The 5 Best Books I’ve Read on the Civil War

The 5 Best Books I’ve Read on the Civil War

The American Civil War is a fascinating time in the history of a federal democratic republic. For five years, two regions of the country duked it out from the hills of Virginia, to the coasts of the Gulf, to the rivers of the west, to the piedmonts of the South. It was a brutal military, economic, political, philosophical, and human (humanitarian?) conflict for the soul of the Republic. To many Americans, the Civil War represents a much darker and more grim time than the Revolutionary War and I complete understand that perspective. In many ways, the American Revolution was a time of new hope as we experimented with a new approach to governance and self-rule, while the Civil War, even though it freed millions upon millions of American from slavery, was a time of reckoning as a country’s sins were finally due payment in blood.

I’ve done a lot of personal reading on the American Civil War. What is my fascination with this time period? I am not sure, and this blog post isn’t an attempt at figuring that out. However, I would like to highlight the 5 best American Civil War books I’ve read, according to my opinion. You may have a different list. You Uncle Larry may also have a different list; however, this is my list, and I hope it may serve as a reference to you if you are ever in need of one.

#5. Grant by Ron Chernow


I won’t lie to you, this is a very long and very “dull” book. What do I mean by dull? Well, Ron Chernow is a great historian and makes a very excellent defense of Ulysses S. Grant, hero of the Union, including an alternative analysis of his “drinking problem.” However, the writing isn’t great. It is up to par. Unlike Chernow’s previous work, Alexander Hamilton, this book often sacrifices style for analysis, which makes it a great tool for personal education, but often difficult to get through some chapters. This book is also very, very long. To be honest, I feel like this book deserves to be here in part because of how many hours I put into it.

#4. Battle Cry of Freedom by James M. McPherson


This is probably the best, most comprehensive, and best-written single-tome book you can read on the American Civil War. If you know nothing or very little about the Civil War, then this is the book to launch your journey. McPherson tries to do a lot in this book as he approaches the war from all angles: political, military, socioeconomic, and philosophically; however, he also goes back into the 1840s and 1850s and lays out a solid historical foundation for talking about the Civil War itself. After all, the Civil War has its roots in 1776, but more directly on the Mexican-American War, The Comprise of 1850, the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, and the election of 1860. This is a must-read for all amateur historians, enthusiasts, and military history junkies. Pick it up. Do it.

#3. April 1865:The Month That Saved America by Jay Winik


Few history books have kept me on the edge of my seat such as this one. If you have a general understanding of U.S. history, the ending of the Civil War is no surprise to you. The Union won. Lincoln was shot. However, Jay Winik masterfully envelops the reader is a detailed yet almost-spiritual narrative of the last month of the War. While reading this book, my mind would at times wander and ask “what is gonna happen next?” and that should tell you how well-written this book has been and on the level of craft that went into each part of it. This isn’t a book for someone who doesn’t have at least a general understanding of what happened throughout the war. Winik’s main weakness, if it’s a weakness at all, is that he wrote a specialized narrative, assuming the reader has done his homework on the rest of the conflict. This one is a keeper and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

#2. Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin


This could have been my #1 book on this list, and it may honestly come down to how well I slept last night. For those of you who have spent serious time analyzing the Civil War, its origins, arcs, and conclusion, then you know that Lincoln is quite the complex historical and political figure. You don’t have to love Lincoln to admire that he was an incredible individual and leader.

This book is the ultimate masterpiece when it comes to Lincoln the person, the leader, the President, the conqueror, the hero, the villain, the angel, the demon, the deity, the sinner.  Even though the book falls short of a full biographical undertaking, Team of Rivals does for the Lincoln approach to leading in a time of national crisis what few other books have done for any other leader, in any time period. The book’s one weakness, which once again isn’t a weakness, is that it is almost one thousand pages long. However, you will never ever regret reading this book.

One last point on Team of Rivals: if I had the power to design the school curriculum of every school in the U.S., I would institute Team of Rivals as mandatory reading for every American. Why isn’t this book #1? Well, because it has a limited focus on the full spectrum of the Civil War, even though I may completely contradict myself with my #1 pick.

#1. The American Civil War: A Military History by John Keegan


Yes, I picked as my #1 choice a book that primarily addresses the military angle of a military conflict; however, I am making this choice acknowledging that the Civil War wasn’t just a military conflict with armies and battles—it impacted every single dimension of American life for many years, beyond the battles and the generals. That being said, there is something extremely sobering about a non-American taking a crack at narrating and analyzing your history. This book is infamous English historian John Keegan’s masterful undertaking of examining our Civil War, and I must conclude that is a powerful piece of literature, while also being the very last book he wrote and published before his death in 2012.

Ask any military leader or historian, and they have probably read something by John Keegan: The Face of Battle, The Mask of Command, The Price of Admiralty, A History of Warfare, Intelligence in War, etc. This may be a bold statement to make, but it is my opinion that in this his final work, John Keegan brought together most of the great books he wrote into one long but captivating depiction of the Civil War from its primary and most important angle, the men and the battles that shaped the fate of the country. And, once more, I must highlight how refreshing and sobering it is to have one’s history analyzed by someone who isn’t American, by someone who can point here and there and, hopefully, craft new perspectives and arguments on old debates.

I read this book in 2017, so last year, and I am waiting for the opportunity to read it again.

Well, that’s that! I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. Once again, I haven’t read every book on the Civil War and I am sure I have yet to read some awesome classics; however, this is my list based on what I’ve experienced. Please let me know what your thoughts are on these books and if you have any you would like to recommend.

From “God and me” to “God and us”: Church Worship and Traditional Liturgy Made New

From “God and me” to “God and us”: Church Worship and Traditional Liturgy Made New

I am still far from proficient when it comes to talking, or writing, about traditional liturgy in Christian worship. I often feel like there is a really good, fancy word for how to refer to something but I simply don’t know that word. Regardless, I think I am starting to better understand the power of liturgy in Christian worship and I am finally able to describe it and talk about it in a way that I definitely wasn’t able to a few months ago. Thank you, C.S. Lewis.

My entire life, I have attended what most Christians describe as contemporary Sunday worship services. I am not just referring to the musical part of worship, but to the whole pie. Whether collective church worship happens on a Sunday, Monday morning, Wednesday night, Friday night, or Saturday at noon, it doesn’t matter because I am referring to the entirety of church worship.

To make a long story short, about four years ago I hit a wall in which I no longer understood what was the point of “church worship.” What was it about? Is it a collection of my Christian brothers and sisters doing stuff in the same place? Is it a tool to deliver the Gospel to people? Is it a musical concert with a nice message at the end? I was asking myself all those questions because “church worship” had lost its meaning. Was it just a place where we hang out together, because if it is, then isn’t that what we do in small groups? Is it a place for just teaching, because if it is, then why is it so seeker-friendly and why do we put so much emphasis on “new people?” Isn’t church worship for…the church?

I was at a bad spot. I was in a really bad spot and, instead of hitting automatic and cruising through it, my wife and I decided we were going to ask God to show us what was the point about “collective church worship.” This decision led us away from what had been our home church for many years. I had been attending that church for twelve years! Twelve years! But looking back on that decision, I am overjoyed by the journey that we have undertaken alongside the Holy Spirit, which brings me back to the point of this writing.

Even though each Christian’s experience is somewhat different, God has used traditional liturgy to powerfully reawaken my walk with Jesus and my desire to be part of worship alongside a church community. Having only experienced contemporary church worship for 28 years, it has been through liturgical worship that I have come to actually see and feel what it is like to “collectively” worship as a church and not as an individual. Let me give you some examples.

The first time I sang out loud the Doxology, I started crying and I don’t know why, but all I knew was that the entire congregation was declaring these short, simple, but powerful truths together in a way that united us as a flock and a community. The first time that I saw a pastor perform a “collective prayer” and ask the congregation for prayer requests, I understood that Sunday morning could be a time in which I could actually learn and help carry my brothers and sisters’ burdens. It was through Sunday after Sunday of a pastor or priest explaining, in detail, the significance and symbolism of the Eucharist or Communion that I finally understood why it is so important to church worship. I had never knelt to pray in church, but now we do, together as a church before the Holy Spirit, and it is a rite that brings me closer to my fellow Christian. As a final example, I have never felt the power of collective church worship more than each time that at our current church we kneel and bow to pray the Lord’s Prayer, to declare out loud the Apostle’s and Nicene Creeds, to pray a Psalm together, or to read a prayer out loud as a congregation, and to receive the Eucharist.

Yes, traditional liturgy is old, and to many Christians it reminds them of the “old way of doing church.” Trust me, I thought that way too. Liturgy was just “too Catholic” for a neo-Calvinist like me; however, it has been through a journey in Presbyterian, Catholic, and Anglican churches and services that I have finally understood the power it has to bring a community of worshippers together. God used traditional liturgy to help me grasp what it is like to be in a room on Sunday morning and actually feel that we are all, collectively, as a body, and not as individuals, engaging, worshipping, and having community with the Trinity.

Having said all this, traditional liturgy maybe isn’t for everything, and I totally get it. If you’ve asked me 7 years ago to be part of an Anglican, Lutheran, or liturgical Presbyterian church, I would have laughed at you and told you why all those traditions and rituals are “too Catholic, and they are getting between you and your personal walk with Jesus.” I would have definitely said or thought something along those lines. But then I realized that the contemporary, individualism-centric, mainstream, and upbeat church worship that I had been experiencing for many years wasn’t really leading into church worship at all, because if church worship doesn’t draw your closer in fellowship with your brothers and sisters across the aisle and across the sanctuary, then why even call it church worship?

Final Thoughts: There are a lot of comments in this post to make a lot of people angry. I have a lot of friends that would question my faith knowing that I am now “down with the old school liturgy.” Additionally, some of you will read this and say, “he is bashing my church,” but that is not the case. If your contemporary church worship actually leads you into collective, communal worship, then that’s awesome. It wasn’t doing it for me. It wasn’t doing it for us.

When I think of C.S. Lewis, I used to most often think about his classic books like Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, and The Chronicles of Narnia. However, it didn’t hit me until I started reading Lewis’ Letters to Malcolm that C.S. Lewis was an Anglican, and that every Sunday he went to church and worship in a traditional liturgical style that, for many years, I looked down and judged. I find it extremely humorous that God is using an element of ancient Christian worship that I ridiculed in order to bring me back into the fold, to help me better understand church community and worship, and to better grasp the role that as believers, we have in one another’s lives.


“From Dust:” Lent Season

“From Dust:” Lent Season

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.”

Psalm 103: 11-14

For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust. I couldn’t do much else but to let tears run down my face as the congregation read aloud Psalm 103 last night, during the Ash Wednesday service that we attended. Then, verse 14 hit me like sledge hammer cracking walls of concrete around my heart, and suddenly I could do no other but to sit there reflecting on the fact that I am finite, I am but dirt of the ground, I have a beginning and, outside of God, an end, yet God is eternal, and He endures through the ages.

It wasn’t a moment of guilt, even though the Spirit led me to conviction many times last night. Sometimes, when we are at our lowest and when our guilt consumes us, we can feel like crap, like dirt that deserves to be stepped on. However, this wasn’t the feeling that awoke within me from verse 14. To be reminded that the Lord knows my frame, dust, and yet He chooses to love me, is an incredibly powerful truth, and one that I would love to be reminded of every day. The entirety of Psalm 103 is an invocation of God and how, from the heavens where sin has no foothold, he reigns down mercy and grace upon His people. Does He have to? No. He chooses to. Through Christ, our mortally sick and broken selves are lifted from death into life, from curse unto holiness, and we are shown true freedom: the freedom to live a live everlasting in worship and true uninterrupted communion with the Triune God.

For he knows our frame, He knows our frame. He knows our frame. He remembers we are dust. We are dust, and yet He delivers compassion, justice, mercy, grace, love, I couldn’t think of a better way to begin this season of Lent than to be reminded that regardless of my finite condition, my brokenness and my constant failures and shortcomings, the Father chooses to think of me, the Son calls me brother, and the Holy Spirit comforts my heart.

Seasons of Rest and Recharge

Seasons of Rest and Recharge

The easy conclusion is that today, more than ever, online and television content is toxic, overwhelming, insincere, profit-centric, and unchristian. That would be the easy conclusion, but an honest insight into all things of this world will show otherwise. The things that aren’t of God have never been of God. Even though God is sovereign over all things, many individuals in this world are in open rebellion against Him. However, this isn’t and shouldn’t be news to those in the Kingdom, for the world has been at war with the Lord for a very long time.

There are times when the soul needs respite that can only be sought by disconnecting from our daily routines, routines centered on worldly affairs. If someone is an avid listener of podcasts or the news, then the evils and struggles of the world can at times become heavy weights chained to our hearts. There is a point where the evil of the world, and the open ongoing rebellion against God, is simply exhausting. It is then that God calls his children to not just unplug from the world, but to plug into that which is holy and gives life.

Take the television series of Game of Thrones and Ballers, both on HBO and recently starting new summer seasons. As Christians, the content of these shows, which is often very graphic and mature in nature, isn’t forbidden to us, but we are to consume it with wisdom and discernment. The Christian needs to be in constant search for discernment in all walks of life, but especially with content that we have assumed as part of our routine and everyday life. Often, the daily and weekly habits that we adopt and take for granted are the ones that most easily become idols and daggers aimed directly at our hearts. Therefore, constant discernment and communication with the Holy Spirit is essential in finding a proper balance between what is routine in life and when the proper season arises to disconnect and to let our souls rest in what is life-giving.

As a personal example, I deleted the podcasts application on my iPhone yesterday. At first, it took me a few minutes to go through with it. My fear was, “well, if I delete this, how will I keep up with worldwide news? How will I remain ‘in-the-know’ of what’s happening?” And yet, the moment those questions crossed my mind, that’s when I knew that I had to delete the application. The constant obsession with keeping up with podcasts had been making me anxious for a few weeks, feeling I couldn’t catch up, and I needed to spend hours upon hours going through content. But no, that is no way to live. I felt the Spirit drive to delete the application, and immediately I felt freedom surge within me. That application had become a chain tied around my neck, but no longer.

Walking in the freedom of Christ can take many forms and impacts many areas of daily and weekly life. Knowing when to delete that application, or stop watching that TV show, or not staying up late every night is part of such freedom. The Holy Spirit empowers the believer with discernment to know when to resist the everyday things, and with the freedom to transform our disciplines when a season of rest and recharge is upon us.

The Book of Joel, chapter 2, verse 11 says: “The LORD utters his voice before his army, for his camp is exceedingly great; he who executes his word is powerful. For the day of the LORD is great and very awesome; who can endure it?” Investing time reading and diving into the Word of God is not only essential to the Christian, but also necessary in knowing when to step away from certain routines of this world. Remember that your God is a mighty LORD and his army is exceedingly great. Don’t even let yourself be in bondage to anything in this world, but call upon the LORD and he will chatter those chains.

Seeking God’s Heart for This City

Seeking God’s Heart for This City

We’ve recently moved across the country and a source of constant stress and worry has been finding the right church. When we began this blog, we didn’t know we would be moving to another location so soon. Yet, here we are: new state, new city, new neighborhood, new home, no church.

Now, this is silly because we are part of the universal church. Kat and I, as Christians, belong to the world community of saints and believers that have placed their trust in Jesus Christ and God’s grace. Knowing this, we are also never alone for we have communion with the Holy Spirit and the Word of God; however, I am a “church man,” and not having a new home church has been a source of concern in the back of my mind.

The Holy Spirit spoke to me a few mornings ago, while reading Psalm 40, specifically verses 9 through 11, which read:

“Go up on a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!” Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.”

This passage is a prophecy from Isaiah to the Hebrews, threatened with conquest at the hands of the Assyrians. The Hebrews faced doom, war, destruction, and the conquest of their homeland. Yet, Isaiah proclaims “behold your God!”

Kat and I aren’t facing the same situation the Hebrews and the Kingdom of Judah faced at the hands of the Assyrians. Not remotely close. However, we have had to leave our home and come to a new land, a new context, and we’ve had to leave behind our church, community, and friends.

As someone who was raised in the church, I don’t enjoy this phase of being church-less. Once again, I highlight that we are never without a church in the sense of the community of believers and that the Holy Spirit is with us; however, sainthood was meant to be lived in community. Kat and I have each other, but we have always thoroughly enjoyed being in the presence of brothers and sisters, being part of small groups and life groups, feeling at home in a church, and leading whenever we are called to lead. We share a strong conviction, depicted in the Gospel and New Testament, that fellowship is at the core of the Christian life, and that even though God is there for Christians without fellowship, we are called to seek and enjoy fellowship centered on the Gospel and the Holy Spirit.

However, we haven’t found that community yet. We have attended two awesome churches, and we even volunteered at a local food distribution center with one of them. We attended a small, non-denominational church-plant that meets at a local school. We also attended an Anglican congregation that is in the process of planting an inner-city church. At both of these congregations, we were welcomed with incredible love. The preaching at the small church plant was excellent and the liturgy at the Anglican church was truly fantastic. This weekend, we plan to attend a church that congregates at the local university—we are excited to experience their form of worship and learn of their work in this city. We hunger for community and fellowship.

The passage in Isaiah spoke to me because it reminded me that God is sovereign, regardless of our condition. Yes, we don’t yet have a local church, but God is looking out for us. Yes, we don’t have a solid community that we can plug into, and yet the Holy Spirit is constantly here ready to have fellowship with us. In the midst of my quiet time reading Isaiah, the LORD said to me: “You are set on finding the right church, but remember that I am at work throughout this whole city. I am not bound to one church or one building, for my passion is for this whole city. You are set on finding the right church, but I tell you to focus on being salt and light and understanding how much this city needs the Good News. Seek first my passion, my desire, and will for this city, and you will find fellowship when the time is right.”

I don’t claim to have the gift of prophecy, but I am certain that the words that were spoken to me were the Holy Spirit intervening. I was convicted of fixating too much on finding the right church, prior to setting my heart on learning the work of God that needs to take place throughout this whole city, across all churches, congregations, urban villages, neighborhoods, and communities. This conviction is mighty yet comforting, because I immediately felt all the anxiety and worry exit my soul. I understood, once more, that God cares more about Kat and me understanding His heart passion for this city and its people, more than the limited and often short-sighted goal of finding the right church.

If you are in the same place we are, church-less or seeking a church, be comforted by the fact that you aren’t alone. I would love to run a nationwide survey of Christians. I think we would be amazed by the thousands (if not millions) of Christians that don’t have a current local church. Additionally, I’d encourage you to look beyond the objective of finding the “right church,” and instead focus on understanding God’s passion for your city, town, community, and region. Today, I have to walk to the bank and then to the local FedEx store and my hope is to walk in prayer, seeking to learn God’s heart for this polis.

The end of Isaiah chapter 40 states that they who wait for the LORD “shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (v.31). I know that the prophecy here is context-specific—we aren’t the Hebrews facing conquest. However, take faith that God is ready to engage with us in fellowship whenever we are ready to sit down and listen. He will renew our strength and we shall not faint. Seek first His kingdom here, and all else will be added.

Creating Room in the Noise to Make Music

Creating Room in the Noise to Make Music

This week, I’ve actively unsubscribed from email lists. The trend started because we moved. North Carolina Groupon deals will do me little good in Virginia. Instead of changing the location, I opted to unsubscribe. Once the trend started, I couldn’t stop. I’ve unsubscribed to most of the marketing emails that I’ve received over the past few weeks. The ones that I’ve continued to subscribe to, I see value in.

I’ve started to think a lot this month, as I said goodbye to friends and packed the last pieces of our house up for our move, that there is a lot of noise in the world. And that noise is just a distraction from the things that really matter.

These thoughts are spurred both from moving and from losing a relative that I loved very much recently. With this particular relative, because of a mixture of things that really boil down to ease and selfishness, I often chose to embrace the noise around me instead of carving out time to call and check in, or to visit.

It’s easy to get caught up in the noise. It’s easy to use the noise as an excuse. But in reality, it’s just noise.

As we start this new phase of life, I’ve been making strides to reduce the noise around me and to lean into the things that make music. Noise and music can be different things to different people, but I am trying to cut down on the things that are noise or can become noise if they aren’t taken in smaller doses.

Things I let become noise:

  • Marketing emails
  • Working through lunch
  • The radio
  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Game Phone Apps – My current favorite is Two Dots. It’s addictive.
  • TV shows – This one is all about moderation.
  • Checking my email on my phone – I removed the icon and still find myself reflexively looking for it.
  • Online window shopping.

Things that make music in my life:

    • Healthy relationships – Catching up with a friend, spending time with my husband, calling a relative to say hello, and spending time with God.
    • Discovering – Reading a book; learning something new through an online class, blog or podcast; road trips.
    • Creating – Creating a new recipe. My most recent success was gluten-free pumpkin cobbler. YUM! It is always a good day when I get to make something, food or otherwise.
  • Going outside – Even if it is just to read on my lunch break, being outside always brightens my day. Also, the sky is generally one of my favorite things to watch.

I think as Christians we are called to evaluate our lives and make sure that we are leaning in to the things that God has called us to and the gifts that God has given us to enjoy. But also, that we don’t lose God, or the people and places that he has called us to, in the noise.

What things in your life are noise and what things make music? How often do you sacrifice music for noise?

Talking About Sin and Other Light-Hearted Stuff

Talking About Sin and Other Light-Hearted Stuff

Let’s talk about sin and other light-hearted stuff. Well, maybe we won’t talk about sin quite yet, but have you ever been in that Bible Study or small group meeting when the opportunity to bring up your sin came up, but instead everyone internally chose not to make the situation weird? Yeah, I’ve been there many times. This is one of the reasons why it is important, essential, for churches to have, in addition to small groups, men-only and women-only groups where the issues of sin can be discussed at a deeper and more understanding level.

Don’t get me wrong. Sin will destroy your life. Sin rips you away from God at birth and we are only restored by the blood of our Savior who was brutally murdered on a tree. Let that sink in for a couple seconds. There is nothing light or sympathetic about sin. I am not saying this as a judge, but as someone who has suffered through brutal sin, sinfulness used against me and from my own doing. However, in the Gospel there is grace and mercy. When we approach our brother’s sin (or sister’ sin) we are call to rebuke the sin and sinful act, but to love the person. God hates the sin and loves the person. We are called to do likewise. A college campus minister, Jeff Wilkins, used to always start RUF meetings by saying, “absolutely no one is ever beyond the reach of God’s grace, nor beyond the need of God’s grace.” I have carried that phrase upon my heart for many years.

And yet, we shy away from sin in small group gatherings. We feel shame, or at least I do. Maybe I am the only one who is fearful of being judged by my peers. I’ve experienced grace. I’ve been forgiven by the Father and yet I become a slave to shame, guilt, and fear. Why? Do I need not fully grasp grace? Is my God too small?

I re-watched the film Boondock Saints a couple days ago. It’s a mature film with a lot of cursing, a lot of killing, and some nudity. You have been warned. However, there is a scene in which a couple of the characters interact through a confession booth at a Catholic church. I don’t even know if that’s what they are called…confessions booths. Catholic friends, hook me up on this one. Nevertheless, the only reason why they scene stuck with me is because it got me thinking about the utility of public confession. What is decided, as a church body, to call out our sin publicly? What if I stood up on Sunday morning and shouted out “Lust!” “Envy!” “Anger!” “I don’t believe God will actually answer my prayers at the moment! I am doubting sovereignty right about now! Just though EVERYONE should now!” Would that make the church healthier? Would it drive some people away from public worship? Or, would it make us more legitimate? Would it strengthen us in understanding that we are really, really, really broken and that there is a VERY REAL REASON why Jesus had to die on the cross. I am not sure. I lean towards the latter, and yet, I am uncertain.

We hate talking about sin because it makes us feel not just unclean and broken, but because we are fearful of walking backwards. I am super guilty of this. As a Calvinist (because that label is obviously in Scripture…it isn’t), I fear that I am not persevering sometimes. I sometimes fear that my life isn’t showing the Gospel of Jesus enough…that I am walking backwards and not forward. As a Calvinist, I at least believe that I am chosen or not, because I would hate to believe that I could lose my salvation. That would majorly suck. We hate sin, we detest sin, we rebuke sin, and yet we fear sin. Fearing sin, is sin (insert sad “LOL” here).

I want God to conquer my fear and my shame. I want God to transform into someone who isn’t afraid of sin. I want to fully embrace the truth that Jesus died for my sin, rescued me from having to pay for it myself, and has given everlasting life and a restored, beautiful, and truly pleasurable relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit. I teared up a bit writing that last sentence. It hit me deeply, somewhere inside.

On the topic of community, I want brothers who bring up sin (insert another “LOL” here). I want brothers who call me out on shit. I want brothers who not only call me up about watching the game, hanging out, or going out for food, but who also ask me: “how’s your heart, man?” “What are you struggling with? No bullshit.” I want that. I don’t have that right now.

This post wasn’t specifically about sin, but on talking about it. I don’t know if it is actually worth reading, but it’s something that I needed to write. In my search and understanding for better Christian and Covenant community, talking about sin and our struggle with it is something I definitely want God lead the way on.

Thanks for reading.

“Looking” for “Church”

“Looking” for “Church”

What do you first look for when looking for a new church or new Christian community? What are those “key words” searches that you plug into your web browser or “must have” list? What do you prioritize? What are deal-breakers? How much of what we are looking for is Biblical? How much of it is actual quite relative and purely cultural?

            Kat and I have been at our current church for about 9 months. We recently became members and we are extremely happy to be part of this community of believers. However, the last church I was a member at I attended for most of my life, so the experience of “looking for a church” was quite new to me.

            We were very fortunate to have people we already knew attending our current church. In fact, my boss and one of my fellow interns at the summer internship I took up last summer are all members of this church. Like I said, we feel extremely blessed to be part of this community. But what did I look for? What did I search for the very instant that I walked through the doors?

            When it comes to finding a church, and joining a Christian community, I am greatly influenced by the teachings of Pastor Jeremy, a former pastor of mine and lifelong friend who officially “discipled” me (boom: big evangelical term-drop) from the age of fifteen through the age of twenty-two. He continues to be a very big influence on my life; however, Reformed theology teaching was a huge part of my early discipleship. I remember buying a copy of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology and reading “The Calvary Road” by Roy Hession. Additionally, we spent time a plenty discussing the theological merits of predestination and the finer points of 5-point Calvinism. However, alongside Reformed theology, my discipleship under Pastor Jeremy helped me gain an appreciation for what we call, in Reformed ghettos, “expository preaching.” Expository preaching is a type of preaching in which the pastor or, well, preacher centers their sermon around a text or passage in Scripture. Basically, instead of picking a random topic to preach on, such as “finances” or “relationships,” the preacher preaches directly from Scripture, dissecting and discerning what a specific passage in the Bible means—no pressure.

            So yes, when I look up a new church or walk around the lobby of a church we are visiting, I look for those unquantifiable elements of (1) Reformed theology and (2) expository preaching. However, at the end of the day, you can’t really catch these unless you sit through quite a few sermons there, but churches tend to have hints that I have caught myself looking for. What kind of books do they have in their bookstore? Do they have any John Piper, Francis Chan, or Tim Keller? Do they sing a lot fluffy contemporary songs or do they stick to some theology-centric good stuff? Now some of those may come across as silly, but I have honestly found myself in that mindset, and I am sure all of you have a list of what you look for.

            Are those lists healthy? Are they ok to have or do they minimize our potential loyalty to a church community down to a mediocre game of matching? Are we justified in looking for a church community that agrees with our theological perspective, take on worship, views of women in leadership, and holy opinions on jeans and basketball shorts? I think we are partly justified. As a husband, and hopefully future parent, I want my family to be part of and be surrounded by a church community that has “healthy” theology, which in my opinion, is of the Reformed variety. Personally, I consider Reformed theology to be Gospel-centric, so for me it isn’t being nitpicky to weigh the theological positions held by the pastor, church, denomination, or network. If we are honest and humble in our approach to new churches we may visit, I think we are fairly justified in finding a community that we can naturally join and not only edify, but also be edified by.

            Nevertheless, I also believe there are areas in which culture relative matters intrude. I have a personal taste on music and what musical worship should be like, but if my church has a different approach or embraces some newer or older styles, this isn’t a deal-breaker to me—it’s cultural and relative. Equally, there should be a level of decency when it comes to apparel and choice of clothing, but issues like “jeans in church” or people showing up in shorts is also trivial. Who cares? What does matter is that people are actually coming to church to feed on the living Word and joining in collective worship! If we are honest with ourselves, we all have those culturally-bound and relative preferences about church that have little to do with the Gospel itself, and have more to do with what we are comfortable with.

            To tackle a more serious note, I am passionate and inspired by churches that pursue genuine diversity across ethnicities, races, languages, and age groups. Our current church is struggling, in a good way, with this issue. We want diversity because the Kingdom of God is diverse, but how do we achieve it without being superficial or “forcing” diversity down our throats. How do we do that? I think it starts with communal engagement and by being part of the city we are called to. Wherever your church is located, I believe that the Gospel calls us to be locally relevant and justice-minded. Can we, as a church, do more for the local community? Are there poor and needy people around that we should be helping? Is there de facto or de jure oppression in our city or community that we should be battling against? Can we be part of local racial reconciliation? Are we giving back as much as we are getting? Are we being missional at every level of society? I believe that when a church becomes relevant at the local level, diversity will be a by-product of a church serving its Gospel-centric mission, both evangelistically ad justice-centric.

            What have you looked for in a church? What’s on your list? What does Jesus think of your list? I think these are good questions to reflect on. The New Testament, specifically the book of Acts and Paul’s letters speak a plenty on the early church and the struggles they faced, and the modern church has much to learn and re-learn from the ancient church. I believe we are justified in looking for solid theological foundation and a healthy community to be part of; however, I also believe that as believers, as saints, we may also be called to bring with us that sound foundation and healthiness with us. Am I a catalyst for good in my church? Am I a catalyst for a healthier community? Am I a vessel of blessing and edification to my fellow believers? Am I a source of needed discipleship, mentorship, and sound teaching, and if not, why not?

Thank you for reading.

Looking for Saints and Finding Sinners

Looking for Saints and Finding Sinners

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

3:30 AM

          A few months, Kat and I decided to start a blog together. This is not the first time we’ve blogged together, but I do hope it is the time that we stick to it. Why do we choose to write? Blog? I don’t know, but in my desire to understand the present, we gain a better understanding of the past and the times to come. However, in our pursuit of the eternal, we gain wisdom beyond compare and measure. Priceless. We write and post here because we are but agents of the Divine seeking to understand the present through the scope of the eternal. We seek to understand the Kingdom through the outlook of the Priestly King.

          Looking for saints and finding sinners is an idea that came to Kat and me during one of our many conversations. It refers to the reality that as Christians, and by extension as humans, we are constantly seeking better community. Feel free to define better as you wish. From the moment we join the rest of society, in either pre-school or grade school, we seek community. We seek others to become “we” and “us.” We seek to be understood and to understand. We seek others but not just any others, but those who are willing to self-less to the extent of accepting us, cherishing us, enjoying us, valuing us. Humans are social beings, much like God the Father has community with the Son and the Spirit. The Creator made the Created to exist in community.

          Kat and I had a conversation in which we discussed the Christian’s constant pursuit for community. As saints, we seek to join a church, to join Bible Studies and small groups, to be part of a community of fellow believers. This is an easy journey for some, but it can be a very difficult and brutal journey for others. Some Christians find their community, ideally through a church,  almost spontaneously. Other believers may journey for years before finding a group to call home. Some of us find that “core community” among fellow believers, while others find it among unbelievers. We may at times go through phases and we may go into greater detail of these phases later. And yet, we seek community. We seek to belong. We seek others.

          One of our conclusions was that as the Christian is in constant pursuit of community, in our minds we may seek a “purer,” “more mature,” or even “more Christian” community. We spend our whole lives looking for saints, and yet, we end up finding sinners. Christian community, in its most basic sense, is made up of saints, rescued by the grace of God, but made up of saints who sin. We are looking for saints and finding sinners. We look for the holy seeking a more perfect understanding others in other to be better understood. And yet, we fall short, because even though the holy is in us and works through us, we are still in the journey of further sanctification.

          If I were to assign this blog any purpose, it is to better understand the pursuit and finding of, the departure from, the desire for, and the victories and failures of Christian community. Let me be more specific: to better understand Christian community in our present context, through the outlook of the eternal. Nothing that we write and post in this blog is as important as the value of Scripture. Hopefully, we will post content that is a blessing to you, but nothing is more important the Holy Word. I echo Kat and I’s feelings in sharing that if reading this blog takes time away from reading the Scriptures, then go read the Scriptures.

          May you be blessed in your pursuit of community.