Who Protects Daughters? // Ethics of Voting // Patriotism's Limits

1. Instead of focusing on protecting daughters from unsuitable suitors, how about teaching them to have good judgment themselves?  Maybe this isn't an either/or, though...

2. Interesting take here on the ethics of voting.  Basically argues that a pragmatic vote can be an ethical one.  Voting your conscience can't claim all the moral high ground.  Gets pretty philosophical, though.
“The paramount moral question in every voter’s mind therefore should be this: which of the most likely outcomes will promote the greatest good or avoid the greatest evil? If this is not the paramount question for the conscientious voter, then what is? … These kinds of difficult calculations indicate that predicting consequences is often very difficult. But that is not a good reason not to try, especially when the outcome of our choice is so consequential, as it surely is in the coming election. We should not let a false view of moral purity undermine our ability to act for the good as citizens and human beings. It is only when we are clear on the principles that guide how to vote that we can know for whom to vote.”

3. CS Lewis and Mark Altrogge keep our desire for a godly nation subordinate to our desire for our heavenly country, of which we are citizens.


Brightest Heaven of Invention

Brightest Heaven of Invention: A Christian Guide to Six Shakespeare PlaysBrightest Heaven of Invention: A Christian Guide to Six Shakespeare Plays by Peter J. Leithart

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

On my year-long journey through the works of Shakespeare this year, Peter Leithart’s guide, Brightest Heaven of Invention, has helped me immensely.

Shakespeare is often difficult to understand, and there is more symbolism going on than I pick up on. Leithart points some of it out in a way accessible to most readers. Much of the symbolism is biblically oriented as well (usually intended by Shakespeare, I believe). Macbeth’s ambition is like Saul’s. Benedick is converted from scorn to love and his wedding shows us the consummation of all things at the end of time. Leithart is well read on the Bible and the classics, so that his analysis of Shakepeare has a uniquely Christian orientation that avoids shallow moralism.

Leithart takes six of the best plays, lays out 5 lessons for each play, and supplies questions for review and discussion after each lesson. This format is ideal for a high school course, but it also worked for me for a small book club discussion group.

If you’ve ever wondered where to start in reading Shakespeare, this book is perfect for you.

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Much Ado about Nothing

Much Ado About NothingMuch Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In this delightful comedy, Shakespeare shows how “man is a giddy thing” (V.4.). Appearances can be deceiving, and fiction can become reality.

- Claudio and Hero have a conventional courtship, but he is in it mostly for the money at first (I.1.296ff).
- Benedick and Beatrice carry on a merry war of words, but really love each other. Telling him she is pining for him (when she isn’t) changes him. Telling her he loves her (when he doesn’t yet) changes her.
- Don John appears reconciled to Don Pedro, but is looking to cause mischief and hurt in the house. He slanders Hero making her seem unfaithful when she is not.
- The crazy constable appears an idiot, but gets the most important truth out in the open.

Notice that sometimes we can use fiction or tricks to help others to the truth (Pedro). Or it can be a malicious plot to hurt and destroy (John).

The changeable nature of man is another theme. This also can be morally good or bad. The group generally turns from warfare to love, which is a good thing. Benedick goes from scorning romance to falling hard and marrying! His and Beatrice’s pride and scorn give way to love. But we can also believe lies too easily about friends to whom we should be loyal (Pedro and Claudio). We can feign peace and then passive-aggressively carry on a war in the shadows (John).

The plot is an emotional roller coaster, with the botched wedding at the center of the play the nadir of it all. But as a comedy, the end turns right. Changeableness means we have to suffer the giddiness of man, but also that “wrong will be right when Aslan comes in sight.” The war of words will end with a kiss. The turmoil of slanders and insults resolves into a wedding.

“Sigh no more, ladies” (II.3). Not in resignation that “men were deceivers ever,” but with the end of all wrongs.

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Henry IV

Henry IV, Parts One and Two (No Fear Shakespeare)Henry IV, Parts One and Two by William Shakespeare

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In part 1, a play in itself, Henry has taken the throne but is uneasy since he usurped it from Richard II. He wants to go on crusade to unify his kingdom but has too much trouble with rebels on his borders (Scotland and Wales) and within from the Percy family and its firebrand son Hotspur. His own son, Harry, who will be Henry V, is carousing with Falstaff, which troubles him greatly.

But when battle is joined against the rebels, Harry shows his stuff and kills Hotspur. Falstaff also shows his stuff, cheating, deceiving and dishonorably avoiding fighting his way back home.

The second part of Henry IV is all about betrayals, some right and some wrong.
Rebels York, Northumberland, and Prince John all show the dastardly kind of betrayal, rising up against Henry again. The rebels betray each other as well, such that their strength is no longer enough to match the king. But on the other hand, Prince Harry does right to betray Falstaff in the end, who is expecting friendship and favors from the newly crowned king. Instead Henry V stands by the chief justice who locked him up once for his carousing. He deals well with his nobles, a promising beginning to a new reign.

When we act dishonorably we should not expect honor. We always have the opportunity to set aside folly and begin a life of loyalty to the virtuous.

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Merry Wives of Windsor

The Merry Wives of WindsorThe Merry Wives of Windsor by William Shakespeare

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

John Falstaff plans to seduce Mrs. Ford, who is married and rich and controls the purse strings. His servants betray him and tell her. She and her friend have a great time playing with Falstaff – inviting him over, pretending to want to be seduced, but then crying that Mr. Ford is coming. Hilarity ensues with Falstaff tossed in a ditch and beat up dressed as a woman. In the end they both show themselves, with their husbands and friends, rebuking and scorning Falstaff: “Serve Got and leave your desires.”

“Fie on sinful fantasy!
Fye on lust and luxury!
Lust is but a bloody fire,
Kindled with unchaste desire,
Fed in heart; whose flames aspire,
As thoughts do blow them, higher and higher,
Pinch him, fairies, mutually;
Pinch him for his villany;
Pinch him, and burn him, and turn him about,
Till candles, and star-light, and moonshine be out.”

Meanwhile, Ford’s friend and her husband, the Pages, each want to marry their daughter Anne to a different man. Anne likes neither but is in love with Fenton. During the last scene where Falstaff is shamed, each man takes the wrong person to steal off and marry. Fenton and Anne elope and come back married, to the Pages' shock. They admit the rightness of love winning the day, though, and revel in being tricked themselves.

1. Falstaff doesn’t really repent. He admits they’ve made a fool of him, and that’s about it. Some people never change.
2. Though there are moments of innuendo and sexual compromise suggested, the play’s message overall upholds chastity, virtue, and true love. It does this by showing two contrasting twin vices defeated: abusing marriage by adultery, and abusing love by arranging marriages without regard for it.
3. The theme of revenge and jealousy is strong. When you see evil in someone, you want to get back at them, and teach them a lesson. Falstaff’s servants see it in him, Mrs. Ford sees it in Falstaff, the host sees it in the Pages and so helps Fenton, and so on. The play basically approves of this impulse, when it is in the confines of justice.

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Ender's Game

Ender's Game (The Ender Quintet, #1)Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Ender’s Game is a dystopian sci-fi fantasy that explores themes of deception and control, and how individuals think of themselves in response. It’s quite dark and pessimistic, with just a glimmer of hope at the very end.

“Sometimes lies were more dependable than the truth” (2). People are just tools when humanity needs them (35), capable of great wickedness and cruelty even when they try to do the right thing. “Power will always end up with the sort of people who crave it” (239). In one sense, this fits with the Christian view that people are twisted and depraved in every aspect of our lives (total depravity) – that we are either in bondage to sin or servants of righteousness (Romans 6). But without the understanding that we are made and loved by a Creator, bound to the poisonous doctrine of evolution, this leads to despair. There is nothing but to endure patiently and search for places where the good is winning out over the pervasive evil.

And it’s a long search.

The theme of control is also quite dark. The military establishment deceives extensively, so that the main character is just a pawn. Life is a game of figuring out and beating the system, but ultimately you can’t until they let you. You will need the help of others (Ender’s siblings), who are probably controlling you in other ways, to get out from under their control. In the end Ender has achieved a high level of personal autonomy, but how do we know the bad guys won’t rise again and reassert control? Even the people who love you and want the best for you can be used by the bad guys to get you to do what they want. There is a lot of undue resentment here – when Ender is persuaded that x is the right thing to do, he still feels manipulated into believing it.

Redemption and reconciliation show up in the last few pages. The only atonement for our crimes comes from the forgiveness of our victims, and our search to restore what we’ve done. It is works righteousness of the secular variety. This is the best a materialistic worldview can do. The bad guy aliens suddenly become pristine and holy, and thus the source of forgiveness. But why are they so lovely while humanity is so corrupt? It doesn’t fit, but this is the only explanation for sin and atonement that atheists can cope with.

I realized while reading that these themes are repeated in recent films I’ve enjoyed: Matrix, Battlestar Galactica. Not wandering into this genre much in books, I have only an inkling and hunch that Ender was quite influential on the last couple decades of film writers.

I did find some value in reading this, to get into the mind of the questioning next generation, trying to figure out their identity while rejecting their elders’ folly and wickedness. Young people hurt by their parents and their generation can easily turn to this kind of thing for a quantum of solace. But ultimately it provides little, and only the truth as God reveals it in Scripture can point us the way to restoration.

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Dangerous Calling

Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral MinistryDangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry by Paul David Tripp

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Paul Tripp hits hard at pastors who are coasting, faking, hiding, or in other ways not living out the gospel of grace in Jesus Christ in their pastoral ministry.

This is a book non-pastors may have a hard time connecting with or understanding, but it was easy for me as a pastor for about 12 years now. When pastors are constantly speaking and feeding and giving the message of grace to others, it can be hard for them to switch roles and receive the grace they need to show and tell their churches. This leads to isolation, hypocrisy, ego trips, not listening to fellow leaders, overly seeking approval from men, despair, and just cranking out sermons mentally without a personal heart connection.

Pastors face spiritual attacks just like every other believer. Sometimes they take a different form based on their roles, though. Tripp fights hard against a church culture that expects the pastor to be “perfect.” Instead, he needs to publicly say that he too struggles with sin. Too much specific information is detrimental, of course, but pastors usually err the other way – dodging personal questions, giving an impression that they are impregnable to sin, and not seeking help in their fight against sin.

If we do not find our identity and rest in Christ and His grace, we will seek it elsewhere, idolatrously. Each of us has a unique way in which we do that, individually. But there are also some general patterns. Men tend to sin a certain way, women another; white collar workers one way, blue collar another; pastors one way, committed church members another; Americans one way, Syrians another. One of the strengths of this book is that Tripp knows a pastor’s life and his temptations. He describes the battle with vivid detail. But not only is the diagnosis spot on, so is the prognosis. We must find our approval and comfort and rest in Jesus, so we don’t rush to the wrong places for it.

Every pastor should read this book.

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Is the End of Mark Canonical? // Vote for Saruman! // Family Devotions Fail

This article rejecting the long ending of Mark was thought-provoking, and includes a good response from an advocate of the long ending in the comments.

I just read the part in Fellowship of the Ring where Saruman tells Gandalf they must join with Sauron and "ride it out."  Then this from Doug Wilson, on who to vote for:
"Suppose someone said that he was going to vote for Saruman over Sauron because he thought Saruman was a “wizard with flaws.” That is a description of someone who is in the process of being seduced. Suppose someone else voted for Saruman, not because he supported Saruman at all, but because he would rather have the final fight with Saruman. This is quite different. It goes without saying that we were going to be in a fight whichever bad guy won. This is a position I strongly differ with, but it is not a position that gets maneuvered into calling evil good and good evil (Is. 5:20).
 Tim Challies explains why family devotions often doesn't happen.


Lifting Hands

In my denomination we have a practice of raising our hands when we sing the doxology.
Why do we do this?

Psalm 134:2 says, “Lift up your hands in the sanctuary.”
1 Tim 2:8: “I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands”

Most of our songs are prayers to God, and so we have chosen to lift our hands at a couple points of the worship service in particular, usually sung responses to the Word or at the end of the service. The point is to pick a time in the service to deliberately do this all together, like we kneel at confession. 

Psalm 95 says to kneel before the Lord in worship. It doesn’t say exactly when – we’ve chosen confession time to kneel.  Similarly, we’ve chosen sung responses as a time to deliberately, all together raise our hands. We don’t confine hand-raising or kneeling to these times. Some people lift their hands when a hymn is moving them. That’s great. We shouldn’t be bothered during worship when people do something Scripture directly tells us to do.

Lifting hands to God is a great opportunity to connect life to worship. It highlights the need for integrity, not hypocrisy, between the sanctuary and the parking lot. We ought to be able to hold up holy hands that didn’t hit our sister last week, that refrained from sexual temptation last night. Did we use our hands to work hard all week, or did our hands play 20 hours of x-box? Of course, if we are going to lift holy hands, then we need to confess our sins and receive forgiveness.

Causing Others to Stumble // Praying for Preachers // Scripture Memory

Stephen Altrogge nails the problem of causing others to stumble from 1 Corinthians 8.
It isn't about offending people by doing things they think are sin but that aren't called sin in Scripture.
It is about pressuring them to act against their conscience.

Altrogge again, on praying for your pastor's preaching.

Where to start with memorizing Scripture?  Here are 8 verses to start with.


Miserable Comforters

Job 16:4-5
I also could speak as you do,
If your soul were in my soul’s place.
I could heap up words against you,
And shake my head at you;
But I would strengthen you with my mouth,
And the comfort of my lips would relieve your grief.

Job’s friends make a basic mistake.  They bring up true but unhelpful things.  They blame instead of bolster.  It isn’t so much that they speak error, although they occasionally veer that way.  They misapply abstract doctrinal truth to Job’s specific situation.

Of course, all men have sinned and deserve death and hell.  But it may not be time to raise that when your friend goes bankrupt, all his children die tragically, and he comes down with a chronically painful disease.

Can we grieve with those who grieve without giving a theology lecture?  Can we speak truth while being sensitive to the anxieties and difficulties of our friends?

Job’s friends could not, and they provoked him to the brink of blasphemy, instead of pointing him to his good and sovereign Creator.


Dismissing Law // The Point // Perspective on Politics

A wise and short reminder not to dismiss Scripture just because it's "law," or feels like it will lead to legalism.

Ed Welch nails it: all the big theological words like justification, sanctification, holiness, etc. are a means to a greater end.

Keith Mathison keeps our drain-circling culture in historical perspective, as well as the role we should have in it as a Christian minority.

Target boycott? // Rowdy Liberty // Time for Courage

Marvin Olasky talks sense on whether or not to boycott Target.

This is a month old now, and just small local news where we were vacationing, but SO ironic.
They had to close a section of beach ahead of a fireworks show because the crowd was so rowdy.
Galatians 5:13 came to mind:
"...do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another."

The cultural currents call for courage, as much as for insight, says Doug Wilson.


Sermon Q&A? // Strong and Weak // Will on Trump

Tim Keller advocates an open Q&A time immediately following the worship service.  I've done this for 10 years, and usually find it useful, if moderated well.  Keller is in a place with lots more seekers, which colors the way he says things a little differently than we do it, but I really enjoyed this.

Crossway has a helpful article from Romans 14 on how to disagree well on non-essentials.

Speaking of non-essentials, George Will has a good article tearing down the last-ditch argument for voting for Trump: Supreme Court justice nominations.

Lamech and His Sons

At the end of Genesis 4, Lamech bears sons who take dominion well over animals, music and metallurgy.   But Lamech himself is barbaric.

The lesson: never confuse cultural advancement with moral uprightness and wisdom.

Just because we are technologically advanced does not mean we are wise.
Just because we are an economic powerhouse does not make us morally great.

The 20th century saw a deadly combination of the ability to create massive weapons and the barbarism of being willing to use them in conquest.  Likewise, the Canaan that Joshua conquered had advanced chariots of iron, but they sacrificed their children to idols.

Cultural achievement can be a siren song that draws believers to paganism.  But taking dominion over God's creation is our calling, and its fruits are a gift.  A gift with a risk.  It brings a certain glory and prosperity that can draw our hearts away from the living God.  Beware the pride of life (1 John 2:16).

But it is wrong and misguided to avoid "culture," to avoid this risk.  We will find plenty fodder for sin in our own hearts, in a pietistic "just me and my Bible" attitude that dismisses "the world," or in a Wendell Berry-esque rejection of progress and advancement.

Let us cultivate the garden God placed us in, and enjoy its fruit, while not idolizing the fruit in our hearts.


Idolizing America?

A reader questions the Wilson quote from a couple posts ago.
Why accuse everyone who grieves the moral decline of America of being an idolater?

Too often our happiness is tied more to the state of our nation than to the state of the kingdom of God.  It is good to want Christ's kingdom to influence and hold sway in your nation.  To the extent we pull for that, and are saddened seeing our nation reject biblical values, we are being Christian patriots in the best sense of that phrase.

But when we equate Christ's kingdom with our nation, when we can't see God working things for good for His people while our own nation declines, when we cannot criticize and even rebuke our nation in spite of her obvious immorality, when we cannot accept that God would allow our nation to crumble, then we have slipped into a subtle idolatry.

When we think of America as the last and best hope for humanity, the idolatry has grown.  Maybe it was accurate in the past to pose that America was the earthly kingdom that most pursued the priorities of Christ's kingdom.  Maybe.  But that time is long gone and won't be back soon.  As Bonhoffer had to, we need to start thinking as Christians of our priorities apart from and even opposed to our nation's priorities.  The church's agenda overlaps with some politicians' agendas only very slightly, and the church's energy should mostly be elsewhere.  What is that agenda?  Is the campaign season distracting us from remembering what we are called to be about as Christians in any nation?

With gratitude for the freedom God has given us in this nation, we have a responsibility to use that freedom well.  To question if we are using that freedom to love and serve others (Galatians 5:13), or to indulge ourselves and lead the world astray with our immorality?

Should we really seek greatness and power for a nation that pressures other nations to accept same-sex marriage and relationships as normal?  That allows the killing of unborn babies without even minimal restrictions for medical reasons?  That exports immorality around the world?  Imprecatory prayers are as appropriate for our current regime as "May God bless America."  To my mind, few Trump supporters have moral greatness in mind when they call for America to be great again.  Any candidate for nominee pursuing that dimension was quietly set aside and muted.  We are in big trouble.

It may be offensive to call those who don't see this trouble as deeply as we'd like idolaters.
But what else do we call it when love for a lesser thing like a nation hinders your loyalty to God's truth and kingdom?


AA // Harry Potter // Why You Need the Church

Here's a pretty good look at Alcoholics Anonymous and addiction generally, from the Biblical view.

Andrew Peterson, favorite author/musician of mine, tells of his experience with the Harry Potter series.  He has convinced me to give them another try.  I read my nephew's copy of book two, the first chapter on vacation.  Soon I'll try the rest of it.

Five reasons why you need the church.  Quick, but significant.