Friday, August 16, 2019

From Foster to Adoption

This post should have been written a month ago, but life has been a bit crazy.  Please forgive the delay.

A year and a half ago I wrote a post about our decision to become foster parents.  While some of you know what came of that, others may not yet know.  So, here is the rest of the story up to this point.
Dawson, 5 months old

As I mentioned in my previous post, 5 month old baby “D” was placed in our home a couple days after we were licensed as foster parents.  Baby “D”, whose real name is Dawson, was an amazing baby.  He “fit” into our family immediately.  The only thing that was a struggle was he woke up every 2 hours or so crying and needing a bottle.  Or, so we thought at the time.  Later we discovered he had a digestion issue.

Dawson was in our home for 2 months before he was placed with some local family members.  His uncle and aunt lived at the time in Lolo and were willing to care for him.  Saying goodbye to the little guy was incredibly hard – Miriam and I were a wreck all day.  The only solace we had was that Dawson’ family had asked Miriam to babysit him a couple of days a week, so we still had some contact.

Dawson, Easter 2018
In the meantime, 2 other foster children, a sister and brother, were placed with us.  We cared for them for a couple of months until they were placed with some family.  At that time, we were notified that Dawson’s placement was not working out and that he would be put back into the foster system.  Would we be willing to take him again?  There was no hesitation – we said yes.  And so, at the end of March, 2018, Dawson was returned to live with us.

At the time when we applied for foster care, we were asked numerous times whether we were interested in adoption.  Each time we said no.  We had raised our children.  The last one was getting ready to leave the nest.  We were looking forward to having time for just the two of us.  And so adoption was not at all on our minds.  That is, until Dawson was returned to us.

Within days of his return and his folding back into our family as if he had never been gone, Miriam and I were quickly agreed that if Dawson was eligible to be adopted, we were willing to do that.  It was not what we had planned originally, but we are both still convinced it was and still is the right thing to do.  And so began 15 months of waiting.  Mom quickly terminated her parental rights.  Dad was sporadic in his visitation until he finally voluntarily terminated his rights in the spring of 2019.  That opened the door for us to apply to be Dawson’s adoptive parents.

Dawson, 26 months
And so, on July 17, 2019, we stood in front of a judge and formally welcomed Dawson David Boschmann into our family.  It is a bit of a terrifying responsibility, in that Miriam and I are no longer young parents, but we are trusting God that He is in charge and He has a good plan for this young man.  We love him dearly and are so glad that God brought him into our home that October a year and a half ago.  We thank you for all of you who have supported and prayer for this situation, and we pray that together we will be able to watch Dawson grow up to be a godly man of God.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

An Encouraging and Challenging Journey

In the interest of full disclosure, the author of this book, Tara Barndt, is a personal friend of mine.  She asked me to provide a review for her book for Amazon, and I thought I would post it on my blog as well.  I have no problem writing a review for her because Tara has written a very personal yet insightful devotional on the Pauline epistle of Philippians.

Journey through Philippians is a 33 day daily devotional that takes the reader through Paul’s letter to the Christian believers in the Greek city of Philippi.  Each day’s reading concerns itself with only a handful of verses, allowing the reader to easily read, re-read and meditate on the day’s passage.  The daily reading is short – typically 2-4 pages – but not so short that it is lacking in content.  Tara does not shy away from digging into the text itself, at times tackling the original Greek meanings behind our English text, but she does so in a manner that is not at all overwhelming or intimidating to the average reader.

Tara’s writing is very honest.  As Tara’s friend and her pastor, I have seen her struggle with some of the very things she has put down on paper in this book.  She is not preaching at the reader from an ivory tower, convinced that she has it all together.  Rather, she is a fellow struggler, someone seeking to put Paul’s inspired words into practice in her life as well.  She uses an abundance of personal examples to help the reader understand and apply the day’s text and ends each day with a reflection section in which she invites each of us to ponder the text and its practical meaning for our lives.

Some of you may be concerned because Journey through Philippians is self-published.  While an increasing number of people are self-publishing today, many, including myself, regularly wonder about the quality of the typical self-published book.  Don’t worry about that with this book.  The author actually had offers from publishing houses, but her desire is to translate the book into Spanish and use it in ministry contexts in Central America.  Only by self-publishing does she retain the rights to the text to allow that to happen.

Journey through Philippians is an excellent study of Paul’s wonderful book.  I recommend it highly to anyone who is looking for a devotional that is both faithful to God’s word and seeks to challenge them in their walk with Jesus.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Book Review - Love Thy Body by Nancy Pearcey

Have you ever wondered why society has so strongly rejected traditional morality?  Have you ever asked why people seem to think so differently than they thought even 20 years ago.  Nancy Pearcey, in her excellent book Love Thy Body:  Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality, gives us the reasons why society has changed so radically.

Pearcey takes us back to people like Immanuel Kant, the 18th century philosopher who first taught that life is defined by a fact/values split.  Facts are public, objective and valid for all.  Values are private, subjective and relativistic.  The problem is, in our post-modern world, values have come to trump facts in every area.  When this fact/values split is applied to human life and sexuality, the facts of our biological body are set aside in favor of values that may or may not line up with our biological identity.  After laying this fact/values foundation, Pearcey goes on to painfully and exhaustively show how this idea works itself out in daily life.

For example, take the issue of abortion.  In the arena of abortion (and many other places), the fact/values dichotomy works itself out as a body/personhood contrast.  No one on either side of the abortion debate today denies that human life is present very early on in fetal development.  The baby inside a mother’s womb may be life, but post-modern society is quick to deny that it is a person.  Persons have moral worth and legal standing.  Bodies are expendable, biological organisms that can be sold for parts to the highest bidder.  Today being a member of the human race is not enough to qualify as a person.  Rather one must earn that status, something a child in the womb cannot do.       This lack of personhood provides the justification for abortion.

It does not take much thinking to see how this body/personhood split might affect the end of life as powerfully as it does the beginning of life.  Assisted suicide and euthanasia are driven by personhood.  In post-modern thinking, there comes a point when an aging or sick human being is no longer a person, but merely a body with no right to life.  Doctors are now people making moral decisions, not medical decisions.  And when life is no longer valued, the continuance of life comes down to a matter of costs and benefits, not any intrinsic value in that life.

The fact/values, body/personhood split also affects how we see and practice sex.  The hook-up culture that exists in our world is a classic example.  Our bodies are merely means of fulfilling physical needs that are to be divorced from our emotions.  Sex education in our schools is concerned with the health of our bodies, not the health of our hearts or emotions.  Sex becomes a religion, a vision of redemption.  It is also a lie, as human beings are designed to unite not only physically but also emotionally.

Pearcey also addresses Same Sex Attraction and transgender issues.  In these areas, identities are again driven by values, by our feelings and our desires.  Those “values” give us permission to use our bodies in ways that contradict biology.  The homosexual/transsexual/gender questioning person is convinced that their most authentic self can be found only when they reject the biological body given them by God and build their identity somewhere else.  Sexuality then becomes a social construct which is indefinable, able to be manipulated, fluid and severed from biological facts.  This, Pearcey explains, when taken to a logical conclusion, ultimately undermines the basis for human rights.

Finally, she addresses how marriage and family are affected by this change of thinking.  The assumption today is that marriage is no longer a covenant, but a contract defined by terms we choose.  In the Supreme Court’s Obergfell decision, the court reduced marriage to an emotional attachment which was identical to all couples, regardless of biology.  Redefining marriage leads to a redefinition of parenting as a contract as well; a contract an increasing number of parents are opting out of.  Here in Montana, 10 years ago there were just over 1000 children in the foster system, today there are 4000!  The end result is that the state ends up with power over families in ways that were unheard of 50 years ago.

All this is very depressing and worrying.  But Pearcey also has good words to say.  In each chapter, she is quick to remind the church of its response to these things.  Christians ought to be on the forefront of showing compassion to those who are sexually confused and struggling.  We need to communicate a high view of the body as God created it.  Yes it is corrupted by sin, but it also is of such high value that God will one day redeem it and make it new, fit for eternity.  We need to present a picture of a good God who is big enough to bring purpose to suffering and who can turn difficult events to something good.  We need to remind people that sex is not God.  Jesus Christ lived a fulfilled life, a perfect life, being fully human in every way, without sex.  We need to encourage people that our true identities are found in our creation in the image of God and that our biological identities have been given to us by God for good. 

Yes, we live in a very confused time.  But in the gospel and its hope for now and the future, God has given us wonderful truths to live out and to share.  We need to be diligent and see how these timeless, transformative truths can bring life and clarity to our confused world.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Book Review: Holy Sexuality and the Gospel by Christopher Yuan

One of the great dilemmas we face as Christians is understanding and compassionately yet truthfully addressing the sexual challenges our society throws at us.  How do we respond to homosexuality, transgenderism, the redefinition of marriage and the deconstruction of gender, for example?  How do we find clarity in those things as Christians, as well as a way forward to lovingly address those issues with our family and friends, especially those who find themselves buying into these ideas?

Christopher Yuan, professor of Biblical Studies at Moody Bible Institute, has given us a great resource to begin to answer these questions in his book, Holy Sexuality and the Gospel:  Sex, Desire and Relationships Shaped by God’s Grand Story.  I was first exposed to Yuan’s testimony through his autobiographical book, Out of a Far Country: A Gay Son's Journey to God. A Broken Mother's Search for Hope.  I also had the privilege of hearing Yuan and his parents in person at the 2018 Montana Bible College Pastor and Leaders Conference.  The audio and video of those sessions can be found here.

Yuan’s primary premise can be summed up this way – my true identity is in Jesus Christ alone.  While society seeks to redefine sexuality and write gender off as a social construct, Yuan takes us back to God’s design as based in creation.  As he writes, “Clarity [in these issues] comes not by trying to decide which approach is more compassionate but by observing which approach is grounded in the correct version of truth – God’s truth.” (p. 4) 

The book addresses the broad span of human sexuality from a theological perspective.  He examines the issue of personhood.  Sexuality has become not how we are, but who we are.  No other sin is so closely linked to our identity.  Yet the question must be asked, does sexuality really describe who we are or does it explain how we are?  Can we define our identity and personhood by our thoughts and feelings, or is there an overarching identity given to humans by God?

Yuan does a great job taking us on a journey through God’s grand story of salvation.  He begins by examining the idea of the image of God.  He addresses the importance of the fall and original sin.  Often Christians are content to chalk the roots of homosexual behavior up to environment, but Yuan is very clear, “…to claim that the primary root of homosexuality is anything but original sin is to deny orthodoxy.” (p. 37)

The book then turns to focus on what God’s sexual ethic for human beings is.  It addresses desires and temptation.  The book unpacks what the Bible says about sexuality.  God’s sexual design for humans can be boiled down to a couple of biblical themes:  chastity in singleness and faithfulness in covenant marriage.  God’s standard for all is holiness – whether one is single or married.  Unfortunately, believers have not done a very good job of holding up God’s ethic in either of those areas.  Our theology of marriage tends to be muddled and incomplete, centered more on companionship or happiness or even the fulfillment of sexual desire rather than on marriage glorifying God and pointing to the ultimate reality found in Christ and his church.  Singleness has also not been handled well by the church.  While the single person is looked on with pity by some, Yuan makes a powerful case for the goodness of singleness and the fact that single person is just as able to glorify God and reflect a Christ-like identity as a married person.

The book’s last chapters address Christian growth and sanctification as well as providing some great, compassionate loving advice to those with friends and relatives suffering sexual confusion.  How can we love them and yet address biblical truth to their lives when we are given opportunities?  As a man who lived a homosexual lifestyle prior to faith, Yuan knows what approaches reflect Christ and which will not.  The bottom line for him and any other person we may know struggling with sexual identity issues is simple:  Jesus is better.  He is better than same sex attractions, singleness and marriage.  Identity found in him is better than anything found on earth in any sexual relationship.  When all of us understand that, our sexual thinking will begin to transform into something that truly is in line with God’s truth, will and desires.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Best Reads of 2018 - Fiction

 Part 3 of my list best books of 2018 – Fiction books.

Except for one notable exception, I did not read any truly amazing fiction this year, but I did reacquaint myself to a couple of classic, timeless, fantasy characters.

Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson.  Sanderson has quickly become one of my favorite fiction writers.  This volume is the third in his Stormlight Archive series.  The plot is intricate with lots of twist and turns and an ending that makes you longing for the next book in the series.  Easily the best fiction book I read this year.

Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb.  FitzChivalry Farseer has been the topic of two of Robin Hobb’s previous series.  Here in the Fitz and the Fool series, one of the great characters of fantasy fiction returns.  He is older and slower and has a family to protect, all of which makes Fitz’s adventures and troubles all the more interesting.  Volumes 2 and 3 (Fool’s Quest and Assassin’s Fate) are also recommended.

Gauntlgrym by R. A. Salvatore.  This book was published a few years back, but I am just catching up.  Salvatore is the creator of another of the great fantasy characters – Drizzt Do’Urden – a black elf who became disenchanted with life in the evil Underdark.  Together with his good friends, Drizzt has taken me on some wonderful adventures over the years.  While Gauntlgrym is probably not the best Drizzt book, it was a lot of fun.

The Mongrel Mage by L. E. Modesitt.  Mongrel Mage is another of Modesitt’s Recluce series of novels.  It is the story of a new character, Beltur.  It is classic Modesitt – wonderful world building together with a clueless character that gradually discovers his powers.  Some think Modesitt’s books move too slowly, but I enjoy them.

2nd Tier reads, still very good, recommended:

The Heart of What was Lost by Tad Williams
Fool’s Quest by Robin Hobb
Assassin’s Fate by Robin Hobb
Hands Like Clouds by Mark Zuehlke
Crimson Shore by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
An Echo of Things to Come by James Islington
The Royal Wulff Murders by Keith McCafferty
Subterranean by James Rollins
Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
Legion:  The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds by Brandon Sanderson
Heroes of Tolkien by David Day

3rd Tier Reads, somewhat disappointing:

The Battles of Tolkien by David Day

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Best Reads of 2018 - Christian Ministry and Living

This continues my series on the best books I read this past year.  In this post, we cover the books relating to Christian living and ministry.

Sexual Sanity for Men:  Recreating your Mind in a Crazy Culture by David White.  Sexual Sanity is workbook designed for men struggling with sexual sin.  The focus is very gospel oriented.  White does a great job, chapter by chapter, of exposing the ugliness of our sexual sin and then applying gospel principles to bring change in that area of life.

Martin Luther:  The Man who Rediscovered God and Changed the World by Eric Metaxas.  Metaxas’ biographies are always well done – I especially recommend the ones of Bonhoeffer and Wilberforce.  Luther is another excellent effort.  Metaxas is quick to lay bare the facts of Luther’s life, even if it means exposing some of what we think we know as myth, to give us a wonderful portrait of this flawed but vital man.

The Glory of Christ:  His Office and Grace by John Owen.  Originally titled Meditations of the Glory of Christ and published in 1684, one year after Owen’s death, this wonderful book is a slightly modernized edition of Owen’s classic work.  Even after all these years, it is still rich in theological truth.  It is a slow read with much to digest, but it is well worth it.

Christ Formed In You:  The Power of the Gospel of Personal Change by Brian G. Hedges.  My associate and I read this book together and both of us were struck by its wisdom and power.  Hedges has written a wonderful handbook for anyone who is serious about applying the gospel to their lives and seeking spiritual transformation as a result.

Out of a Far Country:  A Gay Son’s Journey to God, A Broken Mother’s Search for Hope by Christopher Yuan and Angela Yuan.  I had the privilege of hearing the Yuans in person at a conference this past year.  This is their  autobiographical story, a tale of the power of Christ to change lives.  Christopher’s story forms the springboard for his new book, Holy Sexuality and the Gospel: Sex, Desires and Relationships Shaped by God’s Grand Story, which I am reading currently.

Missions:  How the Local Church goes Global by Andy Johnson.  This little book is part of a series put out by the 9 Marks Ministry.  It was recommended to me by my daughter – thanks Kyla – and is an excellent volume on how a church can begin or re-examine its support for missions.  It was so good, I bought copies for my elder board and we are reading it right now.

2nd Tier Reads, still very good, recommended:

Faith Alone:  The Doctrine of Justification by Thomas Schreiner
Encountering God Through Expository Preaching by Jim Scott Orrick, Brian Payne,  and Ryan Fullerton
The Mingling of Souls:  God’s Design for Love, Marriage, Sex and Redemption by Matt Chandler
Living Life Backward:  How Ecclesiastes Teaches Us to Live in Light of the End by David Gibson
2000 Years of Christ's Power, vol 2 – The Middle Ages by Nick Needham
The Gospel for Real Life by Jerry Bridges
Christ Alone:  The Uniqueness of Jesus as Savior by Stephen Wellum
Long Before Luther:  Tracing the Heart of the Gospel from Christ to the Reformation by Nathan Busenitz 
The Emotionally Healthy Leader by Peter Scazzero
Conscience:  What it is, How to Train it, and Loving those who Differ by Andrew D. Naselli and J. D. Crowley
A Vine-Ripened Life:  Spiritual Fruitfulness through Abiding in Christ by Stanley D. Gale
The Fruitful Life:  The Overflow of God’s Love through You by Jerry Bridges
The Fruit of the Spirit:  Becoming the Person God wants You to Be by Thomas E. Trask and Wayde I. Goodall
Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit:  Growing in Christlikeness by Christopher J. H. Wright
Parenting:  14 Gospel Principles that can Radically Change your Family by Paul David Tripp
The Imitation of Christ:  Classic Devotions in Today’s Language by Thomas a Kempis and James Watkins
The One True Light:  Daily Reading for Advent from the Gospel of John by Tim Chester
Love Came Down At Christmas:  Daily Readings for Advent by Sinclair B. Ferguson
Grace Alone:  Salvation as a Gift of God by Carl R. Trueman
Benjamin Franklin:  The Religious Life of a Founding Father by Thomas S. Kidd

3rd Tier Reads, somewhat disappointing:

Recovering Eden:  The Gospel According to Ecclesiastes by Zack Eswine
Craftsmen:  Christ-Centered Proverbs for Men by John Crotts
Spirit Life: Living, Loving, Learning and Growing in the Lord by Stuart Briscoe

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Best Reads of 2018 - History/Biography

I recently looked at my blog and noticed my last post was in June.  Ouch!  I knew it had been a while, but I did not think it had been that long.  And only 5 posts in all of 2018!  Chalk it up to having a toddler in the house again, I guess.

I may be delinquent in updating my blog, but I don’t want to be too delinquent in getting out my “best of” books list for 2018.  As in past years, I have grouped them into three categories – history/biography, fiction and Christian living/ministry.  I highlight the handful of books I consider the best of the year and then list the others as very good or somewhat disappointing.

First, the best history/biography books I read this year.

Marlborough:  His Life and Times by Winston S. Churchill.  Yes, that Winston Churchill.  At almost 1000 pages, this is an abridged version of his magnificent biography of his ancestor, John Churchill, the Earl of Marlborough. (The original version is 4 volumes!) Once the reader gets past Winston Churchill’s somewhat florid and very English prose, you will find a brilliantly written portrait of the man who very possibly was the greatest general the English have ever produced.

The Bonanza King:  John Mackay and the Battle over the Greatest Riches in the American West by Gregory Crouch.  This was the best history book I read this year.  It combines Western history, the thrill and suspense of mining discovery and the rags to riches story of John Mackay who came to control much of what we now know as the Comstock Lode of silver mines in Nevada.

The Madman and the Butcher:  The Sensational Wars of Sam Hughes and General Arthur Currie by Tim Cook.  Chalk this one up to the Canadian history I did not get in high school in Winnipeg.  Cook’s book is a fascinating dual biography of the relationship between two famous Canadians, Sam Hughes, the intemperate and probably crazy Minister of Defense during World War 1, and Arthur Currie, Canada’s greatest World War 1 general.

Indianapolis by Lynn Vincent and Sara Vladic.  Indianapolis is the story of one of the great, forgotten tragedies of World War 2.  The cruiser Indianapolis was sunk by a Japanese sub during the last months of the war and most of the crew lost their lives.  The tragedy was compounded by the fact that it was completely avoidable and that those truly guilty got off with their reputation and military careers intact.

Leadership in Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin.  I enjoy Goodwin’s writing and try to read everything she releases.  When I first saw this book, I was somewhat skeptical of finding anything new, since Goodwin had written books on all four of the presidents portrayed here.  I was happy to be proven wrong.  The book is a focused portrait of the leadership styles of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt and Lynden Johnson.

On Desperate Ground:  The Marines at the Reservoir, the Korean War’s Greatest Battle by Hampton Sides.  Sides is another author that writes excellent history and On Desperate Ground does not disappoint.  The grim story of the Marines at Chosin Reservoir is well told here, shedding new light on one of the greatest struggles of the Cold War.

Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy, 1945-75 by Max Hastings.  Many Vietnam history books are very limited, either in scope or their bias toward one side or the other.  Hastings’ book is comprehensive, starting with the French in Vietnam and ending at the North’s final victory over the South.  It is also balanced – no one comes out of this conflict looking good, and Hastings is not afraid to criticize any and all of the parties involved, including the American media for their bias toward the Communist North.

2nd Tier Reads, still very good, recommended:

No Better Place to Die:  The Battle of Stones River by Peter Cozzens
Mosby’s Rangers by Jeffry D. Wert
American Heiress:  The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst by Jeffrey Toobin
Our Finest Hour:  Canada Fights the Second World War by David J. Bercuson
Blood on the Hills:  The Canadian army in the Korean War by David J. Bercuson
Blood Moon:  An American Epic of War and Splendor in the Cherokee Nation by John Sedgwick
Killers of the Flower Moon:  The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann
Terrible Victory:  First Canadian Army and the Scheldt Estuary Campaign: September 13-Novermber 6, 1944 by Mark Zuehlke
The Soul of Battle:  From Ancient Times to the Present Day, how Three great Liberators Vanquished Tyranny by Victor Davis Hanson
The King and the Cowboy:  Theodore Roosevelt and Edward the Seventh, Secret Partners by David Fromkin
The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin by Gordon S. Wood
The Day of the Panzer:  A Story of American Heroism and Sacrifice in Southern France by Jeff Danby
Vimy:  The Battle and the Legend by Tim Cook
Rogue Heroes by Ben MacIntyre
Pacific Alamo:  The Battle for Wake Island by John Wukovits
Road to Disaster:  A New History of America’s Descent into Vietnam by Brian VanDeMark
The Battle of Arnhem:  The Deadliest Airborne Operation of World War 2 by Anthony Beevor.
Valley Forge by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin

3rd Tier Reads, somewhat disappointing:

The Inheritance of Rome:  Illuminating the Dark Ages, 400-1000 by Chris Wickham
Jefferson's Great Gamble: The Remarkable Story of Jefferson, Napoleon and the Men behind the Louisiana Purchase by Charles Cerami