Author: ryan d.

follower of Jesus. husband of Julia. daddy of JJ. learner. sabbath-advocator. reader. hr professional.

[Review] – A Loving Life

Just this past week I overheard a conversation about the book of Ruth–and was immediately reminded of A Loving Life, which I first read last October! Many are familiar with Miller’s A Praying Life; what A Praying Life does for your approach to prayer, A Loving Life will do for your approach to hesed love. While I expected this to be a book on love, I was completely unprepared for it to dramatically challenge the basic approach to covenantal love–and to do so through the story of Ruth from the Old Testament.

Aim of the book

Right away Miller opens with the lines, “…at the heart of love is incarnation that leads to death. Death is at the center of love.” The 20+ years of real-life lessons that Miller packs into the book will shift our American tendency from a modest discussion on the theories of love into the nitty-gritty applications of love–especially within the context of marriage.

Miller aims to address some of the commonly asked, but rarely answered satisfactorily, questions our culture has on love:

  1. What is love?
  2. How do we redefine love in light of the Gospel?
  3. What is the bond that keeps community together?
  4. What do we do in lamenting hard times–when it seems God himself has deserted us?
  5. How does love influence our approach to prayer?
  6. What does femininity and masculinity looks like in light of hesed love?

The power of this book is the close ties to the story of Ruth from the Bible. Without this structure, these answers might become dry, inapplicable to daily life. But because of the story–and the masterful approach Miller takes to unpack the story–this book deserves a spot on every bookshelf.

What I Wish

My only wish for this book is that someone would’ve handed it to me on, before, or just after the day I proposed to my wife. This would have helped me mature faster in how I loved her. Not to avoid pain and the lessons I learned, but to help me love her as she needed, not as I thought she needed.

What I Walked Away With

Whenever I read, I filter the text three 6 questions based off of the Swedish Method (below). Not only is this helpful in processing the information during consumption, but it’s also a helpful schema to share the information with others.

Any New Ideas?

  • While not a new idea to me at all, the idea of hesed love is powerful (and my wife had it engraved into my wedding ring). This is a powerful definition of love, one that he–and I–think is crucial to understand and work out in day-to-day life in marriage. Miller defines hesed as:
    • “Steadfast love. It combines commitment with sacrifice. Hesed is one-way love. Love without an exit strategy.”
    • I rarely process how to lament well–especially with those close to me. Since reading this book, we’ve walked with friends through divorce, loss of un-born children, health issues, and the consequences of sin. This book really helped give me language for this:
      • “What can we say to Naomi’s lament? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. We just weep with her. That is good theology, to weep with those that weep.”

Any Questions it doesn’t answer?

This book is solid on love, but doesn’t address some of the questions I would have regarding singleness, or the playing-out of love within a community (such as small groups in church, or friend groups in general). Clearly not the primary aim of the book, but I did find myself yearning for some more diverse applications of his thoughts/experiences.

How can this be applied?

My first impulse was to go and buy multiple copies and distribute it to friends who were about to be married. The text helps reduce the learning curve of what “sacrificial love” in marriage is all about.

Sheepishly, my second impulse was to reflect on how I can better embrace the messiness of vulnerability and love with my wife, family, friends, and community. It was a slow and arduous process, but I believe all the relationships are for the better for it–but not without some significant times in prayer and surrender to my selfish desires on my end.

Notable Quotes:

>"Suffering is the crucible for love. We don't learn how to love anywhere else."

>"We deepen our love of God not by direct pursuit of God, but through the good work of love, where we enter the gospel and the pattern of Christ's life becomes our pattern. Of course, we always have to begin with God's love for us--that's faith. But once we have that faith foundation, we deepen faith by love. That's what the J-curve is al about. As we enter a life of love, we get to know God."

How does it make much of Jesus?

To read this book and miss how it makes much of Jesus would take a) great skill or b) never reading so much as a page. But the most Jesus-exalting action of the book is the call to look to the work of Jesus on the Cross for the impetus for pressing into the vulnerabilities of love. And pressing in not for love itself, but for a richer, fuller relationship with him.

Who Should Read This?

  • Everyone, but especially those you know who are newly engaged to be married, recently married, or struggle capturing the bigger picture of loving others well.

If this didn’t exist, what would be missing?

  • We would be missing a great chapter in the volume of Christian living literature equipping us to press into the biblical calls for loving others well.

Summary

I cannot recommend this book highly enough–a year later and I’m still sharing the insights gathered from this book with those I know, every single week.


I’m grateful for Crossway who gave me an early copy of A Loving Life through their program, Beyond the Page. I’ve partnered with Beyond the Page to review and provide feedback on the various books they publish. I encourage you to check out the program and see if it strikes your interest.

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A Lenten Devotional

Lent

Here’s a short Lenten devotional I was honored to write for our Student Ministries devotional for Lent. Regardless of your views on evangelicals and lent, I find it a helpful practice to use the season to reflect on our Savior and prepare our hearts, minds, and lives to identify with his suffering, death, and resurrection. If you’d like to subscribe the university’s Student Ministries devotional, subscribe here.

My prayer through this is that God would be glorified, my joy would be multiplied, and you would be invited into that worship and delight.

Devotional

When Jesus calls us, we follow him.
When we follow Jesus’s calling, our story becomes joined with his story.
When we follow Jesus, we do more than consider the cost of following him, we pay the cost.
When we follow Jesus, persecution is sure to come.

Recently, twenty-one of our Coptic brothers were ushered out of this life and into the presence of Jesus by the hands of persecution, costing them their lives. Their story became his story. They were counted worthy to lose their life, only to find it in Jesus.

What is the cost of following Jesus? Or maybe a better question is: Do we think there is a cost to following Jesus? Matthew 10-12 highlights the costs for us, we can’t just ignore these chapters, we must read them.

And if I’m being honest, reflecting any amount of time on the cost of being a follower of Jesus Christ of Nazareth terrifies me. Thoughts plague my mind: What will I do when persecution comes? How will I respond to hostile actions? Will I denounce and recant my faith? Will I be ashamed of the gospel? In that moment of my flesh-filled despair, the Spirit overwhelms me with grace through these words of Jesus, “…do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour” (Matthew 10:19ff).

The call of Jesus is one of trial, hardship, and persecution. The call is one to share in his sufferings (Philippians 3:7ff) and not to fear the killing of our bodies (Matthew 10:28). Still, I wrestle with how can I not be fearful? How can I lose my life for Christ’s sake, only to find it in him?

The beautiful cost of following Jesus is that our story isn’t just supplemented by his story, by the gospel, by Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection–it is completely re-written by his story. Re-written with his suffering and victory.

We have no hope of finding rest outside of Christ’s suffering and victory.
We have no assurance of meaning in life, temporal or eternal, outside of Christ’s suffering and victory.
We have no expectation that we will be left bruised and unbroken or smoldering and not extinguished outside of Christ’s suffering and victory.
We have no thing, nothing, outside of Christ’s suffering and victory.

This is the cost of the call to be a disciple of Jesus: to count our lives and everything in the world as insignificant and to consider our affliction unworthy of comparison to the surpassing weight of glory which is ours in Christ, in identifying with him, his cross, and his suffering.

Only by allowing the author and finisher of our faith to re-write our story to be one of abiding, yoking, and resting in him, can we too stand before the world and cry:

To live is Christ. To die is gain. I share in his suffering, in his sweet victory.

Additional Resources

If you’re interested in more resources, here’s some that I’ve found helpful:

[Review] – How To Stay Christian in Seminary

About a year or so ago a great blog series came out from David Mathis and Jonathan Parnell from Desiring God, about how to stay Christian while in seminary. The posts were great, but at the time I wasn’t in graduate school yet and the words didn’t stick. Recently, Crossway partnered with Mathis and Parnell to expand this mini-series into a concise book, How To Stay Christian in Seminary (HSXS).

The timing couldn’t be better–this book fills a needed void in equipping students–of any discipline and level–on the disciplines (especially spiritual) that effectively puts education in its proper place: secondary to glorifying God and the health of personal faith. Coming in under 100-pages, HSXS is a quick read; I was able to read HSXS in two sittings, totaling about 2 hours.

Aim of the book

As the title suggests, Mathis and Parnell aim to: “help you be aware of the danger and appropriately sobered by [seminary]. We want you to face the challenge in earnest and see your faith strengthened, deepened, enlivened, and enriched by seminary, not shipwrecked.” The book certainly accomplishes this aim and more; I was particularly challenged with my leadership assumptions on top of walking a daily Christian walk.

What I Wish

Two things about the text. First, I wish Mathis and Parnell would have expanded their audience to all students rather than just complimentarian seminarians. Second, much of what HSXS admonishes the reader to do has hints of an air of perfection, as if the authors were able to master the concepts they present during their seminary experiences. Make no mistake, both Mathis and Parnell are solid men of God, active in the Church, love and lead their families well, but I know them well enough (via Bethlehem Baptist Church) to know they write from these struggles and admonish us to learn from their mistakes before we make them ourselves.

What I Walked Away With

Whenever I read, I filter the text through 6 questions based off of the Swedish Method (below). Not only is this helpful in processing the information during consumption, but it’s also a helpful schema to share the information with others.

Any New Ideas?

  • Approach academics devotionally
  • The goal of seminary [and all education] isn’t to be unweak, it’s to learn and steward your gifts.
  • Make Jesus the explicit center of all our learning
  • Tie everything back to glorifying God.
  • Home is the first ministry. There is no “just a season” for school & study to replace our calling in the home.

Any Questions it doesn’t answer?

  • I know it’s written for seminarians, I would love to see this expanded to include all education, not just seminary. Seminary is particularly hard, especially when Scriptures are studied academically and not devotionally, so I understand the urgency of the authors to reach this specific population.

How can this be applied?

  • HSXS is rich with applications. A few things of note:
    • I have the immediate application of a biblical liturgy to daily pray over my wife.
    • To constantly connect the learning to the glory of God.
    • The radical need to not partition my devotional life from my academic pursuits.
    • Parnell suggests in the first chapter to write a life mission statement. Best part of the book I’ve been emphasizing this for a couple years, and Parnell does a great job to equip the readers to start this important, nay vital pursuit of intentional living:

    “That mission is articulated in a memorable line that becomes the point of gravity around which everything operates.”

How does it make much of Jesus?

  • HSXS is laced with glorifying God, making much of Jesus, and treasuring the gospel. The best quote implies the breadth of God’s glory and our inability to completely understand him. “You go to seminary to grow, yes. You go to seminary to learn and steward your gifts, absolutely. But here’s the thing: the goal of seminary is not to become unweak…Therefore, determine to be known less for your strengths in academic rigor and more for how that rigor helps you grasp what it means that the God-man was crucified to save the world. Embrace your weakness. Bring it all back to grace.”
  • And they end, so beautifully, with this:

    Finally, and most of all, we thank Jesus— our matchless Savior, peerless Lord, and priceless Treasure— who took our place on the cross, defeated death for our sake, ever lives to be our Life and Joy, and keeps us Christian by his Spirit.

  • The church needs this book to be read, because at the end of the day our churches are at stake: seminarians plant churches, lead churches, shepherd churches, and this book is a field guide for seminary students to live devotionally before, during, and after seminary.

Who Should Read This?

  • Not just seminarians, but everyone. The point isn’t that it’s harder to stay Christian in Seminary; the point is it’s hard to be Christian as a learner. I’m convinced life is a continual exposure to learn, some enjoy it, and some avoid it. Everyone needs to learn how to make glorifying God primary, not learning.

If this didn’t exist, what would be missing?

  • As I said before, there’s been a void in the literature for a practical guide to root oneself in the faith while attending seminary (explicitly), but (implicitly) attending any educational institution. This hits the spot, even the length makes it easy for already overloaded students to read it, apply it, and share it.

In sum, to refresh your mindset with seminary, graduate school, undergraduate studies, high school, and even daily living. Pick the book up, your mind and heart will be refreshed and challenged. Your church will benefit from it; your family will benefit from it; your spiritual walk will benefit from it; and God will be glorified by all these things.

I’m grateful for Crossway who gave me an early copy of How To Stay Christian in Seminary through their program, Beyond the Page. I’ve partnered with Beyond the Page to review and provide feedback on the various books they publish. I encourage you to check out the program and see if it strikes your interest.

HSXS

The #1 Principle of Team Leadership I Learned from Screen Printed T-Shirts

The more I read and learn about leadership the more I realize we are all leaders and we learn the most complex leadership theories anecdotally and even subconsciously. Then there are those of us, like myself, who pay thousands of dollars to learn how to categorize what we all know from experience in hopes to help in difficult leadership situations.

One of these subconscious, experiential lessons hit me a couple of days ago. I had just finished reading one of the best management and team leadership books on the market, Organizing Genius by Warren Bennis, and many of his conclusions are things I had already known and experienced, only he was able to find a trend among many teams and articulate these lessons more clearly than I could in my head. Bennis points out that “Great Groups” have a distinct culture and need to express this culture in some way.

I attended a small college in Iowa for my undergraduate degree, and this undergrad experience in Iowa taught me the most important team leadership principle that Bennis wrote about: a team creates it’s own culture and the subsequent artifacts. In Iowa (and probably other places, but especially NW Iowa) these artifacts are screen printed Hanes T-shirts.

A team creates it’s own culture and the subsequent artifacts, like screen printed t-shirts.

Every group on campus had a t-shirt; in fact I’m not really sure who didn’t have a group t-shirt. I still have hideously designed t-shirts that I’m so connected to that I can’t give away–and it’s been 5 years since I’ve walked across the graduation platform! The form, the artifact, t-shirts in this case, isn’t important; it’s the function the t-shirts represent that’s important. These t-shirts functioned to show to all nonmembers which “Great Group” I am. The t-shirt declared how I impact campus. Whenever I now don the coveted “Coly” beanie, I am instantly reminded of the Great Group of RA’s in my residence hall Colenbrander in 2008–2009.

We didn’t first have the hats and then create the tight-knit culture. We had to prank the campus together. We had to compet with–and against–each other. We had to pray with each other. We had to cry together. We had to lead other men in our dorm together. We had to create our own nicknames, roles, jokes, and vocabulary. Then could the “Coly” beanie become the symbol that united us outside of our dorm; and now unites us thousands of miles apart.

Artifacts, like Hanes t-shirts, are the mark of a Great Group and those artifacts serve to celebrate the distinct culture that no one else will ever understand, but will never be able to remember not existing. I may be out of touch with society, but I’m alarmed at the lack of team culture that should create these artifacts. From my perspective, we all try to go solo in our groups and miss out on all the benefits of creating a Great Group, like screen printed t-shirts.

What are the artifacts of your Great Groups?