Intentional Parenting with a Vision for Your Family

Consider is a word that pops up all over the place in Scripture, and was even on the lips of Jesus as he invited a crowd gathered on a hillside to “consider the lilies of the field.” For most of us, there’s hardly an area of our lives that would not profit from a dose of thoughtful introspection and a few probing questions aimed at the dead-center of our motives and the purpose behind our practices. In First Ask Why: Raising Kids to Love God Through Intentional Discipleship, Shelly Hunt Wildman turns a laser focus onto the subject of parenting, inviting her readers into an intentional practice of envisioning the kind of family we want and then, by God’s grace, doing what needs to be done to make that vision become a reality.

Fortunately, Shelly is writing from a place of self-awareness that prevents her from sounding off as a “parenting expert.” With honesty about her shortcomings and failures, she shares her own goal of greater mindfulness with the voice of a fellow-traveler on this bumpy road of parenting.

When we begin asking why, we open ourselves up to a consideration of the purpose behind all the things we do as believing mums and dads. If leaving a Christ-following legacy is at the top of your parental do-list, your family becomes a unique training ground where you and your children together lean in to the demands that are placed upon our lives by the gospel, all the while trusting in the promises for their glorious fulfillment.

Our Charge

“Setting a vision for our family can help us become more intentional about family life.” (Loc 172)

Family devotions in the Morin compound have always been a rowdy affair, and at times it was not obvious that anything spiritual or even educational was happening. There was the howling St. Bernard whenever we sang hymns; there was the odd question posed, now and again, for the sheer joy of derailing our train of thought; oh, and then there was the time the napkin caught fire. And yet, we persevered because, like the Wildmans, we believed, fiercely, that “parents are and should be the primary influence in the lives of their children.” (Loc 243)

Frist Ask Why

However, discipleship that sticks around the dining room table and never finds its way out into the great wide world of practical application is not in keeping with the principles of Deuteronomy 6 which describe a discipleship that happens all day long–a sitting, walking, rising, and lying down learning that takes different forms and looks different in every family.

If our goal is to develop a resilient faith, every thing we do must point our children toward a meaningful and lively relationship with Christ. In doing so, we help them to fulfill their ultimate purpose: to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.

Our Challenge

“Heart work isn’t easy, but it sets the course of [our children’s] lives.” (Loc 175)

Therefore, the goal of parental discipline–or, we could say, the why of discipline– is to develop self-discipline or the freedom of self-control in our children at an early age. With this in mind, discipline becomes “training rather than punishment.” (Loc 593)

This mindset requires a marathon mentality, for we’re not simply in the business of extinguishing annoying or inconvenient behaviors. Instead, the goal is to instill a strong foundation of spiritual disciplines (prayer, Scripture reading, service, giving, worship) that are owned by our children as part of that growing relationship with God. The sooner we can duck out of the position as “middle man” in our children’s spiritual growth, the better.

Our Compassion

“As our kids’ love for God grows, so should their love for others.” (Loc 183)

This love will show up in obedience to God and will be evident in our child’s truthfulness, kindness, willingness to serve, and in their stewardship of gifts and possessions.

While integrity is an intangible concept, Shelly’s shared experiences and application put flesh on the bones for parents who need to become role models of truthfulness themselves and who are unclear about the difference between “being nice” and true biblical kindness. After all, there’s a good reason why the word service (or serve) is used over 400 times in the Bible.

Our Contribution

“Strong families can bless this world, and in so doing, bring glory to God.” (Loc 183)

When our crew gathers, the in-jokes fly so fast that at times I wish for sub-titles in order to keep up with the conversational flow. (And I have an inkling that maybe my obtuseness has become one of the in-jokes . . .) Family traditions and shared memories are strong cords that strengthen family ties and the sense of belonging. Road trips, crazy scavenger hunts and elaborately themed birthday parties, beach days, and big, rowdy gatherings around a loaded table are some of the experiences that have shaped our family’s culture and identity.

Having said that, part of our job as parents is also to reinforce the value of diversity, “recognizing that cultural differences between people exist without assigning them a value–positive or negative, better or worse, right or wrong.” Children with strong roots are free to explore other cultures and to step outside their comfort zone through travel, diverse reading and viewing options, and openness to friendships with people of various cultural backgrounds.

Ambassadorial Work

The parenting journey is a mission with the goal of connecting our children with Jesus. Paul Tripp refers to it as “ambassadorial work from beginning to end. . . [P]arenting is not first about what we want for our children or from our children, but about what God in grace has planned to do through us in our children.” And so, we do our best work when we intentionally seize every opportunity to turn their thoughts (and our own) toward Him.

First Ask Why is not a do-list to stimulate parental guilt. It is an invitation to consider the uniqueness of each child, who they are becoming, and how they can best fit into the plan of God. As we ask ourselves the all-important why questions about our parenting practices, and as we consider the growing and the learning and the letting go of the parenting journey, let us first consider Jesus, for He alone can enable us to make our parenting vision a reality.

Many thanks to the author for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.


I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase First Ask Why: Raising Kids to Love God Through Intentional Discipleship, simply click on the title within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

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Motherhood: Learning the Ropes of Joy

Motherhood, for me, started out like a tightrope walk. To keep my balance and maintain my place on the tightly stretched wire, I read all the books, analyzed all the angles, second guessed all the decisions, and the only thing that saved my sanity is that Google had not been invented yet.

I’m still in the process of taking grace for this mothering gig, and one huge encouragement along the way is the shared experiences of others. Jamie Sumner is also a mother who walks on the tightly-wound side, and Unbound: Finding Freedom from Unrealistic Expectations of Motherhood is a memoir of her mothering journey in which she allows her own story to tell itself, while weaving in fresh re-tellings of the familiar life stories of biblical women.

It was none other than Sarah and Hannah, Elisabeth and Naomi who walked with Jamie in The Wanting and The Waiting of infertility. It was Mary Magdalene, Martha, and a choir of lesser known biblical women who sang her through The Getting and The Appreciating of a high-risk pregnancy, a ten-week endurance test in the NICU, and the white knuckle gauntlet of learning to parent an extremely fragile special needs infant.

The conflict that persists throughout the book’s narrative arc is Jamie’s struggle to “stay present, be still, and take notice of the moment” she was in. Being “in” a season of infertility presented a persistent reinforcement of the truth that even a much-wanted baby would not fill Jamie and her husband Jody’s hollowness in a way that was eternally satisfying. Years of shots and pills and finally the roller coaster of IVF made it hard to stay close to their mission statement:  What was all this about, anyway?

The Wanting and the Waiting

As she waited for “success,” Jamie threw herself into her teaching career and went about the business of  lesson plans and grading papers as a distraction from the continual pondering of the state of her uterus. Progress was always followed by set backs, and the devastation of miscarriage mirrored the empty/full, empty/full rhythms of Naomi’s life in the book of Ruth. Jamie identified with Mrs. Noah, pacing the deck of the ark and feeling like a spectator in her own life’s story.

The Getting and the Appreciating

Throughout her first pregnancy, Jamie worked hard to “turn down worry” and “crank up the trust,” which is a continual battle in a process over which one has so little control. Coping with waves of uncertainty and an always-changing prognosis, Jamie was Mary Magdalene, sitting on a hard rock during a long sermon on a Galileean hillside. She was a frayed and frazzled Miriam in the thirty-fifth year in the desert.

Learning the ropes of joy meant embracing the blessing of birth and the promise of new life while living with the bitter disappointment that came when waves of bad news continually washed over their days.

Images of Motherhood

Unbound comes from the perspective of a young mother against the backdrop of infertility, high-risk pregnancy, and parenting toddler twins plus a special needs pre-schooler with a chromosomal defect and cerebral palsy. Jamie’s story will encourage and lighten the load of readers who are living a similar journey, but her insights on mothering transcend any particular season. The voice of Unbound is a dialogue between reader and author, and feels like the conversations that happen among mums over coffee around a mult-generational table.

Reading Unbound, I was reminded that Motherhood is:

  • a sky dive into unknown territory where your shoot won’t open until the very last possible second, and only when someone else pulls the cord; (76)
  • an endless attempt to get your legs back; (115) 
  • a long way to fall without a net; (107)
  • a continually changing plan that has you kicking the tires and eating fried rice; (140)
  • a continual reminder that we cannot claim possession of either our lives or the lives of those we love. (166)

Tracing the Outlines of Grace

We come through the challenges of mothering NOT because of our own incredible giftedness or the presence of a “mom-gene” (157) that imparts super powers and exalted wisdom. Women become mothers and thrive in the role because there are “outlines of grace” (153) on our story, even though they are not visible to us all the time.

When Mary of Nazareth sang the poignant theology of the Magnificat, she was operating in faith that the new upside-down of her life was part of a bigger plan. When the impoverished New Testament widow emptied her pockets and let those two coins fall away, she was exercising trust for an unseen and improbable future.

In the NICU and beyond, Jamie and Jody Sumner have parented their children in the context of a growing faith that prays two-coin-prayers for God to “keep [their son] protected and deliver him to [them] in whatever state He saw fit.” (177)

Faith unbound perseveres in prayer no matter what.
Hanging on hard to the ropes of joy, faith prays and doesn’t give up during seasons of infertility, during the sturm und drang of toddlerhood, against the hum of hospital emergency equipment,  when the engine of the teen’s new truck is revving in the driveway, or when the grandchildren are coming for their first overnight.

Throughout our wildly varied parenting journeys, may we find freedom from anxiety and unrealistic expectations as we trust God and pray:

“Please help us to be good stewards of our own lives and any life you grant us.” (192)

Please.

Amen and amen.


Thank you to Faith Words, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc. for providing a copy of this book for my review which is, of course, freely and honestly given.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Unbound: Finding Freedom from Unrealistic Expectations of Motherhood simply click on the title, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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Thanks, as always, for joining in the reading, the thinking, and the prayer that is part of Living Our Days,

michele signature rose[1]

8 Blessings of the Unsatisfied Life

Amy Simpson noticed early on that the tidy claims of Christianity were not lining up with the reality she was living at home. Suffering from the impact of her mother’s serious and debilitating mental illness, her family was certainly not strolling toward heaven with all their needs met and a smile on their faces. In fact, even though they seemed to be “doing the Christian life” according to all the patterns and prerequisites, their family was always just shy of “normal” and the provision they experienced always just short of enough. Unsatisfied with government cheese and feeling deprived on every level, Amy’s childhood was characterized by unmet longings and the dream of a “normal” life.

At this point, standard issue story-telling practices beg for an ending tied with a bow:  college, marriage, a successful career, and a loving family of her own–all a straight arrow toward deep satisfaction. However, in Blessed Are the Unsatisfied: Finding Spiritual Freedom in an Imperfect World, the reader is caught up in paradox, for even though many of Amy’s personal and professional goals have been met, she confesses that she still lives “with a kind of unsatisfaction that will not be lifted in this life.”

If this is (secretly) your experience as well, find companionship with the writer of Ecclesiastes and take hope from these words from the author:

“Jesus doesn’t fulfill all our longings in this life. Instead, he offers us his peace. Jesus does not remove us from the fog of death and the ongoing consequences of human rebellion against God. He does not give us a ‘get out of suffering free’ card.” (4)

The moments of satisfaction we experience on this planet are transient at best. Here, we live in the tension of embracing the blessing of an unsatisfied life in which contentment lives alongside longing, and where we rest and rejoice in the given without succumbing to a Pollyanna-ish form of optimism.

Living unsatisfied is acres and acres apart from living dissatisfied, for nothing is ever acceptable to the chronically discontented soul. “Dissatisfaction is an active–sometimes even purposeful–absence, rejection, or refusal of satisfaction in a context where satisfaction is expected. It breeds discontentment, contempt, and a feeling of emptiness. And it is miserable.”  By contrast, an unsatisfied life combines acceptance with anticipation in an “embrace of the God-shaped vacuum in us, . . . a healthy hunger that is content to wait for the feast.” (41)

With this mindset, Amy Simpson shares 8 blessings that accompany the unsatisfied life:

1.  The Blessing of Need

Unsatisfaction is a reminder that we need God. No matter how gifted or “together” I am, my self-sufficiency is insufficient for living Christ-like and for managing the disappointments that come. Moses knew it and tried to warn the nation of Israel:

Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied,then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery…”

2.  The Blessing of Perspective

If I can be satisfied by clicking “Add to Cart,” I will not go looking for answers beyond my next purchase. However, living in an awareness that there is NOTHING (even on Amazon!) that will slake my cravings and fill my emptiness, my ears are open to the voice of God, and my heart is looking for answers in the intangible Truth of Scripture.

3.  The Blessing of God’s Heartbeat

My longing heart is the puzzle piece that will connect with the big picture of God’s family and with humanity at large, a collection of longing people, all with their own disconnected edges. When I stop longing for a better world and miss the needs of others, I’m a corner piece, hanging off the edge of the picture and missing the truth of God’s great love and HIS ache for the disconnected and the hurting.

4.  The Blessing of Focus

If you’ve heard the plaintive refrain of U2’s “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for” and identified with the serial disappointment of chasing after the visible and the temporal, you know the importance of turning our eyes toward the unseen–“for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” 

5.  The Blessing of Company

My  husband and I have tried to portray this truth to our kids with the old adage: “People who are all wrapped up in themselves make a pretty small package.” And it’s obvious:  if I’m satisfied with my own company and that of a few safe others, I’ll never venture into the unknown. Living unsatisfied pushes me into community.

6.  The Blessing of Growth

Back in the 90’s my co-workers and I rolled our eyes at employee meetings that were basically pep rallies for the latest Continuous Product Quality Improvement initiative. As annoying as institutional rah-rah-rah can be, the notion of continuous improvement is a line from the playbook of Scripture and the unsatisfied life of the Apostle Paul: “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:14)

7.  The Blessing of Vision

Amy recalls a joint project in which her own predominantly white church partnered with a predominantly African American church with both congregations enjoying “fellowship” staked out on opposite sides of a cafeteria. She remembers thinking that this was unnatural and wrong . . . but inertia won out and she stayed in her seat instead of reaching out and mingling. I want to be unsatisfied with “as is” so that I will keep dreaming about how things could be.

8.  The Blessing of Anticipation

Every once in a while my boys will ask with a sleepy voice, “What’s for breakfast tomorrow, Mum?” I’ve stopped asking them why they want to know, because I remember from past experience:  they want to know what they have to look forward to in the morning, and when you’re a teen boy, food is a pretty big deal. Anticipation is risky, but if I remain immune to the sadness of loss that comes with death or if I fail to enter into the reality of God’s promises, still pending fulfillment, I may fall prey to the short-sighted notion that redemption is limited to what my eyes can detect today and that this temporary world is my real home.

Sustainable Faith Is Expectantly Unsatisfied

The Sermon on the Mount, with its pronouncement of blessing upon the most unlikely of people, lands like an indictment on the ears of those who prefer to thrive on their own terms. Sometimes it’s easier for us to lower our expectations and to live disappointed and without hope than it is for us to embrace an uncomfortable hope. The truth is, however, that the only sustainable Christian life is one in which we give up the chase, embrace delayed gratification, and lean into the blessings of living unsatisfied.

Many thanks to IVP Books for providing a copy of this book for my review which is, of course, freely and honestly given.

Additional Resources

Amy Simpson was featured on one of my favorite podcasts, the February 15 edition of Quick to Listen. Click here to listen as she answers questions about her book and about issues surrounding mental illness and the church’s response.


I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase,  Blessed Are the Unsatisfied: Finding Spiritual Freedom in an Imperfect World simply click on the title here, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox. Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Every blessing,

A Glorious Bustle of Life

The layers of life, in all their overwhelming proportions, call for a large God. The unexpected diagnosis, the many ways in which we disappoint ourselves, and the messiness of the generations all seem to come home to roost during middle age as parents depart this world and adult children come into their own. Margie Nethercott elected to manage all these complications by carefully selecting a large rock, tying it to her ankle, paddling to the middle of a lake and letting the rock pull her to the bottom.

Her plan would have been flawless except for low rainfall and high temperatures which put the water level at about neck high on a medium height middle-aged woman, leaving her tethered and standed in the middle of the lake. Can You See Anything Now?: A Novel by Katherine James faces head-on the emptiness, weariness, insecurity, and discord of small town life in Trinity, New York where the Nethercott family and a constellation of their friends seek appropriate ways to struggle.

My favorite character, Etta Wallace surveys Trinity’s comings and goings from a white Cracker Barrel rocking chair on her front porch and makes a quiet commitment to Margie’s well-being and recovery. Prescribing banana bread (with nuts) and Crock-Pot dinners, she serves up grace in the evangelical tradition. Their unlikely friendship grew out of the rich soil of Etta’s resolve to “do the opposite”:

” . . . when people are struggling, it seemed to Etta, the people around them run away–embarrassed, uncomfortable. She would do the opposite and introduce herself.”

Finding the glory of God sufficient to carry her down the hill and away from her safe fortress, Etta also found herself walking beside Margie through her adjustment to a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis and a tragedy on the banks of the Weekeepeemee River that rocked the town.

Those who struggle with mental illness either personally or in their family tree will rejoice to note that Margie does not immediately bounce back from her depression and begin spouting Hillsong lyrics. Pixie’s fraught experimentation with drugs and sex are portrayed as ineffectual methods for taking the edge off the bleakness that had become normal for her. Readers who are sensitive to triggers should know that there’s a good bit of vivid description around a young woman’s habit of self harm (cutting) and the internal dialogue leading up to Margie’s attempted suicide.

Can You See Anything Now? is a complicated read and the winner of Christianity Today’s 2018 award for fiction. The believing community needs fictional accounts of family life set in the raw details of walking this broken ground that do not require a happy ending to be redemptive. If you are disposed to tolerate some obscenities and profanities in your reading, James’s lyrically written prose will encourage you to look for the thread of hope in your own story.


Many thanks to Paraclete Press for providing a copy of this book.

Rejoicing in the Glory (so very big!),


I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Can You See Anything Now?: A Novel simply click on the title, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

 

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular content delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Fill Your Easter Basket with Books

Holidays and reading go hand in hand, not only because books heighten our enjoyment of the celebration, but also because, through stories, we pass along the Truth and the significance of the holiday. This Easter, I hope you’ll take some time to read the account of resurrection found in Scripture first of all. Then, if you still have minutes to invest, here are half a dozen recommendations for your own Easter basket or for someone you love:

Recommended Reads for Easter

The Women of EasterWith her carefully constructed re-telling of the final weeks of Jesus’ life,  Liz Curtis Higgs honors the women who were part of that story in The Women of Easter: Encounter the Savior with Mary of Bethany, Mary of Nazareth, and Mary Magdalene. Rather than lifting her protagonists out of the story one by one with three distinct bios, she considers them in context as they interact with each other, with Jesus, and with other major players within the narrative arc of Scripture.

Liz shares the encouraging truth that even the very first Easter was not a picture perfect affair.  No.  It was “full of disbelief, fear, and confusion” as even Jesus’ closest disciples struggled to absorb the truth.

Likewise, with our Easter bonnets askew and our Resurrection Sunday dinner menus still up in the air, we are invited to come, by faith, to the empty tomb.  We are invited to rejoice, and we have been charged with the privilege of sharing the good news. By faith, we, too, are The Women of Easter.


In a decision that somehow manages to seem both arbitrary and precise, the One Spring LambCouncil of Nicaea met in 325 A.D. and determined that Easter would be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon that falls on or after the first day of spring.  Easter and spring are also holding hands in Anne Vittur Kennedy’s festive board book, One Spring Lamb.

From sparkly cover to peaceful conclusion, children will enjoy the rollicking rhymes and vivid illustrations.  Parents will appreciate the fact that this celebration of the resurrection is also a counting book in which two lilies dance in the breeze, and three little girls and four little boys are all dressed up for Easter Sunday.  The fun goes on all the way up to the challenge of finding and counting ten stuffed bunnies in a child’s cozy bedroom, and the stated conclusion that the best Easter gift of all is the joy of knowing that “Jesus lives and loves me so.”

By the way, that adorable spring lamb shows up somewhere in every scene!  My grandson was not quite two when I first reviewed One Spring Lamb, but even now, this is one of the books he asks me to read to him when he comes to visit.


Holding hands around a table; a focus on gratitude and shared celebration; Easter Blessingsdressed in their Easter best, the Berenstain Bears lead the way into a fun and family-oriented celebration of Resurrection Sunday.  Presenting as normal the discipline of church attendance, prayer before a meal, and portraying the beauty of love and respect among extended family, The Berenstain Bears’ Easter Blessings by Mike Berenstain (son of Stan and Jan who began the series in 1962) will come alongside the parents of young children with words and ideas for a meaningful celebration.

All the blessings that we enjoy (and take for granted) come through the hand of the God who orchestrated the miracle of the resurrection.  Join the Berenstain Bears in counting and listing Easter blessings.  Beginning with the glory of a spring morning and a cozy tree house, they move in ever widening circles to include friends, the church family, and the public servants who care for us and keep us safe.  In the weeks leading up to Easter, write them on slips of paper to hang on a spring-branches bouquet, or toss them, one by one, into a festive Easter basket and then read them all during Easter dinner.

What a gift to hold this small board book in one hand and to share it with a tiny lap child, to join the Bear Family as they worship in the Chapel in the Woods, and to be reminded of the greatest Easter blessing of all:

Yes, He is risen!  He is risen indeed!


Esther Emery unplugged her life from the Internet in November 2009, and for What Falls from the Skyone year, she lived a life without email, without a cell phone, and without a debit card.  No Google, no on-line shopping, no text messages.  She walked away from her blog, an encouraging Facebook community, and any trace of an on-line presence in a leap of Stop-doing-everything-you-know-and-start-doing-everything-you-don’t-know Faith.

What Falls from the Sky: How I Disconnected from the Internet and Reconnected with the God Who Made the Clouds shares this journey in four parts that correlate with four glorious gifts from the sky:  snow, rain, sunshine, and fog, but I found her most compelling words  were about a celebration of Easter in community. By this, she was  introduced to the  beauty of “borrowed” power from the crucified and risen Christ and the truth that this is “not theoretical at all.”  The vulnerability of Good Friday left Esther defenseless against the claims of Christ upon her life, and she was captured by the forgiveness that conquers fear, the “Jesus of the brokenhearted, the Jesus of the suffering.”  Ironically, as her spiritual life came into focus, the material world also became sharper.


I’m sure there will be those who find significance in the juxtaposition of Easter and April Fool’s Day in 2018, but whenever Easter falls on the calendar, I find that my heart is more prepared to celebrate Easter if I spend some time during the Lenten season reading about the two historical events that are central to Christianity:   the cross and the empty tomb.  What happened?  What does it all mean?

ScandalousA few years ago, I found Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus in which D.A.Carson isolates five theologically stunning concepts based on five scriptural passages that integrate the implications of both crucifixion and resurrection:

I.   The Ironies of the Cross — Matthew 27:27-51
Irony, using words that normally mean the opposite of what is actually being said, brings situations into sharp focus, and there were four profound and dramatic ironies at work in the narrative of Jesus’ crucifixion.

II.  The Truth of Human Desperation — Romans 3:21-26 
In our post-“I’m-O.K.-You’re-O.K” era, this may well be the most inexplicable of all Christian doctrines, for we are a tolerant generation in which “the one wrong thing to say is that somebody else is wrong.”  However, the truth is that we are offenders before God and in need of reconciliation which Jesus provided, preserving the justice of God while justifying the ungodly.

III.  The Strange Triumph of a Slaughtered Lamb — Revelation 12
In this apocalyptic reenactment of the Christmas story, the Red Dragon rages over the truth that a deliverer has come forth from the Messianic community, and, therefore, his demise is certain.  The past 2,000 years of martyrdom and persecution are the thrashing of the doomed dragon’s tail, while, in the meantime, the gospel advances through believers who are bearing witness to Christ, through the blood of the cross, and through the realization that life in Christ “is a call to die to self-interest,” (Revelation 12:11).

IV.  A Miracle Full of Surprises — John 11:1-53
The juxtaposition of death and life in Bethany reveals that God is always full of surprises.  Jesus’ dealings with the dead man’s sisters is foreshadowed in His response to the disciples when He receives their summons:  “This sickness will not end in death,”  (11:4).  The purpose of the miracle had nothing to do with death or even with life, but instead, God’s glory was put on display.  Of course, this is not clear to anyone at the time, and it only becomes clear to us if we take a minute to realize that Jesus’ resurrection of Lazarus put Him in the crosshairs of those who were plotting to remove Him from the scene.

V.   Doubting the Resurrection of Jesus — John 20:24-31
After an analysis of six forms of doubt, D.A. Carson enters into the cognitive dissonance that accompanied a crucified messiah.  The fallout of that all-important weekend in Jerusalem, at least from the disciples’ viewpoint, was disappointment and despair.  Therefore, the second Sunday after the resurrection, Thomas is still determined not to be taken in by rumors of a living Jesus.  His utterance of faith, “My Lord and my God!” is part of the “these” that were written so that we who only read of Christ’s resurrection may also believe.

May the outcome of all our ponderings during this season be a stronger belief in the resurrection and a deeper following of our wounded God.


For years I celebrated Easter as if it were a stand-alone holiday, singing “Up fromA Glorious Dark the Grave He Arose” without giving much thought to the horror of the Dying or the silence of the Dead. Providentially, my early efforts to incarnate and to enliven an invisible God in the hearts of four sweet boys found a way into the obtuse heart of their mother as well.  A Glorious Dark: Finding Hope in the Tension between Belief and Experience is a book about believing which confronts the loss and defeat of Friday and the awkward silence of Saturday with Sunday morning resurrection truth.  Where memoir meets theological pondering, author A.J. Swoboda’s story winds through his faith journey, with the bonus of startling spotlight quotes which he aims at himself and at all of us who say that we believe.  Here’s one of the dozen or more:

“Many envision faith as a kind of hall pass for laziness, excusing them from a life of action, doing, and working hard.”

Ouch and amen.

A Glorious Dark reveals a God who “stand[s] tall” above human history and invites (rather than scorns) the questioning heart.  After all, of the thirty-one questions Jesus posed in the Gospels, He answered only three.  When God does not break into history to rectify the list of problems set forth in my latest memorandum/prayer, it will be helpful to remember the messy way in which that one weekend in history played out for those who were on the scene.  Once again, the life of Jesus will be made manifest, a glorious life emerging from a glorious dark.

Thanks, for reading along and for joining with me in the celebration of all that is ours because of our risen and living Savior!

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase any of the books mentioned in this post,simply click on the title within the text or the images below, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you:

 

These books were provided by various publishers in exchange for my review. It’s my pleasure to feature them once again here, all in one place for your Easter enjoyment.

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The Life and Theology of Karl Barth

It should come as no surprise when a brain that has been marinating for decades in North American evangelical culture has an immediate and visceral response to the names of  prominent historical Christians:

  • C.S. Lewis:  Green light and heart emojis (but, remember, he did smoke . . .)
  • Francis Schaeffer:  Amazing intellect, but too bad about those knickers.
  • Karl Barth:  Tornado sirens and a flashing inerrancy and Neo-Orthodoxy warning light!

Thanks be to God, we are occasionally given the opportunity to step back from our preconceptions and to look at historical figures through a helpful and forgiving lens. In Karl Barth: An Introductory Biography for Evangelicals, Mark Galli has extended that gift.

A Rebel with a Cause

Born in Switzerland in 1886, Karl Barth entered the world at a time when liberalism was changing the way Christians worshiped and thought about God. Emphasis on human reason and experience led to a gradual abandonment of the primacy of revelation and to a detour around foundational truths such as the deity of Christ and the fallenness of man.

It was not until Barth  married and entered the pastorate that he began to question his liberal theological underpinnings. His heart for his working class congregation led him to seek answers in socialism, but when Germany declared war on Russia in 1914, and the falling dominoes led to World War I, Barth’s eyes were opened to significant cracks in the logic of liberalism. “If religious experience could give rise to such divergent and even contradictory conclusions, perhaps it could no longer be relied upon to provide an adequate ground and starting point for theology.” (34)

Barth was also a vocal opponent of National Socialism, writing articles that attacked right wing political dogmatism along with letters and pamphlets denouncing the heresy that blood or race had any bearing on church membership or acceptance before God. In 1935, Barth and his family were forced to return to Switzerland where his ministry was based until his death in 1968.

The “Godness” of God

Barth’s studies led him to conclude that the Bible was a “book not so much about men and women but about God,” (43) and that the only sound basis for our theology is the revelation of Jesus Christ in Scripture. In his career as a pastor, professor, and theologian, he became known for his commentary on Romans and a stalwart teaching of the complete otherness of God. By the time he reached middle age, Barth had become something of a rock star in his theological circles.

He was a strong proponent for church life even throughout the chaos of Nazi persecution of the Confessing Church, arguing that “we must not . . .hold ourselves aloof from the church or break up its solidarity; but rather, participating in its responsibility and sharing the guilt of its inevitable failure, we should accept it and cling to it.” (51)

Steadfast in Faith–and Steadfast in Adultery?

It is difficult to reconcile the utter strangeness of a man who lived in awe of a holy God while subjecting his wife and children to the indignity and inappropriateness of a live-in mistress, but this also was part of the mystery of Karl Barth. His research assistant, Charlotte von Kirschbaur, was a fixture in both his professional life and in his home.

In an article written for Christianity Today after the publication of this biography, Mark Galli expressed stunned distaste over the rationale Barth used to justify his moral failure. Barth’s dialectical approach to theology emphasized the contradiction between two truths in order to gain insight into the deep truths about God. For example, Jesus is both God and man. Barth’s stretch of reason was that he and Charlotte “had no choice  but to live in this dialectical tension between obeying God’s command about marital fidelity and what felt right to them. ” The ugliness of Barth’s sin is exacerbated by his blatant use of theological arguments to justify it.

Barth for Evangelicals

Whether we choose to argue that Karl Barth’s theology supported him in poor moral choices or that his theology was terrific and truthful, but he simply failed to live up to its ideals, he is arguably one of the greatest Protestant theologians of the 20th century. One of the most helpful features of Galli’s biography is his familiarity with evangelical culture as he “translated” Barth via two doctrines that are unique to his thinking and examined their usefulness to evangelical teachers and pastors:

  1. The Word of God–  Barth viewed Scripture as a three-fold reality: the preached Word, the written Word, and the revealed Word, Jesus Christ. This is helpful, but then he goes on to insist that “Scripture is God’s Word in so far as God lets it be His Word. Therefore, the Bible . . . becomes God’s Word” as we hear it.” (111) Evangelicals can join Barth in understanding that the Bible is not a magic book, but does indeed come alive for us through the work of the Spirit. However, his rejection of inerrancy is a problem, especially when he (illogically) sets Scripture as a means of revelation and then says that it contains “historical, scientific, and even theological errors.” (113)
  2. Universal Reconciliation–  In all the church’s wranglings over election, Barth has distinguished himself by taking a very unique stance, holding that “Christ is both the only one who elects and the only one who is elected.” Therefore, humanity is chosen only in a secondary sense, and all men and women are reconciled to God through the death of His Son. Judgment and pardon are both present in Barth’s soteriology, but pardon for sin “does not depend on one’s response to Christ. . . Instead, total pardon is objectively accomplished in Jesus Christ on behalf of mankind.” This, inevitably leads to universalism, but I appreciated theologian Oliver Crisp’s rendering of Barth’s thinking:  “The Reformers say, ‘If you repent and believe, you will be saved,’ while Barth says, ‘You are saved; therefore, believe and repent!'” I see the potential for error, but this helps me to sharpen my own appreciation of what’s going on behind the scenes when someone “prays the sinner’s prayer.”

On a visit to the United States during the year I was born, church lore holds that Karl Barth summarized his theology and his life’s work in one simple sentence: “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” It’s likely that this really happened, but it’s unfortunate that Barth could not have found that great love sufficient to enable him to love his wife and his children more than he did.

His story becomes a cautionary tale for any of us who teach and study Scripture, for we will never live up to all that we know, but may we find grace to live consistently with the remarkable message of the gospel with all its provision for forgiveness. May we stand before the mirror of the Word with earnest prayer for a searching and a knowing God to reveal our sins and to hold us close to His Truth.


Many thanks to William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company for providing a copy of this book.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase, Karl Barth: An Introductory Biography for Evangelicals simply click on the title here, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox. Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Every blessing,

Love God. Embrace Truth. Enjoy Life.

When Ginger Harrington and her family moved from North Carolina to California, she wasn’t worried about packing or adjusting to a new home base. Rather, she was worried about surviving! Medical testing had revealed that she had Graves’ disease, a hyperthyroid autoimmune disease and suddenly, all the roller coaster symptoms of anxiety and a body stuck in high gear began to make sense. Packing a supply of her new little pills along with her three young children and all their belongings into a moving van, she and her husband did what military families always do–except that this time, Ginger’s moving mojo was drowned in a flood of adrenaline. Sleepless by night and depleted by day, she was forced to reach deeply into the truth she knew but could not feel:

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned,
Nor shall the flame scorch you.
For I am the Lord your God. . .” Isaiah 43:2, 3

Ginger’s journal became a spiritual climbing wall, a record of hand holds by which she pulled forward into the next grueling day:

 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)
“Don’t fret or worry.” (Philippians 4:6)

Holy in the Moment: Simple Ways to Love God and Enjoy Your Life, part memoir and part manifesto, is Ginger’s record of God’s faithfulness and a gift to readers in search of homely wisdom for living in sync with the promises of God. Fear and weakness forced Ginger to open her heart to the strength that comes only through prayer and to make one holy choice:

“Not every moment is good, but [she would] believe God is good in every moment.”

Truth that Transforms the Hard Moments

Far from stale “religion,” holiness is both practical and relevant to the life of a believer, for it is rooted in relationship with a holy God and grows in direct proportion to our willingness to be transformed in mind, will, and emotion. God’s invitation into holiness is a path away from a “disorderly and unkempt life” and toward a “life that is as beautiful on the inside as the outside.” For Ginger (and for all of us whose feet are walking broken paths), these are life-saving words, and anchor our hearts in the truth that God loves us as we are–not as we wish we were.

A Habit of Prayer in the Moment

Whether dealing with anxiety over major life adjustments or simply bad habits that have produced a hurried soul, redirection begins with the good choice to rest in God and to adopt a moment-by-moment trust. Prayer becomes the affirmation of total dependence upon God, especially as it becomes instinctive to “pray now rather than later.” (Loc 928)

Praying in the moment looks like grace flowing into everyday life:

  • Write a prayer directly into a social media thread;
  • Record your prayer in an email or text message and then hit “send”;
  • Send private, emergency messages to the God who is always listening;
  • View the fleeting thought about a person or a situation as a call to prayer.

In his classic work Practicing the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence refers to this mindfulness and ongoing dialogue as “continual conversation” with God.

Trust, Lean, Acknowledge

Holy living in the moment translates the familiar wisdom of Proverbs 3:5,6 from theoretical to the intensely practical in three action-oriented steps:

  1. Trust God with all your heart:  Trust and love live in direct proportion to one another.
  2. Lean not on your own understanding: “Our own understanding steers crooked with the bias of self.” (Loc 1020) Resigning from our position as adviser to God and depending on His leading is a huge sign that we are depending on Him and not ourselves.
  3. In all your ways acknowledge Him: To acknowledge God is a form of prayer,” and all our ways would include thoughts, feelings, responses, and decisions.  As we embrace God’s way of doing and being, we discover that His promise of straight paths stands in direct contrast to our own broken and bent way of living.

Shimmering Glimpses of Wisdom

Oswald Chambers was known for teaching that prayer is all about relationship rather than answers:

“The purpose of prayer is to get a hold of God.”

As I progressed through Holy in the Moment, I found myself pausing and pondering over shimmering glimpses of wisdom that stand alone in their gracious beckoning toward truth:

“Aim for consistency but walk in grace.”

“You can choose the thoughts you will receive and the ones you will reject.”

“The faith way is to think,”I know my work is taxing, but Christ is my strength.”

“Far more than a doctrine to follow, holiness is a life to enjoy.”

“It’s important to understand that joy is not the absence of pain in circumstances, but rather the presence of God in the midst of them.”

Everyday choices build a life. Mundane moments of loving our kids, cherishing our husbands, and supporting our friends in ten thousand different ways over the course of a lifetime well-lived change us from the inside out. “Loving God whole-heartedly is choosing the life we were made for,” and one day, we discover that God is doing His work through us, and we shine with a glory that is not our own.


This book was provided by the author in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Holy in the Moment: Simple Ways to Love God and Enjoy Your Life simply click on the title here, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Every blessing,