Monday, May 11, 2020

The Place of Dependence

We live in a strange world, a world which presents us with tremendous contrasts. The high and the low, the great and the small, the sublime and the ridiculous, the beautiful and the ugly, the tragic and the comic, the good and the evil, the truth and the lie, these all are heaped up in unfathomable interrelationship. The gravity and the vanity of life seize on us in turn. Now we are prompted to optimism, then to pessimism. Man weeping is constantly giving way to man laughing. The whole world stands in the sign of humor, which has been well described as a laugh in a tear.1 

Herman Bavinck may have have written those sentences 111 years ago, but he could be describing the present. Life as we know it has changed drastically for the entire world. Every level of society has been impacted, and what we once knew may never return. I am more aware than I have ever been of the complex tangle of human lives, basic needs, information, and decisions that are "heaped up in unfathomable interrelationship."

In March, two pastors on Twitter asked if Christians would be willing to fast and pray for an hour on Friday afternoons regarding the coronavirus. I was gung-ho the first two weeks and eager to pray. The hour passed quickly as I prayed for everyone and everything I could think of. But as the weeks passed, the number of situations and people needing prayer seemed to grow exponentially. When the last prayer time rolled around, I began to think of government employees from national to local levels, medical staff and researchers, essential workers, the unemployed, the elderly, those with compromised health or mental illness, and the list went on and on. All these people so dependent on each other.  Some have positions of authority with decision-making power over many. But there are others previously overlooked who we are literally depending upon for our daily bread. So many people. So many lives. Any attempt to untangle these interrelationships would inevitably result in harm to someone because this is a no-win situation. These thoughts were too overwhelming, so I had to give way to the tears and lament that had been building up inside. The only words left to pray were, "Lord, you know."

In our inmost selves, we are immediately  -- without benefit of reasoning, that is, and prior to all reasoning -- conscious of ourselves as created, limited, dependent beings. We are dependent upon everything around us, upon the whole spiritual and material world. Man is a "dependent" of the universe. And further, he is dependent, together with other created things, and dependent this time in an absolute sense, on God who is the one, eternal, and real being.2

If our sole dependence rested on other fallible human beings, we would have good reason to fear. There is a limit to the best wisdom, knowledge, and skill any person can offer, and that "best" is still tainted with sin. But there is Someone greater, wiser, and more powerful undergirding our interrelationships and interdependence on each other. Someone on whom we truly depend. He is not the watchmaker god of the deists who winds the timepiece and observes what will happen from afar. Our God sees perfectly and judges righteously. His purpose will not waiver and neither will his love. He took on humanity that he might redeem us, purchasing pardon with his death and providing righteousness with his life.

As his children, we have an open invitation to the throne of grace. We are welcome to pour out our hearts in petition, but we are also free to come when we are too overwhelmed to even know what to pray.  We can come to the end of our rope and the end of ourselves in this place of dependence. A place where Christ accepts a feeble, "Lord, you know," and gives us assurance that he does.

For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Heb. 4:15-16 NASB

1. The Wonderful Works of God, Herman Bavinck, Westminster Seminary Press, 2019, pg. 29.
2. Ibid. pg. 27.
Photo attribution: Paulo Barcellos Jr. / CC BY-SA (

Monday, April 27, 2020

Review: Becoming Sage

Becoming Sage: Cultivating Meaning, Purpose, and Spirituality in Midlife by Michelle Van Loon, Moody Publishers, 2020, 201 pages.

When I was a young adult, I had dreams of what life would be like after the next 30-40 years. Now that I have reached this stage, hardly any of those expectations turned out as I had hoped. I could either be thrown for a loop or see this as an opportunity to grow. And this pursuit of Christian maturity in midlife is the topic of Michelle Van Loon's new book, Becoming Sage.

She writes that we often get the wrong idea that maturity is a given once we reach a certain age. We also get the wrong idea that discipleship is only for the young. But "maturity is not a destination but an on-going process." (pg. 10) This time of life with its disappointments and unexpected turn of events is an invitation to become sage - "a way of life in which a person expresses experience, knowledge, insight, and self-mastery." (pg. 11)

In the first section of the book, Michelle addresses defining and understanding maturity. Midlife is an opportunity to assess our Christian growth and see where we may have gotten lopsided. She describes discipleship models that emphasize one aspect of ourselves over the others leaving us imbalanced. For example, discipleship that is more imitation fueled by peer pressure or an overemphasis on mental knowledge that neglects character formation. However, true wisdom should be holistic and integral to all areas of our lives -  heart, soul, mind, and strength. She then uses the life of King David as an example of stages in our faith from its beginning through the end of life. As we age, the zeal, energy, and certainty of youth begin to be tested when our growth doesn't follow a neat and tidy trajectory. We also begin to realize that the strength of a younger faith won't automatically give us success later in life. But these challenges can bring humility, greater communion with God, and the desire to pass on what we know to the next generation.

The second section of the book focuses on becoming sage in specific areas in midlife and beyond. These are:

  • the local church
  • family
  • friendship
  • our physical bodies
  • our legacy (financial and otherwise)
  • mental health
  • vocation
  • facing our mortality

Within these topics, Michelle discusses issues such as finding one's place in a youth-focused church, the loss of a spouse and other family changes, loneliness, aging bodies, and financial challenges. She also addresses the importance of emotional health for our spiritual well-being and coming to terms with our callings.

Becoming Sage is not a to-do list or how to become a mature believer in 12 steps. Neither does the author make her experience prescriptive for her readers, which I greatly appreciate. Rather Michelle brings to our attention areas that are worth examining before the Lord in the light of his Word. Some of these are often overlooked when it comes to discipleship such as the challenge of aging bodies and the struggles of mental health. I especially liked chapter 9, From Doing to Being, on vocation. I could relate to her example of looking too often in the mirror of other people's expectations to discern direction for one's life. I was also encouraged that God does not waste any of our losses and that what moves us to tears may help clarify our callings. There was a good balance of personal examples and topic content, and the chapters flowed well together. Even though one isn't supposed to judge a book by its cover, I think the cover is beautiful.

So if you want to be encouraged to press on to spiritual growth in midlife, I highly recommend Becoming Sage.

Loving God heart, soul, mind, and strength is not separated into four different-but-related silos of our lives. Each is meant to be integrated so our one-and-only life is lived in growing communion with God. Becoming sage means becoming whole. (pg. 29)

I received a copy of this book from Moody Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. 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."

Monday, April 13, 2020

Lessons from the Empty Nest

I read a book a few years ago, Unashamed by Heather Nelson, that undid me. Her chapter on parenting and shame deeply convicted me, and I went to my daughter in tears asking for her forgiveness. That undoing was the beginning of a positive change in our relationship. Better communication, better listening, and better understanding along with the help of a great Christian counselor. We're still learning and growing, but I am also aware of the times when I failed her and probably contributed to some of the issues she is presently dealing with. This knowledge is one of the reasons why I want to swoop in and make things all right thinking that perhaps I can make it up to her and undo the past.

This very issue came up in a recent conversation when I was beginning to worry about her, though I said nothing. Thankfully, my daughter could read between the pauses and picked up on my fear. She called me out to her credit. When I finally admitted that my desire to try to help her stemmed from wanting to make up for the past, she reminded me that I can't atone for myself. And she also gently reminded me that's why I need Jesus.

The gospel is the only remedy for mom guilt. I can't atone for my sins as a parent, which is why Jesus died. I could never be the perfect Christian parent, which is why Jesus lived. And his atoning work and righteousness revealed apart from the law is received by faith - in him - alone.

As hard as I tried and still try to be a good mom, God is her perfect parent, the all-wise, all-loving Father who is really responsible for all the details of her life. I will fail again, but He cannot. I will misjudge and misunderstand, but He sees and knows perfectly. My presence and influence are limited now. He never leaves nor forsakes. He restores. He renews. And the only way she could be disinherited is if her Father becomes displeased with the work of the Son.1 As a middle-aged empty-nester, I need that fatherly care just as much.

They say you never outgrow being a parent. Well, you never outgrow being a child of God.

1. If you want to be encouraged, here are some messages on the doctrine of adoption. The source of that sentence is from the first talk by my pastor. (My struggles came to light the evening after the conference when adoption was fresh in my mind. God is so kind.)

(This post was originally shared on my personal blog in September 2019)

Friday, September 13, 2019

Five Star Links

Each Friday, we share links we found especially interesting or inspiring during the previous week. 


As human beings, we are body and soul, and our souls include thinking and emotion. However, it is easy to pit one against the other, and we become imbalanced. That's why I appreciated this article by Brian Borgman - "God Cares About How You Feel". Rather than elevating vs. suppressing our emotions, God is restoring them. 
Our emotions received the fatal infection of original sin and a fallen human nature. Like a few drops of dye into a pitcher of water, every molecule of our nature has been colored by the toxic dye of sin. Emotions, which were designed to be good and work in tandem with the mind and will, now either dominate or become dormant. On the one hand, they can dominate our thinking so that what controls us is how we feel, how we determine what is true is based on how we feel, and how we relate to others is based on how we feel about them. The chaos of such life can be painful. On the other hand, trying to ignore or repress our emotions (and be like a Star Trek Vulcan rather than a human) is also a recipe for disaster. Truth and beauty in God and in life become black and white, and we fail to be whole people. What we need in our mangled humanity is full restoration.


Lamentations is one book of the Bible that I haven't spent a lot of time in. But this piece made me want to change that: How to Read Lamentations Theologically. Or, to put it another way: What does Lamentations teach us about God?

As I was searching for this link, I found a similar piece from a few years ago: Can Your Theology Handle the Book of Lamentations?
If you can’t handle the themes and trajectories of Lamentations then you can’t handle the gospel. Every thread in this book is divinely stitched to Calvary. 
Therefore, take up and read Lamentations!
Now I really want to!

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Review: Not Forsaken

Not Forsaken: A Story of Life After Abuse, Jennifer Michelle Greenberg, The Good Book Company, 2019, 232 pages.

Not Forsaken by Jennifer Michelle Greenberg began as series of letters to her husband to try to explain the trauma and emotional, mental, and physical aftermath of her child abuse. She also wrote for her own understanding of herself and to try to make sense of what she endured. Those letters became this book, and I am so glad she wrote it for the rest of us.

The book begins with memories from Jenn's childhood. Painful memories of fear and betrayal. But also memories of crying out to God to be the father she did not really have. These recollections, while written with discretion, are raw and a window into the abuse she suffered at the hands of her father who was a professing Christian.

The subsequent chapters work through the questions that she had to come to terms with. Was she really abused? Does Jesus understand? Jenn also deals with the issues of trauma, which she describes as a "concussion of the heart," self harm, guilt, and more. The misunderstanding that victims endure regarding reporting, the fear of not being believed, and pain of being doubted are eye-opening especially for readers who haven't suffered abuse. Also basic concepts like being made in God's image, the fatherhood of God, and love itself have been so distorted that they needed to be learned perhaps for the first time. Jenn's chapter on forgiveness is one of the best that I have ever read. She upholds the grace of God for sinners in balance with the need for repentance, God's justice, and care for the victims.

I had a hard time putting the book down once I started reading it, although there were times I had to pause and cry. Jenn's writing is candid, powerful, and full of hope in the God who did not forsake her. In her reflections, she sometimes incorporates the stories of other survivors but always draws her conclusions from the Word of God. While Not Forsaken isn't meant to be prescriptive or a clinical manual, it provides spiritual and practical insight on how to support and not add to the hurt through ignorance or misunderstanding.

I strongly recommend Not Forsaken. If you are a victim/survivor, you will find a compassionate friend who has walked a similar path. If you are a church leader or anyone who cares about the suffering of others, this book is for you, too. It will help you to better love and support the child abuse victim/survivor who may be in your family, next door, or in the next pew.

I received a copy of this book from The Good Book Company. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. 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."