Category Archives: Book Reviews

Being Mortal

I recently finished an excellent book written by a physician, Dr. Atul Gawande, titled Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. The book deals with the modern medical establishment and how people are treated as they face diminished physical capacity through the aging process. Image result for being mortalHaving recently been in a front row seat on this journey with my mother as she faced the assault of Parkinson’s Disease – I am very sensitive to this topic and see it as one worth exploring more deeply no matter where a person is on the spectrum of physical strength.

A key point that Dr. Gawande brings up frequently in the book is that human beings don’t merely want to be ‘kept safe’ – instead they want to have enough freedom, independence, autonomy, or authority to enable them to have meaning and purpose in their lives. An aging person who is fed, clothed, sheltered, assisted, and kept safe may produce less headaches and stresses for their adult children – but they may also sense that their purpose for staying alive has been taken away from them. The quality of life is radically diminished if a person does not feel as if their life matters or has a purpose to it. Here is a key quote from the book that speaks to this issue:

In the end, people don’t view their life as merely the average of all its moments—which, after all, is mostly nothing much plus some sleep. For human beings, life is meaningful because it is a story. A story has a sense of a whole, and its arc is determined by the significant moments, the ones where something happens. Measurements of people’s minute-by-minute levels of pleasure and pain miss this fundamental aspect of human existence. A seemingly happy life maybe empty. A seemingly difficult life may be devoted to a great cause. We have purposes larger than ourselves.

― Atul Gawande, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

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I like the last three sentences above. We know this is true from our own experience and the experiences of others we know: pleasure-filled lives can be empty, and difficult lives can be full of meaning and purpose. As we journey through the book of Acts, we are learning what it means to be on a “mission from God.” We know that it’s not enough for people to just exist – people long to thrive. Part of thriving means knowing that your life is being used for a larger purpose – a purpose that is larger than you are.Image result for aging

The lives of the first followers of Jesus are an inspiration to those of us who are recipients of their legacy. Those first believers knew that their lives had a purpose and a meaning that was much larger than they were. Many of them were willing to die for their faith in Jesus – because they knew that life in Christ was something worth living for, and something worth dying for.   We live in a culture where lots of people are focused on making a living but who are not sure how to make a life. They are longing for something more – a purpose and meaning that is larger than mere self-fulfillment. Jesus sends you, and me, and followers all around the world on a mission to bring his good news to others in the power of his Spirit.

The life of being a disciple of Jesus is not ‘safe’ – and it is not easy. Yet it is a life of abundant meaning and purpose. As our bodies age and our physical strength slowly diminishes, we are assured that we have a “mansion in glory not made with human hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1). Image result for purposeThough Dr. Atul Gawande writes beautifully about ways that we can improve the lives of people who are physically diminished – he is not able to offer the very best key to purpose in life. Dr. Gawande is clear that the answer to this situation takes more than medicine and surgery. That’s where you and I come in. How will God use you to bring the very best gift to the people in your circle of influence. Let’s continue to worship and pray and serve and reach out together in Christ and celebrate the lives that he is changing every day through our church and through other faithful churches around the world.

Messy Grace & The Incarnation

Image result for messy graceI recently read a short book called Messy Grace (How a Pastor with Gay Parents Learned to Love Others Without Sacrificing Conviction) by Caleb Kaltenbach. The author does a good job of telling his story of becoming a Christian, facing rejection from his parents, but finding a way to combine grace and truth in his ministry and family relationships.

The longer we live the more we tend to understand the idea that life is messy, relationships are messy, and our own lives are messy – but God is always at work bringing peace, grace, and wisdom to our lives as we grow in following Jesus.  I appreciate that Caleb Kaltenbach made the effort to put his story into writing and to challenge both the church and the gay community in various ways.  The sexual ethic he outlines in the book is thoroughly orthodox, yet because of his background and life journey it comes across differently than many books on the same topic.  His approach is to call everyone to the gospel core which combines both truth and grace — not an easy task, but essential in the offering  of an authentic Christian witness.

Here is one of many helpful passages in the book:

If we are going to be honest, Christians do not have the best track record in loving people… Part of the problem is that we get trapped in the wrong thinking. We think that we are not supposed to love people who live in a way that is contrary to what God says. Atheists, abortion doctors, legalists, alcoholics, convicts, hypocrites, the sexually immoral, gossipers, and anyone who seems to be on the opposite end of any kind of spectrum from us – these are people we are fearful to get involved with because it seems messy.

It’s a good thing Jesus didn’t decide that we were too messy to get involved with! The apostle Paul said, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners… Not when we had it all together. Not when we started attending church. Not when we started acting the way Christians act. Not when we started believing. Paul said that while we were still sinners, God extended an offer of relationship toward us. We need to express that same kind of love – a love that doesn’t wait for people to be perfect or get everything in order before beginning a friendship with us. It’s imperative that we have grace for people while they are still thinking, speaking, and acting in ways we might not agree with.

Image result for joy to the worldAs we journey toward Bethlehem and the celebration of Christmas, we do well to note that the incarnation (God becoming flesh) was a pivotal moment in human history where God enters into the messy world and begins a quiet revolution of love. As God has come into our mess – to offer us cleansing grace – so too we are called to enter into the messy lives of others to offer them love, truth, and grace.

Image result for truth and graceI hope and pray that Jesus’ followers will not allow the polarizing forces of our culture wars to infect our calling to tell the One Great Story of Jesus through our words and our deeds. I hope and pray that we can be a model of Christ’s love as we live and speak with both grace and truth.

Image result for truth and graceAs we sing “he rules the world with truth and grace” let us reaffirm our commitment to both truth and grace.  Let us renew our calling to be part of his army, his kingdom, not afraid of stepping into the lives of others and offering our hands and hearts in acts of sacrificial love in a messy world that God loves more than we can imagine.