Saturday, February 28, 2009

My Dad Shaped My Mental Blueprint of My Life

In Men's Fraternity this morning, the question was put to us, "Where did you get your idea of what a man is from?"

There's no question I got it from my dad.

Even in college I thought my role in life would be played out, on the pattern of my father, as follows:
  • married
  • at least a couple kids
  • job at a factory or warehouse
  • work 40 hours a week and involved in a church
  • spend time with my kids
  • compliment my wife on her cooking
  • read, study, and apply the Bible
  • taking my family on a big scenic vacation every year

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Insights from Thomas Sowell

Sowell comments on the visceral reaction some conservatives have against Sarah Palin; but, he argues, we need Palin, or someone like her.

One of his great lines from this article: Governor Palin's "inexperience" is a talking point that might have some plausibility if it were not for the fact that Barack Obama has far less experience in actually making policies than Sarah Palin has. Joe Biden has had decades of experience in being both consistently wrong and consistently a source of asinine statements.

In another good article, Sowell indicates we have reason for pessimism, perhaps even despair, when as a nation we are concerned about the pay of executives and not the coming threat of a nuclear Iran. Sowell comes near to talking about God's providence in America's past and hoping for it again in her near future.

Poignant quote: Although, in some sense, the United States of America is still the militarily strongest nation on earth, that means absolutely nothing if our enemies are willing to die and we are not.

It took only two nuclear bombs to get Japan to surrender — and the Japanese of that era were far tougher than most Americans today. Just one bomb — dropped on New York, Chicago or Los Angeles — might be enough to get us to surrender.

If we are still made of sterner stuff than it looks like, then it might take two or maybe even three or four nuclear bombs, but we will surrender.

Just What the Doctor (of My Soul) Ordered

While driving to work this morning, I was listening to Congressman Souder on the radio talking about President Obama's economic plans. Souder believes that Obama's policies will eventually lead us into a genuine depression.

Up until now, the credit crunch could have been fixed--albeit painfully so--but yes, fixed. But Obama is taking a fixable problem and making it worse.

For all his complaints about the deficit President Bush handed off to him, so far President Obama's deficit in the first 2 months of his administration is equal to the one Bush accumulated in his first 5 years.

Great to hear! (I do tend to put a lot of stock in Congressman Souder's opinions.)

But then I reviewed some memory verses today, and they were soothing medicine to an anxious soul:

12I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. Phil. 4:12 (NIV)

7Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Pet. 5:7 (NIV)

25"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?" Matt. 6:25-27 (NIV)

5Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,
"Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you."
6So we say with confidence,
"The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me?"
Heb. 13:5-6 (NIV)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Elderly Believer Sustained by the Lord During 2-Year Prison Ordeal

A 79-year-old believer in Christ was released from a Chinese prison this month after a 2-year sentence. Voice of the Martyrs relates her experience:

"The PSB [Public Security Bureau] went to my prison interrogating, threatening and harassing me numerous times," Shuying said. "They even directed other prisoners to take off all my clothes and forced me to stand alone outside in the evening without letting me sleep."

Shuying added she was slapped on her face and forced to drink her own urine. Despite these harsh conditions, Shuying's faith remained strong. "During these terrible circumstances, I prayed without ceasing. I asked God to give me strength," Shuying said. "Every time when my son came to visit me and shared with me that brothers and sisters from all over the world had been praying for me, I felt greatly strengthened and empowered which has enabled me to continue to live."

This faithful Christian and her son were arrested in Jan 2007 when walking near an Olympic hotel in Beijing. She was released Feb 8 and got to see her 91-year-old husband, who died 2 days later. (Read whole story here.)

Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me ... (Ps 23:4 NIV)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Grappling with Calvin's View of Providence

As I read through the Institutes, I'm trying to get a handle on Calvin's understanding of providence. I'm trying to understand his point-of-view, even though I may not come to agree with it.

But just understanding it has proven difficult at one critical point. It's the point where Calvin asserts that man's actions and choices are determined by God, and at the same time man is responsible for his actions and choices.

Calvin goes to great lengths to demonstrate that God's providence is not just a "general" providence or a "universal" providence, but one that extends down to the minutia of events on earth; further, it extends to the choices and actions of men (1.16.2-9).

What I don't understand then is how man can be responsible if God determines what he will do. How can Calvin rail against those who rail against providence? Are they railing of their own free will or not?

"Hence it happens that today so many dogs assail this doctrine [of providence] with their venomous bitings, or at least with barking ..." (1.17.2)

But how can they not "assail" and "bark"? If they do so, hasn't God so ordered it? Though he states otherwise, Calvin seems to everywhere assume that at some point man has the freedom and the will to choose.

In another place he illustrates God's providential use of evil by picturing the sun's rays heating a corpse so that its stench is stirred up. It is the rays that stir up the stench, but it is not the rays which stink. In the same way God stirs up the evil within some to accomplish his purposes (1.17.5).

Understandable. But if we look back further we ask, Where did the evil in man come from in the first place? In Calvin's view, did not God effectively ordain for the evil to be in man?

How can God so rule man that man can do no other but nonetheless be responsible for his actions?

Friday, February 20, 2009

Media Correspondent Calls for a Chicago Tea Party

An interesting CNBC video clip of a correspondent who decries the immorality of forcing taxpayers to bail out their neighbors in large houses who are defaulting on their mortgages. This guy's dramatic ... and making some sense.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

18 Years Ago

Feb 19, 1991 (Tues)

Scene 1: Sara's study. It was a rainy overcast afternoon. Sara and I were in her study at Curdes Avenue Missionary Church. Her dad was pastoring there at the time, and Sara had a room there where she studied. I proposed marriage to Sara. I tell people she said Yes 6 weeks later, but in truth she said Yes when I proposed.

Scene 2: Her dad's study. She then informed me that I had to ask her dad. I wasn't prepared for that. A nerve-wracking proposition, though Sara's dad and I got along just fine. We went to his office, and I asked him for his daughter's hand in marriage. He gave his blessing. Then Sara called her mom at work and informed of her of her good fortune in acquiring such a son-in-law.

Scene 3: Service Merchandise. We then drove to Service Merchandise where I purchased a ring for my new fiancee. (No, I didn't buy it ahead, but I had the money ready.)

Scene 4: My home. Eventually I ended up back at home and informed my parents of our engagement. Sara and I think that she did not come with me, but we can't remember for sure. I can't remember my parents' exact reaction, either, but I know they were pleased.

Scene 5: My home, 18 years later. I've never regretted the new life for me that the events of that day set into motion, and Sara has only regretted it half a dozen times. Here I am, happily married with 4 kids, no pets, and a great church family. As I pass through this life in preparation for the next, the Lord has blessed me with a wonderful traveling companion.

The Facts May Not Be Considered in the Next Presidential Election Either

Quoting Thomas Sowell:

For some, even catastrophe under Obama can be blamed on George Bush. After all, Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected to an unprecedented third term in 1940, after two terms in which the unemployment rate never fell below 10 percent and was above 20 percent for 21 consecutive months.

FDR also inspired the will to believe— and he also had Herbert Hoover on whom to blame all the country's troubles.

It may seem strange, to those who never lived through those times, that someone could be President of the United States for eight straight years and nevertheless escape responsibility for mass unemployment by blaming his long-departed predecessor. But we may yet see a re-run of that scenario in our own time.

Nothing in the amateurish way the current administration has begun suggests that they have mastered even the mechanics of governing, much less the complexities of the huge national problems looming ahead, at home and abroad.

The multiple Cabinet nominees withdrawing before their nomination can come to a vote in the Senate are just one example of this amateurism.

Another example was the Secretary of the Treasury holding a much heralded unveiling of his recovery plan, only to publicly embarrass himself and the administration when his speech made painfully clear that there is no plan, but only pious hopes. The plunge in the stock market after his speech suggests how much confidence he inspired.

Read the whole thing.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Interesting Thoughts from Calvin's Institutes

These are thoughts that had not occurred to me before. Some are intriguing, and some I find disagreeable.

Thought #1: Man in his original state (before Adam fell) was free to choose to sin or not to sin; side note: we're not discussing predestination at this point.

Here's Calvin's words: "[M]an by free will had the power, if he so willed, to attain eternal life. Here it would be out of place to raise the question of God's secret predestination because our present subject is not what can happen or not, but what man's nature was like. Therefore Adam could have stood if he wished, seeing that he fell solely by his own will.... Yet his choice of good and evil was free ..." (1.15.8)

Here's what I can't wrap my mind around. Calvin leaves predestination out of the picture because this is just a discussion of what man's nature is like. And man's (original pre-fall) nature had free will. But if predestination (predestination as Calvin teaches it) is true, man, even in his original state, is not free. So either Calvin is involved in a contradiction here, or he has a different definition of free will.

Thoughts #2 and #3: When God created man in his original state, he made man's will wimpy so that the fall would occur. God desired the fall to occur as it would bring about glory for him.

Calvin's words: "... indeed, no necessity was imposed upon God of giving man other than a mediocre and even transitory will, that from man's Fall he might gather occasion for his own glory." (1.15.8)

I'm not sure what to say. Maybe there's some truth to the fact that God made man's will "mediocre." If God wanted it to ultimately fail, then there would be no contradiction in seeing it as "very good" (Genesis 1:31).

Thought #4: The angels are also created in God's image as we will be like them in the resurrection. (1.15.3)

Thought #5: The conscience is evidence of man's immortal soul.

It perceives things to be right or wrong and experiences guilt and fear of judgment for wrongdoing. These are all signs that it "penetrate[s] to God's judgment seat." (1.15.2)

Thought #6: Scripture teaches us about the great power of the devil, the great number of demons, and the great wickedness of the devil for the primary purpose of steeling our resolve to resist them by God's help. (1.14.13-15)

"We are therefore taught by these examples ... lest, ... we should be too remiss to give battle, or, thinking that we are sometimes afforded some respite, we should yield to idleness."

Thought #7: The Bible tells us about the ministry of angels to aid our confidence in God, because we tend toward thinking God's aid is not enough. (1.14.12)

I'm not sure I'm fully understanding Calvin here, and if I am, I'm not sure I agree with him. But hear his words on the subject.

"... whatever is said concerning the ministry of angels, let us direct it to the end that, having banished all lack of trust, our hope in God may be more firmly established. Indeed, these helps have been prepared for us by the Lord that we may not be frightened by the multitude of the enemy, as if they might prevail against His assistance, but that we may take refuge in that utterance of Elisha that 'there are more for us than against us'."

Earlier he acknowledges "that we act wrongly when, after that simple promise of the protection of the one God, we still seek whence our help may come," nonetheless the Lord accommodates our weakness through the ministry of angels (1.14.11). Calvin, however, does decry the worship of angels.

What is the image of God?

Man was created in God's image (Genesis 1:27). But what does that mean?

John Calvin teaches that in order to know what the image of God is, we simply need to look at how we are being renewed in the image of our Creator as believers.

By doing this we can see that the image of God in man is primarily his righteousness, holiness, and intelligence. These were all significantly marred and disfigured (though not lost) when Adam fell. These are also what are being restored as we are renewed in the image of God.
  • and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:24, ESV)
  • and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. (Colossians 3:10, ESV)

Institutes Book 1, Ch. 15, Sec. 4.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Some Links

Cal Thomas thinks President Obama missed the real story in Indiana when he visited Elkhart. Thomas highlights the excellent economic work of Gov. Mitch Daniels.

The Big Picture bills itself "news stories in photographs." Every picture is stunning.

Between Two Worlds has linked to two interesting items:

1) Rasmussen has this entertaining poll: Forty-four percent (44%) voters also think a group of people selected at random from the phone book would do a better job addressing the nation’s problems than the current Congress, but 37% disagree. Twenty percent (20%) are undecided.

2) An interview with John Piper about his personal life

Islamic Eschatology Easy to Understand, Sobering to Contemplate

Joel Rosenberg summarizes Iran's Islamic end-time theology in 8 brief points.

1. The end of the world is near and the Islamic Messiah known as the Mahdi or the 12th Imam is coming soon.

2. The Islamic Messiah will only come when the world is engulfed in chaos and carnage.

3. Islamic leaders can hasten the arrival of the Islamic Messiah by annihilating two countries -- Israel, "the Little Satan," and the United States, "the Great Satan."

4. It is not just possible, it is the God-given mission of Iran's leaders to destroy Jews and Christians or force them to convert to Shia Islam.

5. Iran must rapidly acquire the technology necessary to accomplish genocide -- namely nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

6. Israel's "defeat" by Hezbollah and Hamas and Israel's divided election results indicate the Jewish states is increasingly weak and prepared for destruction. The severe economic crisis in the U.S. shows America is about to collapse as well.

7. With the U.S. and Israel so weakened and their collapse imminent, there is no incentive to truly negotiate with "Satan" and give up Iran's pursuit of advanced nuclear technology.

8. However, there is an incentive to buy time until Iran builds, buys or steals the weapons it needs to accomplish its genocidal, apocalyptic objectives.

Does President Obama understand this?

Rosenberg says we must be praying for great mercy on the US and Israel and great wisdom for their leaders.

A Few Gems from Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is always worth reading, especially his "Random Thoughts" articles, in which he effortlessly spouts common sense that is enjoyable because it is so rare. Here are a few of his latest:

"Democrats could sell refrigerators to Eskimos before Republicans could sell them blankets."

"Do you want to have to jump through bureaucratic hoops when you are sick? If not, why would you be in favor of government-run medical care?"

"There are too many people, especially among the intelligentsia, who will never appreciate the things that have made this country great until after those things have been destroyed — with their help. Then, of course, it will be too late."

"The adage 'follow the money' will be hard to apply in the current administration, when there is so much money going in all directions that it is doubtful whether anybody can follow it."

Want all the gems? Read the whole article.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

My Uncle Would've Turned 60

My Uncle Danny would've turned 60 yesterday, Feb. 9, but he died in 1998 at the age of 49.

He was with the Allen County Sheriff's department 27 years, and he died from a heart attack after he chased and apprehended a troublemaker at a concert at the Memorial Coliseum. You can read about his last arrest and the events leading to his death here and here.

I remember getting a call from my mom the next morning, informing me that Uncle Danny had died. It was one of those numbing experiences.

For most of my years, Uncle Danny and Aunt Tonne had lived in a house with an in-ground pool, and they hosted many family get-togethers at their house, especially during the summer. The pool was well-used, and Uncle Danny, or "Shamu," as we called him, kept things lively.

Of course he had his own nicknames for all of us, too. Sara was "Sara Mae Fikes," my dad was "Roof-roof," my mom was "Tierney Ann with the shaky hand," my brother and I were both "Leroy," and his grandson as well as my son and Jeff's sons were all "Destructo Willy."

My uncle had a gruff exterior, but he was really a teddy bear. He and Aunt Tonne practiced wonderful hospitality and were extremely generous. Some people dread family get-togethers, but I never did, and Uncle Danny was one of the reasons why.

He died shortly after Caty's first birthday, and Andrew was only 3. I miss him. I can only imagine how much my aunt and cousins--his wife and daughters--miss him.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Lincoln: Strong Head and Sound Heart

"It is the great boon of such characters as Mr. Lincoln’s, that they reunite what God has joined together and man has put asunder. In him was vindicated the greatness of real goodness and the goodness of real greatness. The twain were one flesh. Not one of all the multitudes who stood and looked up to him for direction with such a loving and implicit trust can tell you to-day [sic] whether the wise judgments that he gave came most from a strong head or a sound heart. If you ask them, they are puzzled…. In him goodness and intelligence combined and made their best result of wisdom."

--Phillips Brooks, from sermon entitled “Abraham Lincoln,” preached while Lincoln's body lay in Philadelphia

Thursday, February 5, 2009

David and Jonathan's Friendship

In David's poetic lament for the deaths of Saul and Jonathan, he eulogizes,

I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother;
you were very dear to me.
Your love for me was wonderful,
more wonderful than that of women. (2 Sam 1:26 NIV)

Based on this passage some have ascribed to David and Jonathan a homosexual relationship.

There is no basis for this, and to say, "Doesn't that sound a bit odd for a man to say about another man unless they were homosexual?" doesn't thereby prove the allegation. All it reveals is that the speaker is coming at this from the 21st century American/European mindset.

As I read through Team of Rivals a couple years ago, a book about Lincoln and his cabinet, it was interesting to note the closeness of friendships between men at that time. In their correspondence they wrote in intimate terms, but their relationships were not sexual.

Then I came across an article at The Art of Manliness that further elaborates on 19th century friendships. Close friends often referred to one another affectionately ("My dear boy"), signed off on letters with expressions like "affectionately yours," often embraced one another, and frequently held hands. Daniel Webster and Teddy Roosevelt were men like this. That Lincoln shared a bed with Joshua Speed for some time doesn't evidence his homosexuality (a charge that has been played with in recent years); rather, it evidences that he isn't a product of our age.

I remember visiting the Mickey Tavern somewhere in Virginia. Four or five men would sleep width-wise across the bed. Because they were gay? No, because there were not enough beds.

Misinterpretations of the Scriptures abound because we are so hidebound to our own cultural perspective. Another example: A psychiatrist acquaintance of friends of mine stated unequivocally that Lot's daughters would not have voluntarily slept with their father in order to conceive children (Gen 19:30-38). "Women wouldn't do that," was his flat statement, and therefore he assessed that Scripture to be fabricated.

But my friends know African women who would do almost anything to get pregnant, because in their culture barrenness is lamentable, if not dangerous. This psychiatrist only knows a small sliver of women.

David and Jonathan were not homosexual lovers; they were close friends. Jonathan's love for David was of a different kind than of David's wives' love for him. Jonathan had sworn off the kingdom that was his by birth; he knew God wanted David to king, and Jonathan openly submitted to the divine will and vowed his allegiance to David.

And this wasn't merely a verbal profession, aimed to lull David into a false sense of security. Jonathan meant for God's will to be carried out, for David to be the next king. His actions prove it. Jonathan
  • once reconciled David and Saul (1 Sam 19:1-7),
  • once stood up for David and almost died in the process (1 Sam 20:30-34),
  • once warned David to flee because of Saul's murderous rage (1 Sam 20:35-42),
  • and once encouraged David when he was very low with these words, "Don't be afraid. My father Saul will not lay a hand on you. You will be king over Israel, and I will be second to you. Even my father Saul knows this" (1 Sam 23:17 NIV).

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Lincoln and Darwin Were Born on the Same Day

Ten men who were born 200 years ago:
  • Jan 4: Louis Braille, inventor
  • Jan 19: Edgar Allan Poe, author
  • Feb 3: Felix Mendelssohn, composer
  • Feb 12: Abraham Lincoln, US president
  • Feb 12: Charles Darwin, naturalist
  • Feb 15: Cyrus McCormick, inventor
  • Aug 6: Alfred Lord Tennyson, poet
  • Aug 27: Hannibal Hamlin, Lincoln's 1st vice president
  • Dec 24: Kit Carson, explorer
  • Dec 29: William Gladstone, UK prime minister

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Arminian Myth #3

From Roger E. Olson's Arminian Theology.

Myth #3: Arminianism is not an orthodox evangelical option.

Truth: Classical Arminian theology heartily affirms the fundamentals of Christian orthodoxy and promotes the hallmarks of evangelical Protestant faith; it is neither Arian nor liberal.

It is not Arianism,
--which denies the full deity of Christ
--which believes Christ was God’s first and greatest creation.
Arminius and Arminians affirm the full ontological deity of Christ.

It is not Socinianism,
--which denies the doctrines of the deity of Christ, the Trinity, the substitutionary atonement, and original sin.
Arminius and Arminians affirm all of these.

It is not Pelagianism,
--which denies original sin,
--which teaches that man has the natural and moral ability to live godly lives apart from a special operation of divine grace.
Arminius insisted that we are saved by grace, and he affirmed total depravity.

It is not Semi-Pelagianism,
--which affirms man’s ability to exercise good will toward God apart from special assistance of divine grace, believing man initiates salvation.
Arminius considered this heresy. He and Arminians believe grace is necessary to enable us to respond to God in the first place.

Do Arminians affirm fundamental tenets of classical Christian orthodoxy? (One accusation against Arminianism is that it is based more on philosophy than Scripture.)

From Arminius to modern-day Arminians, all affirm sola scriptura, the authority of Scripture above all. They also affirm sola gratia and sola fides, salvation by grace alone and through faith alone. Grace is the efficient cause of salvation, and faith is the sole instrumental cause of salvation, to the exclusion of human merit.

Idol Production

John Calvin gives this insight: "Man's nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols."

It is an excellent metaphor because of its truth. We are prone to worship many things rather than God.

Think you're not good at anything? Not true. You are good at producing idols, things and/or people you trust in more than God, things and/or people you rave about more than God.

Our sinful natures are a factory for idol production. They are designed, as it were, to produce idols. So we are naturally inclined. It takes little effort for our hearts to be drawn away from the one true God.

It's folly. The prophets mock it. Isaiah highlights idolatry's foolishness in describing the man who fells a tree, uses half of it for fire for warmth and cooking, and uses the other half to fashion a god for worship, prayer, and salvation (Isa 44:14-20). In other place he mocks the man who seeks help from a craftsman to keep his idol from toppling over (Isa 40:20).

Yes, it's folly. Lord, rescue me from such folly. Though I have no image, I make idols. Purify my heart and my worship.

(Quote source: John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.11.8)

Monday, February 2, 2009

12 Reasons to Love America

From The American Patriot's Almanac, an excellent year-long walk through American history, by William J. Bennett and John T. E. Cribb:

"Twelve Great Reasons to Love a Great Country"

1. The United States was the first nation in history created out of the belief that people should govern themselves.

2. America really is the land of the free.

3. No other country has done a better job of establishing equal rights for all citizens.

4. This is the place where dreams can come true.

5. We enjoy one of the world's highest standards of living.

6. No other country has welcomed and united so many people from so many different shores.

7. The U.S. military is the greatest defender of freedom in the world.

8. America is a world leader in scholarship and invention.

9. Americans are among the most generous people on earth.

10. The United States is the world's greatest marketplace for the free exchange of ideas and information.

11. This nation possesses an amazing capacity for self-renewal.

12. America is a nation that looks to God for guidance.

Bennett and Cribb comment on each of these. For instance, under #7 they state:

"... Throughout history, other superpowers have used armies to conquer territory and build empires by force. America, with its unrivaled military, has chosen a different course. The United States has liberated more people from tyranny than any other nation in history."

I don't know that I totally agree with #12.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

9 More Observations on Parenting

  1. Kids are most likely to wet the bed the night after you change the sheets.
  2. Many of the things you work to correct in your children they picked up from you.
  3. Kids love it when you read to them, and they love it when you play games with them.
  4. Naps are important, especially when kids are young; try not to miss yours.
  5. Divorces close to home can leave your kids anxious about your marriage.
  6. To kids, sharing is not a two-way street.
  7. Kids want to help you with the household chores until they're old enough to do a good job.
  8. Kids will always leave the light on when they leave a room; the only exception is when they leave the bathroom while you're showering.
  9. The inspiration to do something kind and thoughtful for someone else usually strikes your child while she's doing her homework, not while she's watching TV.