12.06.2016

Coriolanus

CoriolanusCoriolanus by William Shakespeare

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Coriolanus, as retold by Shakespeare, was a successful general but a poor politician. The nobility wanted him to serve as consul, but he could not flatter the people at all, or even speak diplomatically. So they reject and banish him when the disagreement gets intense. He finds his way to his military enemy and offers to help attack Rome. Only his wife nad mother dissuade him from this, and he goes back with his enemy, who betrays and kills him. A tragic end – so unnecessary - for a war hero.

Recurring themes:
1 - the changing tide of the people. Several times the people change their minds about whether they like Coriolanus. They are easily led with flattery, the right words and charisma.

2 - pride can get in the way of the ambitious attaining their goals. While much of it was personality temperament, Coriolanus was just a stubborn jerk sometimes. He was more interested in standing on his honor than in overlooking provocations and pursuing peace.

3 - selfish political agendas can wreak terrible injustice for those who deserve better. There was no need to oppose Coriolanus as consul, except to grab the people’s support for themselves instead, which is what Brutus and Sicinius do. Coriolanus’ enemy, Aufidius, also does this at the end, deciding to assassinate Coriolanus to maintain his own position. There are shades and echoes here of the Sadducees and Caiaphas betraying Jesus: better one die to preserve our place and the nation.

While there were a few good insights into character or statecraft, this wasn’t one of Shakespeare’s best, literarily. It seemed like work to move the plot along. Perhaps this was due to the total absence of romance or marriage prospects – rare in a Shakespeare work.



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Sunday Christmas // Parenting Law or Grace?

Kevin DeYoung nails how to handle Christmas on a Sunday.


Paul Tripp puts the essential third use of the law to work in parenting.
Too often we think it has to be law OR grace, when in a sense, law IS grace.
(Yes, I know there is an important other sense in which law is opposed to grace.)
Law needs to be applied in a gracious way.

12.03.2016

All's Well that Ends Well

All's Well That Ends WellAll's Well That Ends Well by William Shakespeare

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


All’s Well that Ends Well is a play about testing honor and seeing through dishonorable lies and selfishness. People often see the dishonorable for what they are, before the dishonorable know it about themselves. The mercy extended at the end shines all the stronger for the despicable behavior seen up until then. It is very easy to question the sincerity of one’s repentance when you aren’t sure, instead of simply receiving them in mercy.



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Alcohol as Badge? // Grace Motivates // Sabbath

Tim Challies makes an important regarding Christians and alcohol.


David Murray points us to grace as the primary motivator for all we do.  Grace destroys legalism, burnout, and a host of other problems.


Here's a look at making the Sabbath a delight.  Some helpful and concrete ideas, here.

Christians Get Depressed, Too

Christians Get Depressed Too: Hope and Help for Depressed PeopleChristians Get Depressed Too: Hope and Help for Depressed People by David P. Murray

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Excellent, balanced and short.
Murray knows the difference between depression that is physically or chemically caused, and depression that irresponsibly mishandles feelings or difficulties. Sometimes the two are intertwined. Medication can be wrongly prescribed when the cause is spiritual. Rebuke can be wrongly administered when the cause is medical.

Murray’s main point in writing is in the title. Christians should not load themselves with false guilt simply for noticing they are depressed. Christians can and do suffer from all forms of depression. This doesn’t mean it is always a sickness for which they bear no responsibility, but sometimes it is. His main point leads Murray to argue against assuming as a default starting point that depression has a sinful cause. That may be where you wind up, but when the counselor starts his investigation from that viewpoint, it can harm the one suffering.

Being diagnosed with depression doesn’t mean God doesn’t love you. One of the best parts of the book is the way Murray applies a Reformed view of God’s sovereignty to depression. God afflicts us with diseases and difficulties for a reason – a holy reason that is for our good, though we cannot see it.

The church does not handle afflictions like this well. How do you raise and face deeply personal problems publicly, and live with them for years, when they have no simple solution? The church needs to extend and show much patience and love through this.

Murray offers lots of practical help in a short space, for the sufferer and their caregivers both. Highly recommended.



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12.02.2016

Repenting of Besetting Sins

How do you repent, again and again, when you can't shake that sinful habit?
Here are some thoughts.


True repentance looks like honesty without trying to put a positive spin on your fault.  Just be brutally honest about the sinful desires and thoughts you still see in yourself.  Repentance takes this to God in prayer, first and foremost - see Psalm 51 and Romans 7:14-25.

True repentance doesn't make promises you convince yourself you can keep.  Tying resolutions for perfect behavior in the future, to your present repentance, is a recipe for discouragement. Repentance is present and past oriented first.  It does "strive for a new obedience" as WSC 87 says.  But WCF 15:3 is really important: don't rely on your repenting to "fix" you.  If I just think or say the right words or feel the right thing, then I'll be better, or God will fix me, we think.

True repentance trusts Jesus' atonement.  Repentance admits your fault without excuse, and without trying to make it up in a way that minimizes the wrongdoing.  Sometimes after losing the battle, we can do the post-mortem discussion as a way to convince ourselves we didn't really lose, or that it wasn't that bad, or that since we'll win the next game we can set this one aside.  But only the blood of Jesus at the cross can atone for it.  Trust that, and reject every way you try to atone for your sin yourself.  2 Cor. 7:9-11.

True repentance anchors in the Word.  Satan will continue to try to get you to believe the lie that you're missing out on "the good life" by not giving in to this temptation.  It's good to pour out your heart to God about this, admitting that your feelings, or some part of you, believe this lie.  Then renounce it, fight it mentally, by using the Word.  Many times what we know is right we will fight against in our sinful nature - Roman 7:14-25!  Gotta fight back.  We will often fail, but that doesn't mean the fight is over.  Prov 24:16; Psalm 37:24; Micah 7:8.  The fight is wearying and humbling, by God's design.

True repentance surrenders to His grace.  It doesn't negotiate with God.  If we aren't trusting His grace, we will either give up or convince ourselves by mental tricks and casuistry that we are succeeding on our own.  But you have no righteousness to offer Him, to get Him to help you.

True repentance uses methods without relying on them.  When you fall back into sin, it doesn't mean your method failed, necessarily.  Your heart left the Lord for a time, but there may be much good to continue using/doing in past advice you've received from various folks.  Jacob walked with a limp his whole life after wrestling with the angel.  Keep wrestling - asking God to bless you in this area - and expect to walk with a limp.  Which means, you'll need crutches - to compensate somehow.  What does that look like, exactly?  The heart is critical, of course, and everything flows from what it desires.  But we also need outward structure to stay on the right track, because we are so prone to wander.  Don't throw the crutches away because you fell.

True repentance knows, as a child of God in Christ, that He never accuses you to condemnation for your sinful failings.  John 8:10-11.  Sometimes for men it feels masculine in a good way to condemn yourself strongly, or have others condemn you, and use that as a brief and strong push to STOP IT!  I think Col. 2:23 applies to that tactic: it's self-imposed will worship that doesn't really help fight sin.  Instead, more truly and effectively, God accepts you where you are, right now.  But He loves you enough to not want you to stay there.  Your motivation isn't fear that He'll stop loving you, but wanting to honor the one who died to get you out of the gutter and clean you up.

11.30.2016

Thoughts on Deborah and Barak

Judges 4-5 is about deliverance from an unexpected source.

Culturally, Israel didn't expect women to lead.  Deborah is judging Israel but wants Barak to lead the army.  He won't unless she goes, too.  In other words, he makes her lead, when he should.

Judges 5:2 is the main message.  Israel needs leaders, and they need to follow their leaders.  But God can deliver even when the "first-string" leaders don't step forward.  Esther 4:14 may relate.  The rest of Judges is littered with flawed or unexpected leaders that God uses anyway.

The same theme of deliverance from an unexpected place is in the Jael section.  Somehow Sisera slips away from the army, but God can see to the downfall (or exaltation) of anyone, regardless of earthly, political or military maneuvers.  In this case, He uses Jael.  It's a great statement that God's people can "break the mold" sometimes.  A woman doesn't always have to have a "gentle and quiet spirit" (1 Peter 3:4) apparently.  Unless it's a trick to crush the bad guy!

This relates to Jesus since He is also a deliverer from an unexpected place: Galilee.  See the end of John 7.  More generally, who'd expect the savior of the world to come from obscure Israel, which was not a major player on the world political stage at any point?  Interesting that Zebulun and Naphtali are mentioned in Judges 4:10, and in Isaiah 9:1 when speaking of where Messiah will come from....

The decisive blow of Jael, and Deborah's summoning of the army in Barak's name (4:9), both point to action needed by the leader.  Philippians 2:5-11 is very relevant.  Hebrews 2:14.  Strong language: destroy.  I just read a great chapter in "Dragon's Tooth" by N.D. Wilson about this very thing (chpt 15, "An End").  The main character had to kill the bad guy, and it's described graphically - a stab to the temple, actually, now that I think of it...

The glory goes to the one who leads (Judges 4:9-10) - the one who sacrifices.  Jesus was in the position to do this, and He does it.  Leadership to a T!  Earthly leaders are really poor at this - we compromise and we waffle - which is why Judges is so compelling.

11.26.2016

No Indispensable Nation

Doug Wilson:
"The future plans that God has for this planet do not require the United States. We are not the essential nation; we are, like every great power, the superfluous nation. If God restores us and uses us wonderfully, it is nothing but His great mercy. If God sets us aside, and accomplishes His purposes through others"...

Reminds me of Esther 4: relief and deliverance for God's people will come from somewhere else, if you don't act in the moment God gives you.

11.25.2016

He Shall Come to Judge the Quick and the Dead

Thanksgiving comes providentially at the end of the liturgical church year, which outlines the work of Christ for our redemption.  Beginning with His birth (Christmas) and ministry (Lent), then death and resurrection (Easter), giving of the Spirit (Pentecost), it concludes with a recognition of All Saints’ Day on November 1, noting the Church triumphant that has gone on to glory.

Thanksgiving is an ideal stand-in for the final work of Christ for our redemption: His return to judge the quick and the dead. This follows the death of the saints.  Consider the last verses of a classic hymn at Thanksgiving time.

All the world is God's own field,
fruit as praise to God we yield;
wheat and tares together sown
are to joy or sorrow grown;
first the blade and then the ear,
then the full corn shall appear;
Lord of harvest, grant that we
wholesome grain and pure may be. 

3 For the Lord our God shall come,
and shall take the harvest home;
from the field shall in that day
all offenses purge away,
giving angels charge at last
in the fire the tares to cast;
but the fruitful ears to store
in the garner evermore. 

4 Even so, Lord, quickly come,
bring thy final harvest home;
gather thou thy people in,
free from sorrow, free from sin,
there, forever purified,
in thy presence to abide;
come, with all thine angels, come,
raise the glorious harvest home.


We are the harvest that the Lord reaps for His barns.  The denomination in which I was raised has a communion liturgy that points us forward to this:  “As this grain was gathered from many fields into one loaf, and these grapes were gathered from many hills into one cup, grant, O Lord, that Your whole Church may soon be gathered from the ends of the earth into Your kingdom.”

So, while the rest of the world rushes to the stores today, Christians would do well to meditate on the spiritual harvest still to come, when our Lord shall come and gather us home.  Jesus was the first-fruits of the resurrection harvest to come, when all the dead in Christ will rise.


The abundance and feasting we experience at Thanksgiving looks ahead to the joyful marriage supper of the Lamb in glory.  Then petition will give way to eternal thanksgiving, “How long?” will resolve to “How great!” and cries for vindication from under the altar will turn to “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain!” (Rev. 5-6).

11.24.2016

Thanksgiving 2016

This Thanksgiving Day I have a particular thing for which to give the Lord thanks.

We decided to try to find a worship service to attend, either Wednesday night or Thursday morning, and discovered a Christian Reformed congregation just 30 minutes away that was holding an actual, increasingly rare, Thursday morning Thanksgiving service.  (As an aside, I’m now sitting down to a juicy turkey, at 1pm, in a house with no time bake oven – this is do-able, people!)

On the way I told the kids I wasn’t sure what to expect.  My wife was raised in the CRC, and while we are thankful for their heritage, plenty of liberalism has creeped in lately.  I was hoping for a traditional service with hymns, confession of sin and an expository sermon, but that was a long shot.  More likely we’d get an open mic time and songs we didn’t know.

The long shot came through, and I was pleasantly surprised and blessed by the Lord.  Not only was the service reverent and edifying, but the people were warm and friendly, the music was a discrete blend of hymns and the best thanksgiving choruses, the pastor referred to my seminary alma mater, and the sermon was Christ-exalting and edifying.  Instead of taking an offering they had a card to write a few things you were thankful for, and come up and put them in the offering plate.  My kids took part from the heart and with no prompting.  The church is almost done preaching through the Heidelberg Catechism in a year, and they hold a weekly evening service.

Over the last year one thing the Lord has shown me is how easily discouraged I can get.  The message this morning was on Psalm 13 and seemed tailor-made for me.  In a time of crying out, “How long, O Lord?” He intervened this morning, feeding, comforting, and strengthening my spirit.  I have often felt this receiving the ministry of the Word while sitting in the pew in my own church, too, but it just seemed especially strong on this holiday, when it was less expected.

So, I am thankful to know of another faithful congregation near me, its connections familiar from my childhood and professional education, and to be fed by them on this Thanksgiving Day.


One other thing I noticed was the music.  With just a piano player, one song leader, and a screen, ordinary people faithfully praised their God.  It struck me how the Christian music industry out of Nashville has (probably inadvertently) grossly distorted the normal church-goer’s expectations of what to expect from church music.  If believers (or church musicians?) can just set aside their radio and concert experience, expecting a level of professional that ordinary people can’t meet; or their nostalgia of music from their childhood, or their pet peeves against screens - then when we come before God in worship one more obstacle to pure worship would fall.  I experienced that this morning.  Of course, it didn’t hurt for me that the old blue Psalter was in the pew, though we didn’t use it.


I could be all upset about how they don’t share some of my theological distinctives, and prideful about how we’re the only church in the area to do and believe x, leading me to dismiss and ignore such a church.  But that would not be an appropriate act of thanksgiving to God on this day.  So, thank You, Lord, for your faithful remnant in every city and nation, who look in faith to Your Son Jesus Christ.


Psalm 13
    How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever?
    How long will You hide Your face from me?
    2      How long shall I take counsel in my soul,
    Having sorrow in my heart daily?
    How long will my enemy be exalted over me?

    3      Consider and hear me, O LORD my God;
    Enlighten my eyes,
    Lest I sleep the sleep of death;
    4      Lest my enemy say,
    “I have prevailed against him”;
    Lest those who trouble me rejoice when I am moved.

    5      But I have trusted in Your mercy;
    My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.
    6      I will sing to the LORD,
    Because He has dealt bountifully with me.

11.23.2016

Pence at Hamilton // Praying Parents

Mike Pence reacted well to an attempt to publicly shame him at the "Hamilton" play.
Who are the real intolerant ones, anyway?


Greg Harris gives lots of ideas on praying for your children.

11.05.2016

What Do We Want? Discipleship! When Do We Want It? Now!

A bit ago, Doug Wilson responded to Russell Moore's Washington Post article pronouncing the death of the Religious Right.

Among the good things he said was this false trichotomy, most annoying to the present writer, who teeters between a-millennial and post-millennial thought:

"We can either abandon culture, accommodate ourselves in some way to culture, or successfully teach our culture what obedience to Jesus looks like. Moore believes in cultural engagement so the first option is out. He is not a theocratic postmillennialist, so the third option is out. That leaves the second option."

Wait, if we don't successfully disciple the nations we are compromising?  What if, in God's sovereignty, He determines only to save some of a certain tribe and nation, instead of seeing it overwhelmingly discipled to Christ?  I assume this has already happened in history.  Attila's Huns or the Ming dynasty and empire, so far as we know, did not convert completely to the God of Israel.  We may be moving in history toward a time when the Chinese and Mongols and all the rest will do so.  I do hold to such a post-millennial hope.

But to claim that if successful discipleship isn't happening now, then the church is compromising, is as dangerous spiritually as the name-it-and-claim-it charismatic view of healing or prayer.  I guess if America doesn't return to Christ, then the church just didn't work hard enough, pray hard enough, embrace the right eschatology, or back the right candidate.  We must have compromised somewhere.

Tell that to Tyndale, burning at the stake saying, "Lord, open the King of England's eyes."  There is a pragmatism lurking here that works against Wilson's purposes.  He wants us to take our Bibles to the political debate, and not just use natural law or common sense.  I agree.  But let's not argue for that by saying we would win if we did so, and we are losing because we aren't.  Sometimes you wind up in prison for the Word of God, too (Rev. 1:9-10).

I don't mind Wilson's call to base our political advocacy firmly on the Bible.  I don't mind an expectation that the nations will eventually flow into Jerusalem to worship the Son.  But let's beware an impatience for that, that is quick to assume compromise when results aren't as immediate as we'd like them to be.

The Gospel of John 1-4 - Boice Commentary review

The Gospel of John Volume 1: The Coming of the Light (John 1-4)The Gospel of John Volume 1: The Coming of the Light by James Montgomery Boice

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Boice is theological gold, and this collection of sermons differs only in addressing Scripture even more directly to the normal lives of God’s people in the pew. With a natural blend of exposition and application, Boice draws instruction from every ounce of every verse.

As an example, in writing on the Incarnation from John 1:1, 14 (a 5-page chapter/sermon on just these two verses), he applies the truth that Jesus became a man this way:

“By becoming man Jesus has also provided us with an example of how the life that is fully pleasing to the Father should be lived…. I often have been asked by people who are concerned with the state of the church today why it is that so many of the young men who go to seminary (even a good seminary, for that matter) come out of it without much of a message and without much of an ability to lead the churches they eventually serve. This is good questioning. As I have thought about it, I have come to feel that one of the main reasons is that they lack an adequate example of what the Christian ministry can be. They have never had contact with a strong church or with an intelligent preaching ministry that is Bible-centered and faithful to the great themes of the gospel. SO, lacking an example, they wander about in their approach and fail to provide strong leadership…. Thus, Jesus became man in order to go through all sorts of situations with all sorts of people in order that we might be provided with a pattern upon which our Christian life can be constructed.”

He goes on to describe Jesus as a needlework sampler that we look to as we live our life and do our work. Excellent illustration and application of biblical themes.

My one quibble would be that he goes a little too slow through the text, sometimes drawing in lots of other biblical texts and themes only tangentially related to the text. I think he does so to increase biblical literacy, which is good. But it obscures the main point occasionally.



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Pastors Have Authority?? // Young-Earth Vindication // Seminary Work

Kevin DeYoung offers a decent and basic description of pastors and elders in the presbyterian or reformed church setting.


Scientist finds soft tissue in dinosaur bones, gets sued by his university, then is legally vindicated.
Great story, here!!


I enjoyed Tabletalk's interview with Ligon Duncan on leading a seminary, and raising up and supporting pastors in the local church.

11.03.2016

Division in the Church?

A friend passed on this quote from Peter Leithart's "End of Protestantism."
My thoughts are below.

“This amounts to a call for the end of Protestantism. Insofar as opposition to Catholicism is constitutive of Protestant identity; insofar as Protestants, whatever their theology, have acted as if they are members of a different church from Roman Catholics and Orthodox; insofar as Protestants define themselves over against other Protestants, as Lutherans are not-Reformed and Baptists are not-Methodist—in all these respects, Jesus bids Protestantism to come and die” (p. 6).


I think it's good to consider ourselves mere Christians, in CS Lewis' language.

But we need to stay clear about how to interpret Scripture and live the Christian life.  Until Rome stops insisting on submission to its bishop, Protestants have a duty to oppose Rome on that level.

We ought to be more cordial across denominational lines, and seek wisdom there to correct ourselves.  I think that is partly Leithart's point, and I agree.  But that doesn't mean being naive about their errors.  Maybe Leithart is just rightly focusing on correcting himself (Protestants) more than others (Rome), but he often comes across as minimizing their errors.  There is not a moral (doctrinal?) equivalence between Protestants and Catholics and Orthodox.  None has it all right, either, of course, but an attitude of "everybody has their problems, so why are we divided?" is dangerous in this area.

As an example, for a Protestant Christian to marry an Orthodox or Catholic is a bad idea.  Some divisions are warranted in the present situation.  When a church insists on ordaining women to church office, or asserting Mariolatry, those who find such actions unbiblical are warranted to separate from the error if they cannot correct it.

I think a lot of evangelicals are enticed away from maintaining such boundaries when they first encounter Catholics as friends or close co-workers.  It's kind of like caving on homosexuality when your child comes out as gay.  Responding well to your daughter in that situation might look from the outside to hard-line conservatives like caving, but it isn't.  So with Leithart, here, perhaps.

So those are some qualifications to the quote.  It's true there will be no Protestantism in Heaven, and that should impact our ethics here.  But Leithart is over-realizing his eschatology.