Guest Teacher: Jeff Vanderstelt (Going Deeper in the Gospel)

Our mission as a church is to make disciples who make disciples. Our vision is the way in which we go about living out our mission. With that said, our vision as a church is “Deeply Rooted in Six Counties.” We want to be a church that is growing deeper in our relationship with God, with people in the church, and those in the six counties all around us. We asked Pastor and author, Jeff Vanderstelt, to do some teaching about how we can grow more deeply in the glorious truths of the gospel. Jeff is the Teaching Pastor at Doxa Church in Bellevue, Washington. He is asked on a regular basis to write and speak about the gospel and how it applies to everyday life. Recently, Jeff wrote the excellent book, Gospel Fluency. Below is the video of the teaching that Jeff did for us.

HERE are some discussion questions that you or your Life Group could use to deepen your understanding and appreciation of the gospel.

HERE is an interview I did with Jayne, Jeff’s wife, many years ago.

Interview with Aubrey Sampson, Author of “The Louder Song” (NEW POST)

I believe one of the most important things we can have as believers is a biblical theology of suffering. No matter who we are we are going to experience pain, trials, and difficulties in this life. This is the reason why I was delighted to interview Aubrey Sampson. She recently wrote a great book called “The Louder Song: Listening for Hope in the Midst of Lament.” I hope you enjoy the interview…

Hi Aubrey! Can you tell us a little about yourself and your family?

Aubrey SampsonMy husband, Kevin, and I are church planters in the Chicagoland area. We have three hilarious sons, ages 12, 9, and 7. We love our city, our neighborhood, and love praying through what it means to “gospel” in our city. I am a graduate student at Wheaton College and an author/speaker- so we are usually balancing a lot. But we are so grateful for the opportunities.

In your book you mention how you are struggling with rheumatoid arthritis. How are you feeling these days?

Thank you for asking. I am feeling very good and I am praising God for that, as it’s been a very difficult last three years. Although, as most people with autoimmune diseases experience, I still have daily pain and sometimes odd issues now and again (sometimes I randomly can’t open a door because turning a doorknob is too painful). But overall, my disease is at bay. As one of my friends said, “I am in the process of experiencing healing.” I’ll take it.

I loved the story in chapter one of going to a concert and how you discovered the power of a louder song. Would you mind explaining what happened at the concert and how God was using it to teach you a valuable lesson about suffering?

That is actually my favorite story in the book! I won’t explain too much because it will spoil the book. But here is a little peek:

During a very difficult few years which I write about in The Louder Song, my gnawing questions about suffering and God’s goodness became too much to handle. My usual spiritual disciplines were no longer helping me to feel connected to God. And honestly, for the first time in 30 years as a Christian I began to wonder if I was praying to the ceiling fan…is God even real? Does God even hear me? I asked the questions we all ask in times of crisis, right?

I know God is not the author of evil but I couldn’t’ make sense of God not stopping evil form hitting my life and the lives of those I loved. My relationship with God—which was at once thriving, and beautiful and lovely, became this small, unrecognizable thing. Ultimately God no longer fit into the box I had designated for him and I had no idea what to do about it. What I didn’t realize is that God was about to blow the box wide open and reveal more of himself to me.

One night, in God’s perfect timing, a friend invited me to a concert—and I needed a night out, so I went with her….to this little theater in the round….we walked in, grabbed our seats, the lights dimmed and a screen descended from the ceiling with a trigger warning—the screen began to show disturbing images of pain, starvation, poverty, oppression. And I was thinking, “What is happening? Why are we here?” Then this choir in dark robes walked on stage and started singing this ancient funeral dirge–low, slow, and depressing. And as you can image, the mood- in the audience shifted. We were initially excited for the concert to start, but this moment kind of took the wind from our sails. I turned to my friend- and was about to suggest we leave–this was just too much emotion for me to handle at the time.

What I didn’t realize was that another choir was actually planted in the audience, surrounding the entire theater, posing as audience members. Suddenly they stood up and started singing over us this hopeful, joyful, triumphant song. It was startling but not scary; they sang over us like they were performing life saving surgery. The dirge was still being sung. The suffering images still being displayed. But the hopeful song was growing louder….and that song began to overpower the dark heavy song in front of us…and suddenly, from within the deep places of my soul that had been so grieving, so hurt, feeling so betrayed by God, avoiding hiding…, I felt God say, “Aubrey, this is what I do. I don’t pretend like evil and pain and suffering don’t exist and you don’t have to either. But I sing a louder song over them – a song of hope and joy and renewal and restoration and healing.”

I sat there and bawled like a baby–finally releasing my fears and worries and sadness to God.What I didn’t realize at the time is that concert was a LAMENT concert and it was the first time I was exposed to the spiritual discipline and biblical language of lament. And from that night on- for the next three years, really, lament became the language, the disciple, the experience that God used to move my heavy heart back to a place of hope.

And now- three years later- I don’t have many clear cut answers- but I understand that there is a mystery to suffering- that if we allow it, can actually draw us deeper into intimacy with our God.

In your book you talk about the tendency we have to act as if everything is OK and hide what is really going on in our hearts. What can churches do to create a safe environment where people know it is OK to admit that they don’t have it all together?

That’s such a great question. I think, especially in the west, we tend to want to see the VICTORY! The MOUNTAIN TOP! The TRIUMPH, The SERMON APPLICATION! We want to get to Easter and skip over Good Friday. And of course, it’s a good instinct to live into our hope in Christ. But sometimes we do this at the expense of acknowledging and honoring our pain and the world’s pain. I’m totally guilty of wanting to slap a Band Aid on and pretending like everything is okay. For real transformation and healing to take place, church leaders need to model vulnerability. We certainly don’t have to share our whole messes with the whole world, but we can practice authentic vulnerability in the midst of struggle, so that our folks can learn what it means to endure in the messy middle—not just on the other side.

I also think it’s important not to try to “balance the scales” for people’s suffering. What I mean by that is, sometimes we want to say to our people, “Yes, you’re suffering this incredible thing, BUT, look at all of the wonderful things that will happen because of it. Look at the testimony it will be! Look at how many people will be encouraged!” I think that is a super kindhearted instinct, but when folks are truly grieving, it’s often more loving to simply sit with them on their mourning benches, or climb down into the pit with them and grieve with them. We have to be less awkward around other people’s pain—we can declare hope without invalidating or “fixing.”

You point out that in the bible there are more lament songs than there are praise songs. Why do you think it is so important that Christians learn the power of lament in everyday life?

When Christians lament, we do so to a God who lets us. Our cries—even our cries of doubt and despair—fall on his loving, listening ears. In fact, what’s remarkable about Christianity is that we have a King who is also a steadfast, loving Husband and Friend. He not only permits lament; he gives us the language of lament. We have a God who desires and deserves our wholehearted praise. But he is also a God who wants an authentic, meaningful, intimate love relationship with us. We have a groom who gives his bride a voice.

I actually believe lament is a powerful evangelistic tool- because even if our lament is impolite, raw, or bitter, even if we express sorrow or verbalize anger, even if we make demands, as we lament, we actually preach to the world (and to ourselves) that it is possible to have a fearless, deeply intimate relationship with God. A God who not only is worthy of our thanksgiving and our joyful worship but also wants every part of us—not just our “pretty” selves, but our sharp edges, our sin struggles, our suffering, and our sadness.

On top of that, if we never acknowledge our pain to God, we will never truly know what it means to praise him on the other side of suffering. It is in our honest crying out to God about our pain that our worship of God grows more authentic. It is in this kind of relationship, this kind of honesty with God that our walks with him become real. Lament is part of the rhythm of a deepening relationship with him.

Lastly, lament, especially communal lament, helps open our eyes to the sufferers around the world. We have brothers and sisters experiencing persecution and oppression everyday. We can and should be lamenting with and for them.

In chapter 11 you talk about “the end of all laments.” Can you explain what you mean by this?

For this question, I’ll leave you with a direct quote from the book, if you don’t mind:

“Here’s the hope of all laments: Generations after the events of Lamentations, Jesus left the comfort of heaven and entered Jerusalem’s long years of suffering. He willingly, voluntarily became both the object and subject of lament. In taking upon himself the consequences for all of our sin, the penalty for the world’s idolatry, the power of death—and in taking on the principalities and forces of darkness—Jesus didn’t hesitate to expose himself to the worst any person could face. Instead, he willingly bore the full weight of it all on the cross. After years of longing, after generations of lament—through the suffering of their very own King—the Israelites were, as we are, healed.

Why are kids leaving home (and the church) without being captured by the gospel?

show them jesusA couple years ago our Children’s Ministry Director (Janet Stee) and I read through “Show Them Jesus” by Jack Klumpenhower. I think it is safe to say that we both felt it was one of the better books we had read when it comes to thinking through how to keep the gospel central in all that we do in Children’s Ministry. Jack graciously agreed to answer a few questions for me. I pray that this encourages and inspires you.

Tell us a little about yourself and your family.

I live in Colorado with my wife and two kids. We just sent the oldest kid off to college, so we’ve gone from parenting little ones to parenting teens, and now we’re figuring out how to be parents to an adult child. I’m grateful to God that both kids profess to be believers at this point in their lives, but each stage has had its challenges. We’re well aware that many Christian parents struggle with kids who grow up and leave the church, so we pray hard that God will keep our children close to him. That’s his work of grace, not ours.

Meanwhile, I keep teaching younger kids in Sunday school, and at Bible camps during the summer. In that role, I’m just one of the many volunteers who work with kids in churches everywhere and want to get better at it. Job-wise, I’ve done several interesting things in my life, mostly in journalism and marketing. Currently, this includes writing and editing for Christian publications.

The Children’s Ministry Director at our church and I read and discussed your book “Show Them Jesus.” We both were greatly challenged and encouraged by your book. Tell us what your primary motivation was in writing this book.

A few decades ago, I was part of a church that was “gospel-centered” before that became a catchphrase. We tried to remember, in all we did, that the good news Jesus and what he’s done for us is the engine of the Christian life. I was volunteering in children’s ministry, and I noticed that we weren’t very good at applying that truth to our work with kids. In our culture, we’re used to telling kids what to do, or entertaining them, or telling them to believe in themselves. But the gospel is different from all of this and it doesn’t come naturally to us, especially with kids.

So, I started working on ways to teach the gospel to kids. It took much thought and help from others, but after years of practice I felt I had something important and useful to share with the wider church. I also heard a few prominent pastors mention that they saw a need for gospel-centeredness in children’s ministry. That’s when I decided to write Show Them Jesus.

You explain in your book on page 3 that “a frightening number of kids are growing up in churches and Christian homes without ever being captured by the gospel of Jesus.” Explain how this happens and what we can do to avoid it.

We want our kids to have true faith, believing and trusting Jesus both for salvation and in daily life choices. There’s no sure formula we can follow to make this happen, because such faith is given by God. This means parents who’ve taught their kids about Jesus and still find those kids rejecting the gospel should not blame themselves; they should be pleading with God to bring their children to faith.

But we also should do our job when it comes to training our kids. The Bible says faith comes by hearing the good news about Jesus (Romans 10:17, John 20:31). So we must make sure our children regularly hear gospel preaching, and we must tell them daily about Jesus. Merely telling them to be good is not the same as telling them about the Savior who loves them, died for them, rose in victory, and calls them to repent and find their joy in him. Many kids who decide to walk away from the church and from Jesus don’t really know who they are rejecting. They’ve had a bellyful of moralizing, sentimentality, stirring music, and pop religion, but they’ve seldom been fed large helpings of Jesus.

Not all parents feel qualified to lead their children in family worship. What are some basic steps that parents can take to teach their kids the Word of God?

One thing is simply to read to Bible to your kids. Pick an easy translation and one of the narrative books, and start reading a section a day. Bedtime or after a meal usually works well and can become an enjoyable habit. I think the book of Luke is a great place to start, since it tells about the life of Jesus and doesn’t require much background knowledge. Don’t put pressure on yourself to add any profound teaching or questions. Just read. And if your kids want to talk about it, talk.

Families that want a bit of structured teaching and discussion can also use a family devotional guide. I recommend any of the guides by Marty Machowski for parents who have never led family worship before. Those guides take only about ten minutes a day, which is a good goal if you’re just getting started.

Finally, faith is learned by practice, so we all need encouragement to pray with our kids—often, and about everything. Prayer feels uncomfortable when you don’t do much of it, so we have to just start the habit of saying many quick prayers many times a day, as opportunities arise, to get over that hump. If we do, and prayer starts to feel normal, we will give our kids an invaluable start on a life of faith.

Why is it so important for those who are teaching children in the church (or at home for that matter) to weave the gospel into every lesson?

The good news that Jesus died and rose again, and is bringing us home to God, is the central message of the Bible. This means we will misread and misapply any part of the Bible if we divorce it from that core message. For example, the Bible teaches that due to Jesus’s saving death and resurrection for us, we are made able to do good works that please God, out of gratitude for what he’s done and in the joyful hope of heaven, with his daily help. Now, there are many connections to the gospel in that statement. If we ignore those connections, and teach good works without showing those connections, we’re liable to end up with the wrong kind of “holy living.” We might try to do good works in our own strength, or as a scheme to earn salvation, which is not at all what the Bible teaches about good works.

Can you make some recommendations when it comes to gospel-centered curriculum for Children’s Ministry?

I’m happy to say that this is becoming a difficult question to answer because more and more publishers are making a strong effort to create curricula that constantly points kids to Jesus. I almost hate to start naming specific resources because I know I’m leaving out some that deserve a mention. But I’ll name a few anyway.

First, the big ones: Presbyterians certainly should consider the excellent curricula published by Great Commission Publications, especially the Show Me Jesus series. Likewise, Baptists ought to look at The Gospel Project for Kids from Lifeway. These are examples of a concerted effort from big players to publish lessons that keep Jesus central. In both cases, though, I find some of their publications to be more gospel-focused than others, so it pays to look carefully.

I’m also a big fan of Treasuring Christ and of The Gospel Story for Kids. Both deserve a close look from anyone picking curricula for their church. And I would be remiss if I did not mention the What’s Up? series of lessons, which I have had a hand in.

Can you make some recommendations that would help parents raise up their kids to be amazed by Jesus? (books, articles, blogs, etc.)

There are several good books and websites, but I think what’s most helpful is for parents themselves to be amazed by Jesus. When parents know and love Jesus, and grow strong in faith, it rubs off on their kids. This usually happens through regular Bible reading and prayer, and faithful attendance at a church that preaches the gospel. I realize it sounds old-fashioned for me to say you need to read the Bible, pray, and go to church—but you really do.

NEW Interview with Amy Simpson, author of “Blessed Are the Unsatisfied: Finding Spiritual Freedom in an Imperfect World”

Tell us a little about yourself and your family.

amy simpsonI’ve been married to Trevor, a counselor, for nearly 25 years. We have two daughters, one in high school and one who will be starting college this fall. We also have two dogs, Rosie Cotton and Samwise Gamgee. Our home is in the suburbs of Chicago.

Professionally, I’ve been involved in publishing and media for nearly 25 years. I currently work as an acquisitions editor for Moody Publishers. I’m also an author and a speaker. On the side, I’m a leadership coach, and I love to come alongside people to help them live with purpose and intention and to move forward.

The first chapter of your new book, “Blessed Are the Unsatisfied: Finding Spiritual Freedom in an Imperfect World” is “Jesus Doesn’t Want You To be Satisfied…Yet.” Explain what you mean by this and why it is so important that we understand it and apply it to our lives.

This is a direct challenge to a message I frequently hear from Christian teachers and leaders: “This world won’t satisfy you, but Jesus will.” This is a true statement, but it needs qualification and explanation. When we don’t talk about this in the context of the limitations we live with here and now, we seem to be pointing people toward Jesus with a false promise that claims if we will only follow Christ, we will be completely satisfied—maybe instantly. And sometimes people do come right out and claim that every follower of Christ should be experiencing a deeply satisfying life—without longing or emotional needs—here and now. This extends to sometimes communicating (intentionally or not) that if a Christian doesn’t feel completely satisfied or still feels unsettled in this life, something is wrong and he or she needs to try harder. I want to encourage people to rethink this message, to find freedom in embracing unsatisfaction, and to discover the blessings that come with being unsatisfied.

The fact is, Jesus never promised us a fully satisfied life this side of heaven. He promised us trouble. He also promises his presence, his peace, hope, and the comfort and help of the Holy Spirit. But when we follow Christ, our sinful tendencies are not magically taken away. Our needs are not neutralized. God doesn’t insulate us in some kind of spiritual bubble that cancels all of the effects of living in a world that is in active rebellion against God. We still live with a powerful distance between us and God, without the kind of intimacy we were created to enjoy.

But while our lack of satisfaction might come as a result of sin’s curse, God knows how to turn curses into blessings. The most fundamental way we are blessed is in what Jesus described in Matthew 5:6: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” We are blessed, whether or not we feel like it, because satisfaction is coming. Our name is written on it. And for those of us who are willing to acknowledge and live peacefully in our lack of satisfaction, Christ’s redemption and renewal of creation will be very sweet. Living in the presence of God will be spectacular.

When we buy into the idea that satisfaction is for here and now, we lower our standards below what God wants us to long for. To think this life is as good as it gets is not good news. On the other hand, it is encouraging to remember this is not all there is. This is not the world we were made for, and this is not as good as it gets. That’s good news. That’s blessing.

You also mention in your book that we have the tendency to make happiness our god, or into an idol. Can you explain to us what that looks like in everyday life and how we can avoid it?

In one sense, this is the American (or perhaps Western) way. For most people in our society, the basic needs of survival are met. So we reach beyond them and engage in what we’re all entitled to: the pursuit of happiness. Yet it’s also human nature. We are built to seek pleasure and avoid pain. It’s actually part of what helped our ancestors survive.

The problem is, whenever we encounter something we enjoy, like happiness, we want to make that our sole experience. But a life full of happiness—and nothing but happiness—is impossible on this earth. And because happiness is merely one element of the human experience, it can’t bear the weight of our expectation. It will never be enough. Plus, happiness is powerful partly as a contrast to sadness, disappointment, anger, even mediocrity. So when we try to rid our lives of those more difficult experiences, happiness loses its luster and isn’t fulfilling anymore.

In everyday life, the idolization of happiness takes the form of giving space only for the expression of positive emotions, moving from one party to the next, doing only what we feel will make us happy in the moment without considering broader consequences. It looks like running away from the deep work we need to do in order to grow or perhaps heal, because we fear the experience of feeling unhappy or uncomfortable. Sometimes it means we miss opportunities to lament, to mourn with those who mourn, or to grieve what grieves the heart of God.

We can avoid it by being self-honest, acknowledging the truth—that we are and will be unsatisfied people—and learning how to live in the “now and not yet,” the dual reality that the Apostle Paul wrote about in Romans 8. We can learn to enjoy happiness when we experience it and to acknowledge it’s not the only thing we will experience—and that’s OK.

It’s important to be honest and authentic about our lack of satisfaction because, for one thing, we have to live with it. We live in a world that lies under a curse, and every single one of us feels the distance between us and God and the life we were originally made for. Ignoring that gap won’t make it go away. Building our lives around happiness will mean we try to avoid a lot of reality. And if we’re trying to avoid the truth of it, chances are, it’s dictating the way live, to some degree, because we’re always stepping around it. When we face into it, we can find freedom, live with greater integrity, and stop distracting ourselves with the effort to find something we won’t find.

What are some blessings that we experience when we admit that we are not as satisfied as we would like to be?

God has us right where he wants us when we are unsatisfied, longing for the better world he has planned. God does not want us to be satisfied in this life, but to experience the blessings that come with intentionally living an unsatisfied life.

Embracing our lack of satisfaction also puts us in good company. As we get real with other people, they will be more real with us. And we can discover that we all have this in common. We can find support and encouragement, and we can help each other come to God on God’s terms rather than with satisfaction of our desires in mind. We can help one another stay focused on the full and complete satisfaction to come.

Living unsatisfied means living with anticipation. People who are truly satisfied don’t look forward to what is to come. And God wants us to live in the hope of what he promises us. Anticipation produces a wonderful mindset that can get us out of bed in the morning.

There’s also a lot of good news here! Acknowledging that we are unsatisfied puts us in position to enjoy the blessings that come with unsatisfaction. My book mentions several others, and it’s encouraging to think about the many good things that come with embracing the unsatisfied life. In general, embracing our lack of satisfaction puts us in a position to receive some of the best gifts God has to offer us. In his grace and goodness, God has taken a symptom of curse and made blessings from it. So while our lack of satisfaction ultimately comes down to a consequence of human rebellion, God still allows us to experience good things in it. When we stop denying unsatisfaction, and embrace it, we can experience these good things.

What are some practical things we can do to deepen our satisfaction and joy in Christ?

There’s no substitute for knowing Christ through prayer and through his Word. The more we spend time reading the Bible, studying it, and considering what it says, the more we will experience joy and fulfillment in our relationship with him. The more we communicate with him, and listen to him, the more we tend to trust him, to go to him with our needs, and to experience his peace. It’s also really helpful to engage in long-term relationships with other people who are seeking to follow Christ, to know him, and to live his way.

At the same time, I feel like these recommendations should come with a disclaimer! The more we get to know Jesus and develop a closeness with him, the less comfortable we tend to feel in this world we live in. It’s only natural—the more closely we align ourselves with our Creator, the less we feel at home in a world that is in rebellion against him. So while these activities can deepen our joy and move us toward greater satisfaction in Christ, they can also sharpen our sense of longing and our feelings of discomfort in the world. But our longings for him are good, wholesome, and sweet. And they will be fulfilled. God will never disappoint us.

Amy’s website

Amy’s Twitter

NEW INTERVIEW with Susan and Sarah (Teens, Parenting, Dating, Avoiding High School Mistakes)

Tell us a little about yourselves.

sarah bookout garrett bookSusan and I live in southeast Tennessee. We are twin sisters with a heart to serve God and to tell the next generation the truth of God’s word. We have both worked with teens in varying capacities for a decade. We received the same questions repeatedly and wanted a way to give Biblical and practical advice to more girls who also have the same questions and no one to ask. I started the blog, Transformed4more.com, in 2016 to attempt to reach a broader audience.

You have written a book that is about teens and dating. What are some important guidelines that you believe are important for all teens when it comes to dating?

One of the most important guidelines is that teenage dating is generally not going to last. We see many teenagers pour everything in a relationship that only lasts a few months. We try to get them to realize that if they choose to date at this stage, it is simply to find out some things you would/wouldn’t like in a future spouse and to make a few good memories.

Boundaries are another significant guideline we discuss. Many of the temptations and pitfalls of dating can actually be avoided if teens set definitive boundaries. Boundaries show that you value yourself and also help “weed out” the individuals who are not pursuing a relationship for good reasons.

What would you say to a teen that wanted to grow in their knowledge of the Bible but weren’t quite sure how to go about it?

Try your best to get a mentor. Having an older person help you in this journey is a wonderful thing.

If you don’t have access to a mentor, YM360.com has great devotionals for teenagers. One of the best is actually a year long devotional called “Tracing the Thread” that takes them through the entire story of the Bible.

Also, pay attention in church and youth group. Take notes during the sermon and then try to find out more about it. A good Bible with commentary can help with this.

What would you say to a teen that just did not feel it was all that important to be involved in youth group or the church?

I would point them to Proverbs 27:17, the verse about iron sharpening iron, and Hebrews 10:25 that states, “Do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together…”.

God created us to be in community from each other and learn from one another. Studying the Bible on your own is good but being able to discuss it among a community of believers helps them think about it in a different way that may not have occurred to them before.

I would also tell them that they are not the center of the church or youth group. It’s about God. Sometimes in our “it’s all about me society” that fact can get lost. We go to church to learn about and honor God; it’s not about how we feel or what we “get out of it.”

What are some mistakes that you see teens making in high school that ends up having a negative impact on their lives?

I could honestly write another book on this. Essentially, much of it comes down to the relationships they make. Their friends have a profound influence on their decision making and can quickly lead them down a road that leads to destruction. Romantic relationships do this as well. Girls may think that having sex with their boyfriend is an expression of love, but it isn’t. It just destroys them when the relationship ends. Teenagers need to surround themselves with good, healthy, positive relationships.

They also believe that God isn’t enough. They think, “If I just made better grades, that would be enough,” or “If I just had a boyfriend, that would be enough.” Believing that God will supply all your needs is something that is hard for them to grasp and they search for many other things to make them happy that can never satisfy.

What are some books that you would recommend for teens to read?

The number one book I recommend to all teens is Do Hard Things by Alex and Brett Harris. It challenges teenagers to rise above the low expectations placed on them and excel.

For boys, I also recommend How to be a Man: The Pursuit of Christ Centered Masculinity (Student Version) by Andy Blanks and Rick Burgess.

For girls, Lies Young Women Believe by Nancy Demoss Wolgemuth and Dannah Gresh. It discusses so many lies that girls believe about themselves and how to break free. I am also a contributing writer for their blog at LiesYoungWomenBelive.com.

Another good one is Girl Defined by Kristen Clark and Bethany Baird. It breaks down the Bible based feminine identity.

If girls are interested in dating relationships, then my book So, You Think You’re Ready to Date? is a great one. It is written in a 40 day “devotional” format and it lays a Biblical foundation for dating relationships. I did not shy away from hard topics and in the book I discuss topics like the cycle of violence, sexting, lies girls believe, and characteristics of bad boys.

We also have a “recommended resources” page on our site that discusses all of the books we recommend.

Is God anti-gay?

We are in a time of massive misunderstanding when it comes to what the Word of God teaches about same-sex attraction (SSA). Have you heard about the Nashville Statement? If not then I will admit I am a bit jealous of your ability to carry on with your daily life without paying too much attention to what is going on in the social media world.

Anyway, the Nashville Statement is a document that a group of Evangelical Christians came up with to take a stand against same-sex attraction and transgender identity issues.

The social media world went CRAZY over this document. Lots of name calling and angry posts on both sides. It all just makes me sad.

My concerns about these issues are both parental and pastoral. I love my family and my church and I want them to know what the Bible teaches about these kinds of volatile topics.

With that said, I want to recommend a book to you. “Is God anti-gay?” by Sam Allberry.

I won’t go into great details about the book but let me give you a few reasons why I am recommending it. First and foremost Sam Allberry uses the Bible throughout this book. The Bible is always our source of knowing what it good and true. Another reason I like this book is because it has a nice balance of truth and love. Sam identifies himself as a man who has struggled with same-sex attraction. So this book comes from a person who understands, at a very personal level, what this conversation is all about. Which results in a book that is gracious towards those who are struggling with SSA. Lastly, the book is short! The copy I have is only 83 pages long. You can read it in a couple settings. In a culture (and a church!) that is so confused about SSA I highly recommend this book to everyone!

Interview with Jaquelle Crowe (This Changes Everything)

One of the things that I like to do on my blog is talk about how the gospel relates to everyday life. So when I learned that there was a new book coming out that is gospel-centered and relates to teens I was immediately interested. Jaquelle Crowe recently published a book entitled, “This Changes Everything: How The Gospel Transforms The Teen Years”. I have already started reading and discussing the book with two of my kids. It is an excellent book and I highly recommend it for teens or parents with teenagers. Jaquelle has graciously agreed to answer a few of my questions. Enjoy!

1. Tell us a little about yourself. Family, what you are doing now, aspirations for the future, hobbies, etc…

Jaquelle CroweI’m 19, and I live in Halifax, Nova Scotia — which is in eastern Canada. I still live at home with my parents (my dad’s a pastor, my mom’s a homemaker), younger brother, and two adorable cats. Right now I’m writing full time, hosting a podcast for youth (Age of Minority), and running an online membership site for young writers called The Young Writers Workshop. My future is an open slate — I’m currently pursuing the opportunities the Lord has put in my path (writing, mentoring, speaking, traveling) and am completely open to wherever he leads next. I would like to go to grad school, seminary probably, and one day earn my Ph.D. As far as hobbies, I love to read, exercise, listen to music and podcasts, and eat/cook. I’m an aspiring foodie and enjoy cooking and trying new restaurants and coffee shops. I’m also a health nut so I love experimenting with healthy baking.

2. What motivated you to write “This Changes Everything”?

I wanted to write This Changes Everything for two reasons. First, because it was the book I wanted to read as a younger teen but could never find. I wanted a book that didn’t sell me short as a Christian teen, that didn’t dumb anything down for me, that taught me solid theology but was also practical and fun. But secondly, I wrote it because I met more and more teens like me who wanted this kind of resource. Someone recently called it, “The Pursuit of Holiness for teenagers,” and that’s exactly what I wanted to capture — how do you pursue holiness as a teenager? I realized if there was only one book I wrote in my entire life, this was the book I needed to write.

3. What would you say to the teen that is involved in the church but is just coasting spiritually?

I think every “church kid” needs to come to the point where they realize that church attendance, tradition, or niceness doesn’t save us. I know I did. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ can give us spiritual life. I would say to this coasting teen, “Examine your heart and ask yourself whether this faith is yours or merely your parents’ faith.” Jesus has no half-hearted followers. He demands everything. And if we’re saved, we’re required to pour out our whole lives in passionate, devoted obedience to him.

4. Describe a few ways that parents can get involved in the life of their teens to encourage their spiritual growth.

Regularly read and discuss God’s Word with them (my family has a time of worship each evening where we do just this and then pray together). Carve out weekly one-on-one time with your teens to talk about their spiritual life and struggles, temptations, and joys. Read a spiritual book together.

5. Christians understand that the gospel is what saves them. But the gospel is also key for our sanctification. What are some practical ways that teens can deepen their understanding and appreciation of the gospel so that it continually transforms their lives?

Read God’s Word every day — even if it’s just a chapter or a few verses. This daily discipline will do more for your spiritual life than you can possibly imagine. Pray every day. I find it helpful to set a timer to keep me focused and on track. Also, read prayers from godly saints, like the prayers in The Valley of Vision. Finally, pay attention to and invest in the teaching of God’s Word from your church — sermons, Sunday School, youth group, every time the Word is opened.

6. Can you name 3 or 4 books that you would recommend to teens to read?

Absolutely! Thoughts for Young Men by J.C. Ryle (applicable to both young men and women), Do Hard Things by Alex and Brett Harris, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness by Tim Keller, and Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper.

Interview with Karina Kreminski (Loving Our City, Too Busy to be Salt and Light)

During the past couple years I have developed an appreciation and respect for Karina Kreminski and her writing. Her blog tells you what she is currently doing as a profession, “I am a Lecturer of Missional Studies and a part of the Tinsley Institute team at Morling College in Sydney. It is a centre for missions and missional studies helping to equip leaders to be on God’s mission in our world.”

Karina was kind enough to answer a few of my questions. My prayer is that her answers inspire and challenge you to join God in what he is doing in everyday life!

Question: What do you think are the key reasons so many churches have lost sight of the fact that they have been sent (John 17:18) into our culture instead of merely waiting for people to show up on Sunday morning?

Answer: I think that we live in a culture that fosters a consumerist worldview. This is a false narrative that we have believed as Christians which competes with the narrative of the kingdom of God. The fact is we can’t live out both stories and be faithful to the gospel. I also think that some of the leadership philosophy coming through in the 1980s for example encouraged a very pragmatic and corporate way of doing leadership in the church. We have not theologically critiqued some of these values very well in my opinion. I feel moreover that we have highlighted methodology over a focus on discipleship and embodied practice in our teaching and preaching as leaders. We need to understand the identity of the church which is that it is a body of people sent into the world by God on his mission. It is not a vendor of religious good and services as George Hunsberger has said.

Question: What motivates, inspires and empowers a person (or a church) to sacrificially love their neighborhood and their city?

Answer: I think we need to understand that the church is a part of the ‘ecology of relationships’ that exist in the broader neighbourhood. This is something that Paul Sparks is helping us to understand in his book The New Parish. Once we realise that “God with us” means that the image of God is found in everyone and also that God is active in our community, it should influence us to take action beyond the confines of the four walls of the church. So we need to get our thinking right but not just leave it there. Instead, we then take action and connect with what God is doing in our community.

Question: What are some practical ways that Christians can get out of their comfort zones and begin to live as the hands and feet of Jesus Christ in their neighborhoods?

Answer: Get to know your neighbours- literally! Who are the people that live right next door to you but you don’t even know their names? The Art of Neighbouring is a great book that can encourage us as the authors tell us to know our neighbours names and then practice hospitality towards them. Another thing we can do is volunteer at the local community centre. What are the programs that are already happening that Christians can get involved with? This is a great way to build friendships. We need to focus on making friends rather than simply ‘connecting’ or ‘networking’ with people. Engage in missional habits like prayer walking so that God shows you his heart for the community in which you live. You will be surprised at what God reveals to you as you walk around you neighbourhood.

Question: How would you encourage a person who says they are simply too busy to get to know and love their neighbors?

Answer: Yes this is really an issue. The fact is that there is no way around this one really other than to make time for building relationships with people. Think of one activity you could stop doing or limit such as watching TV and then give more time to connecting with people. It shovel come naturally rather than forced. Be intentional as you step outside your home and God gives you an opportunity as you bump into your neighbour who you haven’t seen for some time. Sometimes it’s simply about being intentional in the everyday moments rather than carving out more time to build relationships.

Interview with Author Kimm Crandall (Christ in the Chaos)

I have said it before that I love it when people have the courage to admit their weaknesses. Yet at the same time talk about how the gospel meets them at their place of greatest need and empowers them. With that said, I want to introduce Kimm Crandall; wife, mother and author of “Christ in the Chaos”. Kimm was gracious enough to allow me to ask her a few questions. My hope and prayer is that this encourages you in the middle of everyday, mundane life!

Tell us a little about yourself and your family.

Hmmm….how do I answer this question without romanticizing our life? It would be so easy to share all of the great things that happen in our home and what fun we have together. There is a time for that, but what you really need to hear is that I am just like you.

When I was young I didn’t want to get married and instead of raising children I wanted to have pet monkeys. Things have changed and here I am in my seventeenth year of marriage and with four kids, Grace (13), Jonah (10), Lily (8) and Jackson (6) (all of which do great monkey impressions). As you can imagine my adult life has turned out much differently than what I had expected.

There is never a dull moment with four kids and there is always a need for much grace in our home. Our family is just like yours and we struggle to believe the gospel just like you do. Our life is a constant cycle of messing up, asking for forgiveness and messing up again. We face the daily challenges of life with kids who argue, cry and don’t want to go to school. We have to make them eat their broccoli, clean their rooms and do their homework. Justin and I are in the trenches and have never seen our need for Christ more clearly than we do now.

Unfortunately, many of us have been taught to think that the gospel is what gets us into the kingdom of God but fail to see how it sustains us every moment of every day. How does the gospel empower you in everyday life?

I used to think that the gospel was just a way in and that the rest of the Christian life was about following the rules and trying harder to be a better person so that God would be happy with me. When life fell apart and I could no longer hold to the standards that I had kept for myself of what a good Christian was to be, I was forced to finally acknowledge that my need for Christ extended into every minute of every day.

The gospel has freed me to embrace my weakness as a means to embrace Christ. Grace is not just a net that catches us when we fail; it is what sustains us. We are in constant need of Christ’s work on our behalf. For example: When we yell at our kids and the condemnation threatens to overwhelm us, we can remember Christ’s perfect life of never having treated others unfairly. We can remember that there is no condemnation for us because his record of always treating others fairly became ours at the cross. We can also remember that the Holy Spirit continues to work in our hearts, changing us and sanctifying us. Just as we have died with him we are also raised in the newness of life with him. He is, in that moment, providing us with everything we need. We are no longer slaves to our sin.

Knowing our freedom through the gospel then frees us to admit that we have sinned and gives us the desire to run to our kids and ask for forgiveness. There is no more shame and no more pride. Just grace and freedom and restored relationships.

Christ in the Chaos Describe how your relationship with your family is impacted when you are not finding joy in Jesus Christ.

When I forget the gospel and try to do things on my own, living by the law, I become demanding and harsh with those around me. It’s when I fall back into performance based Christianity that tells me that I must earn my way through perfect parenting, and rule following, that I become “Monster Mom.” When I forget that my right standing with God is based on Christ’s perfect record I spend my days writing my own resume’ of works thinking that I have to impress my way back to into God’s favor. And when others don’t fall in line with what I believe makes me look good on that resume’, I become angry and more demanding.

 How do you discipline your kids in such a way that is not merely punitive but it leads them to Jesus Christ?

Ha, this is a tough one. I feel like much of our discipline has been in the chaos management area for a long time now. We have so many different maturity levels in our home that it looks very different for each child. As my kids have gotten older we are finding ourselves with more and more opportunity to share the gospel through not just discipline but every day situations. We do our best to help our kids to see that good behavior is not a requirement for Christ’s love or their parents’ approval. This is hard because it is so tempting as a parent to rule over these little people with the law. I find that the use of the law gets me immediate results but the results don’t last very long or change their hearts. It just gets me what I want at the moment. There is certainly an important place for the law in parenting. We use it to show them their sin. We teach them what the law requires and after doing so (and this is not something we do every time with every kid) they often say, “but I can’t.” It’s then that their hearts are ripe for the gospel. I agree with them and then tell them that I can’t keep the law either and that’s why we both need Jesus. There is a lot of sin confessing and forgiveness-seeking on my part throughout our days. I don’t have any parenting answers but I do know that this is how we are to treat our other relationships so I do it with my kids.

What are three or four books (outside of the Bible) that have encouraged and challenged you when it comes to how the gospel relates to everyday life?

I’d say that the book that really got me started down the path to the cross would be Because He Loves Me by Elyse Fitzpatrick. It was given to me as an assignment in counseling and although I fought it the first time I read it, this book completely rocked my world.

A Gospel Primer by Milton Vincent quickly became a handbook for me. I continue to go back to this book for encouragement when I forget the gospel.

The third book would have to be Gerhard Forde’s Theologian of the Cross. This was the first theology book I had ever read. My husband almost died of shock when he saw it in my hands the first time because I always left the studying to him. Now I can’t get enough of Forde.

Luther on Galatians is another book that I continually refer back to. I loved reading this book so much that I carried it around in my purse for at least a year. It’s like my second Bible. Luther gets me. I love his boldness and ability to admit his weakness.

Kimm’s Blog

Link to buy Christ in the Chaos