Book Review: Cruciform by Jimmy Davis

In the Middle Ages, Christians built grand cathedrals in which to worship. “Everything about the way a cathedral was built . . . was designed to help folks discern, delight in, and declare the great, biblical doctrines concerning God and the gospel,” explains author Jimmy Davis (p. 7). They were works of art designed to communicate the message of the cross.

We need more cruciform churches today, says Davis. “Not lavish cathedrals but living communities of disciples being shaped by the cross into the shape of the cross for the glory of God and the good of our neighbors, the nations, and the next generation” (p. 8). That’s why he’s written Cruciform: Living the Cross-Shaped Life.

Many of us, particularly if we’ve come to faith as adults, struggle to clearly and practically define the Christian life. What does it look like? Is it a list of things we do or don’t do or is there more to it than that? But the underlying question—the question behind the question as it were—is not simply what does it look like, but why do we exist in the first place? Davis offers a very insightful answer: “We exist to exalt the glory of God and to help other people and all of creation do the same” (p. 15).

This understanding is essential for all who seek to live a cross-shaped life. If we do not understand why we have been created and for what purpose we have been redeemed by faith in Christ, we will flounder rather than flourish.

So what do cruciform disciples? Davis sums it up in two key points:

Cruciform disciples (imperfectly) resemble Jesus the Son. “The more we become like Jesus, the Beloved Son, the more we will fill up by faith on the love of the Father through the gospel as his beloved sons” (p. 37).

Cruciform disciples (imperfectly) resemble Jesus the Servant. “As we fill up by faith on the love of the Father as it is offered in the good news about Jesus and poured out by the Spirit, we overflow with love back to God and out to others, using the resources he has provided in the place he has put us. Our lives will take the form of a cross-shaped servant” (ibid).

These twin realities—that when we are redeemed God has adopted all of us as His sons (cf. Gal. 3:26-29) and out of our sonship, we respond in service—are at the heart of the Christian life. In the author’s words, we are embraced as sons and empowered and employed as servants. “Our service must also flow from sonship, for unless and until we are sons we can’t serve, won’t serve, and don’t want to serve. Without divine sonship, we are like the two lost sons in Luke 15:11-32 . . . [rejecting] the fellowship freely offered to us by the Father and instead embraced either pleasure (trying to escape God’s righteousness) or performance (trying to earn it)” (p. 54). [Read more...]

Book Review: Unplanned by Abby Johnson

Before October, 2009, no one had ever heard of Abby Johnson. She was a happily married mom who happened to work as the director of a Planned Parenthood clinic. In September of that year, when she was asked to help in the exam room, life as she knew it came to an end. That day, she assisted in an ultrasound-guided abortion and was horrified by what she saw on the screen. Expecting to see non-reactive fetal tissue, as the cannulae came toward it, she instead saw the baby begin to kick “as if trying to move away from the probing invader.” (p. 5)

Witnessing this—and being a part of it—was too much for Johnson and was the end of her career at Planned Parenthood.

When the news broke a few weeks later, it wasn’t because she had left the organization—it was because she had crossed the line and joined the Coalition for Life, the pro-life group that prayed daily behind the fence at Johnson’s clinic.

Since then, Johnson has been at the center of a major court case, having been sued by her former employers, and become a sought-after speaker on the realities of abortion throughout America. In Unplanned, she shares her story of how she moved from advocate to opponent of Planned Parenthood, and in the process was confronted by the reality of God.

Recently my wife and I sat down to chat about her impressions of the book. Here’s our chat in all its YouTube-y glory:

(Feed readers, sorry, you’ll have to click-through to watch—and please forgive the awful screen cap!)

One of the things you might not expect in reading a book like this is just how even-handed Johnson is when describing the realities of life at Planned Parenthood. She tries hard to avoid sensationalism and is very careful not to demonize any of the people working there, as if they wake up in the morning, stretch and say, “Gosh, I can’t wait to abort some babies!” Because the truth is, they don’t. Many, like Johnson herself, became involved because they believed what they were told about the organization’s desire to protect and care for women’s reproductive health. But it’s interesting how even the most noble desires—including Johnson’s, which was to reduce the number of abortions being performed—can be lost or twisted into something else. [Read more...]

Four Years In: A Word About Marriage

An excellent wife who can find?

She is far more precious than jewels.

The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain.

She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life. . . .

Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:

“Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.”

Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

Proverbs 31:10-12, 28-30

Four years ago today I married my lovely wife, Emily.

In four years, we’ve seen some amazing changes in our lives.

Four years ago, we both worked at a printing company as graphic designers/production artists and (obviously) had no children.

Today, I work as a professional writer and Emily works as a stay-at-home mom caring for our two lovely daughters and dabbles in freelance illustration.

We’ve gone through some really joyful times, like the birth of our children. We’ve gone through some difficult seasons, including a miscarriage and learning how to really live on one income. And there have been some exciting adventures and challenges, like my joining Compassion’s staff, our finding a new church in Harvest Bible Chapel and some things that we’re not ready to talk about yet.

But in the last four years, there’s never been a day where I’ve wanted to throw in the towel.

There’s never been a day when I’ve gone to bed thinking, “I don’t know if I can handle spending the rest of my life with this girl.”

Because even when we’ve faced challenges, when we’ve disagreed (sometimes sharply), we come out the other side loving each other more than we did going in.

God has been good. He’s growing us closer to Him and closer to each other.

The last four years have been great. I hope for at least sixty more.

You game, Emily?

The Long Road to the Middle

Francis Chan vents about the rise of the evangelical “middle road:”

Every notice Chan’s ability to make you laugh while he’s smacking you upside the head? It’s pretty amazing stuff.

Anyway, his point is well taken. Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matt. 7:13-14 NIV). Yet, somehow we’ve gotten this idea into our heads that we can read the Bible, but not do what it says.

As Chan puts it in the video clip, “When we play Simon says, the leader says ‘flap your wings,’ and you flap your wings. But follow Jesus is a totally different game. When Jesus tells you to flap your wings, you can just sit there and ‘do it in your heart.'”

I wonder if the confusion, and the creation of the evangelical middle road, can be chalked up to one thing:

Fear. [Read more...]

You Can Ignore a Great Ethicist


I’ve been reading Eric Metaxas’ excellent new biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer and was struck by the following:

One admires Christ according to aesthetic categories as an aesthetic genius, calls him the greatest ethicist; one admires his going to his death as a heroic sacrifice for his ideas.

Only one thing one doesn’t do:

One doesn’t take him seriously.

That is, one doesn’t bring the center of his or her own life into contact with the claim of Christ to speak the revelation of God and to be that revelation.

One maintains a distance between himself or herself and the word of Christ, and allows no serious encounter to take place.

I can doubtless live with or without Jesus as a religious genius, as an ethicist, as a gentleman—just as, after all, I can also live without Plato or Kant. . . .

Should, however, there be something in Christ that claims my life entirely with the full seriousness that here God himself speaks and if the word of God once became present only in Christ, then Christ has not only relative but absolute, urgent significance for me. . . .

Understanding Christ means taking Christ seriously. Understanding this claim means taking seriously his absolute claim on our commitment.

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, p. 82-83, quoting Bonhoeffer’s 1928 lecture “Jesus Christ and the Essence of Christianity”

Powerful stuff, isn’t it?

Whenever I read the stories of men and women who have come before us, like Bonhoeffer, I’m amazed at the reality that our issues never really change.

Today it’s fashionable to look to Rabbi Jesus, fix our eyes His ethical teaching and and have faith in ourselves that we can live the way Jesus lived, but deny what He taught about Himself.

Despite our posturing of wanting to “live Christ,” I wonder if the root issue is that we don’t actually want to take Jesus at His word.

We don’t want to take Him seriously.

Because if we did—if He really meant it when He said He was God—then it changes everything.

It changes how we live, to be sure, but it changes who we are. Our thought processes, motivations, desires… all of it.

A great ethical teacher can’t do that. Even the greatest ethical teacher can be ignored.

But you can’t ignore God.

Are You In The Business of Busyness

I’m in the middle of a season of extreme busyness at the moment.

I don’t know if you have this problem, but when I get busy—I mean, really busy—things start to slip.

Sleeping properly is usually the first to go. Then my eating goes wonky. Then my exercise patterns get erratic. 

Even prayer and Bible study start getting a bit fuzzy if I’m not careful and my reading will turn into a quick skim. Like wolfing down a McDonald’s cheeseburger in the car because you’re in a hurry, instead of savoring it like a really good steak from the Keg.

Because there’s a great demand on my time at work, I find myself having to sacrifice quality for efficiency. Choosing function over form just makes my skin crawl, to be honest.

Whatever I’m doing, I want it to be the best it can possibly be; and because my work is all about communicating ideas, choosing the right words and narrative structure is essential. Sometimes, though, I have to template things. Sometimes I just have to do a slight polish on something that’s really not very good and just let it go. To make do.

It’s funny how that happens, isn’t it?

Race through reading the Bible, a quick prayer and away we go.

Race through work (often with a quick prayer), taking as little time as possible to complete as many tasks as I’m able.

It’s a bit of an assembly line approach to life.

It gets the job done, but it doesn’t bring joy.

Where can we, even in our seasons of busyness, find opportunities to savor life? To enjoy God, the Bible, friends, family… and even work?

In my case, sometimes it means just saying no. Turning down a meeting request, turning off my email, ignoring my cell phone and disconnecting from the internet for a while. Sometimes it means having to blow a deadline because the work is too important to not do with excellence.

Sometimes it means putting aside whatever else I’m reading in favor of spending some extra time in the Bible and hearing what God has to say.

Occasionally, it means a meandering post like this one. :)

But what about you?

Do you feel like you’re settling for the cheeseburger instead of the steak? Are you looking opportunities to savor?

 Life is too valuable to be wasted with the business of busyness.

I hope you’ll find an opportunity to enjoy it this week.

Receiving Grace upon Grace – Introducing our New Daughter

On Friday March 12 at 5:14 am, Emily and I welcomed our second daughter, Hannah Grace, into the world.

Probably the hardest part (for me) this time around was choosing a name. Names are really important. Biblically, they define people to some degree. The names of Naomi’s sons, Mahlon & Chilion, for example, meant “sickness” and “wasting away.” They died in Moab, leaving their mother without grandchildren. Naomi herself, after the death of her sons renamed herself “Mara” because the “Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me” (Ruth 1:20).

So, what you name your children is kind of a big deal. And for Emily and I, agreeing on a name was extremely difficult at first.

We initially wanted this baby’s name to convey an idea of strength combined with femininity. (Tall order? Maybe.) After batting around ideas for several weeks, we managed to agree on a middle name: Grace, meaning “favor” or “blessing.”

More time went by and we were short-listing names, crossing off others… Eventually we came to Hannah. I liked it, but didn’t recall the meaning of the name.

I asked Emily, “How about we call her Hannah Grace?”

Her response, “But ‘Hannah’ means ‘grace;’ wouldn’t that be weird?”

Then I remembered:

And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace
John 1:16

The last year has been an incredibly challenging one for us; ultimately all of our difficulties have worked out for our good though it’s not always been comfortable. But through them all, God has been with us and He’s been incredibly gracious to us, so much so that I think I take it for granted.

He’s poured out grace upon grace in our lives, blessing after blessing. And the chief blessing is that He has not only shown us how to live in the Law but that He came to live that life for us in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. That His perfect life was given to me in exchange for my sinful one by faith in the crucified and resurrected Jesus.

Naming my daughter Hannah Grace is a tangible reminder of this for me.

God willing, the next several years are going to be exciting. Seeing my girls grow up, teaching them about Jesus and someday walking them down the aisle… To see this family grow into all that God has planned for us is going to be a wonderful gift.

Book Review: The Gospel-Driven Life by Michael Horton

Title: The Gospel-Driven Life
Author: Michael Horton
Publisher: Baker Books

In Christless Christianity, Michael Horton confronted readers with the danger of a gospel assumed. In The Gospel-Driven Life, Horton moves from the problem to the solution: Recovering a robust understanding of the cross and reorienting the church’s purpose toward the good news of the gospel.

It’s Not About Me

“We have to reverse the focus from a human-centered to a God-centered way of thinking. The gospel witnesses not to an inner light within the self, but to the Light that came into the world, shining in the darkness and overpowering it (John 1:4-9),” writes Horton (p. 26). Throughout the first six chapters of the book, he examines this reality in detail.

While seems obvious, it’s very easy to go through life as though it’s a story about me. God is here to help me. To change me. To bless me. I don’t sin, I make mistakes. I’m not a sinner, I’m a “somewhat dysfunctional but well-meaning victim who needs to be ‘empowered'” (p. 50).

And that’s the problem. [Read more...]

"Perhaps I'll be like Peter in his bravado…"

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

 

Steve Timmis, co-author of Total Church and Acts 29’s Western Europe Director posted a series of profound comments on Twitter Monday morning that I wanted to share with you: 

How can I be sure I would lay down my life for sake of Jesus & the gospel?  

Perhaps I’ll be like Peter in his bravado and subsequent denial? 

Can’t ultimately be sure until I’m called on to do so. But there are indicators in what I am reluctant to give up… 

If I’m not prepared to give up my bed to go and serve someone, I can be fairly confident I won’t give up my life… 

If I refuse to give up a holiday abroad so I can support someone in gospel ministry, I can be fairly confident I won’t give up my life… 

If I’m not willing to pursue people who are different from me in order to bless them, I can be fairly certain I won’t give up my life… 

If I’m not prepared to miss out on promotion so I can stay & help plant churches, I can be fairly certain I won’t give up my life… 

If I’m not prepared to jeopardise a friendship so that I can tell others about Christ, I can be fairly certain I won’t give up my life. 

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
Jesus Christ
 

Lots to think about here.

Considering The Year That Was

Yesterday, I mentioned that Michael Hyatt challenged readers to consider several questions about 2009. I figured I’d give the exercise a shot. I found the exercise to be really helpful and I’m glad to have done it.

So, for what it’s worth, here are my answers:

1. If the last year were a movie of your life, what would the genre be? Drama, romance, adventure, comedy, tragedy, or a combination?

This year’s been a combination of things. Some tragedy, lots of drama, a bit of comedy… but a lot of joy at the end of it all.  We shared with our families this year that while it’s been a crazy one, we wouldn’t trade it for anything because of how much more aware we’ve become of God through our difficulties.

2. What were the two or three major themes that kept recurring? These can be single words or phrases. For me, they were:

  • Humility (my need for and lack of)
  • Patience (my need to grow in)
  • Repentance (continuing to build a lifestyle of)

3. What did you accomplish this past year that you are the most proud of? These can be in any area of your life—spiritual, relational, vocational physical, etc. Be as specific as possible.

  • Being a part of developing The Difference is Jesus.com and having the opportunity to craft gospel-centered communication for an organization I love.
  • Starting this blog has allowed me to improve as a writer and find a channel for much of what’s rattling around my head
  • Read through the entirety of the Bible
  • Preached my first sermon

4. What do you feel you should have been acknowledged for but weren’t?

There’s a few things that come to mind, but the majority relate to my being prideful. A few are legitimate, but not appropriate to be shared publicly.

5. What disappointments or regrets did you experience this past year? As leaders, we naturally have high expectations of ourselves and others. Where did you let yourself down? Where did you let others down?

  • Being too quick to speak and lacking grace in my language
  • Inconsistency in prayer

6. What was missing from last year as you look back? Again, look at each major area of your life. Don’t focus now on having to do anything about it. For now, just list each item.

  • Gentleness in speech when I would have been better served to speak gently
  • Patience
  • More time in prayer individually and within groups about life and work

7. What were the major life-lessons you learned this past year? Boil this down to a few short, pithy statements.

  • God is sometimes most obviously present in the midst of suffering
  • God may have good things in store for us, but we might have to go through hell to get them

2009 is done. That chapter is closed.

On to the next one.

What Does 2010 Hold in Store?

The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance,
but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.

Proverbs 21:5

I’m not really a “New Years Resolution” guy, but I have to admit, the new year is a great time to reflect on, evaluate and correct patterns of life. And because of that, I have been thinking a lot about what 2010 has in store.

God willing, our second daughter will be born in a couple months. This will be good.

My oldest daughter will hopefully be potty-trained. And this will be very good. (Seriously, the kid can change her own diapers; it’s time to get this show on the road!)

But what do I actually want to see happen this year? What do I want to accomplish?

Some time ago, Donald Whitney offered a number of questions to be asked in prayerful reflection:

  1. What’s one thing you could do this year to increase your enjoyment of God?
  2. What’s the most humanly impossible thing you will ask God to do this year?
  3. What’s the single most important thing you could do to improve the quality of your family life this year?
  4. In which spiritual discipline do you most want to make progress this year, and what will you do about it?
  5. What is the single biggest time-waster in your life, and what will you do about it this year?
  6. What is the most helpful new way you could strengthen your church?
  7. For whose salvation will you pray most fervently this year?
  8. What’s the most important way you will, by God’s grace, try to make this year different from last year?
  9. What one thing could you do to improve your prayer life this year?
  10. What single thing that you plan to do this year will matter most in ten years? In eternity?

These are some really good questions and are worthy of a lot of thought, careful examination and planning.

I’m hopeful that it’ll be a good year. What about you?

Book Review: Fake Work

Title: Fake Work: Why People Are Working Harder than Ever but Accomplishing Less, and How to Fix the Problem
Author: Brent D. Peterson & Gaylan W. Nielson
Publisher: Simon Spotlight Entertainment

Have you ever sat at your desk, trying to look busy because you finished your work for the day and you’ve still got three hours before the workday ends, and thought, “Couldn’t I be doing something more valuable with my time?” Have you ever spent hours working on a report that you know your boss isn’t going to read and wondered, “Does all this work really matter?”

Welcome to the world of fake work.

In Fake Work, authors Brent D. Peterson & Gaylan W. Nielson reveal to us the cause of so much frustration, anxiety and inefficiency within the workplace: Fake work.

So what exactly fake work? Quite simply, it is any work that we do that fails to align with the goals of our companies, organizations, churches, and families. It’s the work that we do that steals our time & energy, and destroys our morale. The authors refer to it as “the road to nowhere” – as though you’re building a road on a mountainside leading to the site of your new cabin; you’ve moved rocks, filled the roadbed and faced the oppressive heat and the punishing cold. But you’ve moved ahead, confident in your understanding of the surveyor’s plans. But, as you weave and wind around the landscape, you find yourself at the end of the road, staring down from the edge of a cliff. [Read more...]

The Effects of Pornography

Ed Stetzer points readers to a new study by Patrick F. Fagan examining the effects of pornography:

A new study done by Patrick F. Fagan examines the effects of pornography on individuals, marriage, family and community. Fagan is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center for Research on Marriage and Religion at the Family Research Council. He specializes in examining the relationships among family, marriage, religion, community, and America’s social problems. This study is important for everyone to read as it demonstrates that it has damaging effects on individuals and families. In the summary Fagan explains,

Pornography is a visual representation of sexuality which distorts an individual’s concept of the nature of conjugal relations. This, in turn, alters both sexual attitudes and behavior. It is a major threat to marriage, to family, to children and to individual happiness. In undermining marriage it is one of the factors in undermining social stability.Social scientists, clinical psychologists, and biologists have begun to clarify some of the social and psychological effects, and neurologists are beginning to delineate the biological mechanisms through which pornography produces its powerful negative effects.

Some of the findings inside the study include: [Read more...]