A dear friend of mine is struggling with fear. She recently moved to a new town in a new state to begin a new stage of her professional life, and she is gripped by the fear that she’s not ready and that this was a bad decision. She wonders if moving wasn’t “God’s will” for her, because if He was at work in this decision, why is it so terrifying and hard? Shouldn’t it be easier?

She has people around her, including my wife and I, who are supporting her, praying for and with her, counseling and encouraging her. She is holding white-knuckled to her faith that God is good and strong and able to protect and uphold her. But she is still afraid.

It’s an anxiety she knows well. It takes many forms. It comes and goes. She battles, and her victories are hard-won. But every morning, she draws her sword.

The well-meaning lob Bible promises like hand grenades, thinking that one need only believe a little bit harder and pray a little more to find relief. But that doesn’t help like they think it does. The thing is, she believes. She prays until she has no words. And still she must fight. The truth of their proffered Scriptures does not so easily release the cold grip of the slithering anxiety, squeezing.

As I hear her talk about the fear, I am burdened for her, and I recognize the description of her nemesis. I have fought it myself, or something like it, though not nearly as often or as long as she has. My enemy more often takes the shape of a black dog than a coiled serpent. But they are cousins, these monsters. They often join forces.

While I was talking with her at length the other day, I read Psalm 27 to her. I told her that many times it has been for me a bright torch in a dark wood.

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?

When evildoers assail me
to eat up my flesh,
my adversaries and foes,
it is they who stumble and fall.
Though an army encamp against me,
my heart shall not fear;
though war arise against me,
yet I will be confident.

One thing have I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to inquire in his temple.
For he will hide me in his shelter
in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
he will lift me high upon a rock.
And now my head shall be lifted up
above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent
sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the Lord.

Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud;
be gracious to me and answer me!
You have said, “Seek my face.”
My heart says to you,
“Your face, Lord, do I seek.”
Hide not your face from me.
Turn not your servant away in anger,
O you who have been my help.
Cast me not off; forsake me not,
O God of my salvation!

For my father and my mother have forsaken me,
but the Lord will take me in.
Teach me your way, O Lord,
and lead me on a level path
because of my enemies.
Give me not up to the will of my adversaries;
for false witnesses have risen against me,
and they breathe out violence.

I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living!

Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord!

I repeated the final exhortation to her as we spoke. Be strong. Take courage. And wait for the Lord. Because, some days, all you can do is hold on, battle your enemy to a stand-still, and wait. But we wait just the same, turning our faces to the Light, trusting that our Help is coming.

If you are weary from battling fear and worry today, know this: You are seen, you are loved, and you are not alone. It’s okay not to be okay. The Bible says that “God is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). His compassion and mercy are great. So don’t give up. Keep fighting. And if you need a friend, someone to talk to, let me know. 


Things That Dogs Do.


(Pictured: Maggie, licking her chops. Who knows what she just ate…)


I used to be amused by people who talked to their dogs, until I became one. (One such person, not a dog.) I don’t know how it happened, either.

One can be an intelligent, educated, professional person and still fall victim to this. You can know in an abstract and general sense that animals have some primitive forms of intelligence and instinct, but they are not reasonable beings like we are. They can form attachments, and even feel emotions, but they don’t have souls. They’re not people, in other words.

And yet, as I became a dog owner by marriage, I transformed into one of those crazy people who regularly talk to their dogs. Now, to be fair, I don’t do the ridiculous baby-talk thing that some folks do.

I’m not completely bonkers–I have my limits. But the following “conversation” actually happened.

While Maggie and I were out for our morning constitutional, as I was waiting for her to pick a spot to “stop and think,” she started sniffing around at a ripped open trash bag that we passed. At that point, I tugged on the leash, and actually said out loud, “No ma’am. We don’t do that.”

We don’t do that. I told my dog that we don’t sniff trash.

Immediately, I had to chuckle at myself. While we may not both do that, one of us certainly might do that, if that one is a dog. No matter how you bathe her and feed her, or let her jump up on the bed, which I swore–SWORE–would never happen, our sweet Maggie is a dog. She does dog-things, like clean herself with her tongue, roll on dead birds, and sniff other animals’ offal.

In other words, I can’t expect my dog to act like a  human being. I mean, I love my dog. She’s a dear part of our family. But she is, at her most basic level, an animal. Just because she lives in our house and has a cute name doesn’t mean she’ll start acting like a human being.

Why? Because human beings and dogs are fundamentally different creatures. 


Seven More Books I Like.

In yesterday’s post, I listed seven novels/series that I hold in high regard. Today, I wanted to recommend seven non-fiction books that I have really enjoyed in recent years. Again, this isn’t my all-time list, but I definitely appreciate and recommend these books often.

Seven Fantastic Non-Fiction Books:

Love is a Mixtape, by Rob Sheffield. I picked up this memoir, thinking it would be a little light reading on a business trip, and it left me gutted from the very first chapter. Like, crying during my flight, trying to be inconspicuous. Sheffield is a Rolling Stone writer who documents his too-brief marriage through the music that he and his late wife shared with each other. This book made me a fan of Sheffield’s writing, and each subsequent book of his has been a no-brainer purchase for me.
Unbroken, by Lauren Hillenbrand. I read this book two years ago, and it still comes to mind as one of my favorite biographies. The story of Louis Zamperini is powerful and inspiring, not just for his endurance under incredible torture, but even more powerfully, the story of grace and the power of the Gospel that was underplayed by the film adaptation of Hillenbrand’s excellent biography. If you are at all interested in biographies, this one is DEFINITELY worth picking up.
Just Do Something, by Kevin DeYoung. I’ve loaned or given this book to more people than pretty much any other book I own. Just Do Something is the best book on discerning God’s will that I’ve ever read. It’s Biblical, practical, and approachable. If you’re involved in ministry, especially ministry to students or young adults, I would encourage you to purchase many copies of this and give them away.
On Writing, by Stephen King. This is another selection that I realize I need to re-read soon. I’ve read many books about the process of writing, but King’s contribution to the genre is a bit unusual. It’s a hybrid of sorts–half autobiography, half how-to manual. He even includes a short-story he wrote and demonstrates how he edits his own work. This book gives insight into the writing process of one of the most prolific and successful horror writers of the 20th century. If you’re interested in the craft of writing, this is a good one to check out. (Note: In my estimation of great books on writing, King barely edges out Ray Bradbury’s Zen and the Art of Writing, which is also a worthwhile read.)
The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment, by Tim Challies. The problems with books about “Biblical discernment” are generally two-fold: 1) the world of “discernment ministry” is rife with arrogant bloviators who tend to drown out or overshadow faithful exegetes and shepherds doing good work; and, 2) books too quickly appear out-of-date, as one heretical fad teaching quickly replaces another.  Thankfully, Tim Challies provides a grounded, faithful approach to the question of spiritual discernment that is humble in approach, winsome in tone, and has the potential to continue being useful for many years to come. If you are seeking to grow in Biblical discernment, especially when it comes to detecting false doctrine, this is a great introductory work.
The Pastor’s Justification / The Prodigal Church, by Jared C. Wilson. If you’re not reading the work of Jared Wilson, please just start. He blogs at For The Church and his books are just outstanding. These two books are probably my favorites (at least at this point; he writes something like 17 books a year nowadays).  The Pastor’s Justification is a call for pastors to remember that their security and identity are found in their relationship with Jesus, not their “ministry effectiveness” or external success. The Prodigal Church is, in Wilson’s words, a “gentle manifesto” against some of the excesses and distractions of the American evangelical church. These books are incredibly encouraging, especially for those in ministry. If you are a pastor, go pick up these books, for the sake of your own heart. If you are a lay person, find out if your pastor has read them, and if he hasn’t, love him by buying him a copy of each. So good. So, so good. (You can find my full reviews here and here.)

No way I can stop at 7.

The current trending hashtag among my friends on Twitter is #7FavBooks. I have to admit that I’m a little intimidated by my friends’ selections, which are on the whole very theologically-inclined. (Goes to show you the calibre of scholars I pal around with on Twitter.) If I tried to limit myself to seven books, I think my list would be much more focused on fiction,and I would need to explain all my selections. So I’m going to break the rules a bit.

What I’ve included below is not my all-time list (I don’t know if I can come up with one), but it’s definitely my much-beloved list.

Seven Novels/Series I Love and Recommend (Mostly):

  • The Chronicles of Narnia, by CS Lewis. Yes, I have some problems with Lewis’ theology in a few places, but this series has been formative in my life. I’ve read through these books almost a half-dozen times, starting back when I was in grade school. I have a deep and abiding love for these books that won’t go away any time soon.
  • Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson. It’s been almost a decade since I’ve read this one, and I think that’s way too long. This Pulitzer-winning novel tells the story of an septuagenarian Iowa preacher named Aames, who is writing down his legacy of memory to give to his young son, since he probably won’t be around to see the boy reach adulthood. It’s a touching meditation on fatherhood and faith, and I need to get back to this one soon.
  • Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo. The summer between high school and college, I worked my way through the 1400-page unabridged version of this classic novel, and I loved every bit of it. Even the random fifty-page diversions in which Hugo would talk about the details of Napoleon at Waterloo or the particular history of an order of nuns in France. The story of Jean Valjean’s transformation of grace is one that has been depicted over and over again in film and on stage, because there is something compelling about the power of forgiveness and mercy. This book revels in that beauty.
  • The Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan. Criticisms of this Puritan classic generally include that the allegory drives the story–that the story is just an excuse for the didactic sections. That may well be true, but if you’re a believer, I don’t think you can read this book without coming away encouraged and reminded of the spiritual realities of this world. This is a book I have appreciated more and more with each reading, and I think I’m going to start reading it every year or two because it’s so rich with truth.
  • A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens. Dickens is still one of my favorite writers of all time, and it was hard to choose one title to represent that. However, I know that his wordy descriptions and multitudes of characters can be tough sledding for some, so I think Tale is his most accessible work with one of his most memorable scenes. No spoilers, in case you made it through high school without reading it, but let’s say that the final chapters produce a moment of nobility that is awe-inspiring. Worth another look, if you haven’t read it in years.
  • The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.  This sprawling story about the relationship of the three brothers Mitya, Vanya, and Alyosha is possibly over-long (it’s Russian, so that tends to happen), but within its pages are some of the greatest examples of a novelist wrestling with the realities of faith. There’s a LOT going on here, and it’s a daunting read at first. But it’s worth the investment in order to experience this story. This is another one I want to tackle again sometime.
  • The Dark Tower Series, by Stephen King. This one will get me some raised eyebrows, no doubt, but Stephen King’s books are one of my slightly-guilty pleasures. What fascinates me about King is that his novels demonstrate a startling understanding of the depravity of man, but he refuses to turn to Jesus as the answer to that depravity. (As such, religious figures in his books are generally painted in a pretty terrible light, focusing on hypocrisy and moral corruption.) That said, he knows how to spin a good yarn, and the Dark Tower series is his magnum opus–a sprawling fantasy epic that pulls in elements of westerns, horror, science fiction, and medieval fantasy, and shares points of contact with nearly half of King’s immense bibliography. I would definitely NOT recommend it to everyone for several content-related reasons. And I don’t know if I’d ever try to read it again. But I still regard it as a storytelling masterpiece and it holds a special place in my memory.

That’s my current seven for fiction. Tomorrow (probably), I’ll post my list of seven non-fiction books. See you then!


Your Turn: Okay, I’ve given you my list; now what’s yours? What are some of your favorite works of fiction? Share them in the comments below (and, as always, be courteous about the opinions of others).

Between Ta-Nehisi Coates and Me.

Mr. Coates,

I read your book because someone I respect said that it would challenge me to listen and not speak. He was right. It challenged me.

It challenged my assumptions, my perceptions. It made me angry. It confused me. It saddened me.

I’m not claiming enlightenment. I feel like you’d scoff if I did. I’m one of the dreaming ones, after all. One of the ones who “thinks he is white.” It took me a while to understand what you meant by that, if I understood it at all. Those who “think they are white” are those who think they are free of the weight of history, those who pretend that their legacy is unstained. I don’t think the sins of the fathers should be charged to the children’s children, but I can’t argue that I have not benefited from time and location and advantage. I guess that’s called “privilege.” I have struggled to acknowledge or accept the idea–mainly because it’s a concept that is used as a bludgeon against us dreamers, to shame and silence us. We can’t speak about what we see because we are too privileged. We don’t understand “the struggle.”

You’re right. I don’t understand your struggle. I should never presume to. As I read your letter to your son, your legacy of fear, your armor of defensiveness that steals your joy, I realize that I don’t really get what life is like for black men in this country. Again, an “epiphany” that would surely elicit a head-shake and snort. As obvious as water’s wetness.

What I’m wrestling with, Mr. Coates, is that I don’t know what else to do but state the obvious. I don’t know what else I can say, what else I have the right to say. There’s nothing I feel like I can do to make things better, because: 1) I’m white, so I “don’t understand the struggle”; 2) I’m white, so any “help” I offer is patronizing; 3) I’m white, so I’m “part of the problem.”

I’m not whining. Do not mishear me, please. I’m not complaining, and I’m in no possible way equating. What I’m saying is, I don’t know what to do about this. I don’t know what to do about the injustice of racial hatred in America. I don’t know what to do about inequity of opportunity, or the poisoned cloud of fear that so often chokes out African-American communities, day to day.

The one thing I can say, you would refuse to accept. I’m a Christian, Mr. Coates, and I believe that there is a God who sees and hears and remembers and promises to bring ultimate justice. As you wrote in your book, you cannot accept this. For you, there is no comfort in struggling and suffering; there is only anger and the necessity of fighting back to prevent the abuse and plundering of your natural body. It makes sense to me that you would feel that way. If there is no God in heaven, then there is only struggle, and the only sensible response to a history of abuse is anger and determination to fight back by living a full life, for however long you can do so.

But, Mr. Coates, I believe there is more. I believe that there is justice that will one day roll down like mighty waters. I believe there is hope beyond suffering. I don’t believe this because it’s a fantasy dreamed by “those who think they are white.” It is a truth that has been held by British Puritans seeking religious freedom, by African-American slaves praying for physical deliverance, by Chinese peasants who face government oppression for holding onto a faith and a Name that refuses to be put down and stamped out, despite the menace and malice of a thousand kingdoms and a thousand kings.

I pray you can one day know that hope, Mr. Coates. I hope you can one day believe on that Name. Not because it will instantly cure your struggles, or will ever make you part of the “dream.” But if you come to know Jesus as Savior and Lord, He can redeem what is broken in your life, and He can replace your fear and your anger with something greater, something stronger, something that won’t eat you up.

I appreciate your book. It forced me to look at my assumptions, the white noise around the edges of my daily life. It forced me to confront my own arguments about problems and solutions within the African-American community.

If nothing else, your book has challenged me to be silent more, to pontificate less, and to stop saying comments like, “if only they would ___.” Because I don’t know you, sir. I don’t know what your life is like. I don’t know what it is to inhabit your body, to wear your skin. And it’s wrong of me to presume to know. I’m sorry I’ve done that.

If this letter ever finds you (what a strange thought that is!), I hope it finds you well. I hope it doesn’t offend. And I hope I’ve understood your book at least a tiny bit. I feel like I have. But I’m willing to admit, I could be wrong.


The4thDave Reviews: “Kill Devil” by Mike Dellosso

The Hook: In this sequel to 2015’s Centralia, Jed Patrick has been living “off the grid” in a mountain cabin with his wife Karen and daughter Lilly under assumed identities. They have guarded the flash drive that contains all the secrets of the government program known as “the Centralia project,” and have done everything they could to stay out of sight until they figure out how to release the data. Unfortunately, their location is discovered by government operatives. The safety of their daughter is threatened, and they’re given a new mission: help a small group of operatives within the CIA expose and take down a plot to overthrow the federal government. However, as Jed begins to learn what exactly he’s being asked to do, he starts to wonder if the people he’s working with are the ones who can help him…or the ones he has been trying to escape.

What Worked: Jed Patrick worked. Dellosso has created a solid protagonist that seeks to do the right thing and wrestles with the moral challenges and ambiguities of the situations he faces. This isn’t a Hollywood tough-guy type that blithely takes life and inflicts pain. Patrick seeks to incorporate the realities of his faith into the darkness of his daily life. This is a character whom I have enjoyed getting to know over the course of these two books.

The action in Kill Devil is fast-paced. Dellosso knows how to keep the tempo up on his stories, and once things kick off in the first chapter, the novel does not slow down a bit. These stories seem like they would make a natural jump to film adaptation.

What Didn’t: The thing I liked best about Centralia was that there were so many twists and turns, I really didn’t know what to expect. I just can’t say the same for Kill Devil. Dellosso delivers a few surprises, but the “big twists” were telegraphed to the point that I got impatient waiting for the other shoe to drop. While the reader may not be able to predict all the finer details, the broad strokes are easy to anticipate. In the end, my expectations for another thrill ride were pretty let down.

The narrative sections that focus on Jed’s daughter Lilly just didn’t work for me, for 3 reasons: 1) They didn’t really contribute to the main plot. There seemed to be threads of subplots that were perhaps abandoned, and as a result they felt a bit irrelevant. 2) Lilly is, honestly, a boring character. She’s a cipher, a perfect little girl who seems to be there to say something cute or spiritually poignant. 3) The spiritual content in this book takes a turn into the “personal messages from Jesus” and “dreams and visions” area, particularly when it comes to Lilly. Depending on your theological beliefs about such things, your mileage may vary. However, for this 93% cessationist, it really took me out of the story.

Final Analysis:  Y’all, I’ve been avoiding doing this review (which is why I’ve kept putting it off for about 2 months). Mike Dellosso seems like a really nice guy, and I will definitely keep reading his stuff. I honestly wanted to like Kill Devil, but by the last page, I was left disappointed. Centralia was a nail-biter of a novel that kept you guessing. Kill Devil felt more paint-by-numbers. The obvious bad guy is obvious, the final act plot twist was telegraphed, and the overall story felt derivative. I liked particular story beats, like the Alcatraz sequence. Dellosso writes great action sequences. I was glad to get another Jed Patrick story. But if this were my introduction to the Jed Patrick novels, rather than Centralia, I wouldn’t be as motivated to look forward to more.



Please Note: I was provided a free copy of the book by the publisher, in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed above are my own.

Thoughts from a blue-green couch.

Hey friends. Just wanted to check in. I know I haven’t been quite as consistent here as recently promised, so I wanted to at least pop by and say hello.

It’s been a busy couple of weeks. Married life is a blessing. Work has been hectic and stressful, but I’m thankful for work. I’ve been teaching Sunday School for the adults at church for the last few weeks, covering a very basic series on hermeneutics and Biblical genres. I finished up my seminary class and feel pretty good about the outcome. I’ve started reading the Reading Challenge list again. And I’ve had a very minor health issue that required a visit to the surgeon yesterday and four stitches in my chest. 

So today, I’m sitting on a blue-green couch (which we gladly took off our friends’ hands) and spending the day resting. Perfect time to check in with y’all.

Scattered thoughts, in bullet form:

  • I really appreciate the friendships I’ve developed with you folks online. As much as we tease and joke about “fake internet friends,” I very much count folks like my “Twitter squad” as dear friends, my “Incredibros,” and I look forward to meeting each of you someday. Seriously. Thankful for you. 
  • I’m watching a concert film on the Talking Heads. Weirdos. But I’m digging this.
  • I don’t even know where to begin or what to say when it comes to all the “discernment blog” brouhaha that has erupted in the last few weeks. There are some obvious conflicts that need to be addressed by the parties concerned (and probably not adjudicated by those of us in the peanut gallery), and there are cautions that passersby should heed regarding the behaviors displayed in this conflict. But what really gets me is the spin-off arguments and misunderstandings that have been popping up in the cloud of dust surrounding the conflict. It’s like everyone is trying to pick sides on side-arguments and forgetting that we are all on the same team. I don’t have any pearls of wisdom, other than this: internecine spats among the brothers are part of somebody’s plan, and he ain’t on our team. So we would do well to toss out his playbook and remember who we are.
  • Trump. Clinton. Johnson. Someone else. No one else. I don’t care who you are choosing–stop being a jerk to everyone else about it. And I’m saying that to myself too. Christians, we are totally botching this election when we become just as snarky and fear-mongering as the world is. We are acting as if we are not following a Lord who gave His peace to us and told us to love our enemies. We are acting like those who trust in horses and chariots instead of the name of the Lord our God. And you know how I know when I’m falling into that trap? When someone else’s choice of candidate makes me angry or derisive. Those reactions are a yuuuuge tell.
  • For what it’s worth: I’m actually looking at Darrell Castle and the Constitution Party this year. Not a perfect choice, and I don’t agree with all his positions, but he gets a lot of issues right that matter to me. So that will be my choice, if he can get on the ballot. Especially since Johnson is looking pretty awful on religious liberty issues, which will become THE big national discussion over the next 5-10 years.
  • Currently reading: David McCullough’s Wright Brothers biography (fascinating, but I’m having trouble making my way through it), Claudia Gray’s “Star Wars: Bloodline”, following Princess Leia as a senior senator in the New Republic–fun so far), Chesterton’s “Father Brown” stories, Bunyan’s spiritual autobiography “Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners.” 
  • On deck: Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between the World and Me,” Jared Wilson’s latest book, and possibly “Miss Peregrine’s…” by Ransom Riggs.
  • I’m thankful to go to a church that values expositional preaching, church discipline, covenant membership, and gospel-soaked community. What a blessing Baptist Church of the Redeemer is. 
  • And I’m thankful for a wife who takes care of me when I’m feeling weak or overwhelmed. She is patient and supportive, and she doesn’t ever tear me down with her words or actions. I am not deserving of a loving, godly woman like her. What a gift of Grace.

I think that’s enough for now. Y’all have a great weekend.

Reading Challenge: July Update!

Time for another update on my Challies 2016 Reading Challenge progress!

My summer class is over (yay!), and I think I did pretty well, actually (double-yay!). Once the class was over, I had 2 weeks left in July to dive back into my reading list. I used a combination of audiobooks, Kindle books, and paper books to get back on the Reading Challenge train!

So here’s a list of what I was able to finish in July:

A Memoir: No Hero, by Mark Owen.  I listened to the audio-book of this memoir of a 14-year Navy SEAL. Owen, whose previous book No Easy Day about the mission to kill Osama Bin Laden brought him national reknown, tells a series of personal stories and experiences to expound on the qualities needed to succeed as a SEAL. He highlights attributes like purpose and focus, the necessity of dealing with fear, the power of embracing discomfort, and the vital importance of teamwork and trust. The stories he tells are sometimes redacted, the names have all been changed, but the emotions and experiences are real and are fascinating. If nothing else, books like No Hero can give the reader a renewed appreciation for the sacrifices and selflessness of the men and women who serve in the military.

A Book that won the Pulitzer Prize: A Visit From the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan. Every person who has read this book had the same reaction when I told them I was reading it: an affectionate, “Aaaaah, Goon Squad!” Though some suggested I may not appreciate it as much as they did because I “wasn’t a girl” (which seems a bit sexist, but whatever), I assured them that I was enjoying the style and language even if the characters weren’t always that likable. I have to admit, though, once I finished the book, I still wasn’t sure if I actually liked it. I enjoyed aspects of it, and I can appreciate the themes the author was going for (the paradox of emotional distance in an age of increasing “connectivity”). But I have to admit, it’s not a book I would ever re-read, and I don’t know if I could strongly recommend it to others. So, there you are: well-written, effective, but in the end, it left me cold.


And unfortunately, those were the only two I finished by July 31st. I am halfway through about 3 other books, so I’m in good shape to beef up my August numbers. And after some discussion with my beloved wife, we decided that I’m going to postpone my next seminary class until the spring (for various reasons), so I’m back on the Reading Challenge train full-force!  I’ve fallen behind quite a bit over the last 2 months, but let’s see if August is my month to gain ground. I’ll keep you posted as always, faithful readers!