5 Favorite Authors :: Faves for 40

May is the month I turn 40. To celebrate, I thought I’d do a series of posts about some of my favorite things.

Today: 5 Favorite Authors, in no particular order

1. Francis Schaeffer. He was a well-respected thinker and Christian apologist in the 1960s&70s. Yet, he was not a hardened intellectual. He had great compassion for people as he sought to lead them to Jesus. His works heavily influenced my early faith and continue to challenge me today.

2. CS Lewis. A theologian and a dreamer. Lewis knew how to stir the imagination as well as the soul. His works remind us that theology doesn’t have to consist of a bunch of cold propositions. Jesus often spoken in stories. Stories can help to form us spiritually.

3. Michael Crichton. He wrote a lot of popular fiction, especially of the sci-fi variety, during my teens and 20s. It’s not high literature, but there’s a lot of fun reading. And plus, Jurassic Park, The Lost World, Dragon Teeth… there’s also dinosaurs. What’s not to like?

4. Jared C. Wilson. A very grace-filled and gospel-focused author of the present. You could say a lot about what he writes, but I’ll leave it at this: I’ve yet to pick up anything of his not worth reading.

5. Dean Koontz. This one is borderline on my list. He writes a lot of pop fiction, a lot, especially of the sci-fi and mystery genres. And not everything he writes is good. When you have published over 100 books, there’s bound to be plenty of duds. He makes my list for one main reason: The seven-book Odd Thomas series. Odd is a kid in his 20s who talks to ghosts, hangs out with the spirit of Elvis, and reluctantly solves mysteries. It’s fun, it’s quirky, it’s humorous…it’s odd.

Honorable mentions: AW Tozer, Os Guinness, Gary Paulson, Louis Sachar (who I pen-palled in the 5th grade)

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5 Favorite Bible Verses :: Faves for 40

May is the month I turn 40. To celebrate, I thought I’d do a series of posts about some of my favorite things.

Today: 5 Favorite Bible Verses, in no particular order

Zephaniah 3:17 – “The Lord your God is among you, a warrior who saves. He will rejoice over you with gladness. He will be quiet in his love. He will delight in you with singing.”

Ezekiel 36:26 – “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”

Ecclesiastes 12:13 – “When all has been heard, the conclusion of the matter is this: fear God and keep his commands, because this is for all humanity.”

John 17:17 – “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.”

Philippians 1:21 – “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

Image source: Photo by Samantha Sophia on Unsplash

What Makes for a “High Quality” Spouse

I saw a tweet the other day from some guy attempting to instruct women on what “high quality men” look for in a partner. His list can be narrowed down to fitting his definition of attractiveness and unblemished past. On the one hand, the things on his list weren’t bad things. On the other hand, when they are used in a Pharisaical manner to impose a universal standard and to imply that those who don’t measure up are “low quality,” well, that’s just wrong.

To universalize his list is to exclude many who can, will, and have made wonderful spouses.

Why does this matter so much? Well, being a #boydad, and, as a foster dad, being a momentary dad to several other boys, it makes me look inward to ask: What am I implicitly and explicitly teaching my sons about what qualities to look for in a wife?

And there are two main things that I hope I teach my boys…

First, worry more about being a “high quality man” than looking for a “high quality woman.” Or, work on your own character before being a critic of another’s. And how do we begin to become “high quality”? By realizing that we can’t be.

That’s part of the point of the gospel story–there has only been one high quality man (Jesus) and the rest of us don’t measure up. We all fall short of the perfect standard that God requires of us. That is why we need Jesus. It’s either gaining his perfect righteousness by faith and a grace-gift of God or it’s nothing.

Grace is the key word here. When we realize that we need the grace of God in Jesus in order to be pure and righteous before God it humbles us. It humbles us as it enables us to keep growing in character as the Holy Spirit works in us. It also humbles us as we realize that the same grace we have received we need to show toward others.

The simple truth is, as a man, I will never be a perfect husband. I can strive to be the best husband that I can be, but I will never be the husband my wife truly needs and deserves. I trust that she will be gracious to me and my flaws as we walk the road of life together. This also means that no woman will ever be a perfect wife. One of my roles as a husband, then, is to show the same grace that I constantly need.

Second, I can teach my boys to look for the one great quality in a spouse that matters more than any. I can teach each boy to look for a woman who loves Jesus more than she loves him. I want my boys to marry into a partnership where they pursue God together. That means that above anything else there must be that deep love for Jesus. That’s the great command that Jesus gave, after all–love others deeply, yes, but love God supremely (Matthew 22:35-40).

Certainly, I want my boys to find wives who love them deeply. Indeed, who love them more deeply than they love anyone else on earth. But I also want my boys to find wives who understand that marriage is only temporary for our season on this present earth. While it still matters greatly, the eternal matters more (Matthew 22:23-30).

couple 01 (unsplash 02152020)

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That Helpless Feeling

A few weeks ago, we faced the unexpected: Our not-even-three-week-old baby spiked a fever that wouldn’t break. A trip to the emergency room was followed by being admitted into a children’s hospital for a three-day stay. Fortunately, the problem proved to be a virus that simply needed time to pass.

But in the midst of the wait, there was one feeling, for me at least, that was strong: helplessness.

Life is precious. Life is also vulnerable. You learn both as a new parent.

We like to think that we are strong and in control. We like to think that we can provide safe spaces for our children where no harm will befall them. But then things happen in life and our illusions of strength shatter.

I watched as they poked, prodded, and drew blood and spinal fluid from my baby boy. I listened as the doctors explained how they would aggressively treat his condition as they waited for test results, in case their worst fears were realized. I sat awkwardly in a chair and held my son with wires and tubes running from him to machines.

I was present but I was helpless. I couldn’t make his fever break. I couldn’t speed up the clock for answers. I couldn’t make my boy better.

I could hold him. I could sit with my wife as she held him. And I could pray.

One positive that came from that helpless feeling was the reminder that even though I’m not in control, God is. That reminder deepens the reality of the prayer: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come your will be done.”

Not every moment in life resolves positively, at least in a way that we can see in the here-and-now. Thank God for those moments that do, but the fact they don’t is part of the reality of living in a broken world. Yet, in those moments of deep helplessness, however they resolve, God is there for his children and God will carry us through.

That is the essence of Psalm 23, after all. There’s quiet plains and still waters but there’s also the dark valleys of the shadow of death, yet, God is there.

baby child father fingers

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Impactful Reads: Death in the City

Death in the City by Francis Schaeffer is one of the most impactful books that I have read (in fact, I’ve read through it three times now). The title might sound a bit head-scratching. It is based on a series of lectures by Schaeffer in the late 1960s derived form the biblical books of Jeremiah, Lamentations, and Romans. He draws the title from Lamentations 1:1 which speaks of Jerusalem after the inhabitants were either killed or exiled to Babylon and then sat empty, hence “death” in the city.

Ultimately, Schaeffer was writing a critique of western culture as it was shifting (and continues to shift) from an overarching Judeo-Christian worldview to one that is post-Christian. But his critique is not so much aimed at the culture at large but rather the Christian’s and church’s response.

I first read Death in the City as a college student in a time where my faith was being greatly shaped and coming into its own. Three main things stuck out then and still stick with me today.

First, building on the Westminster Catechism, Schaeffer considered what it means that humanity’s “chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Christianity is not a cold religion or a dispassionate intellectual exercise. Christianity is not about escape from life but pressing into true life with excitement. It’s about finding whole-person fulfillment “in relationship to the God who is there.” In other words, Christianity is about finding joy and satisfaction that never fades but finding its source in Christ and not in the offerings of the world and culture. (Pg. 25-27)

Second, Schaeffer warned that Christianity becomes ugly when it divorces itself from compassion. The prophet Jeremiah was called by God to speak some difficult truths but he did so with tears. Yes, the Christian Gospel is a message of holiness, a sacredness devoted to the ways of God that often run contra the ways of humanity, yet at the same time it is a message about love. The two cannot be divorced nor set against each other. As followers of Jesus, witnessing to the world, we must speak of every person’s significance as an image-bearer of God, we must not shy away from the wrongfulness of sin and rebellion against God, but we must do so with compassion and a heart that loves others by seeking to meet their various needs. (Pg. 68-74, 118-23)

Third, Schaeffer encouraged to “go on” speaking about Jesus and Scripture, even if it seems those who listen, believe, and turn to Jesus are few and far between. It is the encouragement to be faithful and not worry about “the world’s concept of success.” At the end of one of his lectures, Schaeffer passionately said: “My last sentence is simply this: The world is lost, the God of the Bible does exist; the world is lost, but truth is truth, keep on! And for how long? I’ll tell you. Keep on, keep on, keep on, keep on, and then keep on!”

The above pagination is from the third printing of Death in the City by Inter-Varsity Press, 1970.

selective focus photo of road

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Pursue All Things Good

I have heard about Eugene Peterson for years, a longtime pastor and author who died recently. I’ve even used his The Message paraphrase of the Bible for personal devotions. But only more recently have I picked up some of his other works, including, the considered-classic A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.

Within its pages I have found words that cut to the heart. As he ponders the Psalms of Ascent (Psalm 120-134), he spends time reflecting on various topics they portray. He assigns repentance to Psalm 120, and in words that are also reminiscent of Philippians 2:14-15 as well, he writes:

Psalm 120 is the decision to take one way over against the other. It is the turning point marking the transition from a dreamy nostalgia for a better life to a rugged pilgrimage of discipleship in faith, from complaining about how bad things are to pursing all things good.**

I think of social media, Facebook and Twitter and the likes that we all seem quite addicted to. How much of it is complaining about others? And complaining about others complaining about stuff? (And, then, semi-ironically, could this be complaining about others complaining about others complaining about stuff.)

We turn on the news, and most stories are about how bad things are across the globe and in our neighborhoods. Our coffee table or water cooler gossip carries a lot of complaints.

Complaining about people and things seems woven into the fabric of life. Including my life.

But Christianity is inherently optimistic. Yes, we should not gloss over a world of hurt, war, and disease, all brought on by the corruption of sin. But if we’re well known for complaining about how bad stuff is, then we’ve essentially have missed the point. Jesus rescues us from sin and he one day will make all things new.

Thus, for the Christian, the future is ultimately always better.

This, I think, is the reminder that Peterson sought to share: Christianity is about looking forward and upward. Complaining about the world isn’t going to change a thing.

But pursing all things good–pursing Jesus and all he offers will.

I hope to remember that the next time I feel the urge to complain.

**Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction (InterVarsity Press, 2000), 28.

A Letter to My Newborn Son

Dear H,

Welcome to the world. Nine months of waiting and anticipating while you grew inside your mama, and now I’ve met you face-to-face. Your eyes have opened to the newness. You’re hearing things you’ve never heard before. Your tiny fingers get to grip mine.

I’m looking forward to seeing the person you’ll become–to meet your personality and help you discover your gifts and talents.

Three things that I wish for you as you grow and learn:

Be the best you you can be. The world can be a confusing place and a trying place. Sometimes it feels the easiest to conform and go with the flow–to be what other people want you to be. Honestly, though, that’s exhausting. Even if you match one person’s expectations, you’ll never match them all. God has given you your personality and abilities. Hone them and use them well. But be you. And if someone doesn’t like you, then smile, be kind, and keep being you.

Be the best you you can be in Jesus. The world can be a messed up place. But that’s not the way it was meant to be nor the way it will always be. God created us to be in a relationship with him, loving him, enjoying him, and loving others. But in a tale as old as humanity, we rebel against him and seek to live without him (or with our own tamed version of him). One day God is going to remake the world so there is no evil, death, or disease. Everyone there will love him, enjoy him, and love others without fail. The way we get there is through Jesus. He died and then, amazingly, rose from the grave to reverse our rebellion and set us right with God. If you trust in him, then he will take your heart, personality, and talents and use them in this life to love God, enjoy God, and love others.

Be the most loving you you can be. The world can be a cold place, a mean place. Though I use social media, I’m glad that I didn’t have to grow up in a world of social media. I was bullied at times and it was hurtful enough without a bunch of people piling on in a public forum. Some people hurt others because they have been hurt. They need compassion and grace. Some people hurt others because they’re just mean. They need compassion and grace. Some people struggle under the pain of hurt. They need compassion and grace. You can’t be everyone’s best friend, but you can be kind and loving to everyone you meet. Jesus overcame evil with love and he calls us to do the same. Some people are hard to love, and the Lord knows that I myself have failed plenty at loving others like I should. But if you make it your ambition to love well, even though you won’t be perfect at it, you’ll be able to make a little piece of the world just that much brighter. And it might even change the course of someone’s life or eternity.

I know right now that you won’t be able to read or understand a single word of this, at least for a while. That’s okay. Even if you never read these actual words, it’s going to be my job to help you learn these lessons. I pray that I do that well.

Love you Little Man.

Dad