review

Review: I Trust When Dark My Road

I Trust When Dark My Road: A Lutheran View of Depression
by Todd A. Peperkorn

Pastor Peperkorn was a pastor. That meant he should have everything together. That meant he shouldn’t struggle with things like depression. And then his life fell apart. On Good Friday, he considered suicide even as he considered Jesus’s death for him. How could something like this happen to a pastor? In I Trust When Dark My Road Pastor Peperkorn writes his true story of struggling with depression while in the ministry while addressing the topic from a confessional Lutheran standpoint. Each chapter ends with a prayer and discussion questions.

This week I’ve read four books dealing with depression from different angles (see the last reviews I’ve posted this past month). This book by far shows me Jesus best. While it didn’t touch my emotions as much as Courage, Dear Heart, it encouraged me the most. While a large chunk of that is the determined focus on Jesus, a large part of it is that my journey mirrored Peperkorn’s, at least in part. I understood exactly where he was coming from, though my depression was not nearly as debilitating. My depression could have been that bad so, so easily, though. (more…)

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Review: When God Becomes My Enemy

When God Becomes My Enemy: The Theology of the Complaint Psalms
by Ingvar Floysvik

And then there are the times that God attacks. There are the times when God has disappeared when he’s needed. There are the times when he is silent. And there are the times when he leads the onslaught on your life. What then? In When God Becomes My Enemy, Ingvar Floysvik (The o’s supposed to have a line through it but I can’t figure out how to do that) walks through psalms that wrestle with this seeming discrepancy between how God speaks about himself and how he acts. How did the ancient Hebrews deal with it? What can we learn?

First off, this is a professional book. Large chunks of the book are text studies of the original Hebrew. It includes quotes in Greek, German, and French, as well as English. The Hebrew and the Greek I could follow, but I had to skip the German and French quotations and I do feel like I missed out because of that.

Floysvik does a fantastic job analyzing the psalms in question. He doesn’t go in depth with every psalm that wrestles with God’s enmity, but he picks Psalms 6, 44, 74, 88, and 90. (I was a little disappointed he didn’t tackle Psalm 13, a personal favorite of mine, but he does address it as one of the complaint psalms.) He shows a dangerous truth: God will at least seemingly turn even on those who listen to him and obey him. This seems complete at odds with who God is. Isn’t he supposed to protect those who trust him? (more…)

Review: Courage, Dear Heart

Courage, Dear Heart: Letters to a Weary World
by Rebecca K. Reynolds

The world is broken. I am broken. In so many ways, I recognize what is wrong with me, in me, and around me. Into this setting Rebecca Reynolds pens nine letters of encouragement, of understanding, of heaving deep sighs with you and for you. She brings comfort that is not surface as she points to true Comfort.

This little book sighs with comfort. The first letter had me in tears.

Before M [the author’s adopted son], I didn’t understand what fierce love God holds for those he has adopted into his family. I didn’t realize that when he pursues us,he knows all our damage and our defects – and he knows exactly where we rank on every system humans use to determine our value. He stars straight into all of the world’s opinions of us and yet proclaims that we are the wanted ones. No matter how anybody has let us down, hurt us, forgotten us, we are still longed for and beloved children. (39, emphasis in original)

Reynolds excels at using story to illuminate and make new truths that I have known for many years. The opening letter about rejection begins with a retelling of Jacob and his wives from Leah’s perspective. I hurt for her as I never had before. We hear about the history of Reynold’s adopted son. We hear about friends struggling with cancer. And throughout, Reynolds brings comfort. (more…)

Review: When Darkness Seems My Closest Friend

When Darkness Seems My Closest Friend: Reflections on life and ministry with depression
by Mark Meynell

Depression defies description. When in the midst of darkness, finding words to grasp doesn’t work well. Mark Meynell attempts to chart a course through depression, talking about its causes, what the experience is like, and how he has so far survived it. He also talks about how is depression changed his ministry forever.

This is an emotional book. Meynell walked me into his cave, and I saw so many reflections of my own depression. His takes a different form, but there were enough similarities I was shaken more than once. He takes more than half of the book describing what depression is like, describing shame, guilt, wanting to be invisible, longing for intimacy and fearing it all at once. While this part of the book wasn’t particularly useful for me, I think it could be very useful for someone trying to grasp either their own depression or that of a friend.

I appreciated that throughout this section of the book, Meynell repeatedly turns to God’s promises for comfort. He’s blunt in saying that repeating these promises rarely help in the season of darkness. He also talked about all the ways so many people try to help that actually hurt during those seasons. Meynell also outlines how to actually help someone who is going through a season of darkness.

In that same section, he also points to numerous psalms. I cheered more than once at his choices as psalms that have also comforted me and gave me a voice. He points out that by simply including the psalms, God legitimizes the wrestling. After all, if God didn’t want us talking about the darkness we experience, he wouldn’t have included it in his Word! (One minor point: his treatment of Psalm 22 may indicate that he does not believe it to be Messianic prophecy, but that may simply be picky reading on my part.)

The last few chapters focus on how depression affects the ministry. The book before this was good but not anything that made me say, “This book is amazing.” The last chapter, though, hit home in all the right ways. He talks about why depression can even help ministry:

He is unashamed of his weakness. Why? It is because his strength, as well as his identity and purpose, all derive from the security he has discovered in Christ. Christ brings the forgiveness for his guilt, the acceptance that heals his shame, the strength that assuages his insecurities. Paul does not derive his sense of worth, nor understand his identity, from either his role in ministry, or from afflictions and weakness. In short, the thorn keeps him humble, while God’s grace frees him from pretense. … If I can put it starkly, we should learn to do weakness and failure well. (180)

I have found that for as much of the weight of the curse I feel when depression strikes, it has forced me to rely on Christ and not myself. I find that my ability to love those around me increases, as I am not holding them to a higher standard of what should be, but can be broken with them. Meynell addresses all these concerns, and it’s good to know I am not alone.

He also wrestles with whether or not ministers should be open with their depression, and he urges ministers to be cautiously open. Don’t air all your dirty laundry, but at least your leadership should know where you struggle. That transparency often brings people closer together, and shows that you rely on Jesus as much as you urge everyone else to. I am thankful for his arguments here.

The appendices of the book may be worth the price of the book by themselves. Meynell sums up the need for self care and some ways to do it, also listing resources that are easily found online. Then he lists books, albums, and poetry that have all aided him. This list comes with great notes. I plan on ordering a number of the books he talked about. He lists two pages of classical songs that express his darkness and hope. He even includes some of his own poetry here.

While this book wasn’t groundbreaking for me, it was well, well worth my time. If you want to understand depression, either your own or someone else’s, better, look this book up. It will give you a vocabulary to wrestle with reality while also pointing you to the hope you have in Christ.

Review: Messy Spirituality

Messy Spirituality: God’s Annoying Love for Imperfect People
by Michael Yaconelli

Is your life messier than it seems like a Christian’s should be? In Messy Spirituality, Michael Yaconelli shows that Christians lives are meant to be messy, because we’re messy people. Rather than pretending we have it all put together, it’s good to live in the messes and praise God for forgiveness. Through several short chapters and a number of emotional examples, Yaconelli demonstrates that Christianity really is messy.

I picked this book up because of the subtitle. I love that phrasing and may well steal it. Unfortunately, the book focuses less on God’s love and more on how we’re messy and that’s ok. The author waffles a lot when it comes to sin and any theological distinctions, leaving a marshmallowy mess that could have been so, so much more comforting. (more…)

Review: Moses

Moses: God’s Deliverance
by Mark R. Bitter

God used him to deliver Israel from Egypt. That part of his story has been told in countless movies (not always well). What does the Bible say about him? What about the rest of his life? What was it all about? Mark Bitter writes this short book to show us that Moses was all about pointing to Jesus.

This book breathes Gospel, and I appreciated it so much. Bitter shows many ways that Moses points ahead to Jesus, who wouldn’t be born for about another 1500 years. Bitter talks about Passover, the cloud of the Glory of the Lord, the bronze serpent, and many other instances in Moses’ life that illustrated how God would ultimately save his people. He brings in New Testament verses to show how Jesus and the New Testament writers valued Moses.

But it’s not just the theology that’s strong here. The prologue made me nervous that this volume would read like a textbook. Nope! Just the prologue! The chapters make good use of storytelling to make different aspects of the story come alive. I greatly appreciated how much Bitter used this teaching tactic.

However, Moses’s story takes up four books of the Bible. This book is only about forty pages long. And that means some things are left on the cutting room floor. I’d love for Bitter to be able to write a full-length account of Moses’s life, but this little book ain’t it. All of Exodus is brought down to less than ten pages. I understand the length requirements, and in this case Bitter did very well with the space given. I suppose if I’m hungry for more, that’s an indication that he wrote well.

I wonder if the compression would leave someone with less knowledge of Moses more confused than not, though. Bitter doesn’t seem to assume knowledge; it’s just that compression means you have to leave off details, you know?

Previous volumes in this series (God’s People) have made use of sidebars; not every one made good use of them. This volume, however, makes some connections in the sidebars I never had before. For example, there’s one sidebar on the cloud of the Glory of the Lord and how it appears in Scripture. I appreciated that list, and will be making use of it in the future!

Overall, this is another successful addition to the God’s People series and well, well worth your time to read.

Review: Grow a Pair

Grow a Pair
by Jim Burgen and Scott Nickell

Men in our culture have a problem. They’re not men. They’re little boys pretending to be men. They either think masculinity is wrong and they give it up, or they twist it to become monsters. Many churches seem to teach that men have to stop being men if they’re going to be Christian. In Grow a Pair, Pastors Jim Burgen and Scott Nickell take a look at four biblical examples of men and how each demonstrated mastery or lack of pairs of qualities that makes men, men.

The authors picked a good assortment of men to check out. They look through the accounts of Joseph, Samson, David, and Boaz. The retellings of each story keeps pretty tight to the biblical narrative while using modern parlance. I appreciated that, as a way to stress the depth of sin and the height of God’s grace, they didn’t shy away from how sinful each example could be. In each example, the author also notes how they would have struggled in each case. In fact, after wrapping up Boaz’s story and talking about how he’s included in Jesus’s geneology, the authors write, “ You think your family is jacked up? You’ve got nothing on Jesus’s family” (147)! I appreciated this aspect of the book. (more…)

Review: Meet Generation Z

Meet Generation Z
by James Emery White

Millennials are important, but they’re no longer the largest generation. That would be Generation Z, those born from 1993 to 2012. They are the first truly post-Christian generation in the West, and they will change how churches speak and do evangelism. Who are these people who are already changing our culture, and what should churches do?

Most of this book is fantastic. It uses population and census data along with some well-researched surveys to show how the upcoming generation is different than previous generations. It highlights the differences between Generation Z and Millennials, showing that churches that are going after Millennials may well miss the next generation. It makes fantastic applications of this information, as well.

For instance, the book shows that the majority of those who are Generation Z have not even heard of the shadow of the Gospel. That changes how we do evangelism; we cannot assume any base of knowledge. “The heart of any evangelistic process is going to have to major in explanation. Everything must be explained, from music to messages, symbols to ritual, because so little is understood” (110, emphasis in original). I have to admit that the book is really preaching to the choir with me on this particular point, but I think it needs to be stated over and over again. As someone who moved recently, I think I drove the PTA president up a wall because I kept asking what certain things were that he assumed everyone knew. Sorry, I’m new here! And how much more frustrating if the place doing it is a church! (more…)

Review: Putting Amazing back into Grace

Putting Amazing back into Grace
by Michael Horton, Foreword by J. I. Packer

Grace is boring. The Gospel doesn’t work. We need something new! Something that actually connects with our lives!

Well… no. In Putting Amazing back into Grace, author Michael Horton shows that grace is exactly what is needed by showing how amazing it really is. He goes in depth, starting before the creation of the world and demonstrates how amazing God’s love is. He digs into the utter depravity of man and leads us to ever deeper wonders as we gasp out how amazing God’s grace is.

This book is amazing, except when it’s not. Horton’s Christless Christianity is a book I highly recommend. It diagnoses the problem that many modern American churches have: there is no Christ there. Here, Horton digs deeper into the Gospel. I was ready to love this book. Except Horton is a Calvinist, and that leaning is on full display. (more…)

Review: Do Hard Things

Do Hard Things
By Alex & Brett Harris; Foreword by Chuck Norris

Teens have been deceived. The teenage years aren’t the time to party and be kids. They’re the launchpad for the rest of your life. “The teen years are not a vacation from responsibility… They are the training ground of future leaders who dare to be responsible now” (13). In Do Hard Things, Alex and Brett Harris explain why so many teens have bought the lie and how they can make a difference – by doing hard things. Join the rebelution.

For what this book is, I’m pretty impressed. Two teens (nineteen when they wrote the book) talk about how low expectations have shackled their age group, and how to get past it. They talk about how the entire idea of “Teenage years” is so new, and in the past people the ages of thirteen and older were adults tasked with very adult responsibilities… and they changed the world. They share the stories of Clara Barton and George Washington. They point to how we often live up or down to the expectations put before us. (more…)