Thursday, June 30, 2011

Going Home

We're so excited to be taking Sylar home today. After all the chaos and fear we experienced in the hospital, we're so grateful to be taking our very healthy little boy home. We're so blessed to love him dearly and nurture his God-given hopes and dreams and point him to the One who will shape his hopes and dreams to match His own.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Welcoming Our Third Child

Our son Sylar was born at 8:01 a.m. It's a surreal experience to welcome a new child into the world. Our destiny is wrapped up in the realization of his. Seeing his beautiful face for the first time was breathtaking. He looks like his brother, and he has the thickest head of jet black hair, a trait only he of our three children has inherited.

But there's also the waiting...because he's spent so long in a world all his own, specifically designed just for him, and the transition into our world is difficult as he breathes our air for the first time. His lungs are adapting, and we're praying that it would come quickly. We're so ready to hold him and introduce him to this deep love we have for him.

So many dreams for his little life. That someday he'll change the world with his brother and sister. So thankful for the God who knit him together. He is truly fearfully and wonderfully made.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Book Review: Church in the Making by Ben Arment

CHURCH IN THE MAKING: WHAT MAKES OR BREAKS A NEW CHURCH BEFORE IT STARTS by Ben Arment is a creative, biblical, and insightful book on what makes a successful church plant. Nearly 80% of new church plants fail, leaving behind some very disappointed and disillusioned church planters, but former church planter and innovative leader Ben Arment walks us through his experiences and what he's learned about creating a lasting biblical community.

The book is in three parts. In Part 1 Arment discusses the need to cultivate spiritual fertility in a community before ever beginning a church plant. He uses Jesus' parable of the soils to show the need to create the church a community needs. Church planting begins by getting a feel for a community's spiritual receptivity.

In Part 2 he discusses the reality of a church being a social movement and the need to create social momentum. Arment shows from several examples that when social momentum is on your side, a church will explode and a lasting community will be born.

In Part 3 he discusses the need to abandon the approach of importing a church into a community from the outside, and instead helping a church to be birthed out of the community. This insures that a church has a deep connection to the community and its unique needs.

Ben Arment is a very innovative leader who cares deeply about helping people be successful, and that's clear through his writing. He helps people think through things in a fresh new way.

I love church planters and would say this book is vital for them, but I also found its principles incredibly applicable to leaders of an established church. My own context helped me to see it through the eyes of student ministry and how to create an effective and deeply connected disciple-making student and family community. The idea of birthing a spiritual and social movement out of a community was especially compelling.

This is a book that will help any church leader become a more effective leader and a better connector with people. Ultimately, it will help leaders create a passionate community of Christ followers.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Book Review: Surviving Your Serengeti by Stefan Swanepoel

SURVIVING YOUR SERENGETI: 7 SKILLS TO MASTER BUSINESS AND LIFE by Stefan Swanepoel is a fable about a couple named Sean and Ashley Spencer that is just trying to stay ahead in a struggling economy. Sean's company is hurting financially, and he's not sure how to fix it. Ashley lost her teaching job a year ago, but she joined a marketing firm shortly after and won rookie salesperson of the year, a title that won her and Sean a 3-day trip to the Serengeti plains of Africa. Though Sean is struggling with being away from his business, he and Ashley soon undergo an experience that will forever change the trajectory of their lives. An old friend unexpectedly appears and takes them on a journey of self-discovery while studying the wild animals of the Serengeti.

The book is a really quick read, and I enjoyed it from beginning to end. The author takes us on a journey with 7 of the animals found in the Serengeti and how they use their unique survival skills to survive in the Serengeti, and how those very skills are the ones we need to develop and rely on to stay afloat and be effective in both business and our personal lives. Skills like endurance and being strategic are among the seven.

What I loved about the book is how the author couched the truths he wanted to convey through a compelling narrative. It made it much more enjoyable than a standard skills development book. The book's descriptions of the Serengeti were very realistic and made it easy to visualize a place I've never been before.

The book is great for anyone who is struggling with difficult circumstances, whether in business or life in general. It's encouraging, yet gets your attention with some very common sense things you need to do.

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Thoughts on Father's Day

"Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate." - Psalm 127:3-5

Father's Day is great, but I'm overwhelmed by this sense that the day is really about my children. After all, without them, I wouldn't be a father. So their existence is truly the greatest Father's Day gift they could give me.

I'm so in love with them, so grateful for them, and want the best life imaginable for them. So I find in this day that all I really want is to show Lucy and Kalel how grateful I am for them, and how grateful I am for their mom and their little brother Sylar who is only days away from joining us.

My joy is found in bringing them joy. The moment I start thinking they owe me anything is the moment I forget that they are God's gift to me, to love them, and to lead them into his kingdom of light and love and eternal bliss. They owe me nothing, and I owe them a life dedicated to God's dreams for their lives. For that I am infinitely blessed.

So I take today to say Happy Father's Day to my wonderful and beautiful wife Lindsey and my 3 incredible children Lucy, Kalel, and Sylar because I am a father because of them.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Book Review: Solitary by Travis Thrasher

SOLITARY is the story of a teen boy named Chris Buckley who starts at a new school in the strange town of Solitary, North Carolina after his parents get a divorce. Immediately after he begins his new school he's confronted with mystery and conflict. In between trying to stay out of trouble, taking care of his mom who's having nightmares, and avoiding a bully named Gus who has a very powerful father, Chris meets a beautiful and completely mysterious girl named Jocelyn. As the story unfolds, Chris discovers that Jocelyn has many dark secrets that threaten both their lives and that Solitary is a place of oppressive evil. And all of this is connected to a shady pastor and his strange church.

As a reader of nearly everything Thrasher writes, I was really excited when he mentioned that he was releasing a young adult series. SOLITARY was an intense and really great read. I loved the whole story, and I can't wait to dive in to book 2 - GRAVESTONE. It was a top-notch introduction to what is sure to be a great series.

Thrasher mentioned that the TV show LOST was one of the inspirations for the book, and it definitely had that vibe all the way through it. Thrasher introduces many mysterious questions that kept me turning the pages.

The story was told in first person point-of-view, so we get to spend a lot of time in Chris' head. It's interesting place to be. I felt that Thrasher captured the mind of a teen set in the strange circumstances that Chris is in very well. Jocelyn keeps Chris guessing throughout the story. One of the strangest characters in the story is a pastor named Jeremiah Marsh. I'll be interested to learn more about him as the series progresses.

Thrasher knows how to tell a compelling story with spiritual themes throughout. SOLITARY was actually available as a free Kindle download for a couple weeks recently, but I actually read the book last November, and I decided with the new batch of reviews coming, I would add my thoughts on a book I found hard to put down. Especially after the shocking ending.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Book Review: The Blood Book


The year 2004 was the “Year of the Trilogy” for Ted Dekker, as all three books of what was then known as THE CIRCLE TRILOGY came out one right after the other. The story was in the vein of C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia in that it was a creative retelling of the Bible’s redemptive story. THE CIRCLE TRILOGY grew into a collection of interrelated stories called The Books of History Chronicles.

THE CIRCLE TRILOGY was the epic story of a man named Thomas Hunter who found himself bridging two vastly different worlds through his dreams. One moment he’s conscious in his life in Denver, Colorado; the next he’s asleep in that world and conscious in a world recreated by Elyon (an Old Testament name for God). In this world evil in humanity doesn’t exist. They live in perfect community in an extravagant colored forest, following the ways of the Great Romance, which is their sinless and blissful interaction with their loving Creator.

The messengers of their Creator are white bats called the Roush. What evil that does exist is confined across a bridge in a black forest where the agents of evil, black bats with cherry red eyes known as the Shataiki, dwell with their king Teeleh. The humans are forbidden to cross the bridge and eat of the forest’s fruit because it would be the undoing of humanity’s perfect interaction with Elyon. It’s a strange fantasy world, to be sure.

In the midst of this Thomas Hunter introduces an ultimately destructive evil into both worlds—a deadly virus known as the Raison Strain in our world, and humanity’s first fall to evil in the other world. It’s the story of Thomas Hunter’s attempt to rescue both worlds and Elyon’s restoration of the relationship humanity once enjoyed with him.

A few years later, Dekker introduced us to a new series called The Paradise Novels and to an evil character named Marsuvees Black and a little boy known as Billy who seems to be the catalyst of everything Thomas Hunter experienced. The foundation of all the Chronicles is a collection of blank books known as the Books of History. These books have the power to make what is written in them become a reality. They’re both powerful and incredibly dangerous.

As The Books of History Chronicles were released many questions were raised. How does all this connect? What does Billy have to do with the other world? Who is Marsuvees Black and where did he come from? What is the connection between the Roush and the Shataiki? What is Teeleh’s plan to undo humanity? How did Thomas Hunter bridge the worlds? The questions are many.

To give us some insight into the questions, Dekker recently gave us THE BLOOD BOOK: TALES, CONFESSIONS, AND RUMORS OF THE WORLDS. Specifically, he gave 1,000 of his fans a chance at having one of these books through the Share the Love Campaign in preparation for the release of his novel THE PRIEST’S GRAVEYARD. Thankfully, I was one of the 1,000. I loved the Books of History Chronicles because it put flesh to some of the concepts of our redemptive story. But I also wanted the questions answered.

The book is written as if it was compiled by Ba’al, who is the high priest of the Horde in the other world, and, we soon discover, the Billy of the Paradise Novels.

The first part is about the creatures of the other world—the Roush, the Skataiki, and the Albinos who are the followers of Elyon. Ba’al sends a warrior named Mustul into the Black Forest to capture a Skataiki to bring back to the alchemist Grushom to study. Mustul is to also bring back the writings of Marsuuv, a queen of the Shataiki. Mustul pens his experiences of his mission, and then we read Grushom’s account of studying the Shataiki’s nature and structure. The findings are interesting.

We then read Mustul’s account of capturing a Roush, followed by Grushom’s account of studying it. Here we begin to understand the connection between the Roush and the Shataiki.

Finally, the first part closes out with Mustul stealing the journals of Thomas Hunter and Grushom’s study of a human albino.

Dekker reveals at the end of the book that this first part was written by his agent Kevin Kaiser. Kaiser turns out to be a worthy storyteller next to Dekker, and I’ll be excited to read anything of his in the future.

The Second Part, penned by Ted Dekker and another storyteller named Josh Olds begins with what I was most eager for in the book. Ba’al, who is Billy, tells us his secret history, and it is revealing to the whole story I’ve become so wrapped up in.

This is followed by the journal entries of Thomas Hunter. It was great to get back into the mind of this epic character. Thomas muses on the nature and unfortunate hypocrisy of the Christianity of our world and on the nature of Christ’s teachings. Jesus is known as a man named Justin in the other world (much like Jesus is known as Aslan in Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia), and from Thomas’ point of view the people in the other world seem to be more impacted by Jesus than in our world. Though I appreciate Dekker’s viewpoint, this part seemed a little like he was using it as a soapbox, as I’ve heard Dekker talk about the shortcomings of American Christianity many times. Still it’s a challenge to see Jesus more for who he is.

The book closes out with the writings of the Shataiki Queen Marsuuv. Here we learn about Teeleh’s plan to use Thomas Hunter to undo Elyon’s rule, and we also learn Teeleh’s history, closely connected to Satan.

THE BLOOD BOOK was a fun read, especially after reading all of the Books of History Chronicles books and seeing all the connections. Though there are only a thousand copies available, I can’t imagine that Dekker wouldn’t make it available to a larger audience someday. It was a great closer look at the fantasy world that Dekker created in the original CIRCLE TRILOGY.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

God's Dreams

"Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." (Matt. 6:10)

We've all got hopes and dreams of what we want to in life. Dreams of what this world could be like as a result of the things we do. It's interesting that the more genuinely love someone, the more we care about their dreams. Authentic love should cause us to want to make the dreams of the person we love become a reality.

God has hopes and dreams also. God created with dreams of what this world could be. Of what you and I could be. We think our dreams are good, but God's have to be mind-blowing. We dream from a limited vantage point. God is all-knowing, and his dreams would be so good for us if they became a reality.

That's what Jesus tells us to pray for when he says, "Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." It's saying, "God I love you, and I want to see your dreams become a reality."

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Praying and Dreaming

Pray then like this: "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name." (Matt. 6:9)

It seems like an abstract thought. What does "hallowed be your name" mean exactly? As Jesus was telling us how to pray, he wanted us to have an accurate perception of God first. That's why he says to pray, "Our Father."

The idea of Father brings God closer than just merely being God. Like dependent children we're to approach God as we really are-absolutely helpless and in desperate need of him. "Hallowed be your name" means that we see God accurately. When Adam and Eve sinned, they suddenly viewed God as someone to run from rather than run to. God was terribly frightening. It's the same way with us.

God is holy, and that is scary because we aren't, and we can't survive the presence of God. Being holy doesn't make God immeasurably distant, however. Being holy means that God is perfect and completely undivided. God is the most happy being in the universe, finding complete satisfaction within himself because he is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. C.S. Lewis called the Trinity the divine dance, each member generating perfect love to all the others.

Praying to God as Father and realizing we're completely helpless before him is to be caught up in the dance. Our unholiness slowly dies away in the presence of God, and we find our greatest joy in him, even in the midst of chaos.

Mark Batterson says that prayer causes us to dream, and dreaming causes us to pray. To pray, "Father, hallowed be your name," is to see God for who he is and being drawn to him for who he is. It's admiring God as a child lovingly admires her daddy. It's being caught up in a bigger dream than the ones we can create on our own, and yet, because God cares for us a Father, he cares about our dreams.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Book Review: Salvation and Sovereignty by Kenneth Keathley: A MolinistApproach

The battle has been raging for hundreds of years over whether or not humans have a form of free will or if every single event in human history has and is rolling out exactly as God predetermined it. The two sides of this battle have been typically characterized by those who call themselves Calvinists and those who call themselves Arminians. But in his book SALVATION AND SOVEREIGNTY Kenneth Keathley proposes a middle-ground solution to the debate in the form of Molinism, a theological system concerning the nature of God's foreknowledge developed by sixteenth century Jesuit theologian Luis de Molina.

I first heard about Molinism from the writings of Dr. William Lane Craig as I was looking for a better solution to the Divine Sovereignty/Human Responsibility dilemma, and have since read Luis de Molina's original work on the subject - PART 4 of the CONCORDIA.

Molina sought to devise a system that affirmed both man's libertarian freedom and God's meticulous sovereign control. He did this by proposing that God's knowledge was of three different types and that God's knowledge came in three logical (not chronological) moments.

Natural Knowledge is the first moment, and it comes logically before God's creative decree. This knowledge consists of all possibilities. For example, in God's natural knowledge, he knew that it was possible for Adam to not sin in the garden. He also knew that it was possible that he would. These were both possibilities of what Adam "could" do.

Skipping ahead, the third moment is known as God's Free Knowledge. This is God's perfect knowledge of every single thing that will happen in the universe that God created, and this knowledge comes logically after his creative decree. For example, God knows that Adam "will" sin in the garden.

Between these two knowledge moments Molina proposed a moment called Middle Knowledge. This knowledge consists of free choices that a creature would make under any given circumstances. For example, God knows that if he placed Adam in the garden, Adam "would" sin, but if placed under a different set of circumstances, Adam "would" not sin. Either way, Adam's choice would be freely made. This knowledge comes logically before God's creative decree. So God surveys all the free choices that free creatures would make and decides to create the world in which all the circumstances that would bring about the free choices of free creatures that also lined up with his perfect will. Once he creates, the script is set and human history will flow exactly as he wanted it to, and human freedom remains intact. In this model God exercises his meticulous sovereignty using his exhaustive omniscience.

Dr. Keathley presents the Molinist model as an attempt at explaining the Divine Sovereignty/Human Freedom dilemma better than five point Calvinism. He believes, like me, that Calvinism's problems lie in the fact that when followed to its logical conclusion, Calvinism sets God up as the author of evil, though most Calvinists reject the idea. Dr. Keathley appreciates Calvinism's attempt to do justice to God's sovereignty, but believes that Calvinism's TULIP acronym needs to give way to a new acronym - ROSES.

Radical Depravity in place of Total Depravity
Overcoming Grace in place of Irresistible Grace
Sovereign Election in place of Unconditional Election
Eternal Life in place of Perseverance of the Saints
Singular Redemption in place of Limited Atonement

ROSES isn't original to the system of Molinism. Molinism was more of an explanation of how humans could be free and God be in absolute control than a system of the application of salvation. Dr. Keathley, however, takes the ROSES scheme and combines it with the Molinist system to describe why, if God is sovereign and desires the salvation of all mankind, not all are saved.

Though I don't personally buy into Molinism, Dr. Keathley makes an excellent case of it in SALVATION AND SOVEREIGNTY. I can't get past how God choosing which free choices we make doesn't equally lead to God being the author of sin as Calvinism does. One of the strengths of Molinism, however, is the concept of Counterfactuals of Creaturely Freedom. God knows exactly what free choices any person would make under any given circumstances. If a person was under a certain set of circumstances, then that person would make a certain free choice. It's easy to see how God could and would use this knowledge to orchestrate the world to his desired end. However, Molinism places this knowledge in a place where it is essentially useless to God in the course of history because he already decided what each person would do before creating anything. Hence, it doesn't seem that Molinism really retains much human freedom at all.

The reason I do love the book, though, is because Dr: Keathley does an excellent job at presenting a very biblical critique of Calvinism. Each chapter of the ROSES scheme tackles the problems of Calvinism's five points and often presents a better, more biblical solution that leaves God's character intact.

The Radical Depravity chapter presents a view of human freedom called soft libertarianism and shows why Calvinism's freedom to do what one most desires is no real freedom at all.

The Overcoming Grace chapter clearly shows that, biblically, God's grace is resistible and offered to all. Dr. Keathley presents an "ambulatory model" of grace where human beings are responsible not to resist God's grace that is carrying them to salvation. Salvation is all of God and damnation all of man, as Charles Spurgeon put it.

The Sovereign Election chapter was difficult to comprehend. This was the chapter that had the most to do with Molinism. Essentially, it said pretty much the same as Calvinism in that God chooses who will be saved apart from anything the people might do. Given the previous Overcoming Grace chapter, this chapter seemed in contradiction. God offers grace to all, and those who don't resist are saved, but God sovereignly chooses who will be saved before the foundation of the world apart from anything they might do. Dr. Keathley states that in this system God actively uses his foreknowledge in election, but rejects the common Arminian perspective of God's use of foreknowledge in election. He doesn't make real clear how exactly God uses his foreknowledge in election.

Eternal Life essentially affirms the Calvinist position that all genuine believers will persevere.

The Singular Redemption chapter refutes Limited Atonement and shows how Christ died for the sins of all people, but only believers enjoy the benefits of Christ's atonement.

Before these chapters Dr. Keathley includes an excellent chapter on the biblical idea that God desires the salvation of all, and strives to answer why not all are saved even though God wills their salvation. He describes God's will as an antecedent/consequent will. God antecedently wills the salvation of all humanity, but consequently wills that those who resist faith not receive salvation.

As far as Molinism goes, I'm not convinced. But as a thorough examination and correction to much of the problems of Calvinism, Dr. Keathley's book is one I go to again and again. His writing style is warm and without a hint of arrogance. It's clear that Dr. Keathley cares deeply about people and loves God profoundly. Though there was much I disagree with, there was still much in the book that got me thinking in the right direction.