Book Review of THE PRODIGAL GOD by Rev. Timothy Keller, Ph.D.

The Prodigal God (Riverhead 2011, Dutton 2008), 149 pages with 4 pages of notes.

This book took me less than five hours to read.  The parable is familiar, but the author’s ultimate conclusion–that Jesus is a prodigal God–is new.  This book discusses the parable of the prodigal son.  (Luke 15:11-32)  Here is the parable:

The Parable of the Lost Son

11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”  (BibleGateway.com, NIV)

Jesus shows us a solution to the human dilemma of being experientially-driven humans who feel, need and desire, yet want to live a life that is in harmony with God.  We want to live at peace with God and people, while still enjoying our sensual nature.  How do we do that?  The prodigal son parable shows the two extremes to the dilemma through the older and younger brothers.  Most of us are neither as self-involved as the younger brother—wishing our parents were dead so we could have our inheritance.  Nor are we as dutifully moralistic as the older brother—serving his father because it is the right thing to do, but feeling no love for his father or his younger brother.  Most of us fall somewhere between these two extremes.  We all grapple with the dilemma of reconciling our two basic selves: sensory and moral.  How can we successfully satisfy both sides of our human nature?  Dr. Keller suggests the same thing Jesus suggests, that we repent in order to know God better and to be fully renewed as God’s people.

“What must we do, then, to be saved?  To find God we must repent of the things we have done wrong, but if that is all you do, you may remain just an elder brother.  To truly become Christians we must also repent of the reasons we ever did anything right.  Pharisees only repent of their sins, but Christians repent for the very roots of their righteousness, too.  We must learn how to repent of the sin under all our other sins and under all our righteousness—the sin of seeking to be our own Savior and Lord.  We must admit that we’ve put our ultimate hope and trust in things other than God, and that in both our wrongdoing and right doing we have been seeking to get around God or get control of God in order to get hold of those things.  It is only when you see the desire to be your own Savior and Lord—lying beneath both your sins and your moral goodness—that you are on the verge of understanding the gospel and becoming a Christian indeed.  When you realize that the antidote to being bad is not just being good, you are on the brink.  If you follow through, it will change everything:  how you relate to God, self, others, the world, your work, your sins, your virtue.  It’s called the new birth because it’s so radical.”  (pp. 87-88)

Dr. Keller is saying that in order to be made right with God through Jesus Christ, we need to surrender our hurts, our vanities, and our desire to control our world.  We have to surrender today and tomorrow and repent of everything in our past that did not begin and end with God.

Timothy Keller titled the book The Prodigal God.  The implication is that Jesus Christ laid down his majesty in heaven.  He left his Father’s house and went to live among sinful men to find his way in the world.  Sinful men took everything from him.  In fact, they beat and crucified him.  They killed him.  Why would Lord God Almighty, who has the power, resources and time to do anything choose to send his only begotten son to earth to live and die among sinners?

“Christianity, therefore, is perhaps the most materialistic of the world’s faiths.  Jesus’ miracles were not so much violations of the natural order, but a restoration of the natural order.  God did not create a world with blindness, leprosy, hunger, and death in it.  Jesus’ miracles were a sign that someday all these corruptions of his creation would be abolished.  Christians, therefore, can talk of saving the soul and of building social systems that deliver safe streets and warm homes in the same sentence.  With integrity.  Jesus hates suffering, injustice, evil, and death so much, he came and experienced it to defeat it and, someday, to wipe the world clean of it.  Knowing all this, Christians cannot be passive about hunger, sickness, and injustice.  Karl Marx and others have charged that religion is ‘the opiate of the masses.’ That is, it is a sedative that makes people passive toward injustice, because there will be ‘pie in the sky bye and bye.’  That may be true of some religions that teach people that this material world is unimportant or illusory.  Christianity, however, teaches that God hates the suffering and oppression of this material world so much, he was willing to get involved in it and to fight against it.  Properly understood, Christianity is by no means the opiate of the people.  It’s more like the smelling salts.”  (pp. 126-127)

Dr. Keller is saying that God created the earth and all its fullness as an act of love.  God created a good and beautiful world, but man wrecked it.  So God sent Jesus, His Son, to earth to restore to God what man had wrecked.

Our prodigal God is Jesus Christ.  Jesus is unique among all other gods in that he became one of us, in order to save us all.  If my God loves me so much he was willing to leave paradise to come to earth to pull me out of the muck and mire of this world, to set my feet on solid ground and to restore this fallen world to its original God-given glory, then surely there is hope.  Jesus truly is the light of the world, because he became a prodigal just like me. Isn’t that an amazing story of love?

I liked this book.  I recommend it.  It gave me plenty of things to think about.  This book review originally appeared on jaynechaseloseke.com on September 16, 2016.  You can find out more about Rev. Timothy Keller, Ph.D. at his website at http://www.timothykeller.com/.  You can listen to his sermons at Redeemer Presbyterian Church on iTunes.  His books include:

Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God

Walking with God through Pain and Suffering

Every Good Endeavor

Center Church

Jesus the King

The Meaning of Marriage

Generous Justice

Counterfeit Gods

The Reason for God

Preaching:  Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism

Encounters with Jesus: Unexpected Answers to Life’s Biggest Questions

The Prodigal God

Romans 1-7 For You

Romans 8-16 For You

Galatians for You

Judges For You

The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness

Ministries of Mercy

King’s Cross

The Songs of Jesus

Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical

Hidden Christmas:  The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ

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Book Review of PARENTING FOR THE LAUNCH by Dennis Trittin & Arlyn Lawrence

Parenting for the Launch (LifeSmart Pub. 2013), 190 pages text plus 11 pages of appendices and 1 page of endnotes.

Parenting for the Launch: Raising teens to succeed in the real world is written for parents and guardians of teens to prepare children to successfully leave home and launch out into the real world. The authors explain that “25% of U.S. high school students don’t graduate high school, the U.S. ranks last in industrialized nations for graduating our college students, and the current level of unemployment for teens is 23.7%.” (p. 12) Thus there is room for improvement in preparing our children to successfully transition to adult life outside the home. And once our children have launched we want them to be successful, diligent, respectful and good stewards of their resources, whether they go to college, the military or straight into the work force. The authors use a multi-pronged approach for these preparations. The aspects they look at include: 1) family environment, 2) fostering leadership, 3) self discovery, 4) understanding finances, and 5) jobs.

  1. Family. The authors provide a sample mission statement on pages 30-31 and suggest that we try to come up with one for our own families. “MISSION: To inspire, equip, and empower our future adults who are admired for their character, respected for their gifts and talents, and remembered for the love and service they give to others.”
  2. Leadership. The authors discuss nurturing leadership skills in our children. “Helping teens develop a leadership foundation for life is one of our most important parenting responsibilities. It has a huge bearing on whether they will reach their full potential and make wise life decisions.” (p. 39)
  3. Self Discovery. “The DISC ® Personality Profile is based on the work of renowned psychologist Dr. William Marston, a contemporary of Carl Jung. Marston developed the DISC Personality Profile in the 1920’s, after studying the personality traits, behavioral patterns, and instinctual reactions of thousands of individuals. As a result of his work, Marston developed the DISC assessment tool for measuring four primary behavioral traits: Dominance (D), Influence (I), Steadiness (S), and Conscientiousness (C)….Using the DISC model, we can group people according to their pace (fast or slow) and priority (tasks or people). There is no right or wrong (we all have a style!), and everyone falls somewhere on both of these continuums.” (p. 80)
    1. D—Dominant—Decisive, confident, self-directed, independent, direct, a change-agent.
    2. I—Influencing—Relational, interactive, expressive, visionary, emotional, fun-loving, optimistic.
    3. S—Steady/Stable—Dependable, loyal, committed, supportive, cooperative.
    4. C—Conscientious—Self-disciplined, cautious, detailed, analytical, intuitive.
    5. Where you land in the spectrum will indicate what your personality, motivations, priorities, and comfortable pace looks like in real life, as you relate to the world around you, including and especially your kids.” (pp. 82-83.)“It’s helpful to share this information with your teen. Teens are in an important time of self-discovery. They don’t know that everyone is not wired like they are and they don’t know exactly how their parents are wired, either. They may feel that different is “bad” when it comes to personality differences, relational needs, and behavioral styles. Help them identify their own strengths and weaknesses—and be honest about your own. This is a helpful item for their life skills tool box that will serve them well in their relationships with you and others.” (p. 95). The authors also discuss helping the teen discern all the voices in their lives: friends, parents, teachers, media voices and even make the point that our homes convey messages to our children about who they are. Helping our children discover who they are is critically helpful during the years before the transition. It helps our children make wise choices after they leave home.
  4. Finances. They also recommend we teach our children how to be financially responsible and financially conversant in investments, debt and daily expenditures. “Do they understand that the three best ways to avoid poverty are to graduate from high school, not marry before 20, and only have children after they marry?” (p. 201, appendix)
  5. Jobs. In regard to jobs the authors discuss performance reviews. They suggest we coach our teens to ask their job supervisor what constitutes an “excellent” performance rating and then for the teen to work hard to achieve that excellent rating. The authors also ask “Have you shared the key transition risks with them: social impatience, lack of study disciplines, damaging recreational habits, lack of a support network and spiritual life, excessive personal performance stress, and financial irresponsibility?” (p. 202, appendix).

Finally, the authors recommend making a blessing packet for our teens and give it to them right before they leave home. “One of the greatest gifts parents can give their children is the loving perspectives of their uniqueness and value. A great example is to put together a “blessing packet.” You don’t need to call it that; you can name it anything you like, such as “Words to Live By,” “Chicken Soup for ___’s Soul,” or, “A Hundred Things We Love about ______.” The point is that you’re collecting and delivering messages of encouragement and affirmation for your son or daughter that will strengthen his or her self-worth, identity, and sense of significance and calling. You’ll need to consider the people who have had the greatest impact on the life of your teen. They can be family members (parents are a must), friends, teachers, mentors, faith leaders, or others who offer a blessing in the form of a letter. As you recruit these VIPs, suggest they share special qualities, memories, inspirational thoughts, pictures, and the like. The purpose is to collect a wide array of well wishes that honor your teen. Then, at an appropriate time, give them an envelope containing these private letters. Some schools in our area arrange for this at a junior or senior class retreat. It is incredibly powerful. And, it offers you, the parent, an opportunity to say the things you wish you had said or said more. It’s especially meaningful for the parents who are less expressive (often fathers). Be forewarned, it can be an incredibly emotional experience for the parent. (Having done two myself, I can personally attest to that!) But, it’s a gift we not only give to our children, but also to ourselves. This keepsake is a profound blessing to your children. You don’t have to wait until launch time, but it’s a great parting gift that honors your teen at this critical time of life.” (pp. 183-184).

After the teen moves away to college or to the military or enters the workforce the parent then needs to move from the driver seat to the passenger seat. Some of this book deals with helping the parent prepare for the next stage of parenthood—coaching and encouraging. It has good advice and a few things I may consider trying myself, such as the blessing packet and taking the on-line DISC assessment with my teenage daughter.

“Frank A. Clark says, ‘The most important thing that parents can teach their children is how to get along without them.’” (p. 155). The authors believe the first three months after a young adult leaves the home is vitally important. (p. 185). You can find out more about Dennis Trittin at his website at http://www.dennistrittin.com/. Trittin also wrote What I Wish I Knew at 18.

I received a free copy of this book from Icon Media Group. No one paid me for this book review. My review originally appeared in https://jaynechaseloseke.com/ on August 6, 2014. 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.”

Book Review of SOUL KEEPING by Dr. John Ortberg

Soul Keeping (Zondervan 2014), 193 pages with 8 pages of source notes.

Soul Keeping is a book that offers hope.  Dr. Ortberg takes a look at the state of our souls.  He intelligently discusses some common problems in our society:  addiction, materialism, self-absorption and busyness.  He offers a new way to look at these problems.  Ortberg suggests we have lost our way because we have lost touch with our souls.  He offers hope by suggesting we consider the state of our souls, with God’s help, to improve our lives and our society.  He accomplishes this provision through an homage to Dallas Willard.

Here are a few of my favorite excerpts from Soul Keeping.

  1. “I recall Jesus’ memorable words about the soul: ‘What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?’ I have always thought this verse meant that in the long run it won’t do you any good to acquire a lot of money and have a lot of sex and other sensual pleasures if you end up going to hell. When I mentioned that to Dallas, he gently corrected me.   ‘That is not what Jesus is saying. Jesus is not talking here about people going to hell.’ He explained that Jesus is talking about a diagnosis, not a destination. If we think of hell as a torture chamber and heaven as a pleasure factory, we will never understand Jesus’ points. For the ruined soul—that is, where the will and the mind and the body are disintegrated, disconnected from God, and living at odds with the way God made life in the universe to run—acquiring the whole world could not even produce satisfaction, let alone meaning and goodness. To lose my soul means I no longer have a healthy center that organizes and guides my life—I am a car without a steering wheel. It doesn’t matter how fast I can go, because I am a crash waiting to happen.” Pp. 40-41.
  2. “Our world has replaced the word soul with the word self and they are not the same thing. The more that we focus on our selves, the more we neglect our souls….because we have replaced church, faith, and community with a tiny little unit that cannot bear the weight of meaning. That’s the self. We’re all about the self. We revolve our lives around ourselves. Ironically, the more obsessed we are with ourselves, the more we neglect our souls.” P. 42.
  3. [I condensed this excerpt for brevity and clarity.] “How does the world we live in keep us from attending to our souls? Jesus told a story about this…It’s a story about seeds, a sower and some soil. In a story like this one, it helps to notice what are the constants and what are the variables in order to understand Jesus’ point. The seed is a constant. This is not a good story about good seeds and bad seeds. The seed will take root given half a chance. The seed is a little picture of God’s desire and action to redeem souls. The sower is a constant. This isn’t a story about good sowers and bad sowers. The first thing we notice about him is how generous he is with the seed. He scatters it everywhere. It is the soil that gets interesting. The soil is the variable. And for ‘soil,’ we might replace it with the word ‘soul.’ The closed soul is death. The receptive soul is life. Some seeds fall on the path, Jesus said. In the Middle East, conditions are already dry. The path is the place where farmers walk, where sheep make their way to water and grass. The path is hard and dry, and the seeds don’t have a chance. Souls get that way. Often these seeds are people who have been hurt or disappointed. They form a protective shell. They become cynical or bitter or suspicious. The world diverts my soul-attention when it encourages me to think of myself more as a victim than as a human. I am so wrapped up in the hurt I have received that I do not notice the hurt I inflict.  Some of the seed fell on rocky soil. The idea here is not that there was a bunch of rocks, but that there was only a thin layer of topsoil with solid rock underneath. The seed had life until the sun came out. But the life withers quickly, Jesus says, because the soil is too shallow for roots….’Superficiality,’ says Richard Foster, ‘is the curse of our age.’ The desperate need of the soul is not for intelligence, nor talent, nor yet excitement; just depth….There is depth to your soul that is beyond words. For much of our lives, we live in the shallows. Then something happens—a crisis, a birth, a death—and we get this glimpse of tremendous depth. A soul becomes shallow when my interests and thoughts go no further than myself. A person should be deep because life itself is deep. A deep soul has the capacity to understand and empathize deeply with other people—not just himself. A deep soul notices and questions and doesn’t just go through the motions.  Some seeds fall among thorns, which grow up and choke the plants. Jesus said that is the condition where the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth and the desire for other things come and choke the soul. We mistake our clutter for life. If we cease to be busy, do we matter? A person preoccupied with externals—success, reputation, ceaseless activity, lifestyle, office gossip—may be dead internally and not even recognize it. And our world has lots of ‘other things.’” Pp. 50-56.

I liked this book.  I recommend it.  It gave me plenty of things to think about.  It took me a few weeks to read because I kept stopping to think about the ideas Ortberg presents.  Soul Keeping made me want to spend some time contemplating the condition of my soul.  And this book has inspired me to read books written by Dallas Willard.  John Ortberg is on Twitter and Facebook.  You can find out more about him at www.johnortberg.com. His books include:

In the interest of full disclosure, I received a free advance copy of Soul Keeping from Icon Media Group.  However, neither Icon Media Group nor any other entity paid me for my book review.  This book review of Soul Keeping originally appeared in jaynechaseloseke.com on June 17, 2014.

Book Review of THE GOD FIRST LIFE by Stovall Weems

The God First Life (Zondervan 2014), 172 pages with 8 pages of endnotes.

 

This book looks deeply at Matthew 6:33 – “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Stovall Weems explores the depths of this advice from Jesus by considering the concepts of first, which implies order; kingdom of God, which Weems believes is community with other believers; righteousness, which Weems interprets as the decisions we make to pursue and obey God: read the bible, help others, and live a life that honors God. And the result and all these things will be given to you implies freedom, joy and fulfillment. We find our greatest fulfillment when we partner with God and follow Jesus’ wise advice.

 

Here are four of my favorite excerpts from The God First Life.

  1. “My walk with God began solely and completely by his grace, and yet somehow I thought that everything after ‘the prayer’ was based on the sheer force of my own willpower and self-discipline. Every time I felt spiritually empty, lacking in zeal and power, I prayed to ‘get more’ of God, more of his nature, grace, love and power. The problem was that I didn’t need to ‘get more’ of God. I just needed to understand the treasure he’d already given me.  It wasn’t until nearly a decade after I was saved that I truly understood the power-of-God treasure that was within me. Paul tells us that we ‘have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.’ [2 Cor. 4:7] I was all too familiar with the earthen vessel. I knew every chip, crack, and leak in mine. I thought that the best way to ‘carry’ the power of God was to patch up that old clay pot and make it as strong and efficient as humanly possible. I wanted my vessel to be worthy of the treasure it was carrying. Even with all my good intentions, the point of Paul’s statement was totally lost on me. The jar will never be worthy to carry the treasure within it. In fact, the opposite is true—it’s the treasure that gives value to the vessel.” pp. 70-71.
  2. “John 13 tells us that Jesus left the table where the disciples were sitting. He took off his robe, grabbed a towel and wrapped it around his waist, filled a basin with water, and then proceeded to wash the feet of his disciples. In Jesus’ day the outer robe signified a person’s position in society. Jesus wore the robe of a rabbi, signifying his role as a teacher. It was an honored position in Israel. When Jesus took off his robe, he was laying aside the symbol of his earthly rank. He was sending a message: Status does not define my disciples; servanthood does.  Next, Jesus put on the servant’s towel and washed his disciples’ feet. In doing so, he redefined greatness just like he redefined happiness. In his kingdom, we climb down the corporate ladder to success by taking on the identity of a servant above whatever other role and position we may have in life.  One of the most unexpected things about this account of the Last Supper is the statement that leads into the foot-washing moment. ‘Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God.’ [John 13:3] Jesus knew. He knew the extent of his authority: over everything. He knew where he came from and where he was going: from God and back to God.  Jesus was secure. He was not having an identity crisis at this moment. He was not pandering to his disciples for affirmation. He was doing what he had always done, teaching them how to love one another. Serving like Christ means serving from a place of strength, not of insecurity, compulsion, or the need for approval. We never have to prove ourselves when our identity is rooted in Christ. Our worth is not in question; only the condition of our heart.” p. 121.
  3. “From the time we are born, our soul (mind, will, and emotions) is programmed and shaped by our experiences. Everything we see, observe, learn, hear, and experience through our five senses is mapped out in the soul. Some of that learning is good, necessary, and intentional (like formal schooling). But a great deal of that programming is just plain toxic.  Everything from traumatic experiences (accidents, death, war, abuse), generational patterns (behaviors adopted intentionally or unintentionally from family), cultural patterns (prevailing ideas in our society)—all of these shape our conscience and program our mind and emotions in destructive ways. Sexual abuse in childhood, for example, warps the normal development of the soul. It fundamentally changes the way that a developing child will think, feel, and behave. A soldier returning from the horrors of war will have seen and experienced things that reshape the soul, and that soldier will look at the world through a new (and possibly distorted) mental and emotional lens.  When experiences like these are imprinted on an individual, the inevitable result is unhealthiness and injury to the mind, emotions, and will. See the problem? This vital part of the soul, which is responsible for making choices, is led to make those choices based on corrupted information. In most cases, this hurt soul goes on making those same unhealthy choices, establishing a pattern of sin and shame that continually repeats like a broken record. That pattern might lead to a coping pattern, such as drug or alcohol abuse, further fracturing the soul.  These tendencies toward wrong thinking, wrong behaving, and wrong choosing can run deep. We must be filled with the Holy Spirit so that those old patterns are erased and new, healthy, Spirit-led patterns are created. The Bible tells us to ‘throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.’ [Hebrews 12:1] The power word in that reference is “entangles.” Some translations read, “ensnares.” To ensnare means to set a trap. When we fall into the trap of sin, we are bound to its consequences and pain. Thank God that Jesus can truly set us free and make us whole again.” p. 139.
  4. “When you choose to live the God-first life, you are making the choice to restore order. Not things first, stuff first, or me first, but God first. When order is restored, blessing is released.  You will find that a world where you are not at the center is a world where happiness and blessing can be experienced—God’s way. The truth is that ‘first’ is not a place you can fill; it never was and it never will be. As long as you rule your world, the weight of it will fall on your shoulders, but when you step aside and let God step into his rightful place, the weight of your world falls on his shoulders. In the end, he is the only one who is truly able to hold it in place.  Everything around us and within us tells us that the secret to happiness is a world where it’s all about me. But Jesus consistently says the opposite. True success is not a world where I am at the center but a world where God is at the center and my life is in proper order. First place belongs to God alone.  Why do so few people in the body of Christ experience true blessing and freedom? They may no longer be bound in sin, but they are trussed up by the cares of this life—the baggage of their past, the worries of the present, and anxiety about the future. They are repeating old patterns, behaviors, and habits that shaped them in their old life, not realizing (or having forgotten) that God has given them everything they need to walk away from those things.  The God-first life comes down to decisions. Adam and Eve decided not to put God first. Faced with a choice that looked tasty and attractive and would put them in the know, they bit. And we do too if we forget that we’re not in the choosing game. We’ve decided, and now we need to simply maintain, what we’ve already committed to…” pp. 154-155.

In The God First Life, Stovall Weems is giving us biblical keys to victorious living: put God first, remember that it doesn’t depend on me and my power, it depends on God’s power in me. Serve others from the strength of knowing who you are in Christ and what gifts and assignments God has given you. Reconcile yourself with your past. Forgive those who harmed you and receive forgiveness from God and others who want to be reconciled to you. And honor the choices you have made soberly. Weems believes we can accomplish these things by contemplating deeply on Matthew 6:33 “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

You can find out more about Stovall Weems at www.stovallweems.com and www.celebration.org.

In the interest of full disclosure, I received a free advance copy of The God First Life from Icon Media Group.  However, neither Icon Media Group nor any other entity paid me for my book review.  This book review of The God First Life originally appeared in jaynechaseloseke.com on April 17, 2014.

Book Review of THE MEANING OF MARRIAGE by Timothy Keller

The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller with Kathy Keller (Dutton 2011), 283 pages.

This book furthers our national discussion about marriage.  The Kellers look at marriage from historical, biblical, contemporary and philosophical perspectives.  This book has 24 pages of end notes.  It is a deep look at marriage and it took me all of my library renewals to read this book, but it was worth the time.

The conclusions the authors arrive at are that marriage is universal, has always been a part of known societies, and will probably always be a part of society.  Furthermore, Dr. Keller claims marriage is a spiritual journey of friendship whose true purpose is to help two married partners mature into their true selves.  Rev. Keller believes this can only be done with massive help from God.

Here are four of my favorite passages from The Meaning of Marriage:

  1. “How do we love each other so that our marriage goes on from strength to strength rather than stalling out in repetitive arguments that end in fruitless silence?  The basic answer is that you must speak the truth in love with the power of God’s grace.”  p. 136.
  2. “Marriage by its very nature has the ‘power of truth’—the power to show you the truth about who you are.  People are appalled when they get sharp, far-reaching criticism from their spouses.  They immediately begin to think they married the wrong person.  But you must realize that it isn’t ultimately your spouse who is exposing the sinfulness of your heart—it’s marriage itself.  Marriage does not so much bring you into confrontation with your spouse as confront you with yourself.  Marriage shows you a realistic unflattering picture of who you are and then takes you by the scruff of the neck and forces you to pay attention to it.  This may sound discouraging, but it is really the road to liberation.  Counselors will tell you that the only flaws that can enslave you are the ones that you are blind to. If you are in denial about some feature of your character, that feature will control you.  But marriage blows the lid off, turns the light on.  Now there is hope. Finally you can begin dealing with the real you.  Don’t resist this power that marriage has.  Give your spouse the right to talk to you about what is wrong with you.  Paul talks about how Jesus “washes” and “cleanses” us of stains and blemishes.  Give your spouse the right to do that.”  p. 140.
  3. “The Bible does not counsel sexual abstinence before marriage because it has such a low view of sex but because it has such a lofty one.  The biblical view implies that sex outside of marriage is not just morally wrong but also personally harmful.  If sex is designed to be part of making a covenant and experience that covenant’s renewal, then we should think of sex as an emotional ‘commitment apparatus.’  If sex is a method that God invented to do ‘whole life entrustment’ and self-giving, it should not surprise us that sex makes us feel deeply connected to the other person, even when used wrongly.  Unless you deliberately disable it, or through practice you numb the original impulse, sex makes you feel personally interwoven and joined to another human being, as you are literally physically joined.  In the midst of sexual passion, you naturally want to say extravagant things such as ‘I’ll always love you.’  Even if you are not legally married, you may find yourself very quickly feeling marriage-like ties, feeling that the other person has an obligation to you.  But that other person has no legal, social, or moral responsibility even to call you back in the morning.  This incongruity leads to jealously and hurt feelings and obsessiveness if two people are having sex but are not married.  It makes breaking up vastly harder than it should be.  It leads many people to stay trapped in relationships that are not good because of a feeling of having (somehow) connected themselves.  Therefore, if you have sex outside marriage, you will have to steel yourself against sex’s power to soften your heart toward another person and make you more trusting.  The problem is that eventually, sex will lose its covenant-making power for you, even if you one day do get married. Ironically, then, sex outside of marriage eventually works backwards, making you less able to commit and trust another person.”  Pp. 226-227.
  4.  Note #52, p. 253.  “…the human race cannot remember a time in which marriage did not exist.  There have been some efforts to make the case that this or that remote culture or small ethnic group has existed without marriage, but none of these efforts are widely regarded as successful.  One example is the argument some have made regarding the Mosuo (or the “Na People”), a small ethnic population in Southern China.  In this society, marriage partners do not live together in the same home.  Brothers and sisters live together in households and raise the children of their sisters.  Men are held most responsible to support and raise their sisters’ children—their nieces and nephews, not their biological children.  This family arrangement is highly unusual, but that does not mean that marriage and family mores are not in existence and, indeed, they are strongly enforced.  Fathers are definitely part of their children’s lives even though they do not live in the same household.  Women form long-term relationships with their partners.  Some married couples practice cohabitation as well.  See Tami Blumenthal’s 2009 report, The Na of Southwest China’s.  Debunking the Myths, at web.pdx.edu/~tblu2/Na/myths.pdf.”

 

Dr. Keller references the book Premarital Sex in America:  How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think about Marrying.  (Oxford 2011)  by Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker as a source for much of the research claims in The Meaning of Marriage.

 

The Meaning of Marriage, by Timothy Keller with Kathy Keller (Dutton 2011).

The book review of The Meaning of Marriage originally appeared on jaynechaseloseke.com on December 26, 2013.

Book Review of WHO IS THIS MAN? by John Ortberg

 (Zondervan:  Grand Rapids, MI) 2012.  202 pages of text.  17 pages of references.  Forward by Condoleeza Rice.

 

I enjoyed Who Is This Man?: The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus
It is an overview of the areas of life today affected by the life of Jesus Christ.  The areas Pastor Ortberg considers are the value of children, women’s rights, slavery, education, leadership, forgiveness, health care, separation of church and state, marriage and art.  The undergirding concept is that Jesus lived 2000 years ago in a small town in Israel.  He worked for three years in the region of Galilee as an itinerant rabbi who travelled from town to town, teaching and performing miraculous healings and displaying signs and wonders.  He was revolutionary in his time.  He caused people to think about God, themselves, their religion and others in new ways.  Two thousand years later we are still trying to understand his teachings.

John Ortberg includes quite a few quotes from Aristotle, Winston Churchill, St Augustine, C.S. Lewis, Eugene Peterson, William Shakespeare, Origen, Pliney the Younger, the bible, Plato, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther, G.K. Chesterton, ancient Roman laws, Dallas Willard, Tertullian, Tacitus, Plutarch, Caesar Augustus, Thomas Cahill, and many others.  I enjoyed the quotes from famous people.  The author compares quotes of famous people, which were popular concepts in their day, to Jesus’ teachings.  Jesus’ teachings are still relevant and challenging to us today.

The author also includes interesting statistics.  I had not heard before that so many girl babies were abandoned at birth, that the biblical population was affected.  Pastor Ortberg claims that during the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry there were 1.4 million men and 1 million women alive.  Why were there 400,000 more men?  Because baby boys were preferred over girl babies at that time, too often new parents would leave girl babies outside to die of exposure.  Eventually the population ratio reflected that value of the time.

Forgiveness is another topic Pastor Ortberg discusses.  He quotes Aristotle’s “great-souled man,” among other contemporary Greek and Roman sources, to point out that forgiveness was not valued in the Greco-Roman world.  Forgiveness was seen as a sign of weakness.  People in those days valued strength, military might, power, wealth and beauty.  John the Baptist taught the ministry of repentence.  Jesus taught the ministry of reconciliation and the necessity of forgiveness.  These were radical concepts in their day.

My favorite quotes from this book are:

1)      “Aristotle’s ‘”great-souled man” is extremely proud.  He despises honors offered by the common people…He indulges in conspicuous consumption, for “he likes to own beautiful and useless things, since they are better marks of his independence.”  Incidentally, he walks, slowly, has a deep voice, and a deliberate mode of utterance.’”  (page 74)

2)      “In Bath, England, at the hot springs that formed a combination spa/Roman worship center 2000 years ago, scores of prayers have been excavated that ancients paid to have written down and offered there.  They are called “curse tablets” because by far the most common kind of prayer was a curse.  People would give the name of someone who hurt them, tell what their crime was, then specify how they wanted the gods to harm them.  ‘Docimedus has lost 2 gloves.  He asks that the person who has stolen them should lose his mind and his eyes in the temple at the place where the goddess appoints.’  No matter how much you love your gloves, this seems a tad harsh.”  (page 87)

None of the 2000 prayer tablets asked Zeus or Bacchus to bless their enemies and forgive them.  People didn’t pray for forgiveness for enemies to Zeus.

3)       “Leadership, says Harvard’s Ron Heifetz, is the art of disappointing people at a rate they can stand.”  (page 102)

4)        “To that world, the movement of these followers of Jesus was ‘like Churchill’s description of Russia:  ‘a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.’  Christians were actually called atheists by Romans because of their neglect of the gods.”  (page 130)

5)       “Luther in turn deeply influenced composer Johann Sebastian Bach, who would begin each work by writing “J.J.”—Jesu, Jusa, “Jesus help me” –on his manuscript.  (It is a universal prayer for all writers, but often they wait until they are desperate.  I’m praying it right now.) at the end of a piece, he would write three letters—S.D.G. (Soli Deo Gloria)—that meant “To the glory of God” on all his music.  (page 158)

I recommend this book.  I give it 4 out of 5 stars.  It took me about a total of 5 hours to read. 

I would like to read more of John Ortberg’s books.  His books include:

Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them

If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat

Know Doubt: The Importance of Embracing Uncertainty in Your Faith

The Life You’ve Always Wanted

The Me I Want to Be: Becoming God’s Best Version of You

Teaching the Heart of the Old Testament: Communicating Life-Changing Truths from Genesis to Malachi (Truth for Today: From the Old Testament)

When the Game Is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box

The book review of Who Is this Man? originally appeared on jaynechaseloseke.com on September 11, 2013.