Rubik’s Cube of Interlocking Crimes

A Promise to Protect by Patricia Bradley:  A Book Review

Author Patricia Bradley has created a page-turning Rubik’s Cube of interlocking crimes.  The book starts out with a bang — literally, as Dr. Leigh Somerall’s beloved brother is murdered at gunpoint.  Was his murderer connected somehow to the shots fired at Leigh?  Or was the target really Sheriff Ben Logan?

The town of Logan Point looks on as Ben and Lee sort through the rubble of two fires, the complexities of their past relationship (Can it be rekindled?), and the social complications of small town living where everybody knows your name — and your business.

Best of all Patricia Bradley drives a stake into the eternal truth of God’s sovereignty.  Overcome by mystery, loss,  and life-threatening events, Sheriff Ben and Dr. Leigh affirm that God does not make mistakes, and that He is able to handle the aftermath of poor choices.  The real mystery in A Promise to Protect is the miracle of forgiveness.

I received this book free from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255

An Open Letter to My First Mentor

Living Our Days

Happy Birthday, Joanne!

Do people in heaven celebrate birthdays?  Probably not, but more important for you (and tragic for me) is that this is the tenth time you have celebrated a birthday in heaven.  Another thing I’m not absolutely clear on is whether you are aware of this birthday greeting; whether you are privy to some of the milestones, triumphs, and failures I’ve missed sharing with you over the past ten years.  I’ve gotten used to thinking of you as a member of my “cloud of witnesses.”  I hope I’m right.

One of the reasons that I’m ok about admitting my uncertainties (that I have not yet developed a theology-of-everything) is that from the time I was sixteen years old, I witnessed your questioning spirit, your curious mind, and your whole-hearted  “pressing on to know the Lord.”   I wanted to know Him, too, so I trailed along behind you.   In fact, I wish I could ask you now if you…

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The Non-methodical Method

I’m with Paul.

When he vents in Romans 7 about his “captivity to the law of sin,” I hear a howl of frustration.  For Paul, for me, sin is an inside job, and we are all betrayed by our own mortal flesh before we open our eyes in the morning.

But then, being Paul, he rips the rhetorical right out of his question, (“Who will deliver me from this body of death?”), by providing an answer — THE answer:

I thank God —  through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Wouldn’t it be helpful to get a glimpse of the Apostle Paul’s personal journal?  What did the struggle look like between “the law of God” and “the law of sin” in a mind and a heart that was utterly devoted to God?

We want a method.  “What’s working for you?”

John Owen, in Chapter Six of The Mortification of Sin, describes the process of killing sin as a pilgrim on the path — not exactly describing it from the rear view mirror, but definitely in process:  “Here’s how you’ll know that you are warring against evil in your heart.”

I.  Pulling the plug on bad habits

This Puritan must have had a sense of humor:  “And the reason why a natural man is not always perpetually in the pursuit of some one lust, night and day, is because he hath many to serve . .thence he is carried on with great variety.”

When it comes to sin, we are all on the cafeteria plan.  Where to begin?  So many choices.

John Owen also had a heart, because it seems that we have his sympathy here.  Not only does he admit the “violence and impetuousness” of the temptations we fight, but also shows that he is aware of differences in temperament among individuals.  What looks like diligence in a workaholic is alike, in degree, to what looks like a peaceful heart in a lazy man.  But these, along with the more “scandalous sins” must be put to death at the root, which is not a pretty thing to look at, at least from the inside.  John Owen borrows Paul’s image:  crucifixion, (Galatians 5:24) and describes the death of a sin with violence involving struggle, beating down, and fastening it to a cross.

By contrast, we give up too soon.  With behavioral scientists admitting that it takes an average of 66 days to break any habit (and the range is anywhere from 18 to 254 days), very often we “leave the principle and root untouched, perhaps unsearched out, [and] make little or no progress in this work of mortification.”

II.  Declaring war

According to John Piper, “Just Do It” is an atheistic stance, but, verbally, not far from this truth:  “Do It in the Spirit!”  Where boot straps leave off and Spirit picks up is a matter of the heart.  Owen urges the believer to take his stand on the cross and to take the mercy of God for fighting sin.   It is by the Spirit that we recognize sin as the enemy of our soul; it is by the Spirit that we know our enemy well; it is by the Spirit that we will “load [the enemy, sin] daily with destruction . . . new wounds, new blows every day.”

III.  Experiencing victory

How does one recognize success?  “[Sin’s] motions and actions are fewer and weaker than formerly, so that they are not able to hinder his duty nor interrupt his peace.”

This convinces me that the “normal Christian life” is found in a moment-by-moment clinging to the promises of Scripture and a praying-like-breathing dependence on the Spirit who “implants . . .principle[s] of grace that stand in direct opposition to [sin] and are destructive of it.”  Indeed, “promptness, alacrity, [and] vigor” are the characteristics of the “new man”  in “contending with, cheerful fighting against” sin.

As children of the age of self-help books, 12-Step programs, and “Everything-Under-the-Sun for Dummies,” we come to the Word of God looking for a method, a sin-killing strategy that we can execute and then move on.  What we find in John Owen’s Mortification of Sin — and in the Word of God itself — is not mechanical, but relationship-oriented.  Fight temptation, hate your sin, take the Spirit’s power, and do it as if your life depends upon it.  It does.


It’s Time to Exhale

Breathing Room by Leeana Tankersley:  A Book Review

Generally speaking, for most of us, it’s not the catastrophes that wear us down.  It’s the frictional grind of too many little things:  cars that fail to start, toddlers with a missing shoe, teens with missing respect, too much month and too little paycheck.

Standing under a sound roof in a sound body, with a healthy family and a full refrigerator, we question the goodness of God and poke holes in our theology.  We covet and carp and compare, backing ourselves into a tight and suffocating space.

Leeana Tankersley has walked that path of self-contempt, feeling small and trapped and that it was “not OK to struggle.”   She welcomes readers into her process of discerning that the breathing space she was seeking is God Himself.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, one of the names for God is Ha-Makom meaning ‘the omnipresent,’ literally translated ‘The Place.’  This name for God is often used in the traditional Jewish sentiment offered to someone in grief . . . ‘May The Place comfort you.’

Without handing out blank checks for self-pity, Tankersley shares her own pain, using imagery from 12-Step programs and highly diagnostic insights gained during her years with three small children and her Navy Seal husband in the foreign culture and geography of Bahrain.  She shares insights from a broad range of authors and thinkers:  from Anne Morrow Lindbergh to Anne Lamott; from C.S. Lewis to Stephen King.  The author’s humor and poetically descriptive language lighten her message:

We’ve gagged the ache with Doritos and Diet Coke.  We’ve covered it up with bronzer.  We’ve smothered it with layers and layers of trying-too-hard.   We’ve shut it up with the how-richly-blessed-we-are-talk.

Breathing Room is an invitation to the life revealed by the Lord of Isaiah 55:2:  “Let your soul delight itself in abundance.”

I received this book free from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255

That We Be Not Mistaken

In Chapter Five of The Mortification of Sin, John Owen bends over backward to delineate for his readers what mortification of sin is NOT, the better for us to recognize it for what it is:  a miracle of grace.  This seemed like a good place to pause for a review of the content up to this point.  Pardon the places where this post loses poetic traction and slides into the ditch of doggerel, but doesn’t the discipline of rhyme and meter  force you to really think about what you are trying to communicate?

“Put sin to death,” says Romans 8.

“By Spirit’s power, don’t hesitate,

“And you will live.”  It’s God’s command

Declared by Paul with pen in hand.

John Owen, taking up his quill,

Exhorts that the believer will

Make this his daily task to do:

Be killing sin lest it kill you.

With stony heart by Spirit taken,

Grace abounds, sin is forsaken.

Take the Spirit’s comfort, vigor —

Gifts of mortifying rigor.

Truth be told, it’s God’s largesse

That uproots darkness and weakness.

Now, lest one think, “The dragon’s slain

And never to be seen again!” —

Remember St. Paul’s anguished cries,

“I do the evil I despise!”

Hypocrisy (or hiding well)

Is just a safer path to hell,

For sin has not been killed a whit

Nor holiness increased a bit.

A temperament sweet and sedate,

Though pleasant still does not equate

With mortified iniquity.

His heart may still a cesspool be!

Nor does the soul who (finding pride

No longer serves her) turns aside

To worldliness or vanity —

New masters do not make one free.

Amidst afflictions and distress,

The oft-resulting righteousness

That follows sin’s heinous eruption

Is likely just a brief disruption:

Cat and mouse, legerdemain,

While sinful habits still remain.

Thus, Brother Owen clarifies

Mortification by the lies

The hapless saint may swallow whole,

Sadly deceived in mind and soul.

The Creation of a Protagonist

Deceived by Irene Hannon:  A Book Review

With Deceived there is no deception when it comes to Irene Hannon’s portrayal of her main characters.  Kate Marshall, a young widow, still grieving the three-year-old sorrow of losing both her husband and son in a boating accident, glimpses a boy who looks and sounds remarkably like her son.  Her suspicions haunt her until she, against her own misgivings, searches out a private investigator, and, thus, a cadre of male protagonists join the story, their office banter, “I’ve got your back” camaraderie,  and quiet competence whisking the plot along to its satisfying and surprising conclusion.

I have had very little exposure to the genre of Romantic Suspense — but, truthfully, what is more suspenseful than romance?  Add to this the agonized longings of a mother to be re-united with her son, factor in the dangerous process of uncovering the secrets of another person, and set the cast of characters in a very believable world where what we think and believe about God, about love, and about other people shapes the course of our lives, and the result is a book that I am eager to  recommend to the women in my church as well as to their high-school age daughters.

Irene Hannon’s protagonists are not flat “good guys.”  Rather, they are punctual, compassionate, moral, competent, hard-working and dedicated individuals who, also, at various times in their lives, make impulsive decisions, experience lust, exhibit impatience, suffer from fear, selfishness,  insecurity,  and addictions.  Her descriptions defy cliche:  for example, Connor Sullivan, P.I. has eyes, “dark as obsidian; they searched, discerned and reassured . . .”    And as Kate begins to trust Connor professionally, she begins to notice how “those dark eyes warmed like the volcanic origins of the black glass whose color they mirrored.”  Poetic imagery such as this  takes “tall, dark and handsome” to a whole new level.

Because in our fallen world no one is all wrong and no one is all right, Deceived gives us three-dimensional characters who  act out their need and brokenness according to their acceptance or refusal of God’s grace.

Because the Word of God is living and powerful, a chance encounter with Ephesians 4:31,32 in a pizza joint during the day triggers a  middle of the night spiritual wrestling match between the antagonist and the God He has misunderstood.

Because God is at work even when He chooses to remain anonymous, small miracles happen, and this truth is most satisfyingly demonstrated in Deceived.

I received this book free from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.   The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255


“There Is No Success Without Succession.”

Next — Pastoral Succession that Works by William Vanderbloemen and Warren Bird:  A Book Review

In the spirit of the old proverb about planting a tree, the authors’ advice about succession planning could be summarized:  “The second best time to start succession planning is TODAY.  The best time to begin was ten years ago.”

Vanderbloemen and Bird open the board room door and invite the average pew-sitter and, quite wisely, the pastoral staff into the discussion of “What happens next?” when a church’s senior staff person moves on.  Bringing strategies and realism to a process often muddied with over-spiritualization, they also have their feet firmly planted in a scriptural understanding of the church and the pastor’s role.

Although they bring to the table a wealth of experience and research, they are not hawking iron-clad rules and quick fixes or one-size-fits-all solutions.  In fact, according to them “the one cardinal rule for pastoral succession is that there is no cardinal rule.”  However, they go on to say:

 . . . leaders who continually plan and pray for the next chapter for their church will almost always have a better ending and a brighter future than those who do not.

There is wisdom here, and in case you don’t believe it, Vanderbloemen and Bird provide case study after case study to illustrate the pros and cons for staying long, the unique troubles around replacing founding pastors, the pastor’s wife and her ties to the church, as well as traumatic and forced terminations.  They offer advice for avoiding law suits related to succession, and, while they’re at it, a list of candidates to consider avoiding.

The book is very readable with a good blend of narrative style accounts and outline style bullet points, charts and diagrams.  The mindset that “every pastor is an interim pastor” is a healthy one, not only for clergy, but also for the faithful sheep.  It occurred to me that a careful reading of I Peter 5:1-4 supports an additional  truth:  “every pastor is an assistant pastor” to the Chief Shepherd.  After all, as the authors point out, “God is never caught by surprise (even if we are).”  Therefore, to bring us into step with Him,  they have given us Next which is a realistic but very positive guidebook for thinking long term, honoring the past, and anticipating the future.

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255