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Book Review: Found in Him

I confess I’m not a great book reviewer. My reviews are far more subjective than objective, and I struggle to point out negative aspects. So normally I just review books I agree with and love.

And…today is no exception. While writing A Christ-Centered Wedding, I did a lot of research into and thinking about what our marriage union with Christ really means. When I heard that Elyse Fitzpatrick was writing a book on this very topic, I was anxious to read it, only to discover it wouldn’t be out until well past the due date for our book. This was probably a gift from the Lord so that I wouldn’t be tempted to plagiarize all of Fitzpatrick’s book.

I had the honor of hearing the author speak last year at the True Woman conference in Indianapolis. When we go to conferences, there is a tendency for us to make mental to-do lists of what we need to do and change when we return home. We hear a convicting message, determine to change things, and go home with renewed resolve. Or maybe it’s just me. But then Elyse Fitzpatrick spoke on our identity in Christ and talked about her desire to give women “No fluff, no bricks, just Good News.” I walked away refreshed, encouraged, and knowing how dearly I was loved in Christ.

This is the same feeling I had after reading Found in Him: The Joy of the Incarnation and Our Union with ChristThe entire book is about Christ. We’re so used to the “now that you know this, go do this” section of books that I kept waiting for it. But it wasn’t there. The book is divided into two parts: Part 1 deals with the incarnation of the God-man, Jesus Christ; Part 2 with our union in and with Christ.

This is a book that needs to be slowly chewed and reflected on. I received a digital copy from the publisher in exchange for a review (which is not required to be positive), but I will be ordering a hard copy just so I can write all over it and come back to it, a bit at a time, to really think it through. Fitzpatrick’s writing is accessible and understandable, but not watered down or overly sentimental. It’s like someone walking you through Scripture and constantly reflecting–“Can you believe this? This is the Christ who has loved you. This is what He did and is still doing.”

My eyes were opened and my heart rejoiced as I read about the deep significance of Jesus’ faithfulness and the purpose of His perfect life. I better understood the resurrection through the lens of childbirth. In fact, here’s just a small quote–I highlighted half of the book on my Kindle, so I’m really restraining myself not to share quote after quote:

When we read that God’s ways are higher than our ways (Isa. 55:9), we really don’t have much of a clue what that means, do we? Think of it: a virgin shall conceive. A desolate unmarried man sings because he gives birth and sees his children. A new humanity is born in a new garden, but this time it is not from the dust of the earth but from the flesh of God, once dead but now alive, that they come. God labors! The Son cries out in pain, and we are born again! He thought nothing of the shame of the cross because of the joy of our birth in him (Heb. 12:2).

There is some great stuff in the second part of the book, as well. The author discusses what it means for us to be the bride of Christ and spends some time reflecting on the fact that in Christ we are all (male and female) in a way feminine in comparison to the masculinity of God. This might be a somewhat controversial concept, but in context it points us to rejoice in the loving Bridegroom and our union with Him:

Whenever anyone got around Jesus they felt both welcomed and in need of protection and provision, and they all came to know that he had initiated the relationship and was completely in charge.

The final chapter is as close to a “to-do list” as it gets, but in fact it’s much more like a “to-think-on” list. It’s an application in a way, as if to say, “If all the preceding thoughts are true, what implication does this have for my daily life?” But, unlike many other books and teachings, it’s not focused primarily on change. As Fitzpatrick writes:

For many people the entire point of Christianity is found here in the topic of change. No matter how one might define that word, many of us are primarily interested in how to get better, to be better, and to do more. Rather than spending most of our time reflecting on the incarnation and our union with Christ, the majority of messages and books in the Christian marketplace are about what we’re supposed to be doing. The deep and life-transforming message of the incarnation and our union with Jesus is trampled under the stampede of believers trying to find the secret to being a better you.

So this final chapter shows how doing just that–reflecting on the incarnation and our union with Christ–powers and inspires us in daily faithfulness.

I love that this book came out in time to meditate on it before and during the Christmas season. I highly recommend it. It’s not just a “woman’s book,” but Fitzpatrick’s writing style is such that I think anyone would greatly benefit from a thorough reading. Maybe an early Christmas gift for a friend or family member (or yourself?).

Suburbianity – Should We Leave the ‘Burbs?

suburbianity_1

I’m a product of the suburbs. Having grown up in areas surrounding Memphis, TN, Fredericksburg, VA, and now living just outside of Nashville, I am well-acquainted with suburban values and ideals. I had a friend in high school who literally lived in a cute cottage with a white picket fence.

When David Platt preached the sermon series that later become his best-selling book, Radical, my husband’s sister and her husband were members of his church. They witnessed, and participated in, a movement of people awakening to a global mission. Living for the American Dream was not only not enough, but was the opposite of what they saw in Scripture. So eventually Jen & Pete left their cushy loft and moved to “the ‘hood,” where God has done amazing things in and through their family.

Jen is one of my very closest friends, and we’ve spent hours talking through the implications of Jesus’ teachings. Like many others, I’ve wondered if we should also leave our suburban home and move to an inner city neighborhood. We’ve talked about how there’s nothing particularly special about Jen & Pete–it’s all about what God is doing. She’s told me she firmly believes everyone could do what they are doing. But the question remained–does that mean everyone should?

Then my pastor, Byron Yawn, wrote a book called Suburbianity. He wrote it partly with a suburban soccer mom in mind. I’m not a soccer mom (at least I hope not…we’re hoping for basketball and volleyball…nice indoor sports where more points are scored), but I can identify with his target audience. I’m the girl who grew up in the church, heard all the Bible stories about heroes of the faith, and tried to live a good life. But God used various passages, books and friends to awaken me to a much bigger picture of my purpose in life.

So now what? I still find myself in the suburbs, in the buckle of the Bible Belt. In many suburban neighborhoods here, everyone goes to church, everyone says he’s a Christian, and people are just generally nice to one another. But the gospel is missing. Our “good news” is this: Go to church, live right, move up on the corporate ladder, raise kind children, retire and enjoy the good life you’ve earned. The problem is that our “good news” is damning most of the families on our street. And the true gospel is almost impossible to find in the midst of the pseudo-spiritual karma language of many churches.

Byron has seen this firsthand, over and over, in our church and even in his own life. The impetus for this book, and the focus of his ministry, was a confrontation he had with a visitor to our church who expressed his utter disappointment that he had brought his parents to church to hear the gospel, only to hear the pastor preach on a passage in Matthew for almost an hour with no mention of the true good news–the gospel of grace. It was a watershed moment for Byron, and led to many watershed moments for those in our congregation.

So the book is a call to see the true gospel, to see how the entirety of Scripture points not to our own ability to be or do good, but to Christ. And it’s a call to see the neediness of our suburban neighbors. We’ve seen it time and again in the waters of baptism. The former stripper’s testimony is followed by the minister’s daughter, repenting of her trust in her own goodness. As he says, “When good suburban folks repent, it’s a miracle.”

In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis wrote along the same lines regarding the issue of self-sufficiency: “The dangers of apparent self-sufficiency explain why Our Lord regards the vices of the feckless and dissipated so much more leniently than the vices that lead to worldly success. Prostitutes are in no danger of finding their present life so satisfactory that they cannot turn to God: the proud, the avaricious, the self-righteous, are in that danger.”

We’re still in the suburbs, and we’re very much in danger of seeing ourselves as self-sufficient. We exchange our souls for ease of living. Byron states,

Living in light of eternal things is difficult when material things are so abundant. We should not underestimate the war raging for our devotion and souls in the suburbs. […] But the final solution to the pervasive materialism in America is not asceticism or downsizing. Those are responses, not solutions. They are helpful, but they can’t touch the heart issue behind materialism. The solution includes a redemptive vision that so transforms our perspective that we are able to live as if we owned nothing even while possessing everything we need. […] The cross of Christ can compel you to live as if you were on the frontier of some unreached people group even as you live in the heart of capitalism.

So who’s right? The Christians overseas? The Christians selling everything and moving to the ‘hood? Or those in large homes in the upper middle class neighborhoods in the suburbs of the Bible Belt?

Obviously it’s a false dichotomy. I can’t tell you or anyone else where to go. That’s the role of the Holy Spirit. But the mission is the same. We preach Christ to all men and women and children. We support and encourage those who are being led by the Spirit to go overseas, and they encourage us as we are led to our next-door neighbor’s house. We assume the homeschooling, church-attending mom across the street is just as lost as the homeless drug addict.

Byron compares our reactions to two hypothetical visitors in our churches–one in rags, reeking of alcohol, and one in a suit with a nice Bible–and calls the church out (himself included) for our conditional love:

If your heart doesn’t sink with the man drowning in his affluence the way it did for the man drowning in alcohol, you don’t get it. You’re assuming he knows the gospel. You should be thinking the exact same thing you did about the bum. “How desperately that guy in the suit needs Jesus. Look at him! He believes his morality and church attendance save him. Most likely, right now he’s comparing himself to that homeless guy and assuming the best about his own condition. Oh, how blind he is! I’ve got to put the cross of Christ in his path. He needs to see himself as a leper and not a Republican.” This nearly imperceptible presupposition about human beings coats our souls in the suburbs, and it has robbed the church of its purpose and power.

So yes, I’m biased. He’s my pastor and if I didn’t agree with him I wouldn’t be sitting under his teaching. But I commend Suburbianity to anyone–those who have been awakened to the truth of the gospel and are passionate about sharing the truth, those who are still trusting in their own goodness, and those who have never heard any of this. It’s a call to see Christ–to see that it’s ALL about Him–and then to proclaim Him. Across the street and around the world.

A Wedding List

Occasionally I receive emails from brides or couples with wedding-related questions. I LOVE these interactions and am so encouraged to know this blog is even the slightest bit helpful for people in the midst of wedding planning.

When I receive a note from a bride, I try to pray for her and her fiance, for their wedding, for Christ to be honored as they plan and prepare. So I thought, I wonder who else is reading this blog? Maybe we could be praying for other people and sharing in their joy as they are married!

With that in mind, here’s a simple request for you:

If you are a bride or groom, or anyone else in the midst of planning a wedding, please leave me a comment below with this info: 1) Name(s), 2) Location (general, not specific), 3) Wedding date, and 4) Any specific prayer request for your wedding.

(If you’d rather not comment on the blog, you can always shoot me an email at: catherinestrodeparks(at)gmail(dot)com)

Thanks for reading and giving me honor of sharing in your joy!

All’s Quiet

My blogging has been close to nonexistent over the past few weeks, and will continue to be so for the next two. With an April 1 deadline for the book manuscript I am focusing all my writing energy on the book. The good news is it’s so close to being done! The better news is that God is faithful to sustain me during some stressful days. The best news is that no matter how the book turns out, I have been loved and adopted by God through the finished work of His Son.

So I’ll be back in April!

Wedding Registries: Tradition or Trend?

'Vera Wang Embossed Zinnia Wedding Invitation' photo (c) 2010, William Arthur Fine Stationery - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/So yesterday’s survey results were really helpful. Out of close to 50 respondents, the highest number of votes came from those who think including the registry information in the wedding invitation is in poor taste. However, the number who think it’s a good idea to help guests, or those who are indifferent, were almost as high as the first group. So I have a couple of thoughts, and now know how to tackle the issue in the book.

First, I think sometimes we just accept what those before us have done as tradition. I think one of Emily Post’s wedding books gives an explanation for the little tissue paper sheets that you see sometimes in with your wedding invitation. Apparently they are used to separate the invitations as they’re moved from the printer to the customer, and are really just necessary with engraved invitations so that the text doesn’t run from one to the next. However, somewhere along the lines someone must have put the tissue in when they mailed their invitations, and now it has become a tradition. I know I included it in mine and thought you were supposed to. But it served no purpose at all.

I think if we looked at some of what we do in weddings we would see this idea more and more. And sometimes there are good reasons behind what we do, but we may have no idea what they are. For instance let’s take the wedding veil. Where did that come from? I just assumed it was a symbol of purity, but never thought about the history of it. There are a couple of theories on this. Some say it’s from ancient Greek and Roman culture and was used as a means of warding off evil spirits. Others, though, believe it dates back before that to the culture of arranged marriages. It was thought that a groom might not marry the bride if she was unattractive, so she would be heavily veiled. We see this in the story of Jacob, Rachel and Leah.

This is just one example of a situation where we know it’s “tradition” to do a specific thing, but we don’t give thought to why. I know I didn’t think, “Hmm…but why should I wear a veil? What is the symbolism of this?” I just tried to find a pretty, inexpensive one that looked good with my dress. I certainly wasn’t looking for one thick enough to trick Erik into marrying me before he discovered what I really looked like. Although that would make for a dramatic “unveiling” during the ceremony.

I think this invitation thing is a good example of this idea. Somewhere along the lines a bride thought, “Hey, I’ll include my registry info with the wedding invitation to make things easier on people.” Then maybe a friend received it and decided to do the same for her wedding. And then the idea just spread like wildfire because how many people actually consult Emily Post when planning a wedding? We just do what other people have done–that must be right.

And now it IS the new “right” to include that information. And yet there is a generation that did not include it and thinks it’s rude and tacky. And obviously no one is going to battle over this, or at least I hope not. It’s hard to imagine a sweet grandmother and a young bride getting in a brawl in a post office over this, although a hilarious image none-the-less.

So if you’re getting married, what should you do? Do you include the info with the invitation or not?

Well I think, once again, it just comes down to our hearts. Are you including the information because you want gifts, and you want to make sure the gifts are from your registry? Or are you not including it because you think it’s rude when people do that and you don’t want to be like them? On the one hand the decision is characterized by greed, while on the other it’s motivated by pride. And these are two huge temptations during wedding planning.

I think those who commented on the last post made great points, and represent a sampling of opinions on the subject. The truth is in many cases you won’t be able to help offending someone along the way. The question is are they offended because you are choosing to do something you believe honors the Lord, or are they offended because you have done something they perceive as rude or greedy, even thought that might not be your intention? You can’t control someone else’s perception, but our desire should be for God to be glorified. Things that get in the way of that should be avoided at all costs. Remember Paul’s words to the Colossians:

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
(Colossians 3:12-14 ESV)

I plan to do one more post on registry, and then next week I’ll begin a regular series of Real Wedding posts. I’m super excited to share Becky and George’s beautiful, Christ-centered wedding with you!

A Fairy Tale Wedding

I’ve been thinking about fairy tales lately. My five-year-old daughter is not much of a princess kid. She prefers playing with animals (hence the cheetah-wrangling) or being a cowgirl, but we do have princess stories in our home. In thinking about these stories I’ve realized the major theme is that of a princess waiting for her prince to come and rescue her or give her a better life. Now that doesn’t mean she’s always just sitting there waiting–most of the time she is actively working or serving someone or something in the process. But her life does not have its greatest meaning or purpose until her prince comes. Then things are complete.

Our weddings and marriages are not fairy tales. We are not made complete by another person, and our lives do not get their sole meaning and purpose from another person. If you have trusted Christ and His finished work on the cross to save you from the penalty for your sins, then “in Him you are made complete” (Col 2:10). Jesus alone can make us complete. Our job is not to sit and wait for a human prince to come so life can truly begin, and our weddings are not the culmination of this waiting process. Yes, we wait, and yes, we rejoice in our weddings. But not so that life can finally begin. It’s not that kind of fairy tale.

Yet in another way weddings do represent a fairy tale. They are a beautiful depiction of a much bigger story—the great Rescuer joining with his rescued bride, the church. This is the greatest story and we miss the point if a wedding is only about a beautiful princess coming down the aisle to her groom and to an earthly “happy ever after.” It should be pointing to a much greater, truly perfect wedding—the marriage feast of the Lamb as described in Revelation 19. In his sermon on this passage Charles Spurgeon wrote:

Oh, what a day that will be when the eyes of the entire universe shall be turned in one direction and the glorious Christ, in the splendor of His Manhood and of His Godhead, shall take the hand of His redeemed Church and, before men and angels and devils, declare Himself to be one with her forever and forever! That will be the beginning of the marriage supper of the Lamb—it will be the publication to all of the great fact of mutual love and union![i]

I confess this was not the picture I had in mind as I planned my own wedding, nor was it what I thought of as I walked down the aisle toward my husband, Erik. I wanted to glorify God through my wedding, but lacked the big picture. Now as I stand and watch brides walk the aisle I’m usually the one with mascara running down my cheeks. It’s just so beautiful—we get to be the bride of Christ!

When I see things that describe a wedding as a fairy tale, I have mixed feelings. This can either conjure up images of a misdirected bride placing all her faith in her groom, or a grateful Bride placing her faith in her Rescuer. May our weddings, and our lives, represent the second picture.

For more reading on this subject, I recommend the following:

Mike Cosper wrote a great article on princess stories and the gospel here – Are Fairy Tales Finished?

Tom Strode (my dad and former pastor) wrote a series of short and helpful posts on marriage myths here – No. 1: Someday My Prince Will Come


[i] C. H. Spurgeon, The Marriage Supper of the Lamb, no. 2428 (sermon, Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington, England, Lord’s Day evening, August 21, 1887).

Average Wedding Spending

The following infographic shows the current state of the wedding industry as revealed by a survey conducted by TheKnot.com. It’s a little outdated in its text (see reference to the “upcoming royal wedding”), but the figures are the most up-to-date I’ve found.

So just in case you’ve been wondering how much weddings cost these days, here is an overview. Obviously many couples are able to pull off a beautiful wedding for far less. The numbers are based on a survey of TheKnot.com readers, so it is a somewhat limited demographic, but is still helpful in seeing the distribution of funds and other statistics.