7.02.2017

Shepherd and Sheep

After a couple of sermons today on Jesus, the Good Shepherd, here are a couple videos about the cultural context from Ray VanderLaan.






6.26.2017

Boaz and Break Rooms

As a full-time pastor, I’m fairly sheltered from the rough and tumble of blue collar work life.  I remember the cool break rooms after the hot afternoon, the crude jokes on the side, the tired muscles, watching the clock, and so on, but it has been quite a while.  Hang on to that thought – I’ll bring it back in a minute.


Ruth 2:14-15
Now Boaz said to her at mealtime, “Come here, and eat of the bread, and dip your piece of bread in the vinegar.” So she sat beside the reapers, and he passed parched grain to her; and she ate and was satisfied, and kept some back. 15 And when she rose up to glean, Boaz commanded his young men, saying, “Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not reproach her.


It’s amazing what it will do for you to slow way down in reading the Bible.  I watch a daily video podcast that takes a verse of Hebrew and a verse of Greek and walks through it, analyzing and translating the original text into English.  While you take two minues per verse to think of the grammar and how best to translate, it enriches your understanding of the text.

Right now I’m reading Ruth 2, and I did several verses in a row this morning.  After a brief conversation at church where a member described the daily schedule at his manual labor, summer job, the description of the reapers really popped out at me.

Don’t reproach or humiliate Ruth, Boaz tells his workers a few times.  Out in the field, there is more freedom to engage in crude jokes, probably comparing the women gleaning behind them.  Probably even more so at lunch, when the men and women would eat separately.

Now here's where it gets interesting.

Boaz does a shocking thing that shakes up the mundane lunch break routine in verses 14-15.  He invites Ruth to sit with the reapers (the men workers) instead of eat with the gleaners (the women).  Most people notice the apparent improper act of Ruth going to the threshing floor by Boaz at night, but I’ve never heard a comment about this incident in 2:14-15.  I’ve always understood Ruth going to the threshing floor at night as a bold act out of the blue, forging ahead with little to go on.  And she does certainly take initiative in that.  But Ruth is responding to Boaz’s similar act in 2:14-15.  Boaz also does something that feels improper (having Ruth sit with the men), to accomplish something more important than propriety.

Boaz gets two things done.  First, he acts on his pious words, extending God’s love to Ruth.  He had just called down God’s blessing on her, that He would repay her for leaving her homeland and staying loyal to Naomi.  He wanted the God of Israel to take note and make up her Moabite loss with prosperity in Israel.  So he then does his part to make that happen.  Not only will she get the gleanings of the day from his field, she gets the good food at lunch, and takes some of that home, too.

But the second thing is what caught my eye, related to the rough and tumble of lunch room conversations at work.  By bringing a woman to the table, Boaz rebukes or gently reminds his workers, that they can’t talk their usual way now that she is there.  You know that awkward sense when a group of ladies is talking and it’s bordering on gossip, and then a man walks up?  Or when a group of men are hamming it up, and it’s going a little too far, and then a woman walks within earshot?  Boaz makes that happen.  He invites Ruth to sit with the men.  Maybe he’s changing the culture of his employers, or just reminding them how it needs to stay.  And he is also telling them that she is as important as they are.  It's too easy when the men and women are apart socially all the time for each to start looking down on the other.  He mixes it up to prevent this.


In the end, Boaz did not just give Ruth food, a handout.  He gave her social dignity when she could easily have been maligned, mocked and misused.

6.02.2017

When in the Course of Human Events

When in the Course of Human Events: Arguing the Case for Southern SecessionWhen in the Course of Human Events: Arguing the Case for Southern Secession by Charles Adams

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


When in the Course of Human Events – Charles Adams

Every now and then I’ll pick up a pro-Confederate book and sample the argument one more time.
As a northerner by birth now living in the South, I try to understand the strong sentiment that the South was right and that it will (or should) rise again.

Charles Adams’ take is an extremely one-sided picture of the war. He jumps right in, asserting in the preface that abolitionists were terrorists. This is like calling pro-lifers terrorists. Some extremists shoot abortion doctors, but most reject such violence while advocating for a legal end to abortion. You can’t blame the radical abolitionists for the South’s refusal to free the slaves. Our author actually attempts to assert this. He holds the North’s oppression of the South after the war responsible for the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. These kinds of wild claims made it hard for me to take the book seriously and finish it.

A key thesis that I acknowledge is that there were economic factors at work, dividing the North and the South, apart from slavery. Adams wants to make that the only motive for secession, while many today believe slavery was the only motive for the war. Neither are right.

Slavery was doomed in the 1860s he says and would go away inevitably.
If so isn’t the South still to blame for resisting the pressure in the North to emancipate? They would rather secede than give in to the inevitable emancipation, making it seem much less inevitable. Lincoln’s “extreme position” only went as far as to not let slavery expand, and this was all it took for the South to secede.

Adams asserts that the issue of slavery was a pretext to unify Southerners to fight. Slavery wasn’t in jeopardy, so it wasn’t the reason to secede, he argues. But slavery WAS in jeopardy in territories headed for future statehood. He doesn’t mention this at all. Southerners viewed the abolition of slavery in territories becoming states as the forerunner to abolition in their states.

Adams tries to make parallels in chapter one to secessions from empires throughout history.
The difference is that few of these voluntarily joined as one nation originally; they were annexed forcibly to start with. These United States of America were not a conglomeration of disparate nations, but arose from a unified English culture, more or less.

Adams relies heavily on English opinion of the war, which favored the South. He colors them as unbiased outside observers, but their opinion had economic reasons. Britain was an economic competitor with the North and traded more with the South. It is a mark of Adams’ extreme bias, to the point of dishonesty, that he argues so strongly the North’s economic motive to keep the union, while muting England’s economic motive FOR secession, in siding with the South in their papers. To Adams, the South’s cause was noble; the North’s was malicious.

Why was secession so intolerable for the North? Why not just let the states go? Adams poses this as a rhetorical question, but there is a real answer. Secession produced a double evil: the division of a nation and the continuance of slavery. Political union makes us responsible for each other.

How could it threaten liberty to let the South secede? the author asks. Wouldn’t it advance liberty to give the states the self-determination they should rightly have? Well, to let the South secede would show that America could not bring about liberty for its citizens, the slaves.

Now, I know the North wasn’t pure as the driven snow, either. There was plenty of racism there, too. Adams makes a good case that there was little support for emancipation in the North.
Adams may be right that there was no huge political will in North or South for freedom and equal rights for blacks/slaves. So what was Lincoln to do? This fuller picture is indeed missing from the standard version of the history.

Was it an injustice to free the slaves without some provision of education or training for them?
Yes. But it would have been a greater injustice to leave them in slavery in a new nation, the Confederate States of America.

The lesson to learn from the war is not, as Adams contends, to let the South secede – to let political liberty trump social evils. It is to have the right reasons for any law or war, imposing government will on a people. His charges against how Lincoln conducted the war legally were new to me. If true (don’t know if I can trust Adams’ historical verity), this is a lesson to learn and not repeat.

In the end, both sides can look back and say, this should have gone differently. But they continue blaming each other. North to South: you should have freed your slaves willingly. South to North: this book. You shouldn’t have forced us to stay for your own economic reasons.



Here is a review from Amazon that summarizes the book and my perspective quite nicely.
“In case anyone doubted Garry Wills' argument in A Necessary Evil that the peculiar myths and distortions surrounding the nature, formation, and meaning of the U.S. regularly stir movements committed to myth rather than reality, Adams, a historian of taxation, delivers a polemic that proves it. The Civil War, Adams argues, was not about slavery or the Union; it was about tariffs! The Southern states had a right to secede. Slavery would have ended at some point, but Lincoln did not particularly threaten it. It was, Adams maintains, the "dueling tariffs" of the Union and the Confederacy that caused the war. Within his states' rights argument, Adams maintains secession's legality should have been determined by the courts, and slaveholders should have been compensated for the property they lost through emancipation. Adams relies heavily on the European press; he asserts, but does not prove, that U.S. abolitionists were a fanatical lunatic fringe. The author clearly anticipates controversy; it should not be long in coming.” Mary Carroll


Marilynne Robinson, Givenness of Things. Pgs. 96-97
“I know causes of the Civil War are widely disputed, but I have been reading the speeches and papers of leaders of the Confederacy, and for them the point at issue was slavery. Slavery plain and simple. They drew up a constitution very like the national Constitution, except in its explicit protections of slavery. Their defense of their sacred institutitons means the defense of slavery. Their definition of state’s rights means their insistence on their right to bring this ‘species of property’ into states that did not acknowledge it, and to make these states enforce their claims on such ‘property’ without reference to their traditions, to their own laws, or to their right to protect their own citizens.”



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6.01.2017

Shepherd of the Hills

The Shepherd of the HillsThe Shepherd of the Hills by Harold Bell Wright

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


A delightful, Romantic story of character and courage, resolve and reconciliation. Set in the Ozarks, the rough mountaineers and their simple ways encounter the shepherd, “Dad” Howitt, a refined and cultured city man. He bridges the gap and teaches two “fine specimens” of humanity – a young man and young woman – what it means to be a “sure enough lady” and man.

But the shepherd has his own problems, and the hills are full of rough men ready to take what they want and kill whoever stands in their way.

Plenty of action and drama, with a strong streak of country pride. The ways of the city may be more refined but not more noble. The story is partly about a young man frustrated in his love for a lady, but handling it well and resolving it nobly.

I wouldn’t call this a must read, but it is a good story, well written.



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5.31.2017

Peter Martyr Vermigli

Peter Martyr VermigliPeter Martyr Vermigli by Simonetta Carr

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Outstanding biography of a little-known reformer from Italy who worked with the Swiss and English reformations, and influenced the Synod of Dordt after his death. Carr tells his personal and family story along with his theological work, showing the great personal sacrifice that Peter Martyr and others were willing to make to advance the truth in Christ's church.



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5.17.2017

13 Reasons Why Not // Artists' Freedom // Riots

Good article on why not to watch 13 Reasons.  It hurts the people it's trying to help.


Alliance Defending Freedom lawyer argues in the Washington Post for freedom of artists to refuse to express viewpoints they disagree with, regardless what side of the politics it lands on.


Marvin Olasky compares recent riots over Trump's election to past riots in American cities, ending with a Civil War application.

5.15.2017

The End for Which God Made the World


by Jonathan Edwards

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


A cogent argument that God made the world primarily for His glory. This primary end does not exclude another goal: our happiness. Since we were made to worship Him, our obedience to His design brings us delight and Him glory.

As an old American choral piece puts it:
“Thine be the glory, man’s the boundless bliss!”

The writing style and argumentation is heavily philosophical – beware!




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5.11.2017

Honesty // Fear Individualism, too // Disappointed with Church

Covenant Eyes makes a great connection between how you hear sermons and how (if?) you are open and honest with him or anyone about your struggles.


Samaritan Ministries helpfully critiques the radical individualism of Cain: "Am I my brother's keeper?"  He observes that fear of communism or too much state involvement keeps too many Christians from being willing to answer yes to that question...


A really good article at Desiring God that starts with being disappointed with worship services, and turns to expound Philippians.  If church is frustrating you, lately, please read!

5.09.2017

Gregory Recommends Augustine

Here's one of my favorite quotes in Pope Gregory's letters so far:
Writing to an African Prefect:

"As to your wishing the book on the exposition of holy Job to be sent to you [written by Gregory].... if you desire to be satiated with delicious food, read the works of the blessed Augustine, your countryman, and seek not our chaff in comparison with his fine wheat."  (Letters, book 10, letter 37).

5.05.2017

Temple Creation // Work out Salvation // Reviewing Culture

Peter Leithart at his best, showing how the temple is a re-creation of... creation, and a pointer ahead to incarnation.


How is it salvation is all of grace, AND we are to work out our salvation?


Marvin Olasky defends why they review mainstream movies and music that have morally offensive content.  I've had this question myself sometimes, but I think his answer is on target.
Make sure to read the end on how moralism obscures the need for grace and for Christ.

4.11.2017

Take Your Bible // Charismatic Calvin // Heart-Felt Calvin

Bring your Bible to church, says Doug Wilson.
I haven't always executed this well with my own family, but it's really important.
Read why here.


John Calvin, on why we should kneel and raise our hands in worship.


"We are called to a knowledge of God: not that knowledge which, content with empty speculation, merely flits in the brain, but that which will be sound and fruitful if we duly perceive it, and if it takes root in the heart."  John Calvin, Institutes, I.5.9.

4.06.2017

Rejoicing // Being Professional // Genesis 3:16

Moving from worrying to rejoicing - World Magazine 


This was a challenging piece calling pastors to professional, in the best sense of the word.
Those who revolt against professionalism and stress an organic ministry model, often fall into being unprofessional: sloppy, lazy, and thoughtless about rightly serving the body of Christ in the details of the big and little things.


World Magazine, again, on how to translate Genesis 3:16, and why it matters.
NKJV: Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.
Old ESV: Your desire shall be for your husband, but he shall rule over you.
New ESV: Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.

4.03.2017

Beck's Mormonism // Resisting Cynicism // Pleasing God

A good short article on Glenn Beck and the difference between Mormons and Christians.
We don't have to be syncretists, merging two conflicting religious claims together, to forge political alliances...


Are you prone to be a cynic?  Though many cynics revel in their cynicism, it is not a fruit of the Spirit!  This might help diagnose the problem.  And it is a problem...


After a stimulating discussion at church yesterday on the role of the law in our lives as Christians, Kevin DeYoung serves up this gem on seeking to please God our Father as already justified children.

Things I never Noticed in the Bible

Numbers 22:40
"Then Balak offered oxen and sheep, and he sent some to Balaam and to the princes who were with him."

Balaam had princes with him when he rode his donkey and it talked to him.  I had always assumed he was alone, missing verse 40.  Did they hear the donkey speak, too?  Were they like the men with Saul on the Damascus road?  "the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one" (Acts 9:7).

It only makes sense.  Balaam is sought after by princes and kings.  Of course he has servants in that day.  So this altercation is very public.  They see Balaam abusing his donkey, and his wavering between resolving to speak only what God says (Numbers 22:18), accepting bribes (22:32), and advising Balak to tempt Israel in other ways (Numbers 25:1-2; Revelation 2:14).  They see their boss constrained by God, uniquely taught by Him.  Yet they also see Balaam working against Him in the end, enticing the very people he blessed to sin.

What a chump.

But out of the mouth of this donkey comes God's view of His people:
- no sin observed in them (23:21)
- God is with them (23:21)
- they are beautiful and lovely (24:5-6)
- they will spread out and multiply (24:7)
- a King shall arise from them (24:17)

3.29.2017

Pastors Criticizing and Criticized // Praying for Pastors // Church Singing

Mark Dever talks about how pastors should receive and give criticism.  This was excellent!


How to pray for your pastor.  Eight specific and targeted prayers.


Tim Challies lists benefits of a physical hymnal at church, instead of words on a screen.
He's too pessimistic about "going back," as if it's a quixotic and futile quest.  I suppose all the cool churches would consider it too 10-years-ago, and inconvenient.  But the medium-sized churches who do powerpoint with amateur volunteers at the computer often hit snags mid-song, when the computer freezes or the operator is asleep at the button.

Another aspect lost is knowing you're part of a bigger church than you and your radio station.  Who put this book together, and why do we align with them?  You're more likely to ask that with a physical book in your hand.  But we should also ask it CCM song selection.  This song on Christian radio they are playing a lot - why is it a good song to sing in church?
Church music should not be an extension of "top Christian 40" radio.