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Adult non-fiction

How does a Christian live in the midst of suffering?

A book summary of Kelly Kapic's Embodied Hope **** Pain and suffering require good theology because often, during intense pain of any kind, the whole question of how God’s sovereignty and goodness relate becomes intensely personal. Often Psalm 92:15 – The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him – becomes a very difficult confession. Is God really good? Sometimes it’s an arrogant question, but when there’s suffering it is often something entirely different. In Embodied Hope: A Theological Meditation on Pain and Suffering, Reformed theologian Kelly Kapic considers physical pain and discusses “how a Christian might live in the midst of suffering.” That is, ultimately, what those in pain need, far more than abstract theories of the problem of suffering. THE NEED TO KNOW GOD AND KNOW THE SUFFERER Kapic, a professor with a wife who suffers severe chronic pain, insists that to help others with pain we need both pastoral sensitivity and theological insight. Without careful study of who God is – without theology – we often head into psychology and moralism. Conversely, without loving and knowing the sufferer, we may end up with harsh principles. Kapic’s deep understanding of the gospel, and of pain, and of the writings of godly men like Augustine, Athanasius, Luther, Calvin, and Bonhoeffer, enable him to explores how hope and lament are intertwined. He discusses how we can deal with the fact that God’s good creation has been compromised, how we experience that as we suffer, how to lament that biblically, and how God’s faithfulness ultimately shapes biblical lament. Vigorously rejecting the ancient and still common idea that the body and its pain are not important, Kapic points out that God created our bodies as well as our souls. Our bodies are essential to our identity as individuals, they are essential to our relationships, and essential to our worship. And all of that is tied to Jesus Christ, who is hope embodied, hope made physical. Jesus is the answer to the sufferer’s questions and he is God’s solution to the brokenness of the universe. Because of him our sufferings are not the final word, nor are pain, aging, forgotten memories, or death. 2017 / 192 pages GOD GIVES US EACH OTHER However, it is not only our individual relationship to Jesus Christ that counts; our relationships in the body of Christ are also vital. In fact, suffering shows how essential the body of Christ is to each member. Kapic states that we are in essence “members of a larger body, and thus also inherently unstable when isolated.” If this is true in general, it is even more important when someone is suffering. Being is pain is not a safe place to be alone. Lonely pain opens up temptations to despair, to dwelling on already-forgiven sins, and to questioning God’s care. A Christian who suffers chronic pain alone is vulnerable to Satan’s attacks, but a Christian who suffers in the body of Christ is, ideally, carried and encouraged by the faith, hope, and love of other believers. For example, when Luther was ill, he begged prayers from his friends that he would be saved “from blasphemy, doubt and distrust of his loving God.” Even so, sufferers must not ultimately look to other believers but to God’s revelation in Christ, since all faith, hope, and love “must ultimately point to and come from the triune God, and not merely from the communion of saints.” BEING THERE Of course, believers need to learn how to come along side those in pain. We often just want to help and, while this can be very important, our goal should not be to “fix” the other person. Rather we must learn to accept that pain is real and that the suffering person often just needs someone to be there. It can be very hard to watch someone suffer, and many people feel helpless and want to run away. Instead, we need to learn to share God’s love, perhaps with a glass of cold water, or a card, or a smile, or perhaps with endless hours of simply being there, suffering faithfully together, listening, honestly accepting the pain, and pointing to Christ, together. Just as the suffering person needs other believers, so other believers need sufferers. In loving and being loved by sufferers, those who are well are reminded that they, too, are poor and in need of God's grace. Otherwise it can become easy to imagine that they are self-sufficient and deserve their wellness because of how faithful they have been. Furthermore, those who suffer are uniquely able to witness that, though troubles are real, “God is unflinchingly faithful.” And, as Kapic points out, sufferers, too, have a responsibility. They can encourage and serve those who are well by loving them and being grateful and compassionate. They “need to beware of abusing others.” “Those dealing with a great deal of pain often have to work hard to avoid self-absorption and cultivate neighbor love. It takes intentionality. It takes a missional focus. But it can be life-giving.” CONCLUSION In Embodied Hope Kapic, as the husband of a wife with chronic pain, shares many practical insights. Yet he always comes around to this: “Beloved, amid the trials and tribulations of life, let us have confidence not in ourselves, not in our own efforts, but in God. This God has come in Christ, and he has overcome sin, death, and the devil. While we may currently be walking through the shadow of death, may our God’s love, grace, and compassion become ever more real to us. And may we, as the church, participate in the ongoing divine motions and movements of grace as God meets people in their need." This book has helped me come to terms with the fact that chronic suffering exists and has given me insight for supporting my daughter. I think it will be a blessing to every Christian who suffers physical pain or who loves someone who does, and I strongly recommend it. Embodied Hope would be a great addition to a church library, as well. Annie Kate Aarnoutse reviews books at Tea Time With Annie Kate where this first appeared....

Adult non-fiction, Pro-life - Euthanasia

SPEAKING AGAINST SUICIDE: a summary review of "A Guide to Discussing Assisted Suicide"

Do you find it harder to make the case against euthanasia than against abortion? That might be, in part, because we have less experience – abortion has been legal in Canada since 1969, and euthanasia only since 2016. Also, in abortion, we have victims who need advocates because they can’t speak for themselves, whereas in euthanasia the victims are also the perpetrators. How do you help someone who doesn’t want to be helped – who wants to die? And consider how, in euthanasia, many of the cases involve terminal illnesses, and so have the same emotional tension as the hardest cases – those involving rape and incest – have in the abortion debate. That’s why it’s more difficult. JUST TWO OPTIONS But, just as in the abortion debate, the key is to first find the central issue. With abortion, the main question is, "Who is the unborn?" There are only two options. If the unborn is not human, there is no justification needed for “its” surgical removal. But if the unborn is human, then no justification is sufficient for killing him or her. As in Blaise Alleyne and Jonathan Van Maren’s explain in their new book, A Guide to Discussing Assisted Suicide Similarly, the crux of opposition to euthanasia can also be boiled down to just one question: How do we help those who are feeling desperate enough to want to kill themselves? And again, there are only two options: either we prevent suicide, or we assist it. Alleyne and Van Maren have given us a wonderful tool in this book. Their extensive experience in the pro-life movement is evident as they start by framing the debate. If we’re going to be effective, pro-lifers need to understand the three possible positions that people hold on this issue. They are: the split position – we should prevent some suicides while helping others the total choice position – anyone who wants to commit suicide should be helped to do so and the pro-life position – all life is precious, and all suicides are tragic THE SPLIT POSITION So how do we respond to the split position? Van Maren and Alleyne say that it is the job of pro-life apologetics is to show the split position’s inherent inconsistency. Suicide is tragic sometimes, but to be celebrated other times? The authors then give ways to counter the reasons often used to justify some suicides, given by the acronym QUIT for: Quality of life Unbearable suffering Incurable condition Terminal prognosis They spend 20 pages showing why these are fallacious reasons, so I can’t properly sum up their argument in just a line or two, but one underlying flaw to these justifications for suicide is that they are based on ageism and ableism. So in much the same way we can expose the inadequacy of many justification for abortion by bringing out an imaginary "two-year-old Timmy" (“What if the mother was too poor to have a baby?” “Would that be a good reason to kill Timmy?”) in the assisted suicide debate we can bring out an imaginary able-bodied 19-year-old. If someone opposes this 19-year-old committing suicide, why is it that they are fine with that 90-year-old doing so? Or that wheelchair bound lass? We can expose them for being ageist and ableist – treating people as less worthy of life based on their age or ability – and show them it is wrong to assist the suicide of anyone, of any age or level of health because as the authors put it, "suicide is a symptom , not a solution." TOTAL CHOICE Next, the authors take on those are (sadly) willing to be consistent and advocate total choice for all who desire to be assisted in ending their lives. Our only response is to insist that the suicidal need love even more than they need argument. THE SOCIAL CONSEQUENCES The fourth chapter shows how dangerous it is to accept either the split or the total choice position, because they have always involved a slippery slope toward more and more assisted killings they reduce the willingness to prevent suicide they undermine the morale of everyone who works in any facility that provides suicide assistance THE PRO-LIFE POSITION Finally, the authors show the pro-life position. We know, on the one hand, that life is a gift from God, so it is not to be thrown away, but on the other, that all life ends, and because of Jesus we need not fear death. So the pro-life position is not about continuing life at all costs. It allows for: the refusal of burdensome treatment the use of pain medication, even when that risks hastening death, as long as the intent of such medication is to alleviate pain rather than to kill The pro-life position also offers positive responses to the suicidal: psychological health resources, pain management, palliative care, and dignity therapy. The authors end with two pleas: "Let death be what takes us, not lack of imagination." In other words, may no-one ever have their death hastened because we refuse to imagine how we may show more compassion. "As people who believe in the dignity and value of every human life, it is our responsibility to.... persuade people that assisted suicide is wrong." In their Guide to Discussing Assisted Suicide Alleyne and Van Maren have done an admirable job of giving us the tools to carry out that responsibility. Given the urgency of the push toward euthanasia in both Canada and U.S., we need to read this book. “A Guide for Discussing Assisted Suicide” can be ordered at lifecyclebooks.com (where you can also find the option to buy in bulk for your pro-life group or circle of friends at greatly reduced prices)....

Adult non-fiction

BOOK REVIEW: Paul Tripp's "Parenting: The 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family"

What’s the best passage in the Bible about parenting? Maybe some will say Ephesians 6:1-4. Others will point to Deuteronomy 6:4-9. Paul Tripp has his own suggestion about a helpful parenting passage. But he also wants us to realize that the Bible isn’t meant as a topical resource to consult when we have specific questions or difficulties. We probably sometimes wish that that’s how the Bible was organized: if you’re angry, turn to this text; if you’re lonely, read this one. And if you want good advice about raising your strong-willed kids, read this. The Bible isn’t written as a topical study, addressing the daily issues which concern us. From beginning to end it’s a story, where God is telling us about His great work of salvation through his Son. And so nearly every text in the Bible reveals something about God, or about ourselves, or about sin, or grace through Christ, or life in this world, or our calling. This broad scope means that almost every passage in the Bible has something to say that relates to the many diverse areas of your life, including your job as a parent. This is the kind of “big picture” perspective that Tripp teaches in his book Parenting. He doesn’t provide ten practical steps for raising nicer kids. He doesn’t share how-to strategies for the challenges of boundaries and discipline. Instead, he wants to reorient the very way that we look at parenting. What are we really trying to do in our homes? What are our chief goals? And what’s the one foundational thing that parents and children need, so much more than good manners, civilized dinner times, and open communication? THE WAY OF GRACE The subtitle of Tripp’s book says a lot about his approach: “The 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family.” He argues that the better way of parenting – the only way – is the “way of grace,” or the way of the gospel of Christ. That sounds vague, but then follow fourteen chapters exploring principles of how God’s grace is worked out in the parenting task. For example, Principle 1 is, “Nothing is more important in your life than being one of God’s tools to form a human soul.” Or Principle 5, “If you are not resting as a parent in your identity in Christ, you will look for identity in your children.” And Principle 11, “You are parenting a worshiper, so it’s important to remember that what rules your child’s heart will control his behavior.” These powerful principles give a flavor of the kind of book that Tripp has written. For each of these norms he shows that the core of parenting resides in the human heart: not just the hearts of our children, but our own hearts as dads and mums. Both their and our hearts need to be changed by the salvation that is granted through the work of Jesus Christ. TWO DANGEROUS AND DESTRUCTIVE LIES Our children need transformation because they all believe two dangerous and destructive lies. First, a child reckons that he’s autonomous, a completely independent human being with the right to live his life however he chooses, and to worship whomever he wants. Second, a child believes that he is self-sufficient, that within himself he has everything that he needs. If you pay a bit of attention, you can see these lies getting worked out in the conduct of our children, right from those aggravating moments of trying to spoon mushy peas into their mouth, to the frustrations of getting the silent treatment from your teenage daughter. Born in sin, our children desperately need help. God has placed them in our life so that we can help them, with wisdom, compassion and hope. MAKING PARENTS SQUIRM As a parent, reading parts of this book made me uncomfortable. This is because Tripp seems to know parents and our weaknesses so well. He knows that we often focus on changing our children’s outward behaviors (use of technology, clean language, respect for curfew, etc.), without targeting the heart behind the actions. He knows that we tend to “lay down the law” when there’s been a household infraction, instead of showing grace. He knows that in the heat of the moment we can get sinfully angry and say cruel things to our children, and then spend the rest of the evening telling ourselves that what we did was totally fair and completely justified. Uncomfortable, because it’s true. Still, Tripp wants to encourage. He says that parents who finally admit that they’re inadequate and run to God for help actually make the best parents. When your weakness is again so painfully evident, “Know that God hasn’t left you to the limits of your righteousness, wisdom, and strength," but that He is with you, and He is almighty and gracious. Tripp insists that successful parenting isn’t about us achieving our own goals or upholding our own values (e.g., producing punctual, responsible, hard-working children), but it’s about us being usable and faithful tools in the hands of God. After all, God is the only one who can produce good things in our children, and He’s the only one who can bring them to faith in Christ. As parents, we are unfinished people ourselves, being used by God as agents of change in the lives of unfinished people. CONCLUSION Tripp doesn’t pretend that it’s going to be easy. I love his line on page 208, “Parenting is about the willingness to live a life of long-term, intentional repetition.” Our task as parents means that we’ll need to do the same thing, over and over. We’ll need to say the same things, over and over. That’s fine, for God is pleased to use our humble prayers and efforts and energies for the good—and even for the salvation—of the children He’s entrusted to us. This is an excellent book. It’s a book to savor: read a chapter, and then let it simmer. Talk about it with your partner in parenting, or talk about it with other parents (whether more or less experienced). You’ll be challenged and encouraged. This article first appeared in the Oct 7, 2017 issue of Una Sancta, a magazine of the Free Reformed Churches of Australia, and is reprinted here with permission. Rev. Reuben Bredenhof is pastor of the Mt. Nasura Free Reformed Church in Western Australia. Below you can find a talk on parenting Paul Tripp gave earlier this year. "Parenting is Gospel Ministry" from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo....

Adult non-fiction

Four reasons to pray: a summary review of William Philip’s "Why We Pray"

Does prayer intimidate you rather than refresh you? Do you wonder whether your heart is really in it? If so, then you’ll be interested in William Philip’s Why We Pray, a brief, easy-to-read and often humorous response to these and other questions that many of us have about prayer. Philip is a Scottish minister who used to be a cardiologist, and in this book he continues to deal with "matters of the heart." Rather than lecturing us on how important it is to pray more, he explains how prayer is a response to who God is. Philip uses examples from politics, sports, and his own life to clarify the four Biblical reasons why we may and must pray. 1. God speaks and we get to respond We may pray, first, because God is a speaking God. He spoke creation into being and shaped it by his word, so creation "speaks" back visibly by displaying His power (see Psalm 19:1-6). God wanted more from human beings, though, because He made us capable of responding audibly. When we cut off the conversation through the sin of Adam and Eve (including hiding from God), He restored the relationship through Jesus Christ. Real prayer is responding in faith to God's call in Jesus Christ. 2. God is happy to hear his children The second reason we pray is because we are "sons of God" (even the "daughters"!). Philip says that the reason we are called sons of God is because we, like sons in the ancient world, have an inheritance. We can pray to our (adoptive) Father in heaven because of the work of God's (natural!) Son, Jesus Christ. Because Jesus Christ was (and is) such a faithful Son, God gladly accepts us as His children - so we have the right to appear before Him. Like any loving father (only much more so!), God wants to hear His children speak to (and with) Him. 3. God is able to do what we ask It is because, in the third place, God is sovereign that our prayer is so meaningful - though some do not necessarily see it. If God is so great, and is working out His infinite plan, some ask, then why pray at all? Philip compares our part in God's plan to being on an unbeatable sports team. Would any of us quit simply because we are so sure that the team is going to win? In His infinite power, God is not only a willing father, but also able to grant whatever we ask that is within His will. 4. The Holy Spirit teaches us to pray rightly Finally, God is the Spirit who dwells within us, and this makes sense of the requirement that we ask only what is within His will. The presence of the indwelling Spirit makes prayer into the conversation that God intended to have with us before the fall into sin. This gives us both hope and a significant responsibility. God wants us to pray for whatever we think we need, but He also speaks to us by His Word and Spirit, so that as we pray, our Biblically informed consciences enable us in time to see what His will is, and in the meantime to ask that He grant us only what is according to His will. In other words, as Philip tells us, prayer is to "think God's thoughts after Him." Conclusion Each chapter ends with questions that invite us to ponder just how our own relationship with God is reflected in prayer. If you want a helpful clear explanation of we may, and why we should want to, pray to our speaking, Fatherly, sovereign, indwelling God, then I encourage you to pick up a copy of William Philip’s Why We Pray. A version of this review first appeared on Really Good Reads...

Adult non-fiction

BOOK REVIEW: What Grieving People Wish You Knew about what really helps (and what really hurts)

We have all struggled with what to say to someone who has lost a loved one. Whether it be at the funeral, waiting to give our condolences, or an encounter with the bereaved at the store or at church, it can be challenging to offer words of comfort that don’t sound cliché or inadequate to our ears. What can we say that will help this person in their grief and sorrow? Sometimes we are at a loss of how we can best help a friend in their season of grief. Too often, we don’t think much past the first few months after a death. But grief is a long and difficult journey, and our brothers and sisters in Christ need us to be there for them in this painful time. With What Grieving People Wish You Knew, Nancy Guthrie has written a practical guide for those who want to help their friends and family members who are grieving. From someone who knows Nancy Guthrie / 188 pages / 2016 Guthrie writes on the perspective of someone who has suffered profound loss, as two of her three children died in infancy. She has experienced firsthand the comfort that thoughtful words and caring deeds can bring, but also the well-meant comments that can unintentionally hurt. To write this book she questioned many grieving people via an online survey, asking them to provide concrete examples of what others had said or done that helped them in the midst of grief, and throughout the book she shares many of these testimonies. Guthrie gives straightforward advice on what to say, what not to say, what to do, and what not to do. As you read the chapter “Typical Things People Say” (that miss the mark), you will probably cringe in the realization that you yourself have said some of these things, unaware how insensitive these words may sound to a person raw with grief. “I know just how you feel” is one example. This statement, though well-meaning by trying to establish camaraderie through a similar experience, in essence minimizes the other’s loss by suggesting that their grief isn’t unusual, or unique. “You’ll be fine” is another comment that sounds encouraging enough at face value, but, Guthrie notes, “what the grieving person hears you saying is that the person who died didn’t really matter enough for his or her absence to matter.” Ouch. Or have you ever said “Just call me if you need something”? A grieving person is not going to call. They likely don’t even have the headspace to know what they need. A more helpful thing to do is figure out what can be done for them and then do it. Tell them that you’re going to mow their lawn, pick up their groceries, or help them with their taxes. This is putting into action your love and concern for them in their grief. Even the simple question of “How are you?” can be a tough question for the bereaved to answer. It makes them feel put on the spot to give what is hopefully an acceptable report of how they are really doing. “The grieving person knows what the questioner most likely wants to hear – that everything is getting better, the world is getting brighter, the darkness is lifting, and the tears are subsiding. But oftentimes that just isn’t the way it is, and it can be awkward to be honest about the confusion, listlessness, and loneliness of grief.” Ways to comfort What can we say instead? Guthrie’s survey revealed that there are two particular things that grieving people really want to hear from others, and they are closely connected. First, they love to hear stories, anecdotes, or things that their loved one said or did that were meaningful, and the more specific the better. Second, they want to hear the name of the person who died. “Oh, to hear that person’s name. It is like salve to an aching soul, music to a heart that has lost its song.” So, talk with them about their loved one who has passed on! Tell them about the special thing he did for you, the way she was always so encouraging, or the joke he told that you still laugh about. Don’t be uncomfortable about speaking the deceased’s name, for hearing it spoken will bring comfort to those who mourn. Just show up! Perhaps the most insightful chapter is the one entitled “Assumptions we make that keep us away.” Often people unconsciously distance themselves from the grieving for one reason or another – possibly we’re unsure of what to do or say, or feel we don’t know them well enough, or maybe we assume that the grieving just want to be left alone. But, as Guthrie writes, “If I had to boil down the message of this entire book to just two words, these two would probably cover it: show up.” She encourages us to put aside any awkwardness we might feel and simply show up, and here again she offers many tangible ways of doing so. Also really helpful is a section about heaven, briefly summarizing what the Bible teaches about it as well as tackling some common misconceptions. Guthrie brings forward the comfort and hope that believers possess, knowing they will be with Christ when they die. She also cautions not to assume the deceased is in heaven; in such cases where it seems unlikely she encourages readers to simply offer what they know to be true about God, rather than give false hope by going beyond what the Bible says. While Guthrie’s regard for and knowledge of Scripture is evident throughout the book, the notion of covenant seems to be missing in this section on heaven, specifically in regard to the eternal destiny of children who die. But this is a minor imperfection in a beautiful chapter that focuses on the richest comfort we can offer those who are grieving – the resurrection that is yet to come! Conclusion This is not an easy read. There is so much raw emotion written on its pages, in the countless examples of real people’s experiences of hurt, hope and healing. I found sometimes I had to put this book down for a while because reading about so many individuals’ sadness and pain became truly overwhelming. If you are anything like me you will probably shed more than a few tears, but you will also learn a lot, for this book will equip you with skills, words, and ideas “for being a balm of comfort to the grieving people in your world.” I encourage you to read this book if you know someone who is grieving and you want to truly help them, to walk alongside them in their grief. And even if you don’t know someone who is grieving right now, some day you will. Reading this book will help you to help them in their time of need. I highly recommend it. A version of this article first appeared in the July 15, 2017 issue of Una Sancta, a magazine of the Free Reformed Churches of Australia, and it is reprinted here with permission. Below is a 20 minute video in which author Nancy Guthrie shares some of what she believes are the key points in her book "What Grieving People Wish You Knew." ...