Joel Engle, The Father I Never Had,  Brenham, Tex.: Lucid Books, 2010. $15.

Reading the first chapter of The Father I Never Had before it was published, I initially felt uneasy with the amount of detail that the author Joel Engle gave about himself and his marriage. After reading the rest of the book, however, I realize why Joel is so effective in his ministry. His ministry is about telling others about his God, who works powerfully in his life even through the rough times.

In this book, styled as a memoir, he vividly describes his heartfelt struggles of losing his mother and growing up fatherless, so as to place his readers at those key defining moments, which help him to understand, among many things: that God loves him, that God really does satisfy, and that we can overcome our fears and emptiness by finding ourselves in Christ. Sometimes those lessons come at a high price of emotional turmoil and turbulence, but at every turn, Joel sees Christ as the very equation of life. These are stories that touch and move the soul.

For these past several months, I’ve been a member at the Exchange where Joel is the lead pastor. From the onset, one thing that struck my wife and me was his genuine character, which simply exuded authenticity. He is the same person behind the pulpit as he is out of the pulpit (figuratively speaking, since there is only a table and chair). He is as real as one can get these days. I am delighted to call him my pastor, and believe we need more ministers like him–honest, authentic, driven, and reflective–who continually share the message of hope in Christ, precisely as this book is poised to do.


Nancy Guthrie writes for Crossway.blog, asking “Must we be hurt deeply to be used significantly?”

My husband David remembers sitting in chapel in Bible college when a speaker said that a person can not be used significantly by God until he has been hurt deeply. David also remembers feeling that if significant suffering is what is required to be used significantly by God, then perhaps he would rather not be used.

Most of us who are honest feel the same way. We want to be used by God and we might be willing to suffer some, but we want to determine the timing and intensity and method. The truth is, we want our grand abilities and keen insights to make us usable to God, not our broken hearts and crippling weaknesses.

I’ve heard variations of the same statement David heard in chapel throughout the years, and when putting together a collection of material by classic and contemporary theologians and Bible teachers about suffering for Be Still My Soul: Embracing God’s Purpose and Provision in Suffering, I looked for where this quote might have originated.

I found something similar by A.W. Tozer, included in his book, The Root of the Righteous where he wrote, “It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until he has hurt him deeply.” What I found most intriguing is the context in which Tozer makes the statement. He draws a picture that helps us to see the sense in his hard-hitting proposition…

[read the rest]

Christianity Today discusses why Pope John Paul whipped himself, and offers an explanation from a Catholic perspective, and also includes Peter T. O’Brien‘s thoughts:

So how do Catholics explain self-flagellation, a practice so foreign to Protestants, let alone non-Christians? Several writers have defended the late pope. Writing for the National Catholic Register, Jimmy Akin faults a “pleasure-obsessed culture” for portraying the pope’s behavior as repulsive.

“Self-mortification teaches humility by making us recognize that there are things more important than our own pleasure,” Akin writes. “It teaches compassion by giving us a window into the sufferings of others—who don’t have a choice in whether they’re suffering. And it strengthens self-control. As well as (here’s the big one I’ve saved for last) encouraging us to follow the example of Our Lord, who made the central act of the Christian religion one of self-denial and (in his case) literal mortification to bring salvation to all mankind.”

Indeed, the pope believed suffering brought him closer to Christ, according to Oder. For precedent, the pope appealed to Colossians 1:24, where the apostle Paul writes, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” With no parallel in the New Testament, this verse has vexed biblical commentators for centuries. Surveying the Old Testament apocalyptic literature, Peter O’Brien understands “what is lacking” to mean that God has appointed a measure of suffering before the end comes. Paul’s suffering on behalf of the Colossians, whom he never even met, helped to fill that gap. The suffering he endured for the sake of the gospel in his apostolic ministry united him with other Christians and even Christ himself, who suffered untold anguish on the Cross.

World Magazine’s Blogger Emily Belz points to a Boston Globe article “Obama’s spiritual life takes more private turn”, which says:

“He’ll talk about his Christian faith when it feels right and appropriate, and other times he’s just going to practice his Christian faith through the way he lives his life,’’ said [Joshua] DuBois, a Pentecostal pastor who was Obama’s campaign liaison to faith groups. “It’s not about a political strategy or a communication strategy. It’s about him walking the walk, which is always more valuable than just talking the talk.’’

Spiritual formation in Christ is an orderly process. Although God can triumph in disorder, that is not his choice. And instead of focusing upon what God can do, we must humble ourselves to accept the ways he has chosen to work with us. These are clearly laid out in the Bible, and especially in the words and person of Jesus.

–Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart.

From a review on beliefnet.com:

Should we be glad a man named Eli (means “my God”) risks his life and slaughters many people in order to get the only surviving Bible to a printing press so that others can have access to it? The story opens 30 years after a global, nuclear holocaust; a holocaust sparked by warring religions. Survivors are living in the grim, chaotic and violent remains of civilization. Values are altered so that KFC wet wipes are exchanged as currency and water is extremely scarce. Eli (played by Denzel Washington) is “a walker” who is commissioned by “a voice” to head west to deliver the literary treasure in his possession. In the story, Eli is the good, yet stunningly violent guy. The Christian Science Monitor review labels Eli “a pacifist warrior” meaning that Eli is a peaceful man unless provoked. Eli’s nemesis is Carnegie (played by Gary Oldman) who is collecting books in his desperate search of copy of the Bible. Carnegie, the bad guy, wants the Bible because he believes he can use it to keep ignorant, bewildered people in sheep-like submission to his power. Carnegie seeks to capture the Bible faithfully carried and zealously protected by Eli. With Carnegie and Eli, we are presented with a post-apocalyptic Satan and a very uncharacteristic, gun-slinging, knife-wielding Messiah. Is The Book of Eli a postmodern, cinematic Pilgrim’s Progress? I don’t think so.

HT: @scotmcknight

Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters. By Timothy Keller. New York: Dutton, 2009. 210 pages. Hardback, $19.95.

So, we’ve heard it: idols are everywhere on the rise. Pastors preach about the rise of greed, how Jesus preached against the greed of men for money. These sermons have become stock Sunday service material, beating the same trite, dead horse. Tim Keller, in his latest book Counterfeit Gods, reinvigorates the message of turning away from idols to serving the one and only true God.

Refreshingly, Keller avoids the usual course of fire and brimstone, by allowing the reader to think through a list counterfeit gods. The idols of society are found in romantic love, financial prosperity, need for success, and desire for political power. The present reality is this: Self-worth and esteem are often sought in relationships. When fortunes were lost in the market crisis of 2008-2009, prominent figures on Wall Street committed suicide–a semblance of the crash in the 1930s. There is an endless need for money. Only 2% of Americans consider themselves wealthy; the rest are upwardly driven as members of the middle class. Keller provides a candid assessment of the kind of thinking that prevails in our culture. The problem is idolatry, which admittedly is an inevitable part of the human condition.

The idols cannot be just expelled; it must be replaced. Keller writes: “The human heart’s desire for a particular valuable object may be conquered, but its need to have some such object is unconquerable.” Christ’s sufficiency replaces the need to worship the idol of success and the idols of the world: “Only when we see that Jesus, our great Suffering Servant, has done for us will we finally understand God’s salvation does not require us to do ‘some great thing.'” This is the point, which Keller drives home.


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