UnderstandingJob, in a mere 500 words

Why did God do this to me? Job asks. And his friends come and tell him it was because he sinned. Job replies that he has been upright. He wants an audience with God for God has wronged him (19:6).

Then along comes Elihu, a younger companion. He is mad at Job for justifying himself instead of God (32:2). He is mad at Job’s friends for not answering Job well and yet condemning him (32:3).

There is a big dispute if Elihu is one of the friends who gets it wrong or if he gets it right. It’s fairly clear to me he gets it right. First, there is the commentary in 32:2-3 that hints at the author’s perspective: he is rightly mad at both Job and his friends. Second, at the end of his long speech he starts sounding the way God talks in chapters 38-41, referring to God’s power in nature. Third, why not another “younger brother” type in Scripture? One who (by God’s choice) surpasses his older generation in wisdom and faithfulness, like Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, David, Jesus, etc. And last, Elihu is not rebuked at the end – only the other three friends are.

Elihu affirms the two truths at issue in the dispute, without going overboard and reacting poorly in a delicate situation. Truth one: yes, Job has been upright, but “in this you are not righteous” (33:12): in contending with God with Job’s “perfection” and claiming injustice. Job irreverently misapplies the truth of his upright faithfulness to what God owes him. Truth two: yes, God rewards the faithful and punishes the wicked as the friends are quick to point out. But there is not a one-to-one correlation between our morality and God’s providence in our lives at any given point (35:6-8). They cruelly misapply the general truth to Job’s current situation.

Each of these misapplications take place in part because of their sin, I’m sure. But the text shows us that such misapplication also occurs because on earth we see in a mirror dimly, and do not see all of God’s intentions in His providence. One application for us is to be still and wait patiently on the Lord.

But the last chapter is the kicker. Even though they are both speaking “off key,” God justifies Job. Why? Job repents of his words against God. His friends remain stuck in their rigid and cruel application of truth. Although they were technically “more right” than Job, they are called to repent, for they have not applied truth in ways that drew Job to God. Rather, they provoked Job to speak evil of God. They “have not spoken of [God] what is right” (42:8), though they spoke right words. God will put up with us when we suffer and we cannot be still and wait patiently on Him. He understands when we are full of words and frustrated at things. Check out Psalms 12 and 35 for examples. But He won’t tolerate people who know the truth, who know that they know it, and who use it in selfish or flippant ways that turn their audience against God instead of toward Him.
Abel's IslandAbel's Island by William Steig
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Okay. Abel gets stranded on an island, survives the winter, and returns to his wife. He grows up a bit in the process. Got from the library - same author as Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, but Abel wasn't nearly as good, and 100 pages instead of 20. It /does/ have some good dramatic suspense, which I just spoiled for you, above...

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The Next Story: Life and Faith after the Digital ExplosionThe Next Story: Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion by Tim Challies
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“The Next Story” by Tim Challies

Tim Challies is a popular blogger and knows the digital world. This book helps us think carefully about ourselves as we email, text, blog and surf the web. I really enjoyed it. Ironically (full disclosure, here), I listened to the whole thing… on my iPhone.

The digital world is a real and significant change. We store and process information very differently than 30 years ago. Publishing and reading patterns have changed because things are now digital. Publishing can be instant, instead of requiring time and editing. We now assume we can instantly connect with anyone anytime, which was unheard of 40 years ago.

The digital world makes us more momentary. A three day old email is irrelevant. A three hour old Facebook status or text is useless. We care less about and pursue less, things that last, chasing instead after what is new. As the digitial revolution has progressed, the pace of what is new has quickened. As we communicate more and more, the content gets more and more inane. (“Where are you?” “Hey.” “Ltr.”)

The digital world distracts us. Keeping up with all of this data consumes us. We go from phone messages, to text messages, email, blogs, facebook, news sites, and then start all over again. If we’re honest, we usually welcome this distraction from our work or out of boredom. But this rat race leaves behind the harder pursuit of more rewarding content (books, conversations, etc.). The average expected length of a piece of reading has gone from a newspaper page to a tweet. I’m keeping these sentences and paragraphs short on purpose. Blog writing advice is to keep it short, with short paragraphs, realizing your writing will be scanned, not read.

The digital world reveals our priorities. People want to be connected. So badly that they will go to great lengths. We have to have a phone with a text plan, because if we don’t we can’t really be friends with certain people. And the sad part is, that’s true. We also like putting most of our time to not very helpful things. We are amusing ourselves to death with Youtube instead of television.

The digital world dehumanizes us. Google’s success has come from turning our searches into results mathematical formulas, from turning internet usage data into information that can be used to advertise to interested internet users. We’d rather text than talk. Easier. Less bothersome to texter and textee. No small talk or social courtesies needed. We’d rather leave a message or email than talk on the phone. We defriend with a hardly a thought. This cuts against the grain of 2 John 12 and 3 John 13-14.

What to do?
Think through what information you really need to process. We are overloaded and much of it is not needed. Cut the fat. Unsubscribe.

Try a digital fast. No computer or phone or ipad or other device for 24 hours. 3 days. 1 week. Feel the withdrawal set in. Re-learn the difference between what you THINK you need to know, and what you REALLY need to know.

But don’t go Luddite. You don’t have to be Wendell Berry, clacking away on a typewriter, or only writing by hand and using a cord phone. This isn’t the answer. It certainly changes a person, but denying the digital revolution isn’t the answer, long term.

Thoughtful use is the answer. Think through what you need to communicate to others and how you should do that. Just because you CAN do something doesn’t mean you should. Think through the purpose of the newest gadget before you rush to get it.

Now that you’ve scanned this article, commit to reading something longer and more substantive before the day is out. If you need a concrete idea, I’d suggest a whole book of the Bible, or a Shakespeare play. See how far you can get before distraction sets in…

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William of Orange: The Silent PrinceWilliam of Orange: The Silent Prince by W. G., Jr. Van De Hulst
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Children's book, with uneven pacing, but full of interesting history and got across the pinch William was in.

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More than in the head

When we know truths about Christianity but do not live them out, there is a disconnect between head and heart. I learn a lot of true things every day about being a Christian and about God’s Word. But I still have a hard time loving my wife, raising my children, and shepherding a congregation as I ought. Knowing is half the battle, but it’s only half. Knowing isn’t doing.

Sin, Shame, and Spiritual Fellowship

Peter writes his first epistle from Rome, likely during the reign of Nero, who persecuted believers. He speaks of the fiery trials his readers are going through. Nero seemed to have a thing for fire, and I wonder if there is a connection. But he writes to believers in modern-day Turkey, not in Rome. Perhaps he is making a connection with them. “You know I’m going through fiery trials here, and I know you are, too.”

One of the things that makes spiritual fellowship difficult is not knowing the trials others are going through. How do you break the ice into such conversation?

I’m more and more convinced that Western culture is no less an “honor” culture than any other. Westerners just deal with shame or honor more under the surface, but it’s still there, affecting things, especially keeping us from opening up to others when we are hurting. This dynamic is more potent because we deny it is there or we just don’t notice it.

As a pastor, I see sin up close and personal in people’s lives. Sin brings shame, and it is important to deal with both sin and shame well. We know we are supposed to repent of sin, but what do we do with lingering shame? Realize this is collateral damage from sin – its public element. We shy away from exposing our faults willingly to others, when that could be of major help to others. We often shift the shame and blame onto convenient scapegoats. Let us instead be willing to suffer reproach when we mess up. Let us be willing to take the hit when we don’t mess up but we get blamed anyway. Reagan had some saying, that it’s amazing how far you can go when you don’t care who gets the credit. I’d say it this way: when you live knowing you’re justified by God in Christ, then blame, shame and credit before men don’t matter as much (I think that’s the point of 1 Cor 4:3).

And this helps us use our trials to grow closer to others, rather than allow our troubles to separate us from others.

2 Corinthians 1:3-7
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ. 6 Now if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer. Or if we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation. 7 And our hope for you is steadfast, because we know that as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also you will partake of the consolation."

On opposing sin sinfully

So we had an interesting discussion lately about how to deal with friends or acquaintances who sin. There is a spectrum from clarity to grace. You can value clarity to such a degree that you demean the person needing correction. Or you can value grace to such a degree that you don't register your opposition to the sin.

And along comes a great example of the first error. Some teacher lost his job for speaking out against gay marriage on his Facebook page. I think it a fine thing to speak against gay marriage, and don't think he should have lost his job. But when he wrote what's below, he didn't do himself any favors on the job front, and he opposed sin sinfully.

“By the way, if one doesn’t like the most recently posted opinion based on biblical principles and God’s laws, then go ahead and unfriend me. I’ll miss you like I miss my kidney stone from 1994. And I will never accept it because God will never accept it. Romans chapter one.”

It's the "You're a pain if you don't agree with me" attitude that is the problem, here, not his position. How are we to win people to the truth and joy of Jesus with that?

On Complaining about Your Church

Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ.
This applies in a special way to the complaints often heard from pastors and zealous members about their congregations. A pastor should never complain about his congregation, certainly never to other people, but also not to God. A congregation has not been entrusted to him in order that he should become its accuser before God and men.
. . . let [the pastor or zealous member] nevertheless guard against ever becoming an accuser of the congregation before God. Let him rather accuse himself for his unbelief. Let him pray God for an understanding of his own failure and his particular sin, and pray that he may not wrong his brethren. Let him, in the consciousness of his own guilt, make intercession for his brethren. Let him do what he is committed to do, and thank God.
Life Togethertrans. John W. Doberstein, (New York: HarperOne, 1954), 29

On maturity

From Randy Booth's excellent blog:

"One person described maturity this way: 'The ability to stick with a job until it’s finished; the ability to do a job without being supervised; the ability to carry money without spending it; and the ability to bear an injustice without wanting to get even.'

"My definition of immaturity is two two-year-olds in a room with one toy."


The Lord of the Storm

Nahum 1:3, 5-8

          The LORD has His way
          In the whirlwind and in the storm,
          And the clouds are the dust of His feet....
    5      The mountains quake before Him,
          The hills melt,
          And the earth heaves at His presence,
          Yes, the world and all who dwell in it.
    6      Who can stand before His indignation?
          And who can endure the fierceness of His anger?
          His fury is poured out like fire,
          And the rocks are thrown down by Him.
    7      The LORD is good,
          A stronghold in the day of trouble;
          And He knows those who trust in Him.
    8      But with an overflowing flood
          He will make an utter end of its place,
          And darkness will pursue His enemies.

The dance of marriage

Here's a great article on the dance of marriage.
I'll summarize so you'll go read it.

1.  The entire dance depends on male leadership.
2.  Leadership requires a lot of communication.
3.  Many couples need more tension in their lives.
4.  Submission and anticipation are contradictions.
 - (most enlightening and challenging point!)
5.  Submission depends on a lot of communication.
6.  Love and gentleness are musts.
7. Have fun learning


A Good Enough Christian

Over at Stuff Christians Like, there's a great post to go along with my Galatians series, steering us away from performance-based "Christianity" and back to grace.



So, I just experienced my first earthquake, ever. www.dailypress.com says it was 5.9 magnitude.

I was sitting on our back deck, and thought the wind picked up at first, blowing our umbrella and thus wiggling the table. But the umbrella wasn't moving. My chair and the whole deck wiggled gently for about 10 seconds. Grace was laying on a chair out here with me, and it barely registered with her. By about second 5 I thought it might be an earthquake and looked up at the houses around me, but couldn't see anything moving. I don't think it was that big.

I went inside and Sara thought the kids were just jumping around upstairs. Heh. Owen seemed to have noticed, though.

A non-event as far as damage around town, it sounds like, but pretty interesting to sit through.

Politics and the Gospel

Here's another "shaving." Something I cut from a paper I'm writing. It just didn't fit there, but it expresses well something I think is important.

I myself am a political conservative and rejoice to find another pastor who is one. But I’m troubled when anyone’s Christianity is defined largely by their political views. God has an opinion on the role of the state, I think, but many Christians don’t understand it, it is hard to get them to understand given so much history and prejudice on the hot topic of politics, and it is ancillary not central to the Gospel. We should have way more grace with political opponents than we do. This does NOT apply to issues that are obviously moral where evil men are devising to subvert God’s law and justice (endorsing abortion, homosexuality, etc.).


Reclaiming shipwrecks by grace

Every once in a while life takes a turn and then I run into some work of art that speaks directly to it.

That happened to me in the last 12 hours. Here's the poem I just discovered. It conveys grace in the midst of brokenness so well.

WOODEN HEART (sea of mist called skaidan)
We’re all born to broken people on their most honest day of living
and since that first breath... We’ll need grace that we’ve never given
I've been haunted by standard red devils and white ghosts
and it's not only when these eyes are closed
these lies are ropes that I tie down in my stomach,
but they hold this ship together tossed like leaves in this weather
and my dreams are sails that I point towards my true north,
stretched thin over my rib bones, and pray that it gets better
but it won’t won’t, at least I don’t believe it will...
so I've built a wooden heart inside this iron ship,
to sail these blood red seas and find your coasts.
don’t let these waves wash away your hopes
this war-ship is sinking, and I still believe in anchors
pulling fist fulls of rotten wood from my heart, I still believe in saviors
but I know that we are all made out of shipwrecks, every single board
washed and bound like crooked teeth on these rocky shores
so come on and let’s wash each other with tears of joy and tears of grief
and fold our lives like crashing waves and run up on this beach
come on and sew us together, tattered rags stained forever
we only have what we remember

I am the barely living son of a woman and man who barely made it
but we’re making it taped together on borrowed crutches and new starts
we all have the same holes in our hearts...
everything falls apart at the exact same time
that it all comes together perfectly for the next step
but my fear is this prison... that I keep locked below the main deck
I keep a key under my pillow, it’s quiet and it’s hidden
and my hopes are weapons that I’m still learning how to use right
but they’re heavy and I’m awkward...always running out of fight
so I’ve carved a wooden heart, put it in this sinking ship
hoping it would help me float for just a few more weeks
because I am made out of shipwrecks, every twisted beam
lost and found like you and me scattered out on the sea
so come on let’s wash each other with tears of joy and tears of grief
and fold our lives like crashing waves and run up on this beach
come on and sew us together, just some tattered rags stained forever
we only have what we remember

My throat it still tastes like house fire and salt water
I wear this tide like loose skin, rock me to sea
if we hold on tight we’ll hold each other together
and not just be some fools rushing to die in our sleep
all these machines will rust I promise, but we'll still be electric
shocking each other back to life
Your hand in mine, my fingers in your veins connected
our bones grown together inside
our hands entwined, your fingers in my veins braided
our spines grown stronger in time
because are church is made out of shipwrecks
from every hull these rocks have claimed
but we pick ourselves up, and try and grow better through the change
so come on yall and let’s wash each other with tears of joy and tears of grief
and fold our lives like crashing waves and run up on this beach
come on and sew us together, were just tattered rags stained forever
we only have what we remember


from Wooden Heart Poems, released 06 July 2010


A sermon shaving

Paul’s ministry begins years after his call on the Damascus road.

It’s often said in stories: "his whole life was leading up to this moment." Or "She was born for this." We see it in Esther: “who knows but that you were brought to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

Much of our life is preparation for that time. Seek out your calling; prepare well for it; be on the lookout for ways to fulfill your calling.


Face to Face

Face to FaceFace to Face by Steve Wilkins

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Steve Wilkins says many things the modern church needs to hear. Wilkins tends to repeat themes from chapter to chapter, but it’s important enough to go through. In our digital world we lack deep friendships and often even the basic social courtesies of life. We need to recover a life of sacrificial love for our neighbor, as Christ loved us and gave Himself for us. Hospitality is a key ingredient to this love. Recovering a hospitable heart toward others will make us more Christ-like and witness to the world: “See how they love each other.”

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Redwall (Redwall, #1)Redwall by Brian Jacques

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Just finished reading this book to the kids. They loved it. It is quite well-written, though the plot was pretty predictable. Delightful additions abounded, though: the hero reconciles bitter enemies along the way. The story upholds and honors courage, enterprise, effort, heritage, defending the weak, and more. Well worth the read.

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Faith only in Jesus

"Human reason has the law for its object, thinking, 'I have done this; I have not done that.' But faith in itself has no object but Jesus Christ, the Son of God, given up to death for the sins of the whole world. It does not say, 'What have I done? In what have I offended? What have I deserved?' It says, 'What has Christ done? What has he deserved?' He has redeemed you from your sin, from the devil and from eternal death."

Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians. Crossway, 1998: pg 71-72.


Jesus, the sacrificial Lamb

[On the Triumphal Entry - Matthew 21]
This is the first part of the establishment of the feast of Passover. When Jesus enters Jerusalem, Passover is 4-5 days away. And these verses tell Israel to choose a lamb for the Passover 4 days before it. When Jesus entered Jerusalem triumphantly, one thing all Israel had on their minds was that they had to pick out their lamb for sacrifice. Jesus' entrance at this time is not just a king coming to His city. He is not just a prophet condemning sin and injustice. He is also a priest offering an unblemished lamb to Israel – take me for your sacrifice. Each Communion celebration we give thanks to God for giving us an unblemished sacrifice.


What God regards

Psalm 51:17 - "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart— these, O God, You will not despise."

God despises sin and will not look upon it. When we try to hang on to our sin and still act religious, God will not hear us the prophets say. But when our hearts are broken, our spirits contrite over our sin, God does not despise. He deals with us kindly.



Jesus: the Only Way to God

Jesus, the Only Way to God: Must You Hear the Gospel to be Saved?Jesus, the Only Way to God: Must You Hear the Gospel to be Saved? by John Piper
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Piper wrote this book to demonstrate to the reader the necessity of missions to yet-unreached lands. If people believe that the “innocent” natives who have never heard the Gospel will not be condemned, they will not have a compelling motive for evangelizing them. Piper writes to convince us that conscious faith in the name of Jesus is required for salvation.

Overall this was a good book. Piper makes a convincing case that unreached people are condemned and without excuse. They need to hear about Jesus. Simply seeking the truth is not sufficient, because the name of Jesus must be claimed. This is a powerful impetus to evangelize and seek out the seekers in any tribe or nation.

I think Piper makes an error in his assessment of Cornelius, though. He judges Cornelius to be lost before Peter preaches Christ to him, seeing his situation as identical to an unreached heathen. But Cornelius was a god-fearer with much knowledge of God. He lived during the unique transition from Old to New Covenant, when I believe fearers of the God of Israel were saved if they hadn’t yet heard of the Messiah, Jesus. I don’t think this disagreement changes my basic appreciation for his argument above, though.

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Just So Stories

Just So StoriesJust So Stories by Rudyard Kipling
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The title says it all. I haven’t even read the Jungle Book, so I didn’t know what to expect. These short stories for children that explain the origin of things are “so-so.” Very orally based, there is a cadence and hum to them that strikes the fancy. The content leaves a little to be desired, though, unless I’m just grown too old to enjoy imaginative children’s literature. This is possible.

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Noteworthy public self-correction

I found this apology by Josh Harris on behalf of his pastoral team to his church to be very compelling.

Check it out. It is long, but a great example of church leadership, seems to me.

Apparently this is part of a bigger shake-up (near scandal) in this group, of which I know nothing. I just thought this statement was well done.

My view of international politics

in case anyone is interested, is pretty much summed up by this guy.

Touches on
- just war theory applied to Iraq and al Qaeda
- proper posture toward the nation of Israel, as Americans and Christians
- the threat of Iran, North Korea and China
- how to relate to China (the Germany of 100 years ago)


Gregor the Overlander

Gregor the Overlander (Underland Chronicles, #1)Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Heard about this one from a friend, and daughter read it in a day. Pretty good story with a virtuous yet realistic hero the young reader can relate to. Compelling but not classic. Parts a bit violent/disturbing. Not sure we'll bother with the rest of the series.

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