Category Archives: Christian living

Book Review: Broken Pieces

Broken Pieces and the God Who Mends Them: Schizophrenia Through a Mother’s Eyes, Simonetta Carr.  Phillipsburg: P & R Publishing, 2019.  Softcover, 359 pages.

Though it deals with a gut-wrenching topic, I could not put this book down.  I bought it on a Saturday afternoon and had it finished by Tuesday morning.  It’s compelling reading about a family’s struggle with mental illness.  Simonetta Carr’s son Jonathan developed schizophrenia and it turned their world upside down.

The book consists of two parts.  The first is the story of Jonathan and the Carr family.  You won’t be able to read it without tears.  The second part is about coming to terms with mental illnesses like schizophrenia.  How can affected families find the support and help they need?  The author answers questions related to medication and other treatments, including Christian counselling.  She discusses self-medication through tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana.  What about when a spouse is the one with mental illness?  She offers solid theological reflection on suffering in the Christian life and how to cope with it.

There are at least four things that bring me to highly recommend Broken Pieces.

First, there’s the forthright honesty in describing the struggle Carr’s family faced with Jonathan’s illness.  The author made herself vulnerable in doing this, but the benefit is that readers unfamiliar with such experiences get a clear picture of what it’s really like.  That helps to create empathy for those suffering with mental illness in their family.  Those who are familiar with these issues receive affirmation that they’re not struggling by themselves – there are others out there who have gone through similar challenges.

Next, I really appreciate Carr’s emphasis on the church and the ordinary means of grace (i.e. preaching and the sacraments).  Her family belongs to a United Reformed Church in the San Diego area, and this church figures prominently throughout Jonathan’s story.  In the second part of the book, Carr stresses how important it is to be part of a solid, gospel-preaching church.

Third, Broken Pieces both illustrates how husbands and wives often deal with the mental illness of a child in different ways.  Yet there’s not only description, there are also suggestions on how to manage those differences and even capitalize on them.

Finally, this book has great potential to improve the understanding of the treatment of mental health issues like schizophrenia.  I’m thinking especially of our Reformed churches.  There is often much ignorance among us about the seriousness of these ailments.  In some instances, the focus is entirely on the medical side of things.  With others, the illness is (mis)treated as strictly a spiritual problem.  Carr contends for a more balanced approach taking everything into consideration.

I recommend Broken Pieces to one and all, but let me especially recommend it to two audiences in particular. First, to all families dealing with mental health issues.  It doesn’t have to be schizophrenia.  If you’re dealing with whatever mental illness, I’m sure you’ll find this a useful read.  Second, to all office bearers.  Office bearers particularly need to understand the complexities of mental illness so that in our shepherding we don’t hurt, but help.  Carr’s book will get you in the right frame of mind to show the love and patience of Christ to those suffering with their mental health.


Christian, Don’t Suppress Your Identity!

I once heard a radio program about call center workers in India.  North American companies often contract out their call center work to cheap labour in India.  However, many North Americans get annoyed and agitated when they call that number and then hear someone who’s obviously from India.  So many call center workers suppress their Indian identity as part of their work.  They take extensive training to get rid of their Indian accent, they adopt American accents, take a Western name, adopt a Western diet and so on.  So when you call that number, Jim who sounds like he’s from Boston might really be Raj from Mumbai.

As Christians, we have a distinct identity in Christ.  Believers are united to him and that means that our identity is bound up in him.  Who we are is totally related to who he is.  What we’re like and what we’re becoming is entirely related to what he is like.  You can’t separate a Christian’s identity from Jesus Christ.

Yet that’s exactly what we’re so often tempted to do, isn’t it?  We’re tempted to divide our life up into little air-tight compartments.  This compartment is what I do for entertainment and it has nothing to do with this compartment that has everything related to being a Christian.  This compartment is for me at work and it has nothing to do with the “religious” compartment.  This compartment is for me on the Internet and it has nothing to do with the “faith” compartment.  The world insists that this is the way you should live.  If you have religious convictions, you must keep them in that air-tight compartment and don’t ever let them out.  It makes things uncomfortable for people around you if you do.  Our own sinful nature tempts us to do that too – after all, it’s much easier to take the compartmentalized approach to life.  The people at work are never going to give you a hard time if you just talk and act like one of them.  That’s what we mean by suppressing your identity in Jesus Christ, hiding the fact that you are united to him.

Scripture speaks to that temptation in several places.  For example in Colossians 3, Paul points out that believers who are united to the ascended Christ should let that fact always be evident.  Christians cannot ever suppress their identity, they can’t be hiding who they really are in Jesus.   If they have a new nature in him, it should be obvious in things like “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Col. 3:12).  Our identity in Christ should be seen as we bear with one another and forgive one another (Col. 3:13).  Overarching it all, our identity in Christ should be evident in our love, “which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Col. 3:14).  Finally, that identity is lived out by doing “everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17).

Fellow Christians, we have to be who we are in the risen Lord Jesus.  No more identity suppression.


Fighting Truth Decay

Truth has fallen on hard times.  As I read the headlines each day, I can’t help but wonder:  “What happened to truth?”  Then I think of all the ways God’s people are bombarded with lies every day.  They’re carefully crafted lies and they so easily deceive.  Satan, the head trafficker of lies, is doing booming business.  Though it comes from an entirely different context, Isaiah 59:14-15 seems to have been penned just this morning:

Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far away; for truth has stumbled in the public squares, and uprightness cannot enter.  Truth is lacking, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey.

How can we as Christians continue to stand in the face of this truth crisis?  How will the church survive?  It’s going to be like it always has:  on the basis of the public, objective truth of God’s Word.  Let me point out four ways we need to work with God’s Word to battle truth decay in our day.

The Preaching

When you come to worship each Lord’s Day, you’ll hear your pastor proclaim God’s Word as steadfast, eternal truth.  You can’t underestimate the impact that has.  When you hear a man himself firmly convicted of the truth he’s preaching, that’s going to be a boost for your own grasp on the truth.  Moreover, if that preaching is faithful to God’s Word, it’s not merely a man you’re hearing.  In fact, Scripture teaches that the preaching of God’s Word is God’s Word (1 Thess. 2:13).  It’s a word from him who will never lie (Titus 1:2).  Faithful preaching is the Word of Christ, who is not only the way and the life, but also the truth (John 14:6).  There’s a reason why the Holy Spirit tells believers not to forsaking gathering together (Heb. 10:25) — the Spirit of truth drives home the word of truth in our gatherings.  So come each Lord’s Day and get your truth supplement.

Regular Daily Family Worship

Imagine if every family in the church were to gather regularly for the reading of God’s truth.  Imagine the good that would do not only for our children, but also for parents.  To listen to the truth of God’s Word each day and then to reflect on it together is going to be powerfully reinforcing its message for us.  A super helpful resource for reflecting and discussing every chapter of the Bible together is the Family Worship Bible Guide.

Regular Daily Bible Reading

One of the biggest regrets of my pastoral ministry is that in my first congregation, I didn’t teach the importance of developing the discipline of reading through all the Scriptures — that was so foolish!  God taught me this in my second congregation through a godly elder in a home visit.  More than ever, we need to be imbibing the truth of Scripture for ourselves every day.  It’s not enough just to read a Bible devotional.  Bible devotionals are selective — they only give you a verse or two chosen by the author of the devotional.  Bible devotionals are sometimes defective — too many of them neglect the fact that the Bible is first of all about Jesus.  Bible devotionals are always subjective — as you read it you only get the limited viewpoint of that author.  Bible devotionals can be helpful, but it’s not the same as doing the hard work of reading and studying the Bible for yourself.  It’s through that hard work that you appropriate God’s truth for yourself.  Developing that habit means that every day we’re letting the Holy Spirit speak truth to our hearts through the Word.  There are all kinds of Bible reading plans out there — you just need to pick one and starting running with it.  It may be hard at first, but if you persevere for the long haul, you won’t regret it.

Studying the Bible with Others

Finally, the truth gets reinforced as we study the Scriptures with one another in the communion of saints.  We have brothers and sisters who have seen truths in the Bible that we have not yet seen.  We need them to share that with us.  Similarly, we may have grasped truths from the Scriptures that they haven’t yet.  They need us to bring those truths to them.  Getting a better handle on the truths of God’s Word needs to be a communal effort.  Together, we can see and grasp more of the truth we need for life in this world in the grip of lies.

Let me leave you with Phil. 4:8, where the Holy Spirit says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true…think about these things.”  What is more true than God’s own Word?


Piper: No Desire to Read the Bible?

I’ve learned a lot from this book so far, as I usually do from John Piper.  This excerpt here is the best part I’ve read so far.  It touches on something I’ve experienced and I imagine you have too.  He’s discussing the prayer of the psalmist in Psalm 119:36, “Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain.”

Over the years in my pastoral ministry, many people have complained to me that they do not have motivation to read the Bible.  They have a sense of duty that they should, but the desire is not there.  It is remarkable how many of those people feel that the absence of the desire is the last nail in the coffin of joyful meditation on God’s word.

When I ask them to describe to me what they are doing about it, they look at me as if I had misunderstood the problem.  What can you do about the absence of desire, they wonder.  “It’s not a matter of doing.  It’s a matter of feeling,” they protest.  The problem with this response is that these folks have not just lost desire for God’s word, but they have lost sight of the sovereign power of God, who gives that desire.  They are acting like practical atheists.  They have adopted a kind of fatalism that ignores the way the psalmist prays.

Evidently, the psalmist too felt this terrible tendency to drift away from the word of God.  Evidently, he too knew the cooling of desire and the tendency of his heart to incline more to other things — especially money.  Otherwise why would he have cried out, “Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain.“?  He is pleading with God to give him desire for the word.  He knows that ultimately God is sovereign over the desires of the heart.  So he calls on God to cause what he cannot make happen on his own.  This is the answer to fatalism.  This is the answer to acting like an atheist — as if there were no God who rules the heart, and can restore what we have lost.  (p.255)

A little further on, Piper speaks about how to go about this:

Don’t wait until you have lost the desire before you start praying for this desire.  If the desire is present, give thanks and ask him to preserve it and intensify it.  If you sense that it is cooling, plead that he would kindle it.  And if it is gone, and you do not feel any desire to pray, do what you can.  Repent.  Tell him you are sorry that your desire for his word is dead.  Tell him just how you feel.  He knows already.  And ask him — this is possible without hypocrisy because of the “imperishable seed” (1 Pet. 1:23) that remains in his children — ask him to give you the desire that right now you can barely even muster the will to ask for.  He is merciful.  (p.256)

By the way, you can download this book for free right here.


DeYoung: Homework on Sunday?

I’m currently reading this great little book from Kevin DeYoung.  What he describes here resonates with me — I adopted the same practice.  Though I often did in high school, in university and seminary I never did homework on the Lord’s Day — and never regretted it either!

When I was in college and seminary, I made what was a bold decision at the time and committed, along with a friend, that we would not do homework on Sundays.  No reading assignments.  No papers.  No studying for tests.  It meant rethinking my Saturdays, which meant being more thoughtful about my Friday evenings.  I couldn’t sleep till noon on Saturday, watch football, hang out with my friends all day, and go out to a social event at night and then play catch-up on Sunday.  I had to make pretty drastic changes.  But I never regretted the commitment.  Setting aside Sunday was a habit that served me well throughout all my studies.  Sunday became my favorite day of the week.  I was freed up to go to church more than once.  I could go on a long walk or read a book or take a nap.  The day became an island of get-to in an ocean of have-to.

How many of us think, “You know what?  Life is a little underwhelming.  I’m not very busy.  I wish the days could be more crowded.  I wish life could be more hectic.”  Very few people think that way.  So don’t you want a day where you can say no to many of the oughts in your head?  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a day of freedom, one day in seven where the other six days have no claim on you?  (p. 75)