1.16.2019

The Hunt for Red October

The Hunt for Red October (Jack Ryan Universe, #4)The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Clancy's first Jack Ryan novel, and my first Clancy read.

One of the few times I saw the movie before reading the book, which was a good thing, believe it or not. Else I would have been lost in the technical minutiae. But it seems a compelling depiction of modern naval warfare.

Definitely a product of the Cold War, Clancy throws in side comments about American freedom and the Soviet mindset that set them in stark contrast, and show the moral inequivalence between the two. It's probably overly simplistic: the Americans are always meritocratic, while for the Russians politics and rank come before competence. But I wouldn't argue with the basic refutation of moral equivalence between the two, given the explicit godlessness of the U.S.S.R.

Still, Clancy tips the hat to the technical and tactical capabilities of the Russians, in the characters of Ramius and Tupolev.

Clancy is a deft craftsman of the modern literary device - I don't know the technical term - of shifting from one scene or location to another with increasing rapidity, heightening the pace and drama. It's a bit of a cheap trick in my view, but for this kind of story and genre it works.

A smattering of language, including the f-bomb. Probably way less than is realistic, but still a bother to me.



View all my reviews

1.14.2019

Genesis 15

The Text
Verses 1-8
God promises Abraham he has a bright future.  Abraham objects that God hasn't even given him one child for an heir, yet.  God says they will be as countless as the stars.  Abraham believes and asks for a sign that this will be true. 
Verses 9-12, 17
God has him do a bloodpath covenant, known in the culture of the time: cut animals apart, situate them so their blood pools or flows in the middle, and walk through the blood.  The point: if I break this contract, you can treat me like these animals.  It is a self-maledictory oath.
Verses 13-16, 18
God reaffirms the promise of land and offspring, and foretells Israel's trouble in Egypt and the Exodus.

Christ in the Text
This chapter is a gold mine of Messianic promises.
1. Jesus is Abram's awaited offspring who will accomplish the fulfillment of God's promises (Galatians 3:16).
2. Jesus is the animals cut in two, whose blood ratifies God's promises.
3. Jesus is Abram, figuratively, the ultimate recipient of God's promises to inherit nations (Psalm 2:8), have numerous descendants and be blessed (Isaiah 53:10).

Doctrinal Understanding
1. Abram believes, and God justifies him by that faith alone (Galatians 3:5-9).  Faith is not a New Testament development, after Israel lived before God by works.
2. The covenant promise God made to Abraham is confirmed with a quasi-sacrament: a visual ritual to display, confirm, symbolize and seal God's promise to Abraham.

Cultural Application
God gives Abram land already occupied by others.  Just as believers need to give sovereignty of their lives to the Lord Christ, so this is the goal for all people: to conform society to at least be consonant with God's law.  This will "dispossess" people and they will object, but God's call is to "take the land" in the Great Commission sense.

Personal Application
1. Abram trusts God, but has no qualms expressing doubts and objections and asking for a sign.  I often look to Gideon as a negative example - putting out the fleece more than once was an act of unbelief.  But in the right heart, asking for a sign is an act of faith (Isaiah 7:10-11).  God wants us to seek such a sign, and gives them to us.
2. Make use of the sacraments God gives us to bolster your faith in God's promises.
3. God will bless you, even though it doesn't feel like it when you are waiting through dry times.

1.11.2019

Acts 10

The Text
The Spirit brings a Roman Centurion and his family and friends together with the apostle Peter to hear the Gospel of Jesus.  Both have visions.  Cornelius sees and angel; Peter sees a bunch of unclean animals and hears a voice from heaven telling him to eat them.  This is both a literal overturning of the Levitical food laws (Leviticus 11) and a metaphor that he is to receive the unclean Gentile Cornelius into his home and interact with him.  When Peter preaches Christ in a Gentile-understandable way, the Spirit falls on them so that they speak in tongues, praise God and seek baptism.

Christ in the Text
Jesus is presented as Lord and judge over all (10:36, 42).  The Old Testament idea that He is God's anointed servant is present but a bit muted (10:38).  His death and resurrection remain central, and we can have healing from sickness, relief from devilish oppression (38) and forgiveness for our sins (43) through Him.

Doctrinal understanding
Parts of the Old Testament Law, mainly the ceremonial and ritual aspects, were meant to pass away with the coming of Christ.  This allowed for greater interaction and unity between Jew and Gentile, as the Jewish apostles go into all the world to bring the Gospel to every nation.

Cultural application
1. Peter asserts Jesus is Lord of all, a direct contrast for the Gentiles with Caesar.  He may be "soft-pedaling" the Old Testament context, but only to make more understandable the radical step they will need to take in putting Christ before Caesar.
2. Liberal progressives in our day wrongly apply verse 47 to LGBT people.  The argument goes that a similar wall is up between LGBT and the rest of the church that was up between Jew and Gentile, and it should come down.  The church should realize that God accepts them.  This argument confuses a ritual distinction with a moral one.  God accepts anyone when they repent of their sin and turn away from it (any sin, including homosexual practice) and trust Jesus' work at the cross for their forgiveness.

Personal application
1. While this is a unique moment in redemptive history, we should expect the Holy Spirit to continue bringing together seekers with those who are ready to explain the claims of Christ and call for a response.
2. Be ready to interact with unexpected types of people.  For Peter it was a higher-up in the Roman military.  Don't confine God or your church to a narrow slice of a demographic type.

1.09.2019

Baptism Saves // Mortify Sin // Read Theology!

Does baptism save?  1 Peter 3:18-20 has flummoxed readers for centuries.
Sam Storms takes a detailed crack at it, from his commentary.
The gist:
The spirits in prison are the rebellious demons from Genesis 6:1-4, 2 Peter 2:4, and Jude 6.
Peter saw his readers in the same boat (pun intended) that Noah was in.
Baptism doesn't save mechanically, but is the same pattern by which God had saved His people in the Old Testament: with physical means and the heart's appeal to God.


Derek Thomas passes on John Owen's wisdom on the "Mortification of Sin."


Kevin DeYoung reviews the best Systematic Theology works available.

Back from hiatus // A Look at Ezra 7

Okay, we are moved to Michigan, and I'm setting up as pastor in a new congregation, with a folding chair and laptop for an office.  So after a hiatus of packing all our stuff in boxes, loading them on trucks, driving across country, unpacking the essential boxes, I return to writing.  Typing is a bit harder with sore forearms and hands, but I'll survive.

I'm starting a new feature today.  From my personal devotions I'll regularly pick one Bible chapter to
- summarize the text
- show Christ in the text
- describe applications in three areas:
  - culture/worldview
  - doctrine
  - personal piety

Here's an example


The Text
Ezra only came to Jerusalem after building the temple was finished. (6:15)
He was a priest descended from Aaron directly (7:1-5).
It took 5 months to get there! (7:8)
He was a skilled teacher of Scripture, diligent to do what He studied in the Word, and to teach it to Israel (7:6, 10).
He carried a letter from Persian king Artaxerxes, authorizing any Israelite to return with him, and to take a specific amount of money for sacrifice to Yahweh in Jerusalem.  Temple workers were exempt from Persian taxes.
Ezra was authorized to set up a judiciary and train them if necessary.  Their decisions had authority up to and including the death penalty.

Christ in the Text
The offices of king, prophet and priest work together harmoniously as they should in Ezra 7.  Artaxerxes ruled authorizing Ezra the prophet to teach, and Ezra the priest to properly sacrifice to God.
Jesus too was sent by His Father on a mission to Israel, enabled by the resources of the King to teach and sacrifice for His people.

Culture
We Americans are quick to separate state and church, but it is a blessing from God when the king subsidizes worship of the true God.  A nation can do this without making non-Christians second-class citizens.  There is a vast difference between religious subjugation like in Muslim nations with dhimmitude, and endorsing and supporting the true religion while staying silent about the rest.  We have lost this distinction today in our civil religion.  Freedom to exercise religion does not force the government to act strictly equally toward all religions.

Doctrine
In whatever time and circumstance, God provides teachers of His Word for His people.
The proper worship of God takes resources and planning.
Note the lack of qualms Ezra has taking pagan Persian money for use in worshiping Yahweh.

Piety
Think on this chapter from the individual Israelite’s view.  What a lot of time, energy and expense your leaders put into providing you access to the Bible and to worship.  Make use of these means of fellowship with God!

1.01.2019

Read Your Bible // Legalism

Ligonier has a list of excellent schedules to use to stay in God's Word each day of 2019.
I might try the McCheyne plan this year.


Some find Bible reading plans and schedules legalistic.  (They aren't)
Here's a great description of legalism and its miserable effects.

12.28.2018

Biblical Counseling Lessons // Real Freedom // The Right Side of History

"How great is [God's] goodness, and how great His beauty!" - Zechariah 9:17


David Powlison describes Jay Adams' foundational work in biblical counseling, and how the movement has grown since.  Excellent principles described well.  This is a free PDF download of the editorial for the Journal of Biblical Counseling - great resource.


I picked up an old First Things issue I had never gotten around to.  R.R. Reno is great on what freedom really is.


"In post-Obergefell America, Evangelicals and other orthodox Christians will be unable to outrun our freakishness.  That is no reason for panic.  Some will suggest that a Christian sexual ethic puts the churches on the 'wrong side of history.'  Well, we've been on the wrong side of history since A.D. 33.  The 'right side of history' was the Eternal City of Rome.  And then the right side of history was the French Revolution.  And then the right side of history was scientific naturalism and state socialism.  And yet, there stands Jesus still, on the wrong side of history but at the right hand of the Father."
Russell Moore, "Evangelicals Won't Cave," First Things, Oct 2015, pg 30.

12.12.2018

Smite This Rock

“Good Friday,” Christina Rossetti (1830–1894)

Am I a stone and not a sheep 
That I can stand, O Christ, beneath thy cross, 
To number drop by drop Thy blood’s slow loss, 
And yet not weep?
Not so those women loved 
Who with exceeding grief lamented thee; 
Not so fallen Peter weeping bitterly; 
Not so the thief was moved;
Not so the sun and moon 
Which hid their faces in a starless sky, 
A horror of great darkness at broad noon— 
I, only I.
Yet give not o’er, 
But seek thy sheep, true Shepherd of the flock; 
Greater than Moses, turn and look once more 
And smite a rock.

From Leland Ryken's article at Gospel Coalition

Receiving the Word of God

1 Thessalonians 2:13
"For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe."

1 Corinthians 11:23-26
For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 25 In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”
26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes."


Notice the parallel between these two texts.  Paul tells the Thessalonians He thanks God that they received the Word of God as from God.  Paul explains to the Corinthians that he received from the Lord the explanation of this sacrament.  Receiving bread and wine, eating and drinking is a picture of receiving the Word of God.  Just as Scripture is God’s very words, so this communion is partaking of Christ’s very life.  His body remains in heaven, but by the Spirit, He is really present.  By faith God really brings us into fellowship and union with our Lord Jesus here.  His body was broken for you.  His blood is the blood of the covenant that saves you.  He bled and died at the cross, paying for your sins forever.


So come and welcome to the Lord Jesus Christ.  Take hold of Him.  Rely on Him alone as You receive His grace.

10/21/18

Lament Your Sin

Lamentations 1:5
Israel's "foes have become the head;
her enemies prosper,
because Yahweh has afflicted her 
for the multitude of her transgressions;
her children have gone away,
captives before the foe."


Jeremiah laments the fall of Jerusalem here, and says God did it because of Israel’s many sins.  

Imagine the horror this conquest must have been.  
The city besieged.  
Famine, disease, starvation.  
The temple ransacked and leveled.  
Murder and rape on a wide scale.  
The whole nation conquered politically and subjugated to foreign rule.

The point here isn’t to gawk at the sensational, uniquely awful event.  Like a traffic accident you see and think, “Glad that wasn’t me.”  The point is, this IS you: your sins deserve this, too.  God would be perfectly just in the light of our national sins, to have China invade, conquer and rule us for years, like happened to Israel.  What bothers you more, really, when you think about that: having to live under communist rule, or that you have sinned against the holy God you love?  Our sins do not bother us nearly enough.  God has many ways to train us to consider them more deeply, to hate our sin more thoroughly.  One tool He used was national conquest and exile, and that was not out of proportion with the magnitude of their sins.


Let us confess our sins to God.

10/21/18

Conditional Covenants // Obedience in Covenants // Hell

Third Millenium keeps putting out a great series of videos on Biblical covenants.
Here's one on if we should see covenants as conditional.
Only 2 minutes - very informative!


Another one:
Obedience brings blessing, but that doesn't mean our obedience earns our salvation.


Doug Wilson upholds the reality of Hell here.
"Everyone in the world is in the process of becoming someone. Salvation is the process of being increasingly conformed to the image of the Lord Jesus Christ—becoming an actual someone, becoming a real human being. Damnation is the final descent into an inchoate, disintegrated agonistic whine—having insisted through long years that the self be simultaneously left alone and also promoted to the level of importance it deserves. That self finally receives the fruition of that demand, and achieves its ultimate deserved value, which is zero."

12.11.2018

The Real Feast

"But now I go away to Him who sent Me, and none of you asks Me, ‘Where are You going?’ 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. 7 Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. 8 And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment....

"I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth....

"I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; 21 that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. 22 And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: 23 I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.
24 “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world."

John 16:5-8, 12-13a ; 17:20-24


At this table we see the cost of fellowship and a foretaste of fellowship.  The cost we know about the cross.  It is familiar but think again, in terms of fellowship.  The pain born at the cross was not mainly physical, but bearing the wrath of God against our sin.  One way we picture that is being forsaken.  Fellowship is broken.  The Father turns His face away from His Son.  We break the bread to show not just a broken body, but a broken relationship between Father and Son for a time, to pay for our sins.

Jesus speaks of going away to be with the Father.  He is looking ahead past the cross to restored fellowship.  We have the Spirit with us while we look ahead, too, to the thing Jesus wants: as He prays for us He says, "I desire that they whom You have given Me, may be with me where I am, and may behold My glory."

That will be the real feast.

Often the bride at the wedding barely notices the food, she is overjoyed to have a lifetime ahead of her of being with her husband.  Let that be Your communion with Your Lord Jesus Christ today.


So come and welcome to the Lord Jesus Christ.  Take hold of Him.  Rely on Him alone as You receive His grace.

10/14/18

We Have Sinned

Zephaniah 3:1-4

    1Woe to her who is rebellious and polluted,
    To the oppressing city!
    2      She has not obeyed His voice,
    She has not received correction;
    She has not trusted in the LORD,
    She has not drawn near to her God.

    3      Her princes in her midst are roaring lions;
    Her judges are evening wolves
    That leave not a bone till morning.
    4      Her prophets are insolent, treacherous people;
    Her priests have polluted the sanctuary,
    They have done violence to the law."


We start with Zephaniah describing the wickedness of Jerusalem.  Three things quickly, here.  First, we have to be told that we are sinning, that we are sinners.  We forget this most of the time and act as if we are normal, that things are basically okay.  In Zephaniah and in all of Scripture, God describes our sin for us, He shows us our fault, or else we wouldn’t see it, or we would try to tell ourselves that it isn’t so bad.  That’s in verse 2, especially.  So first, God graciously tells us of our sinfulness.  

Second, this is corporate, national sin, addressing our princes and judges, prophets and priests.  Fox and CNN, Wall Street and main street, school boards and corporate boards, Hollywood, Congress, and the courts – these are our princes and prophets.  They aren’t trusting God, they are devouring and exploiting people.  We like to think of ourselves as trying to stand up to this corporate sin, but Scripture makes clear that they are doing what we want.  Congress in all its spineless bluster, departing from God’s laws, represents us well.

And that’s the third thing: when we go against God and His ways, we wind up doing the opposite of what we were made to do.  Rulers eat people instead of feed them.  We become beasts instead of men.  Priests pollute instead of cleanse.  We hurt each other instead of help and heal.


Let us confess our sins to God

10/14/18

Obligations in Covenant // Augustine to a Heretic // a Brakel

Third Millenium ministries reminds us of the obligatory aspect of each of God's covenants in the Bible.  So true!


Augustine to the heretic Donatus: last sentence of a long letter exhorting him to return to Christian orthodoxy:
"Restrain your perverse and rebellious spirit, that in the true Chruch of Christ you may find the feast of salvation."
Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 1st Series, vol. 1, pg 547.


If you're a theology reader, you'll want to know the Dutch theologian, Wilhelmus a Brakel.  His 4-volume "Christian's Reasonable Service" is at this link in pdf format for free!!

12.10.2018

A Quick Poltical Summary


  1. The liberal believes people are basically decent and need a little help from the government to make life work.  Community and government are the primary saviors.
  2. The secular conservative believes people are basically decent and don't need help from the government.  Their self-interested choices in a free market will make life work.  Free individual choice, work, and the market are the primary saviors.
  3. The Christian liberal believes people are flawed, and need moral guidance from God through the church and the government.  Education is a primary savior.
  4. The Christian conservative believes people are sinful and need saving from ourselves.  And often from the church and the government, too.  Jesus is the only real Savior.
Yes, I know this is simplistic.

Ben Shapiro, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin and Jordan Peterson are in the second category, even though they talk about God sometimes.  As Christians we can glean some common grace wisdom from them, but should be very careful not to shape our Gospel message to their message.  Sometimes they are compatible messages; often they are not.