Vacation memories, part two: reading

I read most of Otto Scott’s biography of King James. Here's a review.
For out loud reading to the kids, it was Dandelion Fire by ND Wilson.

I tried to read a magazine per day from my large backlog. First Things is quite good as a tonic against the privatizing of religion. My hometown newspaper news and editorials are depressing. The place used to be a bastion of conservative piety – now professing Christians write religion editorials defending homosexual practice.  An eastern orthodox church has opened in the downtown district, led by a pastor who converted from my old denomination. Other culture war elements on the home-front are also disappointing.

Making the usual pilgrimage to the large bookstores and publishers nearby, I noticed something.  With the wealth of books and publishers in the area, there is a dearth of material on what the Bible says about homosexuality and how to interact with a homosexual. Or what the Bible says about abortion and how to interact with an abortion clinic or someone considering abortion. Not that those things are totally absent, but what’s big is either popular self-help, academic stuff trending mainline liberal, or very conservative material which is good, but doesn’t address too much where the church is being pressed right now. Kevin DeYoung’s book “Freedom and Boundaries” is lamentably a rarity, for instance.  I searched in vain for Robert Gagnon's excellent treatment of homosexuality.

Strolling the Links

Kevin DeYoung's congregation has begun the process of leaving the Reformed Church in America, my denomination of origin which has taken a decidedly liberal turn in the past few decades.  The church is petitioning the denomination to keep their building, instead of the RCA retaining it.  That'll be interesting to watch play out...

Tim Challies asks, "Most women’s ministries are overseen by the pastors (as are all ministries), but what if the ministry was led by a pastor, at least for a time?"


Vacation Memories, Part One

“You know you’re in the south when…”

So going up north to Michigan, on the way our first gas station stop was in West Virginia on a Monday morning, around 10am.  In front of me in the line was a very young couple (18?) asking for directions to the magistrate’s office.


Then, on our way home at the first gas station in Viriginia, Sara went in. As she approached the door, a big hulking guy in a muscle shirt saw her coming, pulled himself up short, stepped back and held the door for her with an emphatic, “Excuse me ma’am.”  After telling me about it, Sara said, you don’t see THAT up north!

Claiming Promises and Heaven

Barnabas Piper tells us to watch it when “claiming” God’s promises in Scripture.

Tim Challies reviews Benny Hinn’s ministry, with an excellent last section on what the Bible says about healing versus what Hinn says.

What are we to make of books with near death experiences of heaven?

Don't Be Overcome

Romans 12:14, 17-21
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 16 Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.
17 Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. 18 If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. 19 Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 Therefore
    “If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    If he is thirsty, give him a drink;
    For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

Most of us have been the victim of someone’s unfairness or cruelty at some point in our lives. Jesus in the sermon on the mount, and Paul here, call us to avoid revenge and bitterness. We are not to bless them as if they are doing good, calling their evil good. That is not the point. But we are to control our response, and not respond according to the sinful nature. Instead of thinking it is our place to avenge, we are to make way for God’s wrath, to let Him work in His time.  The wrongs in this world understandably upset us. But we are to shape that anger into constructive and godly work, not revile and curse. Not turn cold and hard inside. Not let it block the possibility of forgiveness. Let us confess our anger, our desire for revenge, our hatred that wants to see others suffer, instead of see them repentant and forgiven.

Oh come, let us worship & bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our maker.



Lamenting when we should Persuade

"Paul knew nothing else but 'pluralism' in every city of the empire, no least in Corinth....
However, today with the breakup of monolithic 'modernity' into the fragmentation of the postmodern condition, some Christians lament that cultural diversity and 'pluralism' constitute almost insuperable obstacles to the proclaimation of the gospel. It defies imagination what Paul might have though about these twenty-first-century defeatist laments over 'pluralism' when the more monolithic traditions of the medieval and modern worlds represent only a passing era in the history of the West, unknown to Paul."

Thiselton, 1 Corinthians, Eerdmans: 2006, pg 23.

So true. Many of our laments are little more than, "Oh no, not everyone believes what Christians believe."

Well, go persuade them.

Review: James I: The Fool as King

James I: The Fool as King
James I: The Fool as King by Otto Scott

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Bordering on the caustic, Scott offers a different look at King James of Authorized Version fame.

I watched a documentary on the making of the KJV while I read this book. It said nothing negative about James, probably out of a desire to uphold the greatness of the Scripture version. This book was the opposite. Scott criticizes James' character at every turn, describing him as an incompetent, self-absorbed, Messianic, dissipated homosexual of which the court was mostly embarrassed. The Scripture version he authorized gets maybe 2 pages, of the 408 (which may or may not accurately reflect the importance he gave it).

There is a lot of political detail - which nobles were in favor, how they fell out of favor, the international pressures toward Catholicism from Spain and toward the Reform from the lowlands. His academic work is strongest here.

I learned most about how James navigated between Catholicism and the Reformers. He was repulsed by the Vatican's claim to be above his rule, and by the Reformers' claim to call the king to account. In short, he continued the idea that the king is head of the church, not bishops, presbyteries or popes. He wanted to be king and pope all in one, and would brook no opposition.

A key thesis of Scott's is that it was James' character that was flawed, not his intelligence. This is probably right. But in his desire to show James as fool, Scott seldom does his intelligence justice, even. His assertions that James was homosexual and had multiple relationships while on the throne are shaky. I don't rule out the possibility, but it's hard to prove. He was certainly more debauched (at least far less pious) than most people who think of the "King James Bible" would ever imagine.

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New look and content

I've updated the sidebar to what I'm actually reading online these days.


Can't Ruin God's Rest

Exodus 31:13, 17
Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you....
It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed."

God gives us signs of His relationship with us, His grace to us in Christ, and of our calling. One sign was Sabbath, to show the work, rest and holiness he made us for. We learn right off in this text that it is the Lord who sanctifies us. We think we sanctify ourselves by all our hard work and effort and self denial. But God sovereignly saves.

We have a poor track record of resting in God, and the punishment for that is death. That's what leads us to the grace of this table. Here Jesus died to pay for your selfish striving, your reliance on your own work, your neglect of God and family for your work, or for your rest. It's paid for.

And He is determined not to let your sin ruin His rest.

So enter the rest Jesus has prepared for you. Look to Jesus, the author and finisher notice, of your faith, who for the joy set before him, endured the cross, despising its shame, and has sat down at the right hand of God. Sit down with Jesus now. Seek his face. Rejoice in Him.


A Mini-Hospital

Romans 12:10, 13
"Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another... distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality."

One way we must be kind and prefer others t o ourselves is in our giving. Gods word calls us to distribute to the needs of the saints. We do Ythis through deacons who serve, as we give to a fund to help those in need. So there is a financial piece to this. We also go meet needs ourselves, bringing food, spending time with someone in need. We are given to hospitality, which leads us to open our homes or hearts to others we don't know as well. The idea is to be a mini hospital, to give needed care and send them away refreshed. It's easy to take pride in hospitality if we do it often, or to shirk it completely, if we haven't seen it before. But it comes from being mindful of the communion of the saints, knowing that your home is on loan from God, more than from the bank. It comes from opening your life to others, as Jesus has done for us.


The Wisdom of Abigail

The story of Nabal and Abigail in 1 Samuel 25 is full of wisdom for us.

The Story:
David asks Nabal for some food for his men from Nabal's sheep-shearing feast. David had protected Nabal's sheep in the past, and he asks for some payment. Nabal calls David a rebel and refuses to give him anything. David sets off with all his men to kill Nabal and every male in his house. Nabal's wife Abigail intercepts David and intercedes for her house, giving David food. David commends her, and gives up the attack. Nabal is oblivious in his feasting and God strikes him dead. David then marries the lovely and wise widow Abigail.

Dealing with Nabals makes you like them.
Fools tend to provoke, and when we are hurt by someone else's sin, we tend to sin back at them. David plans to kill every male in Nabal's house, a violent overreaction to Nabal's thoughtless insult. When you are offended, be slow to take up an offense. Love your enemies. Do good to those who hurt or persecute you. Watch your thoughts. David is muttering in anger all the way, until Abigail breaks into his path, speaks a different mind, and changes his heart.

Wisdom cools hot heads with humility.
Abigail calls herself "your servant" to David. This was common speech then, but she repeats it often enough to make the point: someone in Nabal's house is humble and respectful toward David. When tempers flare and strife arises, there is usually plenty of pride and ego to go around. At this point in the story Abigail stands between two proud and angry men, ans she displays unflappable humility.

Wisdom is found in unexpected places.
God delights to humble us, by leading us through people we don't usually esteem highly. David had no formal obligation to listen to Abigail. Nabal had spoken for his house, and a wife cannot overrule her husband's policy in the public square. But she spoke wisdom, and David heeded it, regardless the source. God's Word emphasizes this, when David tells Abigail, "I have obeyed your voice." Many times husbands need to heed their wives. Parents need to heed their children. Pastors need to heed their elders and elders, pastors. Both need to heed the flock. Listen to wisdom, no matter in what instrument God sends it.

Fools have little sense of their impending doom.Nabal feasts like a king while Abigail forestalls his destruction. He thinks he is big stuff, snubbing the anointed king of Israel. Fools will be rendered helpless by God, in His time. Meanwhile, be aware of your social debts and render thanks accordingly.

Be loyal to the true king
Nabal and Abigail held opposite political views regarding the kingship of Israel. Nabal thought David a rebel who had disrespected Saul's authority. Abigail knew David was the true and future king. This text calls us to act with fidelity to our true king, regardless who we may wind up contradicting in the process.


Review: The Early History of Rome: Books I-V of the History of Rome from its Foundation

The Early History of Rome: Books I-V of the History of Rome from its Foundation
The Early History of Rome: Books I-V of the History of Rome from its Foundation by Titus Livy

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Livy was a prolific ancient Roman historian, writing around the time of the birth of Christ. He chronicles the political and military history of Rome from its founding by Aeneas to its sacking by the Gauls around 386 BC.

He is keen to uphold certain values.

"When we followed God's guidance all was well; when we scorned it, all was ill" (pg. 397). Following omens and divinations was more convincing even than reasoned oratory. It is more important to obey the gods than to follow the persuasions of men.

"The only true patriotism... is founded upon respect for the family and love of the soil" (105). Love of nation requires a sense of place and people. Romans were Romans because of their location, not so much the buildings or the ideas they had, though that grew in importance later on.

Typically, Livy takes pride in Rome's undefeated military record. Most of the book is taken up with military campaigns against one neighboring city or another. It is striking that the book ends with their being beseiged and rescued by a strong but exiled former military commander.

Political unity.
Much of the substance of the book is also taken up with the partisan politics that threatened to tear the city apart. Patricians sought to keep their privileges, while plebians demanded bread and rights. Livy doesn't disguise his preference - he saw the representatives of the people as the cause of much of the trouble. Their demagoguery created unnecessary strife, even to refusing to serve in the military when the city was under attack!

As a Christian the inadequacies of this worldview became obvious to me as I read. Whenever things got really tight, a dictator was appointed to force resolution. Strength of the sword was the only way to quash the chaos and quiet the city (or defeat the invaders). The only way to get internal unity was to focus on an external enemy. The very things Rome prided herself in, she could not achieve, though Livy does his best to convince his reader through anecdotes and speeches that Rome did achieve them.

Overall, this was a tedious read, the high points being the speeches and some of the military exploits related.

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