Many churches have scars from splits. Many denominations are the result of bitter disagreements. To borrow from Ken Sande they may need to “get the log out” and “go and be reconciled” if they want to “glorify God”. Too often we live contra-gospel lives in conflict. Our anger grows, we condemn others and ignore our sinful contributions to the mess. We are not realizing that love covers over a multitude of sins. Where there is no love, there will be no humility and forgiveness.

We call sin “sin”. This is part of the call to holiness. But the gospel moves further than this to include love and forgiveness: restoration and reconciliation. He addresses 1 Corinthians 6 and the willingness to suffer loss instead of going to the court of law with a fellow Christian.

He also addresses the problem of pride in these situations. We want to be right. We want to win the conflict. This sets up the protracted conflict or disagreement.

But we should understand that what we are working for in the midst of our difference is a solution– a solution that will give God the glory that will be true to the Bible, but will exhibit the love of God simultaneously with his holiness.

In a church world filled with conflict and differences, we seemingly have not big conferences on this. Churches in trouble may. But we don’t seem to do proactive work. We don’t really talk about this in seminary.

The world won’t understand our doctrinal differences, or our methodological differences. What they will understand is whether nor not we love each other by how we handle them. That will be visible to the world and should show that that we are His disciples and that the Father has sent the Son to save sinners, of whom we are the worst.

Yes, very short. But Schaeffer says many things that we need to hear and put into practice. Perhaps this bears reading on a regular basis, particularly before important meetings discussing differences. Perhaps we need to regularly pray, “help us to love each other.”

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It has been quite some time since I’ve done a movie review, but I have too much time on my hands these days.

I took 3 of the kids to see Thor: Love and Thunder last weekend. I hadn’t gone to the movies on a Friday night in forever. I usually go on off times so it isn’t busy. It was pretty busy but we got our snacks in time to see the trailers.

I wasn’t really impressed by the trailers. There was nothing that said “You’ve gotta see this!”

Love and Sex

That is about how I felt about this movie. Only the youngest really liked it. As you see ratings on web sites, they are not very good. I am not alone

I loved Ragnorak. It was funny, told an interesting story and had an incredible soundtrack. While this had the same director, there was something off about its overall feel or vibe. The jokes didn’t seem nearly as good as most of them fell flat. The shrieking goats was a nice touch. The music was okay, but The Immigrant Song just plain couldn’t be beat.

I was quite uncomfortable at the palace of the gods as Zeus (played by a rotund Russell Crowe) kept mentioning the orgy. This is the same scene where we saw Thor’s naked butt (or a stunt butt), thankfully after he got back into shape. There seemed to be much more discussion, jokes and allusions to sex and sexuality in this movie. I don’t know why. It is a superhero movie. It should not be a propaganda piece. But as you see Thor’s butt, Zeus and his entourage (and some of the other gods) seem to be admiring what you cannot see. Apparently I will need to discuss penis size with my kids, another of those conversations parents love to have with their kids.

As the movie begins you just have to wonder about Thor and how he looks at Star Lord at times. In my mind I wonder, “Are they going to make him bisexual like Loki?” It is uncomfortable at times. But so was his total self-absorption after he recovered from “fat Thor”.

We got more of the backstory for Valkyrie. Now knowing that her lover died in the battle, her reaction when the blonde is killed in the flashback makes sense. She has lost her “true love” and settles for short romances with other women.

And then there is the story of Korg and his two dads. At the end, he finds another male of his species to make a baby.

That was all disappointing but it seems to be the norm for the MCU these days. It prompted a short discussion in the car on the way home reminding one of my kids that we are still to love those with whom we disagree about these things.


Thor with Stormbreaker

One of the odd parts of the movie was Thor’s “relationship” with his hammers. His original hammer, Mjölnir, reforms to be used by Jane after calling to her. His new hammer, Stormbreaker, is jealous. Thor is double-minded wanting to possess both for himself but trying to appease his new hammer.

If only they called the new hammer Stormbringer, they could use another great song by another British band. Yes, Deep Purple’s Stormbringer. Am I the only one who thinks of these things?

In the course of the movie there are some plot leaps. Thor suddenly discovers powers he didn’t know he had that enable him to magically prevail.

The movie seemed only to be there to set up the next adventure and resolve Thor’s romance with Jane. He (like Valkyrie) had closed off his heart and needed to open it again.


Christian Bale as Gorr

The plot line in terms of conflict revolves around Gorr, played by Christian Bale. We find him and his daughter in a Sahara-like desert on the brink of death. He calls on his god but his daughter still dies. Gorr then finds an oasis where the god is enjoying himself after dispatching a would-be assassin. The god displays no care and love for the people who worship him, including Gorr and his daughter. Gorr picks up the dead person’s sword, named “God Slayer” and slays the god. Empowered by the sword, he begins to hunt down the gods to kill them.

This is deconstruction. He feels his god failed him. In his disappointment and anger, he rejects his faith rather than wondering if god actually made particular promises to break. This is a common theme in deconstruction, at least as I understand it. It begins with disappointment because God doesn’t do what we want Him to do.

When Thor encounters the Greek gods and other gods in their secret hangout, we see none of them is worth worshiping (well, I already knew that). They are like us: self-absorbed, obsessed with sex and food.


In a podcast dealing with Mars Hill it was noted that when most people deconstruct what they are left with provides no opportunity to reconstruct faith since they generally dismiss the Bible.

Gorr’s interactions with Thor shift. While Thor wants to stop Gorr, he also begins to have some pity on Gorr and tries to help him. Gorr’s faith in the gods isn’t restored, but he now has a “faith” in Thor. He entrusts what is most valuable to him into Thor’s hands.

I’m pretty sure this was not written as a tale of deconstruction and reconstruction. It is there, but not intentionally. That is an assumption of mine. Perhaps they did mean to communicate this. Yet, there it is.

As people made in God’s image, truth or at least true ideas leak in unexpectedly.

The gods of the nations are a lie and they are so much like us. But there is one who is different: YHWH who sent His Son to live and die for us. He’s fully human like us, but altogether righteous unlike us. He loves us despite our sin, and rescues us.

Thor really isn’t a Christ-figure, but this puffed up god gets better (Jesus is perfect and always has been). While he doesn’t sacrifice his life, he is willing to sacrifice his future with Jane. He also takes on responsibility for another person. He’s a very flawed Christ-figure but there is a hint of redemption in this movie.

But in the course of the movie Thor is also “redeemed” from his own narcissism. He really isn’t a god that can save, only help. He’s a god who needs help too. He’s not deserving of our faith, unless we need a powerful entity beat up.

So far the next generation of MCU is not very compelling aside from the new Dr. Strange movie which also includes the now obligatory LGBT+ character(s). I don’t know why they are compelled to confuse kids.

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I was about 6 months into my current pastorate when the mid-term elections hit. I had previously provided “voter guides” which sees how candidates measure up to the “Christian position”. Years earlier I’d wondered how you could have a Christian position on nuclear weapons. But I thought it would help people know where candidates stood on issues.

It didn’t take long for the email. My first negative email at the church. This person didn’t appreciate the material, and thought it unduly influenced people to vote a particular way. I could see their point and pulled them from the lobby.

This was the first indication that politics were going to be a problem, or a pastoral minefield, for years to come.

The congregation has come younger adults. I was surprised by some of their views, and some have since changed views. While some of the differences may have been about maturity and life experience, the main issue I realized was the differences in the role of government. Despite these differences, people co-existed well. There didn’t seem to be undue tension or conflict.

Until 2016. We’ve had people leave because we are “too conservative” politically. Others because I wasn’t verbal enough about politics. There were Facebook spats and residual discomfort. It has been a long 6 years. Perhaps I’m trying to keep to many people with divergent views happy but I’m tired of this.

I picked up How Can I Love Church Members with Different Politics? by Jonathan Leeman and Andy Naselli. It is part of the 9Marks series of booklets in the Church Questions series. I was looking for a good booklet to hand out to people. I read it in less than an hour so they get to the point. There are some personal stories in it. It is helpful though it never mentions that we might have different views due to different theologies of government.

Think of the iceberg principle. There is far more ice under the water than above. You can’t focus on the little bit above the water because the big problem is under water. In terms of politics, we see the differences in candidates or positions chosen. Underneath all that is what you think government is responsible for, the relationship between state and church and who does what.

Leeman and Naselli don’t try to address that. It is a booklet, after all. I’m hoping to handle that in a Sunday School class.

This is more of the quicker fix to calm things down but not resolve the differences. It is about living together in harmony though you disagree.

Why We Feel Skeptical or Angry Toward Fellow Members amid Political Differences

This is where they begin. These differences can hinder fellowship. When we are unable to tolerate those with different opinions, we often go looking for a church more politically (not theologically) aligned. We tend to treat church like a PAC, not a church where we express our love and devotion to Jesus Christ.

One reason they provide is a good one: since we are justified we should care about justice. I guess I’d swap out “regenerated” for justified, but you get the point. Because God is just and we are being remade in His image we should be concerned about justice (Micah 6:8). We differ on what we think is just, and that is pretty serious if we believe the other person is pursuing unjust policies or acting unjustly. Anger is an appropriate response to injustice.

Secondly, we believe our views are right and theirs are wrong. We tend to be self-justifying. None of us sets out to be wrong. We don’t argue for positions we know are wrong. But that doesn’t mean we are actually right.

Due to sin, we struggle with self-righteousness, self-justification and pride. We are finite and can’t fully comprehend any position (we can have true knowledge and understanding but not complete knowledge and understanding). But we argue like we do. As we argue our arguments tend to become more entrenched and more extreme. Not a good combination. It is easy to see why fellowship suffers.

Third, they state that political judgments require wisdom. Usually there is no “thus sayeth the Lord” but we are dealing with how to apply a law or principle. We can assume that differences in that application mean differences in understanding Scripture. Wisdom tries to take consequences into account. Wisdom recognizes that one size doesn’t fit all. We won’t all make the same calculations, in part because we place higher value on different aspects than they do.

Wisdom grows, and you can get more information. One illustration they use is living in Germany in the 1920’s. You couldn’t see what the National Socialist German Workers Party would end up. You might have misgivings, but the evil wasn’t clear until later. It would become clear, and in 1934 the Barmen Declaration by the Confessing Church denounced Nazism.

The point is, life and politics are not static, and with every passing day we need a fresh dose of wisdom because the political landscape keeps changing.

How Can We Love Church Members with Different Politics?

They shift from the “why?” to the “what now?”. They begin with adjusting expectations. Church is an affinity group. It is centered on Jesus, and He calls people from every conceivable background and throws them in a room together to learn about love. That’s the point: learning to love people who aren’t like you, including politically. Bailing robs yourself of the opportunity to love. The gospel takes diversity and creates unity, not uniformity.

What unites them is Jesus, not partisan politics.

We need to recognize what a church is, which means also recognizing what it isn’t. It is not a political party, or arm of one. It is God’s people from every nation tribe, tongue and language. The ethnic, cultural, class, gender and educational differences are not what matters. It is our union with Christ, and therefore one another.

The local church is where enemy tribes start beating swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks.

Moving further, we are to emphasize what unites us and remember what belongs to Christian freedom. They call the former “whole church issues”, the things we should agree upon to be a church. The are areas of disagreement that fall within the realm of “Christian-freedom issues.” Unless someone is voting for the Nazis in 1934 or later, or an anti-Christian party, there is no cause for church discipline. To vote for a candidate or party is not to approve of all they say, do, or believe.

People can discuss disagreements, but you want to make sure there is light, and not just heat. If you don’t want to discuss them, you should be free to do that. Grant others the same freedoms you want them to give you.

They also want us to recognize the differences between “straight line judgments” and “jagged line judgments”. The first is a straight line between the command of God and the policy. Since we should not steal, I think it is clear that the government should prosecute those who do steal. What is less clear is immigration policy. Yes, we should treat the sojourner fairly and love the alien among us. What some don’t realize is that those categories were a legal status. Not all immigrants would be considered sojourners from a biblical perspective. One can be pro-immigration and still want a legal process that is enforced (btw: we really need to reform ours). You can’t just go from the command to open borders.

Where it is a straight line we can hold our view more firmly. Where there isn’t we should be more cautious and allow others greater freedom to disagree. Sadly, we usually invert these. Where is there a jagged line judgment in view, remember they may have a differently calibrated conscience. You may want to be sure your conscience is properly calibrated by the Word instead of assuming theirs is not. They paraphrase a common sentiment from earlier generations, “Be strict with yourself and generous with them.”

They remind us that the letters of the Apostles, following the lead of Jesus, are not about social commentary and attacks on the government. They aren’t about life in the Empire but the Kingdom of God represented by the Church. We are not to focus on the kingdoms of men.

We do live in them, and should apply our faith to how we participate in cultural activities. We are to be just and advocate for those with less power than us. We just don’t condemn people who focus on other issues.

We are to love those loved by God. I am also reading Schaeffer’s The Mark of the Christian. We are to be known as His disciples by our love for one another. Politics is one area where we struggle with loving others. This command of Jesus should drive how we talk about politics and political differences. Where we fail there should be repentance. And we will fail. But we should strive nonetheless.

The goal of this booklet is not to resolve political differences but to help us love one another. As such, I find this to be another tool in my tool box in addressing the strife caused by political differences. You can never have enough. It cost me $2.50 so it makes an easy handout. I’ve also done a seminar for our people about Haidt’s The Righteous Mind. I’ll be teaching on a theology of government from Innes’ book, Christ and the Kingdoms of Men.

It is also a booklet I hope to re-read periodically to remind myself of these things as I deal with my own heart. I have found myself having to consciously refuse to post on current events or comment on other people’s take. This is hard for me. The “justice” vibe runs strong, and I want to speak about what I think are injustices but others think of as justice. We disagree. I am not trying to turtle, but to preserve relationships. Time has shown that my comment(s) won’t change people’s minds. There are many pre-suppositions that can’t be unearthed in that kind of forum.

Read this booklet, not to rebuke others so much as yourself.

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We live in a ruined world.

As Christians we also experience the ruin sin produces in our lives, families and churches. That can result from bad choices, the bad or sinful choices of others, natural evil and circumstances beyond our control. The ruins can affect us emotionally and spiritually. When I lived in a dumpy apartment, I noticed how discouraged I was. Are we just to settle for living in the ruins?

OT scholar Iain Duguid has written a new bible study in the Gospel-Centered Life in the Bible series by New Growth Press. It is Ezra and Nehemiah: Rebuilding What Is Ruined. (WTS Bookstore)

These books of the Bible take place after the return from the Babylonian exile following the Cyrus Edict. Duguid provides a short, helpful timeline for the decline and restoration of Judah at the beginning of this study.

I have appreciated the commentaries and the Gospel in the Old Testament volumes that Duguid has written in the past. I find them to be informative, accessible and to have plenty of appropriate application. I expected something similar with this study of these two books.

I was interested in this study based on the content as well as my experience with Dr. Duguid’s previous volumes. I am looking for a good study for a congregation that is struggling with life in the ruins.

In his Introduction he briefly outlines the struggles of the people of Israel. They needed to be restored to God, not just the land. They needed to be restored to God, not simply rebuild the ruined walls and temple. They needed to learn of God’s steadfast love, and Duguid reminds us that we need to see He steadfast love in light of the cross of Christ. They will be restored to God not by rebuilding the ruins, but by His grace. Then they will rebuild the ruins.

We don’t do this alone. The nation needed to pull together to help one another repent and rebuild. We also need one another. He encourages us to create an environment in which people in the group can openly share sin and struggles: their ruins. The studies are designed to provide opportunities for people to share the ruins of their lives. Some will do this more quickly than others. In other words, be patient with one another (including those who overshare).

In his introductory comments we see hints of the interpretive method he will follow. It isn’t always explicit but he seeks to help us understand the original meaning, how it connects to the gospel and applies it to our similar needs. He also connects the passages to parallel texts and explanatory texts. He’s keeping them in their biblical context. There is no eisegesis here.

Each of the 10 lessons includes the Big Idea summary of the passage, questions for Bible conversation, an article by Iain Duguid, more discussion based on the article, an exercise to be completed during the meeting, wrap up and prayer. They say it will take about an hour. They haven’t met my community group. This format follows some of their topical study guides I have used in our Men’s ministry. We rarely get through a lesson a week. Or 2 sometimes.

I usually walk through the content in my reviews of books. Since this is a study guide I will be focused more on the method here. I want you to do the study for yourself.

The book maintains a gospel-centered approach through the studies. It is about what God does, and what faith in this gracious God produces in us. He provides biblical background as needed. He doesn’t leave you in the dark and prone to go off in unhelpful directions or follow your own inclinations and prejudices.

For instance, Duguid challenges how we view the OT in his first article. It is not about great men, but our Great God. Neither Ezra nor Nehemiah bought the people home. They were not there for the first stage of the rebuild either. God works through a variety of people. We have Ezra a scribe and Nehemiah a man in the administration of the king. Each phase of the rebuilding process encounters opposition. This requires us to depend on God and work together with the recognition that we don’t get it perfectly right. It isn’t a call to be a great leader, but to depend on our great God.

Other articles engage us on worship, persecution, the law of God, leading people in lament over sin, God’s purpose for marriage, why Nehemiah’s request was so dangerous, responding to opposition, the importance of joy, repentance and how fickle we can be. Here he’s getting at the heart of our lives and their mess.

There is much here that should give us hope and encouragement in our circumstances. Our goals aren’t often met. We work hard but achieve far less than we intend. We are in the middle of the story filled with conflict, not the end. God has much He intends to do before that time.

He wants us to see HOW God works in these two books. This prepares us as we seek God to work in our lives.

There are not too many questions. He stays focused and gets us to think of what it would be like to be in their shoes. The discussion of the text has 3. The article produces 2 questions that seek to get at the heart to reveal your need for the gospel.

The exercises help us to think through application of material in the articles in light of our own ruins and joys. They are designed to help you examine the ruined places of your life where the gospel is needed. For instance, the one on worship works through the elements of worship asking you to see where you appreciate what is happening, where you would like to be more aware, and what makes you want to engage in that element of worship. Exercise 7 on Remember the Lord is challenging as it examines different kinds of opposition and our personal weakness and vulnerability.

The guide allots 20 minutes for the exercises. This allows time to be thoughtful about your answers. Some of the exercises have you look at other passages of Scripture. The hope is that you will begin to share those answers with the rest of the group as the lessons go on. There are 2 questions to help guide the sharing of the result of the exercises.

The copy I received includes the Leader’s Notes. He is not trying to provide “the answer” in them. He offers some thoughts and additional background to these books. The notes are not long, they aren’t mini-commentaries. They are helpful, providing good insight. There is also helpful advice for leading at points. For instance, in Lesson 5, he encourages the leaders to not let the discussion devolve into a debate on divorce and remarriage. He does provide some background into the many issues with those marriages. Some of the notes address the exercise or discussion sections.

The study guide is well-thought out. It doesn’t get too lost or distracted in the details. That actually is a weakness of some other study guides we have used. One series we used had passages that were way too large. These lessons strike a good balance. They bring us back to our need for Christ. I look forward to leading a group of people through this study.

(I received a free E-book copy for the purposes of review)

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Sometimes you read a book and wish you had read it years ago. You wonder what life or ministry would have been like if you had read it earlier. Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory by Tod Bolsinger is one of those books. But you also have to trust the providence of God and perhaps you weren’t ready to read that book.

The uncharted territory in the subtitle is post-Christian America. In “Christendom” you could be an attractional church. People would look for churches and if you had good preaching, good programs and cared for people you could grow.

Christendom is done, meaning we no longer have a cultural “monopoly” or majority when it comes to faith. Part of this means that the culture war is basically over. Most of society has forsaken the Judeo-Christian worldview and the morality that comes with it. It is awash in expressive individualism and self-actualization, being “true to yourself”. It’s about autonomy.

The mission of the church must necessarily switch to that more like the ancient church. It is often called “missional”, a term he uses frequently in this book. Many conservatives associate this with progressive Christianity though I can’t understand why. Missional isn’t actually a new word, but one which hadn’t been used in a long time.

It refers to the church regaining its sense to mission to go to the nations instead of expecting the nations to come to them.

Here is the rub, as Bosinger indicates, most seminaries in America train pastors as if we still lived in something akin to Christendom. That is beginning to change. For instance, our denominational seminary, Covenant, change the name of the Theology Department to Missional Theology. Some assumed this meant they were not teaching systematic theology anymore. No, they still had required classes in systematics. This was viewed as part of Covenant going progressive instead of seeking to prepare its students for ministry in the world that is, rather than then world that was.

Back to the actual book, which doesn’t address the PCA directly. Tod Bolsinger was a PC(USA) pastor and now is vice president of Fuller Seminary. Yes, not the most conservative institutions. He is what many of us in the PCA would call progressive, at least to some degree. This is not a theology book, so there is no way of knowing how far down that road he is aside from egalitarianism. So let’s weigh the book by what he says, not what we think he believes (because we may be very wrong).

Bolsinger uses the experiences of Lewis and Clark throughout the book. They were looking for the Northwest passage. As he recounts the story, they found the origin of the Missouri River and thought they just had to climb the hill to see the Pacific. Instead they “discovered” the Rocky Mountains. Instead of canoeing, with some occasional portaging, they would have to climb mountains unlike any they had seen east of the Mississippi. They had to lead their team into uncharted territory, they had to adapt.

This is how Bolsinger sees church leadership. We need to adapt as we move into this uncharted territory. He is clear that this doesn’t mean adapting our theology (this should make those of us who are conservatives comfortable). It is about adapting how we lead and fulfill the mission Christ has given the Church to make disciples.

He does focus on the mission of Lewis and Clark and books on leadership and systems. He mentions Scripture at points, but they don’t form the primary source of authority I’d like or hope. This doesn’t mean he doesn’t say true things or helpful things. It is more focused on general revelation than special revelation.

Seminary Didn’t Prepare Me for This

Here he BRIEFLY explains the shift from Christendom in the west and its tolls on pastors. He mentions three friends who “finally got worn down by trying to bring change to a church that was stuck and didn’t know what to do. Their churches were stuck and declining, stuck and clinging to the past, stuck and lurching to quick fixes, trying to find an easy answer for what were clearly bigger challenges.” These three friends all resigned on the same day.

I suspect that many pastors have felt this way. He notes that all three churches blamed the pastor, who was trying to bring changes, for how stuck they felt. Sound familiar?

Pastors, he argues, need a new set of tools which he will lay out in the course of the book. He also lays out his three purposes for the book.

  1. “To reframe this moment … as an opportunity put before us by God for adventure, hope and discovery….
  2. “To recover the calling for the church to be a truly missional movement….
  3. “To discover… the capacity for leadership within us.”

He structures the book around five vital lessons we need to learn to lead in this uncharted territory for the west.

  1. “Understanding uncharted territory. The world in front of you is nothing like the world behind you. …
  2. “… No one is going to follow you off the map unless they trust you on the map. … Without demonstrating technical competence on the map, a leader will never be given the chance to lead a true expedition off the map. … Only when a leader is deeply trusted can he or she take people further than they imagined on the mission of God.
  3. “… In uncharted territory, adaptation is everything. … adaptive challenges require learning, facing loss and negotiating the gaps of our values and actions. …
  4. “… You can’t do it alone, but you haven’t succeeded until you’ve survived the sabotage. …
  5. “… Everybody will be changed (especially the leader). … we who have been trained in a Christendom context will never thrive as leaders as long as the majority-world voices around us are silenced.” This means we should learn from those at home in this world.

In his own experience he found himself, or the congregation actually, as a victim of its own success. They had grown greatly in the previous decade and were beginning to reach out more tangibly when the energy left the congregation. A great malaise set in. Their unified vision led to an overly centralized organization. What ends up happening is people begin to think it is their job to support the ministry you undertake. Church life begins to revolve around you. They want to make you look good. They want you to thrive.

The problem is that everything is upside down (but not necessarily on purpose). You are there to make their ministry thrive. You are all there to glorify Christ (which he doesn’t seem to mention much). We have a tendency to build our churches on our pastors. It happens subtly. Sometimes the choices we can make as pastors foster this through unintended consequences.

True leadership learns to adapt to the present realities. This is not easy. I’ve been trying to communicate the reality of the new world we live in. It is a hard sell. People rightly recognize the “wrongness” of society’s direction but wrongly think we can elect our way into a godly, or at least comfortable to us, culture. We seem unwilling to change how we do ministry in light of these changes. That’s because change is hard.

The new Stated Clerk of the PCA addressed this as part of a lesson for the stated clerks of our churches. The generations approach things differently because they grew up in different worlds and therefore see aspects of the world differently, and different solutions to the issues before us. (Sorry for the less-than-stellar quality, it is Covid-quality)

This means that pastors and elders, in particular, need to learn all over again. We need to recognize that we don’t understand the world around us. This is not to say you can’t understand or will never understand, but that you need to learn instead of thinking you are an expert.

Leadership isn’t about authority. It isn’t about management. Leadership, as he will develop later, is about creating culture. Managing stewards culture or what is. Leadership focuses on what can or must be. Both are expressed in actions, relationships and taking responsibility. He too briefly addresses how anxious organizations can process information and fruitfully change. Leaders must have emotional maturity so they don’t take on the anxiety or take resistance personally.

The last few years the resistance has seemed quite personal. As the “change leader” you have a target on your back. Your culture change is the one they are sabotaging. I’ve been stretched, challenged to grow, and wondered if we would ever turn the corner. But enough about me.

Adventure or Die

After the story of realizing the Rockies lay before the Pacific, the author addresses that slow, incremental change has been replaced by a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world. He introduces the story of Lesslie Newbigin who returned from the mission field to realize his home had become one while he was gone. He’s also highly dependent on Christopher Wright and Alan Hirsch in thinking about mission.

The missional mindshift, he has discovered, doesn’t actually bring the needed change. You have to realize you need to adapt. He illustrates this from the story of Moneyball. We can’t keep doing the same things. Well, we must still do the essential things: preach the Word, administer the sacraments and exercise discipline. We also need to adapt by going to them instead of expecting them to come to us. We need to do pre-evangelism since most people don’t have elementary understanding of Christianity. We need to see new possibilities.

We don’t adapt our theology but our methodology. We don’t change what we believe, but how we seek to do ministry both outside and inside our four walls. Progressivism changes our theology. Just like there is a right and wrong way to contextualize, there is a right and wrong way to be missional. We should bring our confessional tried and true theology to the changing world in ways appropriate to those changes.

A Leadership Model for Uncharted Territory

He, through Alan Hirsch, brings us back to the early church to discover that leadership model. He contends that local churches are to be extending themselves into the world (from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria and to the ends of the earth). We are a witnessing (and necessarily worshiping) community (see 1 Peter 2). To change the church we must change how we function as leaders.

He argues there needs to be “communal transformation for mission”. We gather and form a people to participate in Christ’s mission. He goes a bit too far by saying “to establish the kingdom of God “on earth as it is in heaven.”” Christ has established His kingdom. Perhaps this is semantics, but we extend the kingdom He established. He also misapplies that phrase from the Lord’s Prayer. It applies to God’s will being done on earth- obedience among God’s people.

There is another odd statement in the next paragraph. “In Romans 8:29 we read how even the doctrine of election is not focused on our salvation but transformation.” Salvation includes transformation. The doctrine of election is about forming a people He will transform. Again, perhaps it is semantics.

One aspect of “missional” that does trouble me, as expressed here, is the reduction of mission to evangelism. I could be misunderstanding him, but that would because he hasn’t clearly stated it. Our mission, from Mt. 28, is to make disciples by baptizing them and teaching them to obey everything Jesus has commanded. We do this as we are going (missional) but we are making disciples, not simply converts.

He does turn to the Abrahamic promise in Genesis 12 to show that we are to be a blessing to the nations (through the ultimate fulfillment of that promise, Jesus) because we are children of Abraham by faith (Gal. 3, though he doesn’t make this connection). Leaders, therefore, are to transform congregations so they can fulfill this mission corporately. How he briefly expresses this is consistent with The Vine Project.

He distinguishes between technical problems and adaptive challenges. “Technical problems are those where the solutions are available to and “within the repertoire” of the community.” It is not trivial, as he says later, but that the solution is at hand within what you already know and do.

“Adaptive challenges, by contrast, are those that “cannot be solved with one’s existing knowledge and skills, requiring people to make a shift in their values, expectations, attitudes or habits of behavior.”” They are systemic issues. It is shifting from canoeing rivers to scaling snowy-topped mountains.

Here is one of the places where he holds the line. We are to adapt “without losing our core identity”. You don’t change who you are but how you go about fulfilling your mission. How you function as a leadership team and congregation changes. It is about new behaviors: people need to begin acting differently because they are in a new culture or society. You can’t move to a new country or cross country without adapting to the new set of circumstances, practices, expectations and customs.

They need more than teaching and preaching from their leaders. They need new behaviors.

I’ve been trying to build a “culture of reconciliation”. Sinners don’t do conflict well. Self included. Conflict is necessary to learn how to reconcile properly. I’ve stated repeatedly that it often goes wrong with the first 2 “g’s”: glorify God and get the log out of your eye. I have to practice that, and have been. Unfortunately your inner law firm seems to think that “go on the attack” is one of the “g’s” of reconciliation. The way of self-denial and cross-bearing in following Jesus is to forsake going on the attack.

So ends part 1 of his book, but not this review. He shifts to the skill set for leading on the map. If you can’t lead there, they won’t trust you when you go into uncharted territory.

Competence and Credibility

President Jefferson chose Lewis to lead the expedition because he trusted him. Lewis had displayed competence and credibility to Jefferson over years of working together.

Pastors must have a technical competence. You have to be able to do the basics of ministry: preaching sermons that are thoughtful and thought-provoking as you rightly divide the Word, provide comfort to the sorrowing, counseling to the confused, run the ship administratively. You need to be a good steward, “faithfully protecting and preserving what is most important” and “faithfully discharging the duties and carrying out the responsibilities that we have been authorized to do.”

Imagine if Lewis and Clark had proven to be inept while canoeing the Missouri. Would those men follow them into the mountains? No way. But they were competent and the men followed them (and a certain indigenous woman lest we forget her).

They had threshold competence (what we usually look for in examining men for ordination). We should also have it. He explicitly includes stewarding the Scriptures and tradition. You have to be clear on what will not change. There also need to be stewardship or competence of “teams and tasks”.

One of the hardest tasks of leadership is identifying new leaders. The choices you make for church officers can make or break you. It is easier said than done. I’ve shifted to a year-long process (after someone has been in the congregation for a year, minimum). You still don’t know them well enough. You can’t anticipate future influences on them that will lead them in different directions. When those things happen how you manage it is what matters. You can’t stop someone from going off the rails, but how you respond personally and publicly matters. Do you try to calm organizational anxiety or ramp it up? Do you go on the attack or seek to help people understand the context (as much as you can without betraying confidences)?

Bolsinger reminds us that we learn by failing. It is a necessary part of learning. Leaders will fail! What do they do when they fail? Do they seek to learn and grow or do they avoid responsibility and blame?

Competence gives us the credibility needed to learn from our mistakes.

Preparing for the Unknown

This chapter is really about building trust.

When I was newly married and we were faced with a decision and we disagreed, I’d say “Don’t you trust me?”. What a moron I was. Of course not! She only knew me for a few years. I need to build her trust in me by my actions, by consistency.

The congregation, and other leaders, need to trust you if you are going to lead them into uncharted territory. You will be asking them to do very hard things, to take big risks. They need to have a high level of confidence in you (and the other elders). They have to “get” why this is happening. They often don’t grasp the “existential crisis” because they still think they live in the country they grew up in.

We have the technology to fix the heart, but not to change it.” Ronald Heifetz

It is trusting relationships that are necessary to sooth the anxious, fearful church. When an elder left like the Baltimore Colts, we had the leadership team gather before the church. We wanted to convey that while that guy didn’t like where he thought we were going, the rest of us were on the same page and working together. We gathered the team to lead them into this unanticipated territory.

Trust is built when you do what you say, when you consistently express your stated values by your actions. Without this trust, the organization falls apart whether it is the leadership team or the congregation. That elder left it was because he lost confidence in me as a leader.

I’m not sure what destroyed that trust, but while it takes time to build it it only takes a moment to destroy it. We don’t always realize when we destroy it, until it is too late. I don’t know what I did to hurt this man, but there was something. When trust is lost, everything is jaded, seen as suspect.

Trust is also built with “meaningful work together”. It is in working together that you move beyond your personal concerns and learn new things. It also tends to develop the kinds of relationships that can endure uncharted territory. As I have learned, this is not a guarantee. Never underestimate the power and pervasiveness of sin (something missing in this book so far). These working friendships and unified fronts help calm anxious organizations.

When a pastor is new to a congregation and developing their trust in him, he has to rest in the trust they have in the rest of the leadership. If they don’t trust the rest of the leadership, he’s in trouble.

For the pastor a missional congregation must first be a trusting and caring congregation, a congregation where there is a healthy culture that creates the context for a congregation to become not only a corps, but also a Corps of Discovery.

And it is to culture that he now turns.

Eating Strategy for Breakfast

There is a statement he attributes to Peter Drucker that I have heard a few times in our presbytery: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Some people substitute vision or mission for strategy, but the point is that culture will prevail.

“The most critical attribute a congregation must have to thrive in uncharted territory is a healthy organizational culture.”

That culture is the often unexpressed dynamics of a group. It is the values, traditions and expectations that are assumed and taken for granted in a congregation. It is how you are expected to behave, it is “the way we do things around here.”

That culture is the DNA of the church (or denomination), which is often set in its birth or shortly thereafter. It tends to reproduce itself in the people, and attracts others with similar cultural value.

For instance, when a church is formed by people leaving a denomination that has gone liberal, they tend to become very defensive. Some of us presbyterians call this the “Reformed fortress”. There is the continual fear that the denomination or congregation will go liberal. There is a suspicion of new methods or terminology (like missional and contextualization).

The problem is that culture is not the same as the aspirations of the group. Culture is what you actually do, how you actually live. It will sabotage the aspirations of culture change. Culture will dominate in times of stress and change.

That culture creation work rests on identifying the gaps between aspired values and actual behavior, and then working with the leaders to bring every aspect of the organization into alignment with the core ideology (core values, mission, primary strategy).

About 5 years ago I knew we needed to change some things, to change our culture. First, we thought and acted like a small church but we wanted to be bigger. We lived on the cheap, and waited until a deacon could get around to fixing something instead of calling a repairman. We loved each other and didn’t expect excellence because we didn’t want to hurt feelings. Second, we had lots of conflict and needed to change how we handled conflict so it was more godly. Third, I identified that we lacked new people joining us so we needed to become more outreach oriented. Fourth, we were struggling to find new leaders and needed to do a better job of discipleship.

Sounds like we didn’t do anything right. We did. I addressed these issues and plans to address them. We’ve been trying to implement them. But teaching people they need to be outward focused doesn’t change the fact they aren’t. They will act the same way until they are convinced that is the way to live.

In other words, I feel like I’ve been fighting the culture of our congregation for years. Man, am I tired. I was called by a search committee that wanted many of these changes. But not everyone shared that opinion. Even those who shared the aspiration often had difficulty changing behaviors.

This is actually pretty common.

The process of change is in being clear and over-communicating it. Someone complained that we’d been talking about reconciliation for 2 years. Yes, because we are trying to create a new culture and that takes time and communication. If we’d arrived, I’d stop talking about it. We were not yet of the same mind, as indicated by our behavior in the face of disagreement.

You also need to embody that change- personally implement it. In the Vine Project you are asked to personally change before you make recommendations about a culture of discipleship (another change we have been trying to make). They have resources for culture change on their website.

Also vital is love. They must know you love them. Just as marital love joyfully produces new life that has some combination of the DNA of the parents, you change the DNA through love. Love precedes the change you want to see.

We only love God because He first loved us. Loving God we want to please God and keep His commandments (in other words, change!). This brings us back to the gospel, though Bolsinger doesn’t explicitly go there.

Despite his reliance on general revelation over special revelation, I found much here that was helpful. Perhaps it was confirming what I’ve been doing. I’m open to that. I agree with his purpose, and think this is where many of us are whether we want to admit it or not. Many fight this process, because they don’t want to change to fulfill the mission Jesus has given us. As a result, some people will not appreciate this book. They want to preserve the status quo. But the world has changed. Yes, there is nothing new under the sun. However, in the west we are declining to a world more like the one the Apostles and early church encountered. They grew up in that world, we didn’t. Many of us don’t understand that world and don’t want to. That means, in part, that we don’t want to reach it. Understanding isn’t the same as affirming or accepting it. Bolsinger is pushing us to adapt to these societal changes.

We’ll see where he goes with all this in the days to come.

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A small book deserves a small review. It shouldn’t be a measure of the value of the book. I just don’t want to replicate the book. And I read most of this before my sabbatical.

The small book in question is A Small Book About Why We Hide by Edward Welch. Yes, it is part of the Small Book series of which I’ve reviewed a few already. I really like this series. I really liked this book.

This book, following the format of the others, has 50 days of “devotionals” which are generally about 3-4 pages and conclude with some questions in Response.

The purpose of this book is found in the subtitle: How Jesus Rescues Us from Insecurity, Regret, Failure and Shame.

We all have voices that tell us we are never enough.”

All of us struggle with these things. Maybe you don’t struggle with insecurity but the others may apply. Because we are sinners who are still made in the image of God, our sins and failures fill us with regret, shame and disappointment. Like Adam and Eve in the Garden, we want to hide from God and one another. We wear masks, pretend, and make-believe.

That means people don’t know who we really are- or all of who we are. There are parts we cover up because of our shame. They are like our “unpresentable” parts. We keep them private, sometimes even from our most intimate relationships.

They increase our sense of alienation and isolation. “What if people knew?”

We can’t fix the past. We can’t fix ourselves. The focus is really on how Jesus rescues us through the gospel. It is about how Christ died to bring us back to God. The doctrine of justification, rooted in God’s mercy, enables us to own our sin, bad choices, regrets and more.

This book is largely a pressing of the gospel into the dark corners of our lives. This is why it is good to have short meditations. It can be difficult to think about your insecurities, regrets, failures and shame.

Marie was disappointed

The first part of the book covers Insecurities, the Fear of People, Regrets and Failure. In the course of this he speaks about God’s delight in us, the differences between feelings and faith (speaking truth to our feelings), that we need to love God more than people, and that we need to love people more than we need them.

He addresses the erosive power of disappointment. Anger fades, but disappointment often doesn’t. Welch notes that it is tough to shrug off because forgiveness doesn’t really address the sting. It is easy to transfer that sense of failure from the person in front of you to God.

The good news for us all is that God loves us more than we love Him. He addresses our sonship and our slave mentality. Our weaknesses are exposed, and God still loves us. He doesn’t want us to hide behind masks to guard our idols. He wants us to face them, offer them to Him, and worship Him as the One who rescues us.

Fear and anxiety express our frailty more than our sin.

He also addresses the problem of perfectionism in this context. It often feeds our fear and sense of failure. When we don’t measure up to our standards, we feel like we just plain don’t measure up. We need to see that Jesus alone is perfect, and that He perfectly fulfilled our responsibilities before God.

In bearing the curse for us, Jesus also suffered the rejection of others. Rejected by men, Jesus provides acceptance before God. God also uses our failures to instruct us in a way that success doesn’t allow.

The second part of the books is Shame, Worthlessness and Self-Loathing. It is more about who we view ourselves instead of what we have done. Our failures and sins leave us filled with shame, feeling worthless and often hating ourselves. This is, as he says, something dark. He spends plenty of time talking about Jesus as our High Priest who sacrifices Himself for us and continues to intercede for us.

Shame is the sense that you are the problem, that you are flawed, faulty and filthy. It is not being guilty. It isn’t doing something wrong but being something wrong. It arise from either sinning big or being sinned against. Especially when experiencing sexual trauma, we tend to think we are the problem, that we are worthless and disgusting. Treated like trash, we begin to feel like trash and think we are trash. Jesus alone can remove that feeling of shame that plagues so many of us. He needs to cleanse us and purify us. And He alone can.

Shame separates us from others, especially God’s community. Jesus comes to bring us back to God and God’s community. He lifts our shame by bearing it.

The book ends with Grafting Your Story into God’s Story. It is about seeing yourself as part of or within God’s story. Welch’s goal is essentially to be able to tell your story, identifying themes of fear, failure, shame or self-loathing and how Jesus has rescued you so you can live in a new identity as chosen and dearly loved. It is a form of testimony. We need to see that God’s Story is meant to inform and transform our story.

Welch provides another helpful book. It is bite-sized help. The answers aren’t easy or simplistic. There needs to be a frequent return to the balm of the gospel when these issues arise in our hearts. It would make a good gift to anyone you know who struggles with these issues, which is just about everyone.

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We all seem to get blindsided at times. Life can run over us like a Mack truck without warning.

Carey Nieuwhof was coming off a career highlight when burnout devastated him for months. He never saw it coming.

This is what prompted Nieuwhof to write Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the 7 Greatest Challenges That No One Expects and Everyone Experiences.

Who is Nieuwhof? At the time this was published, he was pastor of a large church near Toronto, Canada. It started as 3 really small and struggling churches. I’ve never heard of the church, Connexus, but that doesn’t surprise me. He notes that it is the largest church in his denomination but I can’t find the denominational info on their website. The statement of faith is very short. Interestingly, the only theologian I recall him mentioning is John Calvin. You wouldn’t guess that by a quick look at their beliefs.

This is to say I know nothing about him. The book is like his church, trying to be accessible to Christians and non-Christians alike. Faith is mentioned in the book. He is writing from an overtly Christian perspective. Yet not so much a focus that non-Christians are put off. This is a blessing and a curse. Your non-Christian friends will not be put off if you give them a copy. There is something akin to an altar call at the end, and some of this solutions refer to God. But the solutions, or paths to overcoming, are not really gospel-centered or oriented. He gets the diagnosis fairly accurate, but doesn’t always provide real medicine. It felt more like band-aids at points. He focuses on what I can do rather than what God has done, and is doing.

I’ve tried to strike a tone in this book that works for those who are skeptical of Christianity and for those who passionately follow Jesus. As a result, this book may end up not feeling Christian enough for those who are Christians and too Christian for those who aren’t. If that’s the case, I may have hit the mark.”

Why was I reading this book on sabbatical? First, I am on sabbatical and I’m in my 50’s. I’ve been struggling with a few of these challenges for the last 5-6 years. One of my wife’s friends mentioned the book to her, so she gave it to me as a Father’s Day gift.

The book has two chapters for each of the 7 challenges. The first speaks about the danger of the challenge and the second provides how to overcome the challenge.

The 7 challenges are: cynicism, compromise, disconnection, irrelevance, pride, burnout and emptiness.

(Image from the NY Times)

His introduction is called Surprise. None of us sets out to experience these challenges but they find us all the same, and in the unlikeliest of moments. He thinks there are warning signs to help us recognize they are on the way. In the first chapter of each section he will try to identify some warning signs. In this, the book is helpful.


Cynicism is the loss of hope. Most of us didn’t start out this way, or want to end up this way. But there we are- thinking the worst will always happen.

I was raised in New England in the 70’s and 80’s. I was raised on disappointment. The Celtics weren’t really big, though dominant, until the 80’s (or so I’m told). Boston was a baseball town, and the Red Sox always found a way to blow it. Bucky Dent. Bill Buckner. Ted Williams hurt in an exhibition game before the World Series. The list goes on. At this point the Patriots were a series of disappointments. The one time they made it to the Superbowl it was against the team I picked to win it all in preseason, da Bears! Same thing the next time, I knew before the season that the Packers would finally prevail.

Heart-break and disappointment take their toll. It isn’t just about sports but romance, lost jobs, friends who turn on you (or try to take your girl). Recessions. Energy crises. The inability of government to learn from the past.

Cynicism is an echo of Ecclesiastes: meaningless, meaningless everything is meaningless. Or futile, without effect. No matter what I do, nothing is going to change in ___________________. It could be work, parenting, or your marriage but cynicism is the loss of hope that God will work for good in your life.

He notes that you begin to project the past onto the future. “She rejected me” becomes women will reject me. You generalize and stop trusting, hoping and believing.

Early in my ministry in Tucson I returned from a few vacations to find new faces, particularly when we needed some new faces. Then began a string of vacations when I’d return to fewer faces. I began to dread vacations thinking that more people would look for a new church while I was away. You can imagine how I’m handling a sabbatical.

He then moves into practical ways to combat cynicism. He does point to the gospel (focusing on the resurrection here) to melt our cynicism.

Our hope isn’t based on an emotion or feeling. It lives in a person who beat death itself and who loves us deeply enough to literally go through hell to rescue us. So what were you discouraged about again? Because hope is anchored in resurrection, it is resilient.”

This is not intended to be an unqualified hope. It is only for those who believe Christ was raised from the dead, and for their salvation. While this is real cure I need to hear, he moves on to speak about curiosity. I guess he forgot that curiosity killed the cat. More seriously, it is a blessing and a curse. It really isn’t a cure unless it is accompanied by faith in the gospel of Jesus which is the real cure.


He begins this chapter with talking about some experiences with guidance that he saw as part of his immaturity as a Christian. God gave clear, specific direction. He doesn’t see this as ordinary or to be expected. It doesn’t mean he is special (like Driscoll implied).

Compromise is a disconnect between who you are and who you know you should be. This means compromise is acting beneath yourself- in terms of who God calls us to be. It happens subtly most of the time. These tiny compromises that result in the ones that end marriages and careers.

In this he discusses the tension between competency and character. To do well you need both. All the character in the world won’t make you a good engineer, salesman, pastor, meteorologist or athlete. There needs to be competency. It is the lack of character that torpedoes your competency.

Some of the signs include a growing gap between the public and private life (are you two different people? hidden and secret sins?). You will begin to hide things, cover up. You won’t follow thru on commitments. You will begin to find ways to justify your bad actions and decisions instead of taking responsibility for them. All of this culminates in just about everything being about you.

Let’s be honest: character development is far more painful than skill development. Working on your character forces you to go into the crags and crevices of your heart. It encourages you to look at your past to forge a better future. It makes you look in the mirror.

He then shifts to deepening or developing your character. He rightfully notes that it happens in the midst of ordinary life, the choices we make each day.

He does offer a very basic gospel message and then brings us to the Sermon on the Mount. He then begins to address the process of sanctification. In many ways it is not a very “theological” approach. He begins with “take responsibility” which is a non-religious way of saying “repent” or “confess”. The next is easier said than done, as Paul addresses in Romans 7, “make your talk match your walk.” He talks about the problem of deceit here, because we are a society steeped in deceit. He notes a study indicating 60% of people like 2-3 times in a 10 minute discussion. He encourages you to “put yourself first when it comes to personal growth”. He briefly addresses the means of grace, personal devotions, where we can see who God is, and who He calls us to be and the grace He provides for us to get there. It isn’t about how much you know (though you need to know truth) but maturity is about love which we see clearly as the fruit of the Spirit.

Competency gets you in the room. Character keeps you in the room.


People feel very alone. One day you wake up and realize that you feel really alone. Your best friends are scattered around the country and we are alone.

We are connected via social media, but struggle to spend time with people in person. We text, but struggle to talk to the person across the table from us. Just yesterday I watched two people at a table in a restaurant, each looking at their phones instead of talking to one another.

Solitude is a gift from God. Isolation is not- it’s a tool of the Enemy.

It is easy to blame technology, like social media. He notes that technology didn’t create this problem though it does amplify it. It is a problem of the heart with roots in Adam’s sin. Sin and shame cause us to put on fig leaves to cover up. We hide. Few people know the real us and we rightfully feel lonely.

Nieuwhof invites us to watch Little House on the Prairie. We’ll see that life was slower. No cars, or planes. No TVs or phones. No internet. There was more space for relationships as you worked together. And more space to get away from people (watch Jeremiah Johnson).

He notes two main symptoms or losses: the loss of conversation and confession. People struggle to carry conversations. People struggle to admit they were wrong. We are very much like the Fonz in this respect. We are disconnected from God (read Genesis 3) and one another (see Genesis 3 again).

He doesn’t settle for “ditch the phone”. He wants us to address the human problem, not simply the technological one. He discusses the reasons for actions versus explanations of action. The first is often a way to avoid responsibility. The second open us up to the possibility of transformation because we begin to understand ourselves and our motivations. He connects this back to curiosity. We can also begin to confess instead of making excuses.

I struggle to provide affirmation. Thankfully I married a woman who doesn’t require much affirmation. I didn’t receive affirmation as a child. I am still uncomfortable with receiving it, and are still learning to offer it. This is not an excuse, but a reality. It is a reality that doesn’t have to define my future. I have kids. They need affirmation. I’m learning to give it.

He invites us to take an interest in others. We value them and ask about them instead of just talking at them. We converse with them. But curiosity leads us to ask questions of them. While he doesn’t bring this up, valuing others and considering their interests reflects Paul’s instruction at the beginning of Philippians 2.

He does invite us to turn off the technology at times- like dinner time. He also invites us to slow down.

We recently drove across the country. We saw it from the car window. We were in a hurry to get where we wanted to be. We had 4 cats in our cars which is not conducive to stopping somewhere for a few hours to explore. While in my wife’s car there was lots of singing, in mine there were ear buds and video games as we shared space but not life. They failed to appreciate my play lists. All they got was a passing glance of the St. Louis Arch, which is disappointing.

A friend has a pontoon boat. He and two of his kids are taking it from West Virginia all the way to the Mississippi River and the gulf. It is not a speed boat (though he races cars). This is an adventure reminiscent of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Despite the loud engine, they are on an adventure, not simply a trip, together.


Most of us feel irrelevant, replaceable. We think we don’t matter. We are obscure and barely make a ripple in the pond.

We had a retired elder who used to ask me if I was getting any calls. He wondered if other churches had heard about me and were reaching out to offer me a better position. I reminded him, regularly, that I was pastor of a small church in the desert. The world doesn’t know I exist, or care that I do. No one was going to pick up the phone to pursue me. No one has.

Irrelevant people eventually lose the ability to communicate meaningfully with the people they care about and to contribute to causes they’re passionate about.

But he’s not talking about our place in the world. Our world changes so fast these days. You can’t keep up with technology. You can’t keep up with pop culture and the news. You slowly slide into irrelevance, losing influence among people.

He invites us into change: regular and radical change. I’m not sure this is the answer, or the best answer.

As a child I was getting a ride home from a basketball game with the parent of a teammate. He asked if I like BTO (Bachmann Turner Overdrive for those not in the know). I felt like an idiot because I didn’t know what he was talking about. I made a vow, so to speak, to be in the know. It’s tough being a know it all- you have to keep up. I eventually gave up. Seminary did me it. It was similar to being in a monastery in that I didn’t have cable, the internet was just for the occasional email and for extended periods of time I didn’t have a radio in my car. So much happened that I was unaware of. It was okay. I survived.

We do need to change. We need to adapt to changes around us. He tells the sad story of Kodak who invented digital photography but soon fell into irrelevance because they were married to developing photos instead of adapting to a society that shares photos digitally.

As a pastor, I need to know what is going on. In particular the questions, longings and commitments of the present, not the past. I have to understand in order to speak to our culture.

He addresses why we don’t change and then what change looks like. There is some discussion between the difference between mission and method. We are supposed to be married to the mission, not the method. The method is a way to fulfill the mission. We change methods to fulfill the mission as our world changes.

Instead of railing against the way things are, they leverage the past and present to make the future better.


“Pride is the mother of all sins.” The Devil’s Advocate quoting lots of theologians

Pride is like bad breath. It is easier to notice in others than yourself. Few of us realize how proud we are. It is why we are so obsessed with ourselves. When we don’t address our pride, it will destroy the relationships we value. It will drive division, greed, jealousy and strife. It will stifle kindness, compassion, patience and other virtues.

He posits pride in insecurity. Not buying it. It is about self-exaltation. It was one of the motives for Adam and Eve’s sin. Pride is the mother of many sins. It is an inflated sense of self and our importance, not a deflated sense. Here, I think he takes us in the wrong direction. We can have both pockets of insecurity and pockets of pride. I know I am insecure about some things, but prideful (at times) about others. I don’t agree that insecurity is the source of pride.

I began listening to one of his podcasts the other day and he made a comment about no books in the last 30 years on a subject that made me say, “Really? I can think of three books on that topic off the top of my head.” Another pastor commented to me that he has some “huh?” moments in most podcasts. There are some here, and this is one of them.

Yes, we compare ourselves to others but usually to people and in areas where we come out better. We can’t celebrate the successes of others because we think we would have done better. Insecure people push out other gifts people because they hate feeling like they don’t measure up. Pride doesn’t give them the opportunity as we cling to it all ourselves. Pride does make us controlling.

As he describes pride, he’s more on point. We do think we are better than others in some ways. We talk down to them and/or think little of them because of this. We are also judgmental, exerting moral superiority or a critical spirit. Pride leads us to be unaccountable to others. “Why should I be subject to THEM?” This will inevitably isolate us.

He then shifts to the habits of the humble. I’m not sure humility kills pride. Humility is the virtue opposite of the the vice called pride. He, in my opinion, misses the gospel opportunity. We can humble ourselves or be humbled by God. We usually don’t do the first until we’ve begun to experience the latter. Humiliation is out of our hands but in the providence of God is due to our circumstances, or at the hands of another. Humiliation is an act or process, not a state of mind. It is what happens to you, but it may not actually result in humility (thinking less of yourself and yourself less).

The gospel miss is that he ends this with being honest with God. This is the starting place! Recognizing He is the Creator and we the finite creature is the beginning of humility. Recognizing He is the Perfect God who saves flawed sinners like us is the beginning of humility. These are the grounds of humility. You can make yourself or save yourself. You can’t change yourself. Humble yourself and receive grace. What he describes as steps to humility are actually the fruits of humility.

As we see this, we begin to see the need for the gratitude Nieuwhof mentions. Gratitude is impossible with pride because I deserve these things I have. Humility sees that I don’t deserve them but have received them (He gives us the ability to work and earn, Dt. 8). When we are humble we will learn from others. Arrogant people refuse to learn, ask questions or ask for help because they think they know more or better than others.

We do need to honestly confess our pride to God. The Spirit teaches us to say “no” to ungodliness, like pride. So when the prideful thoughts emerge in my mind I think, “No!”. I refuse to entertain those vain thoughts, and confess them as my prideful heart speaking. It’s amazing how often we need to say “No!” to ourselves, which is humbling.

Burn Out

He describes burn out like falling off a cliff. You seem fine and then you are in free fall. It is complicated as the result of accumulated fatigue. No one thing does us in, and no one thing can be fixed. A river has many tributaries that feed it, and blocking one doesn’t stop the river from flowing.

The last 5 or so years have been very hard. Conflict, lack of growth despite hard work, family trials including the death of my mother after a long illness, my dog died, the reality of Covid shutdowns, anxiety and nonsensical mandates, decision fatigue, uncertainty, crazy election cycles, supply shortages, inflation …. Fatigue has accumulated for me, and just about everyone. There are no reserves left. People are burned out, traumatized and in free fall.

Burn out is more than fatigue. Work can tire you out but you are restored by a good night’s sleep. Burn out is more. It is joined by depression which lies to us about both the present and the future. Depressions lies can be deadly, and Nieuwhof admits hearing those lies. During Covid an number of pastors committed suicide. They listened to the dark lies of depression.

He doesn’t quite give the DSM definition of depression but hits the key observable issues: lack of passion/interest, diminished responses, relationships are draining, cynicism, dissatisfaction, lack of concentration. He misses being irritable. But we begin to self-medicate to take the pain away (that can take a variety of forms: alcohol, TV, video games, porn, food…). Ordinary sleep and rest don’t seem to recharge the battery (because you are over-drained).

He’s honest about his burnout in all of this, and speaks about how he addressed it. He needed the help of his wife, friends, fellow church leaders and more. Once again God is option 2, not 1. Perhaps I am nit picking, but He’s the only One who isn’t burned out these days. God should be our first refuge, but not our only one. Yes, we need to tell someone (especially if we are suicidal). It’s hard to tell people you are on empty because you generally can’t get off the treadmill anyway, just like George Jetson. This is hard for men because we are responsible for everyone else. I should have taken my sabbatical 7 years ago. While I’m thankful for the time I have, it isn’t nearly enough because I am that drained. Thankfully churches are beginning to stress the need for sabbaticals and put them into the official terms of a call to pastors and staff.

You do need a circle of people as well. I’m thankful for the groups I’m in as I seek better self-care. I’m developing more relationships with peers who get the realities of our vocation. I have breakfast each month with other pastors in my denomination. I’d been seeing a counselor. I’ve been sharing some of this with our elders.

My sabbatical was mostly about rest, not study. My reading was focused on feeding my soul. Or just plain fun. No deep theology. No leadership stuff until the 3rd month. I took hikes. Watched movies and series with the kids. Took daily walks with my wife. I told the elders not to tell me about stuff unless someone died or the building burned down.

He advises not making big decisions, like a job change, unless you are getting counsel from others aware of your situation. Take time to grieve, which is likely the hardest part for men. I can’t seem to cry when I should. It comes out when I shouldn’t and I have to press it down. Grieve the people who have died, moved or left in an angry huff. Grieve not only what you lost but what the church lost (in my context) and the family.

When we do take care of ourselves, our pace will be slower. We will stop expecting too much from ourselves. Hopefully people will “get it” and not expect you to continue doing 100-yard dashes. They may extend you the mercy they extend themselves. Or maybe they aren’t extending themselves any mercy.


After winning, I think, his third Superbowl Tom Brady wondered aloud “Is there all there is?”. Sadly, he decided it pretty much is and remains driven to win well into his 40’s and will 7 rings despite having a super-model wife and kids.

Most of us get there. We work hard and the trappings of our success, however small they may be, don’t satisfy. That’s because we weren’t made for them.

It isn’t just about money and luxuries. Nieuwhof talks about gaining power, knowledge and pleasure. They leave us empty as well. You might feel stuffed after an incredible meal, but give it a few hours and you will want more food. You may collect stamps, cars or music, but you will always want more shortly after your latest addition.

Food is the drug of choice for many Christians.

Idols demand from us but they cannot satisfy. They demand work and sacrifice. But the pay off, if there is one at all, is fleeting. Like addicts we begin the cycle yet again.

He points us to the Kingdom of God to supplant the kingdom of me. He doesn’t mention Thomas Chalmers but he is trying to offer the purifying power of a new affection to people.

Selfishness breaks up marriages, destroys relationships between parents and children, ruins friendships, and in the workplace makes you a leader no one wants to follow.

My niece worked at a Ben & Jerry’s this summer. I hadn’t had any of their ice cream in many years. On the wall were their mission statements. I’d think their mission statements were to make affordable and delicious ice cream I can afford. I am a fool. Their mission statements (yes, plural) are about human rights, economic justice and environmentalism (yet they still use milk which comes from cows which are the primary source of methane in the atmosphere). I’m just in there to buy ice cream on a hot day. My niece is there to get money for school, not “change the world.” It’s ice cream for the love of Pete!

But we do need to live for something more. They have given themselves to humanism and environmentalism as causes. They can’t satisfy for we can’t stamp out racism, classism, oppression etc. We can’t fix the environment. Going green has its own ways of devastating the environment, and it is really expensive.

The kingdom of God is the only cause that can satisfy. In the present God enables me to treat people with love and respect regardless of race, age, class or gender, to help those less fortunate than me, and to be wiser regarding stewardship of this world and its resources. But in the “not yet” of the kingdom, there will be sin no more. We will no longer pollute. There will be no decay and destruction. God will satisfy us with Himself.

Calvin Meets Hobbes

In his conclusion he turns to John Calvin, interestingly. He quotes from the Institutes: “Without knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God.” It took him a few pages to continue the quote to include that “without the knowledge of God there is no knowledge of self”, but he got there. These bodies of knowledge are intertwined. The non-Christian will struggle to understand themselves unless they know God. The Christian will struggle to know God if they don’t know themselves, since we are made in God’s image.

Nieuwhof goes there to briefly discuss self-awareness as part of emotional intelligence. We impact others, and should be aware of that, and how we impact others. We should know our weaknesses and strengths. If we are self-aware, these challenges shouldn’t hit us out of the blue. We will recognize their approach and begin to address them.

My Conclusion

This is a very readable, approachable book. Since his audience isn’t necessarily religious or Christian, there is not too much. There is little to no religious jargon. He succeeds in his goal that is quoted above.

There is some Bible, but not much. This is mostly a general revelation book. I was surprised he mentioned Calvin because he really hadn’t mentioned any Christian leaders of the past. His mention of Andy Stanley scored no points in my book (gifted communicator who undermines people’s faith with some of his theological errors, in my opinion).

There is some gospel, but it doesn’t seem to be at the heart of the book though it is the ultimate answer for most of these challenges. As a result, I was a little frustrated just like he apparently wanted me. But I’m not sure why he didn’t want to consistently offer the best medicine for what ails people.

It was helpful. There are good things here. But I thought too much of the advice was disconnected from faith- and I guess I just see things differently than Carey in that regard.

I’m reminded of a review I wrote for the Newsboys’ Love, Liberty, Disco album for Christian Bookseller. The music was infectious as always. It sang of God’s love in a very generic way. Scripture consistently points us to the cross. There was little, to no, cross in that album and I said that. I’m not sure if they read the review, but there was more in the next album.

I guess that’s how I think about this book. I like it, but…

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