On the seventh day of Christmas

my True Love gave to me:

Seven Spirit gifts

I admit, this one is a bit arbitrary. Feel free to think of a better one.
This comes from Romans 12:6-8:

"Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; 7 or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; 8 he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness."

Prophecy: public speaking in a church setting, with insight into the human condition and circumstances. In this sense, many call C.S. Lewis a prophet, for critique the modernism that was just beginning to arise in his time.

Ministry: the word is diaconia, or general service. Some have a gift for seeing basic needs ahead of time and planning to get them met.

Teaching: explaining things effectively. R.C. Sproul has been a great teacher of Reformed doctrine, able to put the cookies low enough on the shelf without diluting the truth.

Exhorting: calling us to godliness from the Scriptures. It's a delicate balance, avoiding the guilt trip and the pat on the back. Instead, convicting us of sin and constructively motivating us to believe and live for God. You could also take this as encouraging - Barnabas did this well, and called Paul alongside (recruited!) him in ministry work.

Giving: in God's providence, we don't all have an equal amount of time or money to give. Those who have and give more have been given a gift themselves. Giving is a gift! Notice we are to give with liberality, or sincerity. It's easy to give a lot, with strings attached.

Leading: painting a picture of where we should go, going yourself, and having people follow you there. Not just anyone can "herd cats," as they say. It takes a certain "charisma" and social IQ, and tenacity.

Mercy-showing: kindness and compassion with worldly goods to those in need, like the Good Samaritan. Or being quick to forgive those who have offended you, like Ananias calls persecuting Saul his brother (Acts 9:17).

Thank God for the gifts He has given His people today!


On the sixth day of Christmas

my True Love gave to me:

Six creation days

The fourth commandment in Exodus 20 builds the Sabbath on the foundation of the first week of creation. Because God took 6 days to work at making the world, and one to rest, we also work for 6 and rest for one. So this is a pattern for us, and it is a gift, indeed. Our human frame needs such regular rhythms, and God built a pattern of worship (Leviticus 23:3) and work into His temporal world.

Not only are the six creation days a pattern for living, they are also a pointer for us to meditate on God's creation work. He could have made it all instantaneously, but He took time. And at the end of the six days (before the seventh, notice!) He sat back, considered His work, and declared it good (Gen 1:31). The first chapter of the Bible; Psalms like 8, 24, 65, and 104; and 1 Timothy 4:4 all call us to wonder and gratitude for the physical creation God has given us. Take time to notice it today.

Jesus and Jacob

I just noticed something for the first time in John 4.

Jesus stops at Jacob's well. Their stories converge. Jacob fled from Esau, who was angry that Jacob got the birthright. Jesus is "fleeing" the leaders in Judea for much the same reason (4:1). But like Jacob, and David too for that matter, Jesus will return to the land He is fleeing and claim God's promises of land and rule. Older brother Esau (or Saul, or Annas/Caiaphas), disobedient to God but jockeying for position and possessions, cannot stop God's promises for His people.

Incarnation Meditation

Belgic Confession article 18 says in part:

"Therefore we confess, against the heresy of the Anabaptists who deny that Christ assumed human flesh from his mother, that he "shared the very flesh and blood of children"...

Doing some research, it seems Menno Simons affirmed the humanity of Jesus, but thought that taking His flesh from Mary would impute sin to Him. This false inference led him to think God must have prepared a body for him without becoming /our/ flesh. That would be sinful flesh, he thought. This is the old gnostic error, that our sin is inherent to the physical flesh. Following it, God must have created a new "kind" of flesh body for Jesus. This ends up rejecting that He was made like us in every way, except for sin, I think.

This is why the Belgic confession is so adamant to reject his error. It can be easy to dismiss him as a heretic, denying the humanity of Jesus. But I don't think he goes that far. He thinks God accomplished the incarnation in another way, than by Jesus taking the human flesh of His mother. Peculiar and wrong-headed, yes. Leads to a denial or diminishing of the physical world God came to save, yes. But be careful branding people heretics too quickly. This seems a decent summary of Simons.


On the fifth Day of Christmas

my True Love gave to me:

Five books of the Law!

In the song, this is a climax, and meditated on joyfully. So in the Word. Psalm 119:97: "Oh, how I love Your law; it is my meditation all the day." Joshua 1:8: "This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it."

The New Testament has much to say about us not being under the law if we are in Christ. That the curse of the law is lifted and removed from us. Thank God! But we also praise Him that He has given us a way to live. The law remains the oracles of God (Romans 3:2), and its requirements are met in us as we are justified by Christ (Galatians 3:13) and sanctified by His Spirit (Romans 8:4). That last phrase is key. The Spirit filled life is contrasted to the life lived in the flesh, based on the law-principle of works. But the Spirit filled life leads to doing the law the way the law was meant to be followed.

Praise God for His gift to us of the law, showing us how to live before Him!


On the fourth Day of Christmas

my True Love gave to me:

Four Gospel Books

Step back and consider the unique contribution the Gospels are to the canon of Scripture.
Without them we would not know of Christ's earthly ministry, the crucifixion or resurrection. There is simply no better way to get to know your Lord Jesus than by reading these books. Plan to be in them regularly in 2014.


On the Third Day of Christmas

my True Love gave to me,

Faith, Hope and Love

1 Thessalonians 1:2-3
"We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers, remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ."

1 Corinthians 13:13
"And now abide faith, hope, love, these three..."

Notice these are gifts God gives to us! Ephesians 2:8 tells us faith is a gift of God. We love Him because He first loved us. He gives us hope by promising us a Savior, giving Him to us, and then having us wait for His glorious appearing (Titus 2:13).

To oversimplify for a moment,
1. Faith looks to the past, trusting a person in the present because of that person's past (Hebrews 13:8).

2. Hope looks to the future, acting differently in the present because of an envisioned future (1 John 3:3).

3. Love acts in the present, because of commitments and relationships made in the past, and as an act of faith that the envisioned future will become a reality (Galatians 5:6).

On the second day of Christmas

On the second day of Christmas my True Love gave to me... two testaments.

God has revealed Himself to us in Scripture with an old and new testament. With about 400 years of silence between them, the new is in the old concealed, and the old is in the new revealed. I think that's Augustine... It reminds us of the close connection, no matter the time gap.

Hebrews highlights the difference between the covenants, as Christians were tempted to go back to the temple, back to the old testament. After all, there were physical and tangible experiences there. No, it is passing away and obsolete, even, Hebrews says.

And yet, Paul warns the Roman Christians not to despise the root that supports (present tense!) them. We are grafted into the old testament story. We are all adopted children who come to take on a new family identity as our own. So make sure you read the Old Testament regularly in 2014.

The Nativity

If you're looking for a holiday movie to watch, this has become a family tradition for us.

I think it's wrong about the wise men being at the manger, and it adds things, as movies almost have to. But there is obviously an intention of drawing out the characters biblically when they add stuff. Except the wise, who are just fun. I especially liked Herod. Very well done. It draws out the coming antithesis and opposition very well.

It has an intense scene around 2:00-3:00, not for younger (10?) viewers.

Review: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Absurd. A big part of the perspective is that random things happen that don't make sense, are unpredictable and unstoppable. Like a post-modern, he denies meaning or purpose can be found. This connects with his repeated, offhanded assertions of our evolution from the slime.

In spite of the above, it was laugh-out-loud funny in parts. Monty Python-esque. I could tell he was British by the sense of humor.

Can't really recommend it, except as a blow-off-steam, change of pace kind of book. I'm on vacation, so...

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The First Day of Christmas - Jesus

I'm going to do a series of short posts on each of the twelve days of Christmas.

There are two reasons for this. The lesser is to sustain the Christmas season the way it was meant to be done, up to Epiphany. Unfortunately, we are too exhausted to do this, after a month of Christmas rush. We might be more ready for a 12 day celebration starting December 25 after month of a preparatory (maybe even penitential?) Advent season.

The second (non-holiday related) reason is that it is simply good to reflect on the good gifts God has showered upon us.

We have a song we use in our house, to do what some think the song did: refer to gifts God has given us.
So, everybody now (deep breath)...

On the First Day of Christmas my true love gave to me - Jesus Christ our Savior, baby!

The greatest gift the world has received is God giving Himself to us. John 3:16: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."

True love.
God is our true love, the one who truly loves us. God gave us Jesus, by His sheer grace. We didn't deserve to have God condescend to us, but He promised to do so (Isaiah 7:14), and so He did it. Because He loves us.

First Day.
This was the first day, so to speak, of a new era. A kingdom of grace ushered in. He who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John, because he only announced this king, this change, he did not live in His light. His light grows greater each passing year, like the length of sunlight each day grows greater from the first day of winter on into summer.

Jesus Christ.
The angels told the shepherds this over the hills of Bethlehem. He is the Messiah, the one God has appointed to deliver His people!

While Herod and most expected a powerful man whom Israel could rally behind, God sent a vulnerable baby to live, suffer and die for them.

Gabriel told Joseph right from the beginning that Jesus would save His people from their sins. This is why God named Him Jesus, which means "salvation."


Review: A Christmas Blizzard

A Christmas Blizzard
A Christmas Blizzard by Garrison Keillor

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Picked this up on a whim at the local library. I've found Lake Wobegon tales quite funny in the past, and this has the same feel, with a Christmas Carol structure.

I laughed out loud a lot. Keillor's skill at writing is quite good.

But the content is atrocious. It is a prime example of post-Christian sentimentality. Christmas robbed of its real meaning, with good feelings of getting along and being good and nice substituted in its place. I don't just mean the real meaning is ignored. It is brought up overtly and subtly rejected, with hints that true believers belong in the asylum.

If most Christian artists produce a good message while the artistic craft is spotty or mediocre, this is the opposite. Great lessons on HOW to write, here, but not WHAT to say.

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Creation Science

I recently attended a couple talks by Ken Ham for elementary and high school students. He was in the area and I thought I would do some reconnaissance.

Creation scientists are doing some great apologetic work. It's too evidence-based for some reformed folks. The concern is that the emphasis on reason and science gives those things too high an authority compared with the revelation of God's Word.

There are times when this is a fair criticism. When creation scientists use science as a tool to prove the Bible true, as if the proof is needed for the Bible to be true. But what is wrong with making a case that it is reasonable to believe in a young earth, for instance? Not that science is our authority or hope, but that the Bible makes sense and isn't absurd, scientifically.

It's when they overstate their case that we get problems. Sometimes straw men are used. They video interview an evolutionist and show him hesitating at a question. "See, they have no answer!" They descend to mockery, and ad hominem arguments. This is fighting dirty and being lazy.

There is a fine line between mocking the secular scientist, and training ourselves and our children to not be intimidated by their assertions.

I've found it helpful to view Creation Scientists more as apologists than as scientists. Some are doing actual scientific work, but most use scientific findings to defend the faith.


Review: Covenantal Apologetics: Principles and Practice in Defense of Our Faith

Covenantal Apologetics: Principles and Practice in Defense of Our Faith
Covenantal Apologetics: Principles and Practice in Defense of Our Faith by K Scott Oliphint

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Solid defense of Van Til’s apologetic method.

Premise: We should argue for Christianity from its supernatural revelation, not from a natural theology or bare Deism or rational approach. When we critique atheism and Christian skeptics, we should point out their own inconsistencies, rather than argue from "neutral" reason.

For example. In answer to skeptics who ask how an unchanging God can become incarnate, we should appeal to Athanasian and Chalcedonian thought, not fall back to what the modern person would consider reasonable.

Strengths: depth and persuasiveness.
Depth. Christ is Lord cosmically and redemptively. Oliphint makes this point theologically, in the abstract, but also shows how it is revealed in Exodus 3 and John 1. Lots of solid stuff!

Persuasive. The examples of skeptics’ arguments, which he then refutes, are gold.

Weaknesses: language and exclusivity.
Language. Oliphint is a seminary professor, and it shows. This book is not for the average evangelical reader, but I would encourage you to read books that you think are too deep for you! This is a great start. The book is touted as a step toward practical apologetics, from a Van-Tilian approach. And the mock conversations help that a little. But as a pastor for 10 years now, I’d like to see the cookies on a lower, less philosophical, shelf for the average pew-sitter to get.
A second language weakness is that it is verbose at times. Often it is needed to explain his point with enough clarity, but there is also a lot of review and extra.

Exclusivity. I see the merit of the presuppositional approach to apologetics, but also believe, depending on the audience and the course of the discussion with a skeptic, that the classical apologetic appeal to reasoned arguments can also be useful. Oliphint usually dismisses it completely, even seeing it as always unhelpful. I suppose he and Van Til have seen theology by natural reason used in a way that compromises the faith, but I don’t think the method does so inherently.

Highly recommended for those who have profited from listening to Ravi Zacharias, and other defenders of the faith like him.

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Review: The Waterstone

The Waterstone
The Waterstone by Rebecca Rupp

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A rather Messianic theme of restoring all things through sacrifice and fighting the bad guy.
But there's an element of dualism: balance between good and evil is asserted, ying-yang style. This is undone by the defeat of the bad guy at the end, so it's muted, but still there.
Quite creative in the incidentals, but a standard plot line.

I'll let the older kids (12 and 10) read it if they want to, and discuss with them the theme of dualism versus a sovereign good God.

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A Brief Response to Advent Critics

Part of the Reformed and Covenantal argument for infant baptism is that OT patterns continue to apply in the NT, even as externals change. If the NT doesn't change the principle of marking your children with the covenant sign, then keep doing it, *even if the NT is silent about it*.

I see it the same with worship. Hebrews tells us to stop sacrificing animals (Heb 10:11-14), since Jesus has come, but the lack of direction about the externals of NT worship isn't a conclusive argument for minimizing them. They change with the coming of Christ. And perhaps there is less of them (most Reformers went this way - no incense, etc.).

But there is no requirement to do away with them altogether, or as much as possible. We are free to improvise according to OT principles. Mainly,
- annual feasts that commemorate God's acts of redemption for us,
- a pattern of weekly worship (Lev 23:3) laid out in Leviticus 9 (approach God, confess sin, consecrate yourself, commune, benediction), at the beginning of tabernacle worship,
- the NT adds preaching the Word, and celebrating the Lord's Supper

It's hard to apply the Leviticus 10 passage to this, since the explicit instruction of what to do is now absent. Nadab and Abihu were told to do A through H, and they went and did V. We don't have the command to do A-H. Profane fire today is outright contradiction of instruction (think 1 Cor 11:17-24, or 1 Tim 2:8-12), or irreverence, perhaps. But it is not profane fire just by the addition of any worship element, unless it violates a command (worship of images, for instance).


Review: Life Together: A discussion of Christian fellowship

Life Together: A discussion of Christian fellowship
Life Together: A discussion of Christian fellowship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Excellent look at body life of the Church

Reread this book. Insightful.

He considers individual and corporate piety, briefly, with freshness.

I especially liked his critique of the "wish dream," some ideal or agenda that gets set up in the Christian community. The visionary becomes proud and dictatorial. The vision must be shattered or it will shatter the community. Do we love our vision, our ideas of Christian community, or the actual community itself?

The chapter on praying and singing and reading Scripture together is strong. The importance of the Psalms, and reading longer passages of Scripture. At times he helpfully turns us to Scripture's direction, turning away from our own heart or experiences directing us.

The last two sections, on ministry, and confession/communion were also excellent. As another friend said, something quotable on nearly every page.

Highly recommended!

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Fight the Impulse to Despise

As we think about food, here's a good few paragraphs from Doug Wilson:

"if you are a fastidious eater, and cannot be troubled to be a charitable guest at the table of another, then you are an enemy of love.

"In the meantime, every Christian who understands the gospel must fight — as part of our sanctification — the impulse to despise the food that God has given to somebody else. This applies even if the apple was not locally grown, if the coffee was not certified fair trade, if the bread came from a monoculture crop, if the asparagus was modified to taste horrible to asparagus predators, or if the food in question has “chemicals” in it.

"We live in a sinful and fallen world, so food must indeed be sanctified. But the only thing that sanctifies it is the gravy of grace and gratitude (1 Tim. 4:4-5)."


Giving Each Other the Word

Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community
Here are some quotes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer's "Life Together" (pgs 105-109) that I found compelling enough to type out for you in full - on the Ministry of the Word in the Christian community.


"The basis on which Christians can speak to one another is that each knows the other as a sinner, who, with all his human dignity, is lonely and lost if he is not given help.... We speak to one another on the basis of the help we both need.... Do we really think there is a single person in this world who does not need either encouragement or admonition?

"This is the point where the limitations of all human action toward our brother become apparent: 'None of them can by any means redeem his brother...' (Ps 49:7). This renunciation of our own ability is precisely the prerequisite and the sanction for the redeeming help that only the Word of God can give to the brother."

"The desire we so often hear expressed today for 'episcopal figures,' 'priestly men,' 'authoritative personalities' springs frequently enough from a spiritually sick need for the admiration of men, for the establishment of visible human authority, because the genuine authority of service appears to be so unimpressive.... This hankering for false authority has at its root a desire to re-establish some sort of immediacy... in the Church.... The Church does not need brilliant personalities but faithful servants of Jesus and the brethren."

"The question of trust, which is so closely related to that of authority, is determined by the faithfulness with which a man serves Jesus Christ, never by the extraordinary talents which he possesses. Pastoral authority can be attained only by the servant of Jesus who seeks no power of his own., who himself is a brother among brothers submitted to the authority of the Word."


Review: Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates

Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates
Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates by Mary Mapes Dodge

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I can't believe I made it through an upbringing in Holland, Michigan as a descendant of Dutch Immigrants, without having read Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates before now.

A good third of the middle of this book is a travelogue of the Netherlands, with some history thrown in. There are some classical references I had to look up, even though it's a children's story. It was written in 1865.

It's full of pithy sayings, supposedly from the Dutch. My favorite was "Humble wife is husband's boss." Sometimes the wife wanted to oppose and contradict her husband, but this saying was drilled into her, so she didn't.

The book popularized the story of the boy who plugs a leak in the dike with his finger all night. The main plot centers on the husband who suffered an injury and was imbecilic for ten years. The internet tells me the author based this on a true story.

It is quaint and a bit too sentimental for my taste, but I don't think this is severe enough to be detrimental (note that it can be). Main characters set aside self interest and are willing to associate with the lowly. Excellent reading for the 11-15 age range.

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The Weight of Glory

Product Details
C.S. Lewis preached this sermon in Oxford in 1942. I appreciate many aspects of it.

1. Perspective on modernity.
He distinguishes Kantian from Biblical ethics. Desiring your own good is all right with God, as that leads to His glory. Desire isn't the problem, as many moderns and Stoics tend to think. Misplaced desire is the problem. We fool about with paltry things when pleasures forevermore await at God's right hand (Ps 16). We hope for a future we can barely imagine, like Latin grammar students who will one day enjoy Virgil, but can't see in the grammar stage what it could be good for. Modernity tries to convince us that this world is all there is. Lewis wants to cast a spell to break that enchantment. There is a glory outside ourselves and outside this wold to which our desire and this world point us.

2. Humble honesty.
When faced with the puzzling or repellent parts of Christian revelation in the Bible, Lewis doesn't flinch, evade or make euphemisms. He calls them repellent - a very impious thing to do! He admits there must be something there he needs. His thoughts are not the ultimate criteria of truth. He sees that modernity has trained him to not be drawn naturally to thrones or robes, and works to understand glory through other Christian writers. He is quick to recognize and reject false humility and self-posturing as hindrances to true piety.

3. Biblically corrected psychology.
By this I don't mean counseling or adopting Freudianism. Rather, he helpfully analyzes his own emotions and how they affect his thoughts about God. Part of the glory of heaven is receiving approval from God. "Well done, good and faithful servant." And part of us (wrongly) retreats from this in false humility or an over-developed worm theology that says that heaven could never be "about us." Well, no, but God did go to the trouble of making and redeeming you for a reason.

4. Antithesis
In the end, God's countenance confers glory or shame. We stand outside or inside of glory. We haven't yet got in - we are this side of immortality, not that side. Lewis is a clear, black-and-white thinker in this way.

5. Coram Deo.
C.S. Lewis senses the presence of God. It weights heavily on him. When we stand before God, we will be inspected, and might even survive it! The ultimate glory is being known by God. Without using the pious jargon, he gets at that uncomfortable feeling of being convicted, purified, corrected, in God's presence.

6. Practical.
This is a very under-appreciated aspect of Lewis, not often thought of in connection with children's stories, or academic essays (his standard writing fare). But there are many lessons in his stories (not preachy, though), and much in his abstractions to affect our actions. The surprise ending of this sermon is that we deal with immortals in our neighbor, with many of whom we will spend eternity. This should influence our relationships, our merriment, our charity, even our politics (during WWII!).

We shouldn't give glory to any but God alone.
But we can thank God for giving gifts to the church (Eph 4:11), in teachers and story tellers like Clive Staples Lewis.


On Getting a "Happy Holidays" from the Store Clerk

Doug Wilson nails it in the first few paragraphs of this post, and this one:

"conservative Christians ought not to be whining about any of this. There is nothing here to surprise us, and subbing in Winter Holiday for Christmas is not exactly a fiery trial yet....

"We ought not to complain because we are told not to complain about anything, because it does absolutely no good to complain, and last, because complaining is actually a white surrender flag in the face of what actually is genuine persecution. He says it is “paper-cut martyrdom,” i.e. not martyrdom at all. I say it is the real deal, but a harbinger of more radical mistreatment to come, and we need to treat this kind of thing as a time of training for when things get really hot."


Pulpit Politics

Here is part of RC Sproul, Jr.'s answer to this question:

Should American pastors ever preach warning us of our burgeoning police state and the erosion of our liberties?  
The answer to the question- what should pastors preach, is simple enough. They should preach the Bible. The Bible, according to the Bible, equips us for every good work. There is nothing of importance, and surely all would agree that liberty is important, that the Bible does not speak to. Where it speaks so ought the preacher to speak. We don’t come to the Bible, or any of its texts, hoping it will support our own message. Rather we come hoping we will communicate its message.
The more difficult question is one of priorities. The question is not if we should preach against the grasping state, but how often ought we to do so? And that, I would argue, is answered not by knowing the Bible, but by knowing ones congregation.  Too often we tickle the ears of the flock not by speaking well of them, but by thundering against the sins of their enemies. A steady diet of “We are the oppressed minority who are being overrun by the state that hates us” may increase our blood pressure, but isn’t likely to increase our holiness.


Jovial Masculinity

The Merry Adventures of Robin HoodThe Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A rollicking good time. This long version by traditional storyteller Howard Pyle hums with the merriment of Robin's band of brothers. Their adventures involve bringing justice to folks in need, at the expense of the apathetic or oppressive rich and powerful passing near Sherwood forest.

It struck me that Robin Hood presents some lessons from the 1200s on masculinity, which we might not learn in our culture. The typical reference to Robin's merry men today tends to be an off color homosexual reference, which only shows how little we understand true masculinity.
1. Good men are quick to laugh, not because they are fools but because they pursue a life of joy.
2. True men can laugh at themselves. They are not so caught up in their ego, pride or machismo that they don't see when they have BEEN the joke.
3. Real men aren't afraid of others of superior ability, but invite them to join them in common cause. This strengthens them in a community that depends on others. It is amazing how many times Robin loses a fight, then asks the winner to join him.
4. Men trust other friends with their lives. We need friends to share our fight, walk our road, and tell our stories with us.
Be a real man like Robin Hood.

I'm not sure it was intended originally, but the premise presents a powerful parallel with David, outlawed from Saul in 1 Samuel. Both David and Robin gather those indebted or out of favor or outlawed to the king. Both are really in the right and will be vindicated in the future. Both work for the good of the kingdom (and themselves) before that time comes, by plundering God's enemies. Both are pursued by the oppressive authorities (Saul, the Sheriff), but are vindicated by higher authorities (God, King Richard).

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Don't Get Distracted by Faith Itself

Douglas Wilson:

"God wants us to have assurance of our eternal life (1 John 5:13). But this assurance cannot be had through close introspection of our own hearts—all we will find there is reason to be unsettled in our assurance. At the same time, we know Christ is present in those He is saving.

"We reject moralism—good deeds don’t put us in with God. We reject liturgicalism—prancing in God’s courts doesn’t please Him. We reject doctrinalism—mouthing the right words doesn’t do it. We are saved by the instrumentality of faith. We are justified by faith alone. We trust God. We come before Him in trust.
But how do we detect the presence of this faith? Faith does things, and it makes its presence known. It makes its presence known through good deeds, and through worship that is acceptable to God, and through affirmation of the truths that God has given."

Enter the Joy of Your Lord

For the Life of the World
Alexander Schmemann (1921-1983)
“Joy, however, is not something one can define or analyze. One enters into joy…And we have no other means of entering into that joy, no way of understanding it, except through the one action which from the beginning has been for the Church both the source and fulfillment of joy, the very sacrament of joy, the Eucharist…the Eucharist is the entrance of the Church into the joy of its Lord. And to enter into that joy, so as to be a witness to it in the world, is indeed the very calling of the Church, its essential leitourgia, the sacrament by which it ‘becomes what it is.’”

Random political musings

Observations from the November 2013 Virginia’s governor race
The one mainstream media article I read was predictable in its analysis: the conservative Republican Cuccinelli lost because he was too conservative. Right, (sarcasm alert) that’s objective and trustworthy information. Or it’s the standard playbook attempt by the media to influence the Republican establishment, intimidating them to not run such a great candidate again, for fear of losing.

Lieutenant Governor candidate EW Jackson, a very conservative African American pastor, got only 20,000 less votes than Cuccinelli. I think the real story here is that such a conservative platform got so many votes, only losing by 1 percentage point. The Republican establishment wants middle of the road guys, but the conservatives like Cuccinelli garner votes.

If half of the voters for the libertarian party had voted for Cuccinelli instead, he would have won. How many Christians did not vote? I don’t know. Instead of blaming let’s exhort for the future. Know the issues and elections in your area. Ask candidates about social issues (Republicans are ignoring them, more and more – don’t let them.) Go vote.

For lack of 56,000 voters, out of 2 million, we have a Clinton crony at the helm of our state.

On health care
Americans seem to expect nationalized health care. It’s the only way, we think, to keep the system from crashing. But we also want to keep our own plans.

Obama led us on in thinking we COULD keep our plans. “Some of the less fortunate need health care plans, too, but that won’t affect you.” Right. We’re trying to get something for nothing, and until we quit it, we’re headed for trouble. I’m glad mainstream America is seeing Obama’s deception, but why are we so selfish and stupid, to believe it in the first place?

Only when the economy is growing and jobs are increasing can all parties prosper more. But this Obamiasma we are in from his heavy regulation and business-hostile environment won't get us there.


A Grand Testimony You Can't Remember

This is an excellent couple minutes from John Piper on how to think of your conversion rightly.


He is speaking of 2 Corinthians 4:6
"For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."

Eric Liddell

The Flying Scotsman: The Eric Liddell StoryThe Flying Scotsman: The Eric Liddell Story by Sally Magnusson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Chariots of Fire made Eric Liddell famous. He refused to run on Sunday in the Olympic Games, and wound up winning the gold in another event as a result.

This book goes beyond the movie, to the rest of Eric's life. He gave up a life of sporting fame for the mission field in China, during a turbulent, war-torn period of her history in the 20s and 30s. He was often caught between Japanese and Chinese armies, seeking to bring the gospel to the natives.

He died in a Japanese internment camp in china. Few know this.

During his time there, he coordinated sporting events, but refused to participate on Sundays. Still, he refereed a sporting event on a Sunday there. Read the book to find out why.

There's a bit too much uninteresting detail - thus the four stars instead of five. But this is a worthy and inspiring biography.

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Review: Empire of Bones

Empire of Bones
Empire of Bones by N.D. Wilson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Reading the series out loud to my family, it's so good.

Here is rich imagery and exciting story that potently portrays the story and Savior of the Bible. Wilson does this without being preachy or opaque about it. It is clear at points, though unbelievers probably wouldn't notice it much.

The violence is a bit intense in places, not suitable for under 7-8ish.

Wilson glorifies virtues sorely needed in the (young fiction) world today: courage, loyalty, recognition and rejection of evil, honoring parents and family, and self-sacrifice for others.

If you have 8-15 year olds in the house and wonder what they could read, get this series.

Five stars!

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Review: The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child; Volume 1: Ancient Times (Story of the World: History for the Classical Child

The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child; Volume 1: Ancient Times (Story of the World: History for the Classical Child
The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child; Volume 1: Ancient Times (Story of the World: History for the Classical Child by Susan Wise Bauer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Excellent summary of history. Great combination of short, clear and accurate.

Written for younger children as a history text, it can be read aloud or given as a text with workbooks and tests.

- doesn't address the very beginning of creation, integrating it with Genesis 1-3.

- only covers Israel and Christianity in about 10 pages, out of 325.

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Review: Beyond the Summerland

Beyond the Summerland
Beyond the Summerland by L.B. Graham

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Written for middle school age from a Christian worldview, Graham mimics Tolkien in creating a fantasy world. Unity among men and other races against the bad guy is essential to victory.

This is the first of five, and I've only read this one, yet. They are lengthy and a bit wordy. Universe creation, character development, and plot motion are tricky to pull off all at once, and Graham leans toward the second. This creates the needed suspense of plot action, but there isn't much hinting at the broader world, yet. The literary style isn't as grand as the Inklings, but it's a decent accomplishment.

The violence is graphic at times (battle) but not gratuitous. It maintains clear gender distinction amidst battle strategy (i.e., no women in combat).

There are love interests, and the author dwells on them at length. The characters are several years older than the typical reader, which may cause problems for some (the characters can handle what they go through, but could the reader?). But generally it is very tame, and also helps readers think through how they should handle romance when it comes. It handles the relationships with maturity, upholding self-control and self-less-ness. It may be useful to have children read stories like this before they hit adolescence. Probably has more influence with the kids than the direct "date [or not] this way" book.

Unconventional plot twists added interest - no spoilers!

This is perfect if you don't know what to give your growing boy (12-15 ideal) to read, anymore!

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Review: Respectable Sins: Confronting The Sins We Tolerate Small Group Curriculum

Respectable Sins: Confronting The Sins We Tolerate Small Group Curriculum
Respectable Sins: Confronting The Sins We Tolerate Small Group Curriculum by Jerry Bridges

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bridges takes us through several areas of behavior that we tend to tolerate and excuse away. Looking first at the sinfulness of sin, and the glory of gospel forgiveness, we then delve into things like unthankfulness, anxiety, discontent, pride, impatience, anger, judging others, and envy.

Bridges diagnoses the heart incisively throughout, with good definitions of each sin, biblical texts pointing to it, and real life stories of how these sins grip us and how to turn away from them.

He did well avoiding a morbid introspection (pointing to our standing with God in the righteousness of Christ, not based on how well we diagnose our respectable sins), while also getting specific about sinful patterns.

I used the small-group curriculum edition to lead a small group. The format was good - long passages of the book, then a few pages of study questions for individuals and a group. Some of the questions didn't foster much discussion, though.

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On Sharing Your Faith

When it is time to give an answer for the hope within us, keep these things in mind.

1. Reason has its limits
Apart from the work of the Holy Spirit removing blindness and hardhearted-ness, our arguments and rational proofs will not bring anyone into the kingdom. Trust not in your persuasiveness or compelling logic, but in the sovereign God who moves the king's heart like channels of water (Proverbs 21:1). Many people are convinced and brought to Christ less by logical arguments than by receiving compassion, grace and love from followers of the Lord Jesus.

2. The Christian faith is reasonable
At the same time, be diligent to have a reasonable, winsome case for faith. God may use this to bring people to Him, at His pleasure. Christian truth is not confined to reason (witness the doctrine of the Trinity), but the faith is not irrational, either.
The church's evangelism is greatly hindered, because we simply have not thought through ahead of time a 30-60 explanation of our faith, to present in casual conversation. So we say nothing, because we aren't ready.

3. Know your audience
Some people are just looking for a fight, or entertainment, or someone to mock. Don't beat your head against a brick wall. Don't throw pearls before swine. But don't scoff back, either. Always treat people respectfully, even if you are answering a fool according to his folly (Proverbs 26:5). Others genuinely want to know why you would go to all the trouble to go to church, as a for instance. You have more of an opportunity, though probably not time for a 15 minute speech. Do you know your unbelieving coworkers well enough to know their biggest objections to the faith?

4. Know your offense and defense
When you are asked why you do what you do or believe what you do, people often ask with a bit of guarded-ness, acting like they are fine how they are, as a self-defense mechanism, when they are really seeking answers. Be careful not to get overly defensive to a basic question asked with a hint of "you're kind of weird." At that point you are on defense, and that is fine. Assume the burden of proof when others are ignorant of the faith. Be willing to take the time to lay it out for them, if they really want to hear.

These kinds of conversations are two-way streets, usually, not the one-sided speeches we see in the book of Acts. Expect questions and push-back. Sometimes it's time to go on offense. Question their assumptions, which will be flawed somewhere, if they are questioning the faith. Point out the inconsistencies and illogical leaps they are making. It takes as much faith to believe materialism or to be agnostic, as it does to be a Christian. Show where they are asserting and assuming without proof, while they expect you to have a proof for everything. You can be on offense like this without being offensive.

5. Give it time
God usually converts people over an extended process of several conversations with more than one person. Our evangelism is stymied by our ego-centered assumptions that we have to convince, that we have to close the deal now, before they die tomorrow. Shorter conversations, asking to continue it later, takes the pressure off both sides, gives you time to pray, and the Lord will work in their heart in the meantime.


Men at Their Dumbest

This is a great short article for young men in their late teens, maybe early 20s, to read.
It's aimed at college-goers, but can apply to others, making the right adjustments.



Review: Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change

Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change
Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change by Paul David Tripp

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Outstanding and helpful.

Tripp is comprehensive and Christ-centered in discussing counseling.
Comprehensive - he covers everything from our radical broken-ness, the heart as the root of behavior, Jesus the one we follow, love as the motive and first step in counseling, understanding people by asking questions, speaking needed rebuke from a Gospel, following through with actions and accountability.

The strength of this book is that it applies equally to those in formal positions of counseling and to every believer with a friend in need. Great illustrations and examples included.

Get this book to make your thoughts and conversations more Christ- and Gospel-shaped.

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Review: Destruction of Jerusalem

Destruction of Jerusalem
Destruction of Jerusalem by L.H. Becker

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A condensed retelling of the events of 70AD.

Gruesome, dark, depressing, the work could be seen as very anti-Semitic today. Josephus was looking to show to the Romans how benightedly stubborn his own people were, in the face of Roman power and glory. In my view, this was truly God's judgement on them for continuing to reject their King, Jesus, as they began to do 40 years earlier.

Three little additions to Josephus enhance the book. At the very end, he quotes Jesus in Matthew 23:38 - "Behold, your house is left unto you desolate." Becker then exhorts us that if God was willing to judge His own beloved city like this for rejected the Messiah, what a warning for every other city.

Also, when recounting the Zealots giving the starving people the bread and oil from the temple in the last days, Becker critiques Josephus, who thinks this is the worst calamity ever. "That the rejection of their Messiah was a crime a thousandfold greater than the drinking of priestly wine, seems not to have occurred to him."

Finally, the viewpoint of the Zealots: "The misguided Jews, to the last, expected to see these prophecies fulfilled in the person of the conquering Messiah, who would reveal Himself in the darkest hour, wither and annihilate the Roman legions with one word, and then transfer the seat of the empire from Rome to Sion."

There is also a short reference to the Christians fleeing to Pella before the Roman storm and seige hits Jerusalem.

Sadly, these passages are not expanded on at all. The rest of the book is Josephus, straight. If anyone can point me to some decent Christian analysis of these events, beyond the historical, I'd appreciate it.

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Review: Till We Have Faces

Till We Have Faces
Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In what CS Lewis himself said was his favorite work, he retells and adapts a Greek myth to tell Christian truth.

This is not one of his most accessible works. I had the Omnibus text by Veritas Press to help me.

Four-fifths of the book is part one, where the main character Orual, a princess in a pagan land, draws up a complaint against the gods. She doubts the paganism she is raised with, and her Greek tutor tries to instill an atheistic yet virtuous rationalism in her. She half believes it, but clings to her book (what we are reading) and her complaints. Her main complaint is that the gods took her step-sister Psyche away from her.

In part two, Orual gets to read her complaint before the gods, but she sees it for the petty jealousy and craven self-love that it is, even as she reads it. She understands that she was willing to hurt Psyche rather than lose her to something greater (God). Her repentance is giving herself to Psyche, instead of demanding that Psyche be her possession.

This is an amazingly excellent study of jealousy and self-absorption, from the inside of it. The sense of the transcendent (greater beauty and being and joy) at the end is well done.

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Life together - or separate?

Some thought-provoking words from Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

"Life together under the Word will remain sound and healthy only where it does not form itself into a movement, an order, a society... But rather where it understands itself as being a part of one, holy, catholic, Christian church, where it shares actively and passively in the sufferings and struggles and promise of the whole church. Every principle of selection and every separation connected with it that is not necessitated quite objectively by common work, local conditions, or family connections is of the greatest danger to the Christian community. When the way of intellectual or spiritual selection is taken the human element always insinuates itself and robs the fellowship of its spiritual power and effectiveness for the church, drives it into sectarianism."

Life Together, pg 37

Review: Transforming Grace: Living Confidently in God's Unfailing Love

Transforming Grace: Living Confidently in God's Unfailing Love
Transforming Grace: Living Confidently in God's Unfailing Love by Jerry Bridges

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Bridges wants believers to keep living by grace after they trust in the grace of Christ the first time. We are not only justified by God's mercy. We are also sanctified by His grace.

We too often fall into the trap of Galatians 3:3, trying to complete our salvation, to become holy, by our own performance. We want to make it up to God, or we want to obligate Him to favor us by our good behavior.

We can also forget what grace is for: to change us into holy, free and obedient people of God. Bridges keeps us from abusing God's grace with license and anti-nomianism, as much as he warns against legalism.

Bridges ends with how to appropriate, or take possession of, God's grace, focusing on the private means of grace: Scripture reading and memorization, prayer, and the ministry of other believers.

Throughout the book, Bridges quotes Scripture often and to the point. A strength of the book is illustrations that clarify and apply his points.

The main weakness is that there is little about the public means of grace or the church. Even the section on the ministry of other believers omits this.

A highly recommended book for any growing Christian.

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Trampling out the Vintage

Fascinating article here by Timothy George, on the In Christ Alone song controversy.

He gets in depth theologically on the propitiation of God's wrath.

AND he quotes the Battle Hymn of the Republic positively in this context.

We need the doctrine of the wrath and justice of God in the face of injustice.

The true Vine

In reading a retelling of Josephus' account of the fall of Jerusalem, I came across something first hand that I've been looking for since I heard it from Ray VanderLaan first, years ago.

Over the Golden Gate of the temple, going from the court into the temple itself, was a celebrated golden vine. Josephus: "Like a true natural vine, it grew gater and greater; men would be offering gold, some to make a leaf; some, a grape; some, a bunch; and these were hung upon it, and so it was in reign continually."

Now consider John 14-17 in this context. The last verse of John 14, Jesus says, "Rise, let us go from here," meaning from the upper room. In 18:1, He goes out and crosses the Kidron to Gethsemane.

So where was Jesus while speaking John 15-17?  I would submit that He was in the temple.

Standing before the golden temple vine, which Israelites enlarged with their offerings, Jesus used it as a type to point to Himself.  HE is the real vine, and it will grow and bear fruit as we stay in HIM. Not in the temple, but in Jesus.

He speaks of another helper who will come, and when He comes at Pentecost they are in the temple. The Spirit dwells in us, the new temple of God.

He prays a great high priestly prayer. Where do priests pray? In the temple.
His prayer for unity, that the world may know God, parallels Solomon's prayer at the dedication of the temple. The church is a temple being built (Ephesians 2:21).

Then He goes out to be pressed in the olive press of Gethsemane, complete with sweat like drops of blood. The vine is giving forth juice/wine/blood already.

The historical context of Scripture really makes the Word sing, harmonizing beautifully with itself.


Mindful of Us

When you consider the grain and the grapes that God grew to display His grace here, what are we, that the Lord remembers us?

God is mindful of man, visiting him, Ps 8:4 says. God was mindful first of the Son of Man, His Son. He equipped Him with the Spirit to go all the way to the cross. Then God visited Him, raised Him up, restored Him from the grave. God remembered Jesus and God remembers you.

The word mindful is remember, the same as when Jesus says to eat and drink this bread and wine in remembrance of Him. God is mindful of you, so He sends Jesus to restore us from our toppled over state. He sets us upright, at His table. He sets up a memorial to the Lord Jesus Christ, the ultimate man, the son of man.


God's GPS

Prov 5:5-8
Solomon warns his son of the immoral woman. We like to think that the world offers us pleasures that we can grab out of thin air, with little harm coming from it. But in reality, when God says those pleasures are off limits, then they are a path leading to death and hell. We don’t take sinful pleasure to ourselves. That sin takes us to it, and draws us along its path. You’re going somewhere, and it’s unstable. If God feels far away, one reason could be that you’ve gone down the path of sin so far, you don’t see Him anymore. Wisdom calls us back. Don’t depart from her. You need to change your location. Don’t stand near sin or ponder its ways, wishing for things you haven’t been given. Take out your GPS – God’s Positioning System – and recalculate where you should be. Move away from the danger. Move tempting things away from you.



Keeping the Bond of Peace

Ephesians 2:14-16
"For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, 15 having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, 16 and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity."

When we give or believe bad reports about others without warrant, without doing the hard work of confronting sin, or without covering it completely in love, then we hinder communion. We are putting up walls, or leaving up what others put up. Jesus took down walls of hostility. God’s toward us in our sin. Our hostility toward God. And our enmity that grows like weeds against each other if we let it.

This table also reminds us that God DID arise in His anger and judge His enemies, as David asked in Psalm 7 [sermon text], and He did this at the cross. The Son of David took all God’s anger and judgment on Himself, though He was perfectly innocent of every charge. The punishment was fully deserved by us, and taken by Him.


Smooth going down

Proverbs 5:1-4
    My son, pay attention to my wisdom;
          Lend your ear to my understanding,
    2      That you may preserve discretion,
          And your lips may keep knowledge.
    3      For the lips of an immoral woman drip honey,
          And her mouth is smoother than oil;
    4      But in the end she is bitter as wormwood,
          Sharp as a two-edged sword.

The specific case here is the immoral woman who tempts you. But all sin is like this. It feels right in the moment. It’s honey and oil, sweet and smooth. But it’s bitter and sharp in the end. It reminds me of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, when the bad guy drinks from the cup seeking eternal life. Sin offers such great promises, and delivers none of them. Sin is trading what you want most for what you want now.

We now have a time to tell God where we fell for this trap, and to ask Him to show us where we are STILL falling for it.



Review: Abortion: A Rational Look At An Emotional Issue

Abortion: A Rational Look At An Emotional Issue
Abortion: A Rational Look At An Emotional Issue by R.C. Sproul

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sproul calmly and persuasively argues for the pro-life position.

The strength of this book is that he does not preach to the choir, but assumes his audience is either on the fence or pro-choice. Sproul first sets forth his position, delving into issues of law, when life begins. He then answers the pro-choice arguments: a woman's right to her body, dangerous black-market abortions, inconsistency with capital punishment.

The take I appreciated most was the critique of the middle-ground position, that if I'm not sure abortion is morally right or wrong, then I default to let a woman choose. The change to this position from the default of life was made in the 1970s, both before and after Roe v. Wade. Sproul answers this ably, and calls on us to speak with those we know on the fence.

One of the failings of the church has been to only preach to the choir. We just get angry at people who are really unsure about this issue. We have little patience with them. So how can we possibly persuade them?

But Sproul gives us Biblical, sound and useful arguments to bring to friends, congressmen, etc.

He also includes a chapter gracefully asserting that abortion is not the unforgivable sin. Guilt is real and can be an overwhelming feeling, but it can be removed in God's sight.

There is a long and interesting appendix about whether frozen embryos are alive, or should be treated as persons.

This is must reading for pastors and pregnancy center volunteers, and anyone who finds they have pro-choice friends open to talking about it.

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What Are Your Children Reading?

I review a lot of children's books on this blog.
If you wonder why, the Wall Street Journal's Children's Book Reviewer has a good answer for you.

"Books tell children what to expect, what life is, what culture is, how we are expected to behave - what the spectrum is. Books don't just cater to tastes. They form tastes. They create norms."

She has an excellent argument against the dark and gothic novels for teens.
While trying to acknowledge the reality of awful things some teens go through, we are normalizing dysfunction and pathology.

Earthly Things Point to Him

Luke 16:9 - "make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home."

God asks us to make friends using earthly things.
God draws us to Himself using earthly things. 

He points you to Himself with food, family, weddings, clothes, rainbows, water, bread and wine. The very rocks will cry out in praise of God if we do not praise Him. The heavens declare the glory of God. Food reminds us of our dependence on His provision, that He made our stomachs. Children remind us we are His children. Husbands remind us Jesus is the groom. Wives remind us we are loved by God, being made lovely by Him. Weddings remind us of His coming for us, of a relationship long enjoyed and the anticipation of consummation of all creation in Christ. Clothes remind us of our shame from sin, but also of our covering by Christ, with creativity and dignity. The rainbow reminds us of God’s promise to preserve the world for us to live on. Water reminds us of cleansing. In baptism we are cleansed and united with Christ. 

Bread and wine remind us of sacrifice that satisfies and sustains. The body and blood of Christ were broken, He bled, to satisfy God’s justice against our sin. And to sustain us forever in living union with Him. 

We remember past propitiation. 
We enjoy present Communion. 
We anticipate future consummation.


Bringing Ourselves up Short

As always, we pause early in our worship service to acknowledge our sins to God. It is far more important to do this, to interrupt ourselves in praising God for a moment, than to gain some kind of emotional momentum with a continued series of songs. 

This is probably a significant difference in our worship experience compared to other churches. We aren’t stoics who deny emotion. But we don’t want to be carried away by our feelings, either. Some believers chase that feeling, that ecstasy. We are glad when God gives us happiness and emotional joy. But we seek its source more than the feeling or the musical vehicle that produces the feeling. 

The source of joy is confessing our sin. Blessed is the one whose sin is forgiven. Our bones grow old when we keep silent, when we don’t confess, when we hang on to sin. It is a blessed relief to confess sin honestly to God, and to be forgiven. Come receive that blessing now.


Praying for Presidents

This was a good article on praying for politicians.

"It is surely the duty of every church in the United States... to pray for President Obama - and let me dare to suggest that it not be a 'smite the Amalekites' style of prayer."


Review: Between Babel and Beast: America and Empires in Biblical Perspective

Between Babel and Beast: America and Empires in Biblical Perspective
Between Babel and Beast: America and Empires in Biblical Perspective by Peter J. Leithart

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

America is not the savior of the world. But we often assume it to be true, functionally.

Leithart describes Babel and Beast Biblically, showing the pros and cons of empires as a political reality. Part of his point is that empires aren't always bad. Then he fits America onto the grid. The result is fascinating.

The book is a heavily foot-noted footnote itself to "Defending Constantine." Some of his language is deliberately provocative (America is a "heretic nation") designed to get you think. I'm afraid it will turn off and turn away too many.

I found it a helpfully objective view of America, even if one-sidedly critical at times. He will give one paragraph to the merits of America in some aspect, and the rest of the chapter catalogs our violations of justice or Scripture on that point. The section on our foreign policy supporting democracy is excellent, and applies directly to Egypt right now.

As often with Leithart, there is much very insightful Biblically, and then a couple points where he is stretching to make a point that probably isn't there.

Most provocative perhaps is his point that the American experiment stumbled when it put the church in the backseat. The first amendment essentially dilutes the church's needed voice, to speak God's Word to a nation which claims to be "under God." This can sound like he wants the church over the state, which he doesn't. But it's helpful to get us thinking about the role of the church in public policy.

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Review: By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me

By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me
By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me by Sinclair B. Ferguson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Ferguson hits a double or triple every time. Maybe not out of the park, wow, but always useful. His work is Biblically accurate, doctrinal and helpful.

Chapters address freedom from bondage, unconditional love, Christ's passion, our security in God's favor, and being dead to sin so we can live for God.

I read this at the same time as DeYoung's Hole in our Holiness. DeYoung is a more interesting writer. Ferguson lingers longer on each topic, which can lessen interest, but is more helpful pastorally at points. The fiery darts from Satan in chapter 5 were really good.

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Review: The Hole in Our Holiness: Filling the Gap between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness

The Hole in Our Holiness: Filling the Gap between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness
The Hole in Our Holiness: Filling the Gap between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness by Kevin DeYoung

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Kevin DeYoung is a balanced, Biblical, lively and pointed writer.

He nails the balance between receiving grace and striving for obedience, between declarations of grace to us and decrees for us. He roots our holiness in Gospel grace, union with Christ, and gratitude.

He references a lot of Scripture, and it is always used appropriately, to make his point, which is that Scripture's point, too. This is rare, these days!

He is interesting. From camping to Star Wars to donuts, DeYoung can show that he is normal, AND pursuing holiness. This is important. Too often we think holiness is just for super Christians like missionaries and pastors. But every believer is to pursue godliness. People who like Superman ice cream can be holy? Yes!

He is specific. He doesn't leave things at the general platitude level, but gets down to brass tacks. The chapter on sexual morality was especially good, without being salacious.

It helps that he's a Michigan RCA guy, as I used to be!

I would have liked to see a bit more church-oriented chapter. He addresses fellowship and sacraments as means of grace, but teasing out how fellowship prods us on to holiness is needed these days.

Also, there was surprisingly little on our desire for holiness, which he says up front is the hole in our holiness. Still, an excellent reminder of what God saved us FOR.

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Here's Your Sign!

Psalm 86:15-17
          "But You, O Lord, are a God full of compassion, and gracious, 
          Longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth. 
    16      Oh, turn to me, and have mercy on me! 
          Give Your strength to Your servant, 
          And save the son of Your maidservant. 
    17      Show me a sign for good, 
          That those who hate me may see it and be ashamed, 
          Because You, LORD, have helped me and comforted me."

We seek a sign that the Lord has turned back to us, from rebuke and chastening to favor and forgiveness. Faithful parents show their children this turn, they show love, encouragement, and assurance when the child turns back toward the right way. God gives this to us, in His Word and here at this Table. Here is your sign for good from God. The Heidelberg Catechism asks why God speaks of this meal as participation in the body and blood of Jesus. It answers with assurance. God wants to assure us that as surely as this bread becomes part of you, you have part in Christ and His salvation. No matter how discouraged or despairing you have been or are right now, trust and rest in God’s promises for your good.


Time to Wake up

Luke 13:1-9
There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And Jesus answered and said to them,  “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? 3 I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” 
6 He also spoke this parable: “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. 7 Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, ‘Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?’ 8 But he answered and said to him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. 9 And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.’ ” 

Again we have heard of natural disasters, tornadoes in Oklahoma, taking the lives of adults and children. There are moral evils, like Pilate brutally killing Pharisees to make an example of them. And there are natural evils, like tornadoes and hurricanes. We know that God is in control of all things, that God is good and not the author of evil. We know that all evil is rooted in sin in some way, and that we can’t always trace a direct cause from that sin to this tornado. These are mysteries hard to understand. Jesus gets practical, instead of philosophizing: use such things as a wake-up call to repent. You don’t have all the time in the world to repent. God is patient, but there is an end; a time appointed to cut down the trees not bearing fruit.


Women Prospering in the Church

This is a great interview with the Housewife Theologian.
Find your identity as a woman, not in a career or in your housekeeping or in your marriage, but in Christ.
On patriarchy and modesty at 16:50-19:50.
On the ministry of the church for women at 21:00-23:50.


Review: Pastoral Graces: Reflections on the Care of Souls

Pastoral Graces: Reflections on the Care of Souls
Pastoral Graces: Reflections on the Care of Souls by Lee Eclov

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Nothing in here really wowed me, but it was a refreshing read, intended as such for weary pastors, the back cover said.

The emphasis on ministering grace and being a "wordworker" was really good.

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Review: The Path Between the Seas

The Path Between the Seas
The Path Between the Seas by David McCullough

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Here was some "change-of-pace" reading for me.

The historian who brought you 1776 and John Adams was already at it 25 years ago, writing of the Panama Canal. What a fascinating story!

A French visionary had the idea first, but he was an idealist and the huge scheme ran out of money, leaving many French bankrupt for his pains.

The Americans took it over, at Teddy Roosevelt's behest. The intrigues are wonderful. Although the French had begun in Panama, most Americans wanted a canal through Nicaragua. (It was closer for American trade.) The vote in the Senate was 42 to 34 for Panama over Nicaragua.

But then Colombia played hardball, and got greedy. So TR welcomed a Panamanian revolution, bringing better terms for the US of A.

Then there was the building itself. The work was of such a scale that the main thing was not the main thing. Digging was pressed over everything else at first, mainly by TR, but it backfired. Provision for workers via the infrastructure was chaotic, morale poor, and disease high.

Once the leadership gave the doctors free reign to combat the mosquito, everything turned around. 5600 died from disease and accident under the Americans, and 20-25 thousand altogether - 500 for every mile of the canal.

262 million cubic yards of earth were moved, four times the original estimate.

$639 million dollars were spent, which doesn't seem like much now. But all national territorial acquisitions up to then (Louisiana, Florida, California, Alaska, etc) was $75 million, combined! Wages for the low level digger were 10 cents an hour, 10 hours a day. 61 million pounds of dynamite were used.

The locks are 110 feet wide, 81 feet high walls, and 1000 feet long, making the largest equipment there look miniature in scale. It took 2 million cubic yards of concrete poured. The engineering feat was marvelous.

The First World War broke out just as the canal was finished.

Today, the canal handles about 15,000 ships a year, over 100 million tons, collecting $100 million in toll revenue.

The engineer for the Sault Ste. Marie locks worked on Panama, too.
One of the CEOs of the project went on to reorganize the Trans-Siberian railway later.

The fascinating facts go on and on.
This was not just a wow from the technical and engineering side, but also very interesting from the sociological aspect of nations and banks involved in visions cast of the largest of projects.

Recommended reading!

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