Tuesday, September 17, 2013

An Unsuitable Job for a Woman

An Unsuitable Job For A Woman (Cordelia Gray #1)An Unsuitable Job For A Woman by P.D. James
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A young detective on her first solo case--her partner, mentor, and teacher recently deceased by his own hand--proves herself scrappy and savvy enough to discover the truth behind another suicide. The book takes an interesting turn when the truth-hungry detective then hides the truth and covers up a murder. And the reader is rooting for her the whole time. Here is moral relativism at its best, but it's not altogether surprising in a story that features practically every character questioning love but not their bodily "needs" for sex.

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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Sometimes the most powerful punches are the ones that are pulled

DublinersDubliners by James Joyce
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The stories are restrained and suggestible. They all seem to end a page or two too soon.

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Tuesday, August 13, 2013


Blessed be the Lord,
    who daily bears us up;
    God is our salvation. Selah
Our God is a God of salvation,
    and to God, the Lord, belongs escape from death.

Psalm 68:19-20 (NRSV)

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Woman stays in a miserable marriage? Are you kidding?

The Portrait of a LadyThe Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This storyline doesn't hold much water in today's culture: a woman who ultimately stays in a miserable marriage because she recognizes that marriage is more than than the relative happiness she derives from it. Though it doesn't hold much water, Isabel Archer nonetheless does the right thing.

In the end, Isabel holds to a high view of marriage. This does not fly in our current culture. “He was not one of the best husbands [understatement], but that didn’t alter the case. Certain obligations were involved in the very fact of marriage, and were quite independent of the quantity of enjoyment extracted from it” (ch. 55, p. 849). However, while a high view of marriage is embraced, what is not investigated is why marriage should have a high view. There is scarce mention of religion. The clearest statement that I recall is Isabel’s dislike of the authority of the Church (in relation to Pansy’s placement in a convent for a time).

Throughout the book, various individuals are interested to see what Isabel will do. The people around her are fascinated by her and get a certain enjoyment out of observing the progress of her life. The reader himself is brought in to this anticipation as well, wondering what Isabel will do with her life, and then, when she marries, what she will do in that state.

The book deals in high culture and sophisticated circles. The main characters express themselves well and are reserved in their conversations, careful to communicate what they mean, careful not to offend, careful not to run off at the mouth. They are guarded. This differs significantly from our culture, where athletes and reality game show contestants are alternately boastful and weepy, talking about how they will definitely win and sharing their hard-luck stories. We wear our emotions on our sleeves, and we are weakened and pathetic as a result, and our boasting is out-and-out false. How does one know one will win in most contests? The facts don’t typically point to an indefatigable domination.

But though the book deals in civilized circles, at the base, there are nonetheless age-old sordid sins—Osmond’s greed, his extra-marital affair with Madame Merle, their overweening pride and contempt. As civilized as people like to appear, tawdriness lurks in even the most civilized of hearts.

Below are quotes that describe the withering effect Isabel's husband had on her, an effect that unfortunately is not unique to fictional husbands.

“Besides this, her short interview with Osmond half an hour ago was a striking example of his faculty for making everything whither that he touched, spoiling everything for her that he looked at.” (ch. 42, p. 616)

“It had come gradually—it was not till the first year of their life together, so admirably intimate at first, had closed that she had taken the alarm. Then the shadows had begun to gather; it was as if Osmond deliberately, almost malignantly, had put the lights out one by one.” (ch. 42, p. 618)

“Under all his culture, his cleverness, his amenity, under his good-nature, his facility, his knowledge of life, his egotism lay hidden like a serpent in a bank of flowers…. She was to think of him as he thought of himself—as the first gentleman in Europe…. It implied a sovereign contempt for every one but some three or four very exalted people whom he envied, and for everything in the world but half a dozen ideas of his own.” (ch. 42, pp. 624-25)

Story Summary
Isabel Archer wants to experience life on her own before she even considers the question of marriage, but the issue is forced upon her by two ardent suitors, Caspar Goodwood of America, and Lord Warburton of England.  The youngest of three sisters when her parents die (thought not a child at the time), her aunt, the unusual Mrs. Touchett finds her and decides to take her to Europe, whereupon she meets her uncle, an American banker who prospered in that business in England, and cousin, the sickly Ralph Touchett.  She comes to love both.  As death closes in on his beloved father, Ralph persuades him to split his inheritance with his cousin Isabel.  He wants to give Isabel a chance in the world to follow her dreams.  Mr. Touchett agrees, and Isabel finds herself an heiress with 70,000 pounds.
Isabel then leaves Gardencourt (the home of Mr. Touchett and Ralph—Mrs. Touchett resides in Florence most of the year though still married to Mr. Touchett; she’s an odd duck) and travels with her aunt to Florence and also spends time in Rome.  Before leaving America the prosperous industrialist Caspar Goodwood failed to make Isabel his wife.  Before leaving Gardencourt, Lord Warburton failed in the same attempt, both smitten by her unusual and original mind.  Both renew their proposals throughout the book.  But Isabel ends up marrying Gilbert Osmond, an American widower who lives in Italy with his daughter Pansy.  Her friend Madame Merle, a friend of Mrs. Touchett’s, is very much responsible for putting the two together, over the top of the protests of Mrs. Touchett and Ralph.
The marriage is good for a year, but when Gilbert discovers he cannot dominate his wife intellectually, his love turns cold and brutal.  He’s never physically abusive, but there is no love, and there is always criticism and contempt.  Her friendship with Madame Merle, and she learns that Pansy is really Merle’s child with Osmond, a well-guarded secret.  Warburton, Goodwood, and Ralph all ache for Isabel, the former two also aching for themselves and often venturing to see about rescuing her.
Things come to a new rupture between Isabel and Gilbert when she learns Ralph is close to death in England.  Her husband forbids her to go because he despises Ralph (and all her friends).  She goes anyway, and she is encouraged in one way or another by her friend Henrietta Stackpole, here sister-in-law the Countess, her aunt, and her cousin to leave Gilbert.  Finally, Goodwood himself attempts to take matters into his own hands by practically forcing her to yield to his proposal of marriage.  Tempted along the way, Goodwood’s proposal helps clarify her duty, and she returns to Rome after Ralph’s death, back to her husband.
Along the way the reader learns that Osmond is interested primarily in Isabel’s money, that Merle is also interested in her money, trying to set her lover up with money as well as for her daughter Pansy (who doesn’t know Merle is her mother).  Had Ralph not persuaded his father to leave and inheritance for Isabel, she never would have come to his miserable marriage, and so he berates himself for that.

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Friday, July 26, 2013

The best author on pastoring

Under the Unpredictable Plant an Exploration in Vocational Holiness (The Pastoral series, #3)Under the Unpredictable Plant an Exploration in Vocational Holiness by Eugene H. Peterson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I seem to recall an anecdote about Charles Spurgeon, that when he felt down, he would ask his wife to "Get Baxter," whereupon she would retrieve a volume by Richard Baxter, the Puritan pastor/theologian, and read to her husband.

When I am down in my ministry, or discouraged, disillusioned, or simply bored with it, my self-prescription reads, "Get Peterson." No one encourages me in pastoring like he does. In the space of ten pages he can reinvigorate my enthusiasm for ministry in my small local congregation. He did it for me just this past week. This was my second time through this particular work. Great stuff.

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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Arminian Myth #10

From Roger E. Olson's Arminian Theology.

Myth #10 about Arminianism: "All Arminians believe in the governmental theory of the atonement."

The governmental theory: God had Christ suffer and die since he was going to offer forgiveness to humanity.  Christ didn't actually suffer the penalty of our sins, and God didn't have to have him suffer and die in order to pardon us.  But God did it to bring a sort of balance to the moral law of the universe.

By contrast, I hold to the penal substitution view of the atonement.  Christ died for my sins and the sins of the whole world.  He suffered my/our punishment in my/our place.

Roger Olson, in Arminian Theology, demonstrates that while some prominent Arminians held to a governmental view, by no means all did.

Jacob Arminius: penal substitution
Philip Limborch: governmental
John Wesley: penal substitution

19th century
Richard Watson: penal substitution
William Burton Pope: penal substitution, with a little governmental thrown in
Thomas Summers: penal substitution
John Miley: governmental

20th century
H. Orton Wiley: governmental
F. Leroy Forlines: penal substitution
Thomas Oden: penal substitution

Conclusion: It is incorrect to say that all Arminians hold to a governmental view of the atonement.  Many of its theologians do not, and many of its lay people do not.

Myth #6
Myth #5
Myth #4
Myth #3
Myth #2
Myth #1

Saturday, July 20, 2013

My first brush with Woiwode

Words for Readers and Writers: Spirit-Pooled DialoguesWords for Readers and Writers: Spirit-Pooled Dialogues by Larry Woiwode
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A wide collection of Woiwode's writings, I gather. An emphasis on writing and writers. Some of the chapters give Woiwode's perspective on his own works and career as a writer.

I especially enjoyed his chapter on Alexander Men (fascinating cleric and martyr in Communist USSR). There are lessons there for me as a pastor.

His address as North Dakota's Poet Laureate, where I learned a little bit more about the significance of a Poet Laureate as well as Brodsky's Rx for overcoming evil, was doubly interesting.

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Friday, July 19, 2013

Wrong ideas about revival

Bryan Chapell in a vimeo comments on why has revival become difficult: three errors
  1. Manufacturing revival
  2. Giving up on revival
  3. Thinking the Spirit has to come in the way that I think he should
See the whole 9-minute vimeo here:

Friday, July 12, 2013

This is nothing

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  (2 Corinthians 4:17, NIV)

The glory of the next age is exceedingly weighty and eternal.

This part of v. 17 is difficult to translate: “according to excess [hyperbole] unto excess [hyperbole] an eternal weight of glory."

AAT (An American Translation): "The light trouble of this moment is preparing for us an everlasting weight of glory, greater than anything we can imagine."

RSV: "For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison."

One implication:

The weight of our future glory makes our present troubles negligible.

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. Rom. 8:18 (NIV)

Our light and momentary troubles are light and momentary in comparison with the glory afterwards.  They may not seem light and momentary at the time.  They may seem heavy and burdensome; i.e., they are real.  But there will come a time when they will seem otherwise.

"If you knew the mind of the glorified in heaven, they think heaven come to their hand at an easy market, when they have got it for threescore or fourscore years’ wrestling with God.  When you are come thither you shall think, ‘All I did, in respect of my rich reward, now enjoyed of free grace, was too little.’"  (Samuel Rutherford, Letter #2, to Marion M’Naught, Letters of Samuel Rutherford: A Selection 16-17)

Let me paraphrase that: “Do you know what the saints in heaven are right now?  They’re shocked!  They’re amazed that they got heaven at such a little cost.  They can’t believe that they get an eternity of joy and abundant living for only 60-80 years worth of struggle during their earthly lives.  And when you get to heaven, you will think, 'I hardly suffered at all compared to all the blessings I’m getting now by God’s grace.'”

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

First sign of spiritual regression

"One of the first symptoms of spiritual regression, or backsliding, is a dullness toward the Bible.  Sunday School class is dull, the preaching is dull, anything spiritual is dull.  The problem is usually not with the Sunday School teacher or the pastor, but with the believer himself."

--Warren W. Wiersbe, commenting on Hebrews 5:11 in The Bible Exposition Commentary, 2:294

Monday, July 1, 2013

Book challenges the missionary task

Things Fall ApartThings Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A remarkable story of a African warrior, Okonkwo, moving up in leadership and prestige of his tribe, Umuofia. The portrayal of African culture--customs, religion, and social order and roles—is riveting. Okonkwo is an angry man, driven to rank, prestige, and success in the eyes of his tribe, completing rebelling against the weakness and laziness and reputation of his own father.

Then at a funeral for a wizened leader, Okonkwo accidentally shoots and kills the dead man’s son. In keeping with the custom, Okonkwo and his family leave Umuofia for seven years. While in exile, he learns of inroads that an English missionary is making. To his horror and great fury, his oldest son converts to Christianity. Upon his return from exile, Okonkwo finds that the Christians have also brought government (colonialism) with them. And the old ways are changing. Okonkwo himself is not welcomed back with quite the fanfare he expected.

Through a series of events, Umuofia burns the Christian church. Six leaders, including Okonkwo, are arrested by the new British government, they are shorn and starved and thus humiliated. Upon release several days later, Umuofia gathers to strategize. British messengers come to disperse the meeting, whereupon Okonkwo beheads the leader. The tumult of his clansmen when he does so tells him that the battle against the British is lost. He then hangs himself.

I really appreciated the African point-of-view in this novel. So many other novels are written from the point-of-view of the white man. For instance, Heart of Darkness, which is by no means a pro-colonialism book, nevertheless tells the story from the white point-of-view. The Africans are little more than animals, for we barely get a glimpse into their world and their lives. Things Fall Apart fleshes out the African perspective and its way-of-life. That helps to see how dark the dark side of colonialism is. We see a culture that has existed and carried on and policed itself for generations being dismantled and swept away by foreigners and their foreign ways insinuating themselves into the culture in both subtle and overt ways.

What’s particularly disturbing to me is the picture of colonialism’s entrance being made through Christianity. One of the messages one could take away from this book is that proselytizing is wrong. How does one respond to that message?

• Two missionaries are presented, Mr. Brown and Mr. Smith. Mr. Brown’s method was far more endearing. He made friends with the clan’s leaders and worked hard not to offend. Mr. Smith did not, however. Such forceful, thoughtless tactics as Mr. Smith used should be condemned. Further, the alignment of the English church with the English government was not ideal, to my thinking.

• This is one story, and stories are often told in such a way as to manipulate the emotional thinking of the readers. Here we are aroused to be saddened for Okonkwo and Umuofia and a little bit piqued at the Christians, as well as the government, though we can tolerate Mr. Brown. But other stories could be told as well of missionaries who have gone into African villages at great sacrifice to tell the African peoples of the God who loves them and the Savior who died for them; of missionaries who led them away from tribal warfare and violence and into love and peace.

• There were some things in Umuofia that needed reforming. Okonkwo freely beat his wives, almost killing one. Okonkwo had three wives; others had more. Twins were abandoned upon birth due to superstition about them. Prisoners like Ikemefuna were killed. African culture was not perfect; it was not pristine.

• What if the Christian story is true? What if the African religions are false and the African gods are false? Is it not then a good thing that the Christians would bring that to the attention of the Africans, that they might avoid an eternity in hell?

• Unfortunately, the Christians story in Things Fall Apart is poorly told and represented by Mr. Brown and especially Mr. Smith. But if my doctor has a surly bedside manner yet still gives me the medicine I need that saves my life, isn’t it better that I had to deal with the doctor than to have not dealt with him? In the end, if the Christian story is true, Nwoye, Okonkwo’s oldest son who converted, gained eternal life in heaven, but Okonkwo, when he killed himself, entered into eternal damnation.

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Thursday, June 20, 2013

Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness

Heart of Darkness Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Read this book less than a year ago and didn't like it b/c I didn't really understand it. (Shorter paragraphs would be a big plus, for instance.)

But really liked it this time. Reminds one that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Reminds one of the reality of the sinful nature. Reminds one that while ideals and noble aims can may fill a man's mind, a base impulse resides in a man's heart, and it must be recognized and dealt with, or the ideals and aims can easily be subverted. The heart of darkness is the heart.

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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Suffering has an up side

At the Nicene Council, an important church meeting in the 4th century A.D., of the 318 delegates attending, fewer than 12 had not lost an eye or lost a hand or did not limp on a leg lamed by torture for their Christian faith.  (Vance Havner)
Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.  (Helen Keller)
Contrary to what might be expected, I look back on experiences that at the time seemed especially desolating and painful with particular satisfaction. Indeed, I can say with complete truthfulness that everything I have learned in my 75 years in this world, everything that has truly enhanced and enlightened my experience, has been through affliction and not through happiness.  (Malcolm Muggeridge, in Homemade, July, 1990)

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Happy Father's Day ... Not!

King Lear (SparkNotes No Fear Shakespeare)King Lear by William Shakespeare
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Two fathers have problems with their kids ... on a grand scale, and most everyone dies in the end. 

Three stars is based on my own reading.  Discussing King Lear with the book club at the library gave me greater appreciation for it. 

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Old-fashioned charm

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting BoyThe Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Read this along with my 12-year-old. These good-hearted sisters' zest for life get them into several entertaining predicaments. Their father, a widower and botanist, is both wise and loving. A summer vacation to a cottage on a large estate proves to be quite an adventure for the Penderwicks and the estate. Good clean fun.

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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Put money in the offering plate

Proverbs 3:9-10
Honor the Lord with your wealth,
    with the firstfruits of all your crops;
then your barns will be filled to overflowing,
    and your vats will brim over with new wine.  (NIV)
Put money in the offering plate.  This benefits the Lord’s work, yes, but it also benefits you.

It checks greed in your spirit.

It reminds you that you owe all things to God.

It checks the human urge within you to put money above God, to trust money more than God to take care of you.

It loosens your grip on material things, and it loosens materialism’s grip on you.

It brings about the blessing of God in your own life.  God is generous towards the generous.

I believe there is a very real material component to this reciprocity.  God takes care of those who regularly give to God.  People who don’t put money in the offering plate have become their own gods, taking on the responsibility of taking care of their needs.  So God backs off.

But those who give to God, especially when funds are tight, are demonstrating their trust in God to take care of them.

Didn’t the widow who put in “all she had to live on” demonstrate that?

Monday, June 3, 2013

Victims of the rumor mill

The first year of our marriage, Sara and I attended Aboite Missionary Church.  They were in the process of calling a new senior pastor at the time.  When we told friends and family who was candidating, someone warned us that we did not want him as a pastor. 
We believed them.  The frustrating thing was that, even though his candidating message was good, we knew he wasn’t good for the church—but no one else seemed to know it!  They were deceived by his good sermon!

Well, Aboite called him, and guess what?  Sara and I loved him.  He was a great pastor!
Ahh, the rumor mill.  Be gracious, and give people a chance.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Now I know why people told me to read this book

Treasures of the SnowTreasures of the Snow by Patricia St. John
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this book to my 12-year-old daughter. Good story of the devastating consequences of sin, the strength of bitterness, and the even stronger power of forgiveness.

I love the way sin is dealt with in this story: simply through the invitation of Christ into one's life, initially at salvation, and repeatedly thereafter whenever temptation comes. The idea is that even as darkness simply disappears when light shows up, so also sin in our hearts also disappears when Christ shows up.

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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Best knock-knock joke ever

How I Wrote 2 E-Books in 21 DaysHow I Wrote 2 E-Books in 21 Days by Glen Stanford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The writer documents his writing his first 2 books ever in a 3-week period. Subtitle is, "Damn Funny. Seriously," which is in fact true. Fun to read and funny. And if that doesn't entice you to read it, you should know that the book also contains the best knock-knock joke ever.

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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The dark Little House on the Prairie

My ÁntoniaMy Ántonia by Willa Cather
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One guy at a book discussion group called it the dark Little House on the Prairie. Hadn't thought of it that way, but there are several dark scenes, including 3 suicides, a gruesome wolf attack, etc. The pioneer life of the early 1900s is pictured (paradoxically) romantically, yet with warts intact. Engaging, but not entirely absent of yawns.

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Thursday, May 2, 2013

My introduction to Hamish MacBeth

Death of a Kingfisher (Hamish Macbeth, #28)Death of a Kingfisher by M.C. Beaton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've not read Hamish MacBeth before. I enjoyed this. Good mystery. I was surprised at how denigrated the police force is portrayed there in Scotland, to their face; everyone telling Hamish to shove along and to get out. A very cheap approach to sex, but fortunately relatively little of it, and not explicit.

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Saturday, April 13, 2013

The redeeming and corrupting power of technology

From the Garden to the City: The Redeeming and Corrupting Power of TechnologyFrom the Garden to the City: The Redeeming and Corrupting Power of Technology by John Dyer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Very helpful in terms of defining technology and evaluating it from a biblical perspective (even highlighting tech. in the Bible). Author is both a techie and a Christian. Opened wide my understanding of technology and the ways it transforms us (and not just in the obvious ways).

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Friday, April 12, 2013

The quintessential American

Samuel Adams: A LifeSamuel Adams: A Life by Ira Stoll
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The book cites the claim by others that perhaps Samuel Adams is more the father of our country than George Washington. The book seems to endorse this claim.

Adams is pictured as an unselfish patriot who sacrificed greatly for the independence of the colonies and for the good of his beloved Massachusetts. More than just working for the cause of independence, he was one of the fiery initiators of the revolutionary movement. And at times when others, like fellow Bostonian John Hancock, seem to flag in their enthusiasm for the cause, Adams continued with pen to agitate for something better than the status quo in the colonies’ relationship with Britain.

Much of Samuel Adams’s work was done through articles submitted to the Boston Gazette. In the Declaration of Independence and the preamble of the Constitution can be found the phrasing of ideas that were earlier written by the pen of Samuel Adams in the Boston Gazette and his letters.

Central concerns for Samuel Adams included godliness and property rights, which included the notion that taxation without representation is morally wrong. Adams pointed out that taxing the colonies without adequate representation in Parliament amounted to denying the full rights of the British Constitution to the colonists, thus making them second-class citizens, little better than slaves.

The book highlights Adams’s Puritan Congregational faith. Many times throughout his life Adams likened the American struggle for independence to the Exodus. Pictures drawn from all over the Bible were employed by Adams to frame the Revolutionary movement. Further, even when at times all seemed bleak, Adams was confident that God would providentially order the success of the Revolution simply because the Americans were more virtuous than the British. And he continually urged upon his town (Boston) and his commonwealth (Mass.) the importance of devoting themselves to virtuous living.

I was surprised to the extent Stoll went throughout the book to portray Adams’s faith. Almost excessive. Maybe I felt that way because I’m not used to it in a biography of that nature. On the other hand, maybe it wasn’t excessive. Stoll mentions that a few of Adams’s contemporaries got tired of his religious fervor, so maybe Stoll’s emphasis on it is not unbalanced. It was nonetheless refreshing to me.

Samuel Adams served 7 years in the Continental Congress, and his work was among the elite. There was no question that he contributed much to the work that body did, as he served on more committees than anyone else did and was considered a leader among leaders. Prior to that he served in the Boston Town Meeting. He served on the Constitutional Convention for the development of the Mass. constitution. He also served as state representative, lieutenant governor, and then, when Gov. John Hancock died, governor for 4 consecutive years (that office being a 1-year term).

Adams and Hancock worked together at times, and at times they were cool toward each other. The author believes some of their coolness had to do with their economic positions—Hancock quite wealthy, Adams quite the opposite. They did, however, reconcile and worked together as the top two executives of Mass. Adams also got along well with his cousin John. They spent much time together during the years of the Continental Congress, and they were very much in agreement on most things. In later years, political differences would surface, as John was a Federalist, and Samuel was not.

A great book about a great American, perhaps the quintessential American.

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Thursday, April 11, 2013

I liked reading Phantom of the Opera

The Phantom of the OperaThe Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fascinating book. The book answers most, if not all, of the questions listening to the musical on CD left me with.


The phantom, or the Opera Ghost (O. G.), is neither. He is a flesh-and-blood man who is highly skilled and grotesquely ugly. His skill with trap doors and architecture and the technology of the day helps to heighten the impression he creates, that he is a ghost. He is also skilled in singing, composition, and ventriloquism.

He lives under the opera in a house he build on the underground lake there. He is in love with Christine Daae and seeks her hand in marriage, and he does so through music and moving her to pity as well as through force and manipulation and threats. She acquiesces in order to save her true love, Raoul.

The phantom, whose name is Erik, is several times described as having a death's head, and he smells like a corpse. Several times Christine has to fight to overcome her revulsion. Erik wears a mask around her, and he wears a fake nose among other things when he's out in public. His mother apparently hated him due to his appearance, which obviously plays some into his psychological makeup.

Another man who lives quietly in the Paris Opera House is "the Persian," who rescued Erik from a Shah some time back when the Shah had Erik build him an ingenious house and torture chamber and then decided to kill Erik so that only the Shah would know its secrets. The Persian has quietly learned many of Erik's secrets in the Opera house and helps Raoul when the latter seeks to rescue Christine.

The book closes with Erik visiting the Persian some time later to inform him that he is dying. Christine allowed Erik to kiss her, maskless, on the forehead, and she kissed him back. Grateful because she showed him that one act of genuine love, he let her go to marry Raoul. Christine and Raoul have since disappeared to the north.

The author tells the story as one who has investigated the whole story of the Opera Ghost and is now reporting it as a whole for the first time. For quite a while you're led to believe that there is something supernatural in this whole affair, but gradually, explanations bring things into the realm of possibility. Carlotta's croaking on stage, for instance, was a result of Erik's perfect ventriloquism.

There are parallels with Frankenstein that would be interesting to explore. A man who is so physically deformed that no one can stand to be in his presence is turned into a monster as a result.

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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A technical, informative read on Tolkien's writings

J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the CenturyJ.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century by Tom Shippey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book discusses Tolkien's development of the Middle-earth universe that is the setting for The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion. Shows how Tolkien's philology was the basis from which he developed his many stories. This book is pointless to read if you haven't read at least two of the above-mentioned works. Sometimes technical, usually interesting.

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Friday, March 8, 2013

A book to give you a passion for serving

On Being A Servant Of GodOn Being A Servant Of God by Warren W. Wiersbe
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Warren Wiersbe is one of those guys who writes so clearly and simply that you can question his depth in between readings. But then you pick up one of his books to read again, and you're reminded how of how wrong you were.

On Being a Servant of God is comprised of 30 short chapters on various aspects of ministry and servanthood. It is thoroughly practical, biblical, and wise, and filled with illustrations. Each chapter is devoted to a specific topic, like money, criticism, enemies, bad days, loyalty, reaching the lost, joy in serving, the priority of the Scriptures, reading, ministry as a married person, senior citizens, failure, humor, when to leave a ministry, and more.

Wiersbe is quotable. Here are just a few examples:

You’ll meet problem people and problem situations wherever you go, so make up your kind to expect them, accept them, and let God use them in your life. The devil wants to use problem people as weapons to tear your down, but the Spirit can use them as tools to build you up. (17)

The prophet Ezekiel wrote, “Then I came to the captives at Tel Abib, who dwelt by the River Chebar; and I sat where they sat” (Ezek. 3:15). I sat where they sat. That’s the posture of the true servant of Jesus Christ … (17)

Somebody asked the wealthy banker J. P. Morgan what the best collateral was for a loan, and Morgan replied, "Character." (42)

Christians who live in the Word are used of God to get His work done in this world. (109)

The real measure of our wealth is how much we’d be worth if we lost all our money. (141; quoting John Henry Jowett)

The future is our friend when Jesus is our Lord. He still goes before His sheep and prepares the way. Our job isn’t to second-guess Him but to follow Him. He’ll take care of the rest: “Known to God from eternity are all His works” (Acts 15:18). (146)

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Monday, March 4, 2013

Helpful background to Hobbit & Lord of the Rings

The SilmarillionThe Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Nothing of the sparkle of Tolkien’s famous works. The first time I read it, I lost interest around page 56. Picked it up again a couple years later. I started over (to reacquaint myself with all the names), and I bogged down again in the same place. After some time, I forced myself to move on, taking notes along the way in case I bogged down again. That being said, I’m glad I read the book.

The Silmarillion is the historical explanation of the universe (Middle-earth included) in which the stories of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings take place. To say The Silmarillion places those narratives in context is a bit of an understatement. The Silmarillion starts with the creation by the deity, Eru, also called Iluvatar, of the Ainur, or the Valar, the holy ones, as well as the creation of Ea, the planet (on which is found Middle-earth). To sum up, the sweeping story moves slowly through the first age, and then more quickly through the second and third. (The events of The Lord of the Rings bring to an end the third age and usher in the fourth.) The Silmarillion accounts for not only the Valar, but also the Elves (the firstborn), the Dwarves (created by Aule, one of the Valar), and Men (the second people, after the Elves). Evil is introduced into the world through the most powerful of the Valar, Melkor, later called Morgoth. He it is who created Orcs, a mockery of the creation of Elves. Sauron is Morgoth's most powerful servant.

The Numenoreans, from which Aragorn descends, and their kingdom and their downfall are narrated. One learns more about Galadriel, one of the Noldor (a branch of elves), and about Elrond. Others from The Lord of the Rings are only mentioned in the last few pages of The Silmarillion: Gandalf and Saruman, and the halflings (Hobbits) of The Shire.

The context is fascinating and helps to explain some of the historical references in The Hobbit and LOTR. It also, obviously, explains the universe of the characters. As well the relationships between the various creatures (Elves and their various branches [Noldor, Sindar, Teleri, etc.], Dwarves, Men, the Valar, Saruman, and Mithrandir [Gandalf]) assumed in LOTR, are explained/detailed in The Simarillion. I have a feeling a new reading of The Hobbit and LOTR will be a far more informed reading.

The moral weakness of creatures as a race (such as men, but also elves and dwarves) is played out repeatedly in the successive generations and epochs of Middle-earth. Pride, lust for power, and greed spring up in both likely and unlikely places. Noble races and civilizations degenerate over time. It’s a good illustration of what happens through human history. How we need a Savior.

Many comment on the Christian nature of LOTR. Certainly one can find analogies, but two fundamental Christian realities are absent in LOTR: the notion of relationship with the Creating deity (or any deity), and the life-giving hope of a blessed afterlife. Sin and evil are present in LOTR, and so are good and evil, but where’s the relationship between Creator and created? And where’s a developed idea of the afterlife?

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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Gleanings from some genealogies

To many 1 Chronicles 1-9 sucks all the moisture out of the soul.  It is 6 pages of "begats," a list of names.  And foreign names at that.  No verbs, no story.

That section is not my favorite section of Scripture, but I read them any way.  And they're not as sleep-inducing as they used to be.  Today I read chapter 5.  And I discovered lessons there.

Ch. 5 contains the genealogies of the Trans-Jordanian tribes, the 2 1/2 tribes that settled east of the Jordan River.  When the whole context is lists with very little story, what is said by way of story is significant.  It's important to the author.

We're told that the tribes made war against the Hagrites, and these tribes "were helped against them, and the Hagrites and all who were with them were given into their hand; for they cried out to God in the battle, and He answered their prayers because they trusted in Him" (5:20 NASB).  The author wants us to know that a victory was won because they trusted the Lord which led them to call upon the Lord for aid against their enemies.  Lesson: Call upon the Lord in your trials, and trust in him.

Later we're told the reason why these 2 1/2 tribes eventually went into exile: "But they acted treacherously against the God of their fathers and played the harlot after the gods of the peoples of the land, whom God had destroyed before them. So the God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul, king of Assyria, even the spirit of Tilgath-pilneser king of Assyria, and he carried them away into exile, namely the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh, and brought them to Halah, Habor, Hara and to the river of Gozan, to this day" (5:25-26 NASB).  Lesson: Spiritual condition has physical consequences.  God will not be mocked.  You reap what you sow. 

Further, God is involved in national and international affairs.  There are different levels of causation.  At one level, the reason the king of Assyria became malevolently interested in the Trans-Jordanian tribes was because God put him onto the scent ("stirred up the spirit").

Well, what do you know?  The lists of the past contain wisdom for the present.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Early Wodehouse a lot like O'Henry

The Man with Two Left Feet and Other StoriesThe Man with Two Left Feet and Other Stories by P.G. Wodehouse
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Good stories. More like O'Henry stories than Wooster & Jeeves, but some great plot lines and good spots of humor.

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Wodehouse at his best

Stiff Upper Lip, JeevesStiff Upper Lip, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

P. G. Wodehouse is hysterical, and his Jeeves & Wooster stories are the creme de la creme. When Douglas Wilson and Christopher Hitchens debated one another, they mentioned their one area of common ground: their love of Wodehouse, at which point they started quoting lines from his works.

This novel finds Wooster trying to stave off marriage to Madeleine Bassett, and to do so he must revisit Totleigh Towers. There are more twists and turns in this story than any 3 roller coasters put together.

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Saturday, February 2, 2013

Why I believe the Christian faith

Someone asked me why I believe in Christ and the Christian faith. 

Good question.

A variety of reasons, I think.  It starts with my parents.  I grew up in a Christian home.  My dad was a pastor.  I was taught the Christian faith.

But at some point every Christian-raised child has to come to a point where the faith of his parents either becomes his own or is rejected.  As I progressed through my teen years, questions regarding truth and reality of Christianity arose in my mind.  So I started asking questions, and I sought answers from my parents, pastors, professors, and authors.

For me, the core issue was whether the Bible was reliable or not.  If it is, all is (more or less) explained.  If it isn’t, then the Christian faith collapses.

Ultimately, my foundation is the reliability of the Gospels.  I found that the four Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—when tested, are historically reliable documents.  There are certain tests that historians apply to historical documents to reach conclusions about their reliability.  The Gospels ace those tests.

Trusting the Gospels’ integrity, then, I learn from them Jesus' teaching about himself, about God, about humanity, about sin and salvation.  I also discover his opinion of the Old Testament.  The truth of the entire Scripture for me is verified in the assertions of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the Gospels. 

Now tis true I could regard Jesus as a loony whose loony teachings and claims are accurately recorded in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  But the full portrait of Jesus in the Gospels does not paint a picture of an insane man.  He seems self-possessed.

Why do I believe?  I’ve given two reasons so far: my upbringing and the historical reliability of the Gospels.  I offer one more.

There’s also the witness of countless other Christians—in the Scriptures, throughout history, throughout the world today, and in my own life.  Many of each of these witnesses not only believe, but they claim to know Jesus Christ, to talk with him and be led by him.  They claim friendship with him that brings joy and peace and that sustains them through troubles. 

Not only do they know Christ, but many of them have been transformed by him, changed for the better.  I personally think there’s no greater miracle than a changed heart, and one that’s changed for the better.  It seems Jesus does this far more than anyone or anything else does. 
Those are some reasons why I believe.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

What I thought of what I read last year, part 2

In a previous post I briefly commented on the first 20 books I read in 2012.  Since I completed 40 books in 2012, this post will touch on the last 20 I read.

Joseph Conrad’s Victory is a great story of intrigue and adventure.  With bad guys even.

Our Triune God, I think, would be a helpful introduction to the Trinity to those who are new to this biblical teaching.  For me it seemed like more of a repeat of my theological education.  By Philip Ryken and Michael LeFebvre.

No Man Left Behind, by Patrick Morley, David Delk, and Brett Clemmer, is a how-to book for men’s ministry in churches.  Required reading for me, but, unexpectedly, not devoid of theological.

Michael Crichton’s Micro, the story of which was completed by Richard Preston after Crichton’s death, is shallow.  Characters are predictable.  But it does give one great appreciation for the marvels of God’s creation, particularly insects.  In this story, half a dozen college students are maliciously shrunk to a half inch in size and set loose in a jungle.  This would make quite a movie, and I would go see it.

Douglas Wilson has a wonderful way of looking at familiar things.  He also has a wonderful way with words.  The two are married in For a Glory and a Covering, a slim book with a wealth of wisdom on marriage.

I would love to improve my memory.  That’s why I read Joshua Foer’s Moonwalking with Einstein.  Foer, an average Joe turned U.S. Memory Champion, turned out a dynamic book, weaving together his own forays into memory training, the history of memorizing, and modern scientific discoveries about the way memory works and sometimes doesn’t work.  I have not implemented any of Foer’s techniques.

Thomas C. Oden’s theology of grace, The Transforming Power of Grace, broadened my understanding and appreciation for this great reality.

Yes, Jesus loves me.  How do I know?  The Bible (in 2012 it was the English Standard Version) tells me so.  The ESV is currently my favorite translation.

Each of the chapters of C. S. Lewis’s Reflections on the Psalms deals expertly with a theme found in psalms.  It was interesting to read this in connection with Bonhoeffer’s Life Together, for they both touch on some of the same topics and come to different conclusions.

Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird may be one of the best novels I’ve ever read.  One can’t help but appreciate the moral force of Atticus Finch packaged as it is in humility and kindness.

People’s natural tendency is not to love but to hate and dominate.  That’s powerfully illustrated in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies.

Who’s the real monster in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein?  Not the creature at first.  It’s humanity.  The creature eventually comes to reflect his creator.

Andrew Murray’s Humility affected me years ago.  Reading it again underscored lessons first learned back then.

The Mauritius Command, book 4 in Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series (a naval setting in the Napoleonic era), is delightful.

The War of the Worlds, by H. G. Wells, doesn’t get really good and interesting until well into the book.  But it’s worth the read, especially being the first of its kind in literature.  When seen as a criticism of the then-practiced colonialism of the British Empire, it’s even more powerful.

I read The Black Stallion (Walter Farley) because I had Anna read it.  And I had Anna read it because I so enjoyed it when I was her age.  This second read-through did not disappoint.  The story is engagingly told.

The Chestnut King completes N. D. Wilson’s 100 Cupboards trilogy.  The war with Nimiane escalates, and Henry, the odd, easily-overlooked boy from Henry, Kansas, comes through in a big way.  I read all three of these books to Anna, so they were each read over the period of a few months.  I think I would’ve enjoyed them more if I had read them more quickly.  Some details were easily forgot between readings.

I did not enjoy Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness near as much as Victory.  It was too subtle for me.  I appreciated it more after I read others’ interpretations of it.

J. B. Phillips’s translation of the New Testament is wonderful.  Prompts reflection on many familiar passages.

Frederick Buechner’s The Alphabet of Grace wanders around it’s point that even the routine of one’s day is full of grace.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Good Christology

On the IncarnationOn the Incarnation by Saint Athanasius
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

On the Incarnation, though short and at times helpfully repetitive, was not a quick read. Taking a few notes was helpful. Several of his emphases were fresh to me, which I found rewarding.

I don't know whether his "Refutation of the Jews" or "Refutation of the Gentiles" persuaded any Jews or Gentiles, but they certainly bolstered my confidence in Christ.

Just a couple of glimpses. In arguing that Jesus was divine, the very Son of God, Athanasius points to some of his accomplishments:
--He has put the Greek philosophers "in the shade."
--He has filled assembly halls with worshippers by drawing all men to himself.
--Demons are exorcised by his death and name.
--He has tamed heathens and barbarians all over the world.
--He has given men confidence in physical resurrection and immortality; it is no longer a vague hope many.
--He has inspired chastity among many.
--He has reached people who were considered unreachable.
--He has made warmongers into peace-lovers, reconciling feuding factions. (from "Refutation of Gentiles--continued")

Arguing for the resurrection of Christ: "Does a dead man prick the consciences of men, so that they throw all the traditions of their fathers to the winds and bow down before the teaching of Christ? If He is no longer active in the world, as He must needs be if He is dead, how is it that He makes the living to cease from their activities, the adulterer from his adultery, the murderer from murdering, the unjust from avarice, while the profane and godless man becomes religious? If He did not rise, but is still dead, how is it that He routs and persecutes and overthrows the false gods, whom unbelievers think to be alive, and the evil spirits whom they worship? For where Christ is named, idolatry is destroyed and the fraud of evil spirits is exposed; indeed, no such spirit can endure that Name, but takes to flight on sound of it. This is the work of One Who lives, not of one dead; and, more than that, it is the work of God. It would be absurd to say that the evil spirits whom He drives out and the idols which He destroys are alive, but that He Who drives out and destroys, and Whom they themselves acknowledge to be Son of God, is dead." (from "The Resurrection")

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Thursday, January 24, 2013

What I thought of what I read last year

A little late this year, but here’s the annual review of my reading last year, the first 20 books.

The Great Divorce, by C. S. Lewis, where travelers from Hell visit Heaven, and most don’t like what they see.  My third trek through this book brought fresh appreciation for the sanctified imagination of Lewis.

I sang through the Worship and Service Hymnal of the church of my childhood.  For me it’s always been the standard hymnal.  Produced by Hope Publishing Co.

Let the Trumpet Sound: The Life of Martin Luther King, Jr. was my first systematic introduction to this great man who accomplished so much in his brief 39-year life.  By Stephen B. Oates.

John Baillie’s A Diary of Private Prayer widened and deepened my praying.  Thirty-one morning prayers and 31 evening prayers alternate over the pages of this slim volume.

Going against the flow, Rodney Stark defends much of the motivation and method of the role of Christians in the Crusades in God’s Battalions.  He also exposes the ruthlessness and culpability of the Moslems.

Jon Meacham’s portrayal of Andrew Jackson, seventh president of the United States, is fascinating.  American Lion gave me new appreciation for a man for whom I had little, though he was certainly not without his foibles.

Henry James’s title, An International Episode, misleads one into thinking of crisis on a grand scale.  But a mere relationship between a man and woman who originate from different sides of the Atlantic Pond can certainly seem grandiose to those involved, especially when one party’s relations object on the basis of status.

In Dandelion Fire, the middle book of N. D. Wilson’s 100 Cupboards trilogy, Henry learns more of his heritage and unique power and destiny, once again thwarting the plans of Nimiane, Queen of Endor.  Remind me a bit of Chronicles of Narnia.

George Eliot’s Middlemarch takes some patience and persistence to wade through, as many classics do, but this massive story of connected lives in an English village pays out dividends.

Edmund P. Clowney’s The Church offers many insights on this God-created institution but is at many times dry.  Will probably be helpful as a reference in the future.

Karen H. Jobes’s commentary on Esther in the New International Version Application Commentary series is fantastic: well-written and enlightening.  She deals with the thorny issues in Esther head-on, and many of her conclusions ring true.

R. C. Sproul and Abdul Saleeb both introduce Islam and contrast it with Christianity in an understand way in their short The Dark Side of Islam.

Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan’s classic, offers many insights into Christ, salvation, and the Christian life.  It’s not a thrill-a-minute, but classics rarely are.

The 10 Lies about God Erwin W. Lutzer highlights are ones promoted in our culture today.  Most are dealt with in unexpected ways, though most conclusions are solidly biblical.  This served as a base for a young adult Sunday School series I taught on the same topic.

Harold Bell Wright’s That Printer of Udell’s is a wonderful novel on the order of In His Steps.  Novels like these are like vitamins for spiritual health.  This one focused on the Matthew 25 aspect of faith, that Christianity must manifest itself in service to the needy.

The picture of modern-day North Korea that The Orphan Master’s Son paints is horrific.  Adam Johnson’s novel makes one appreciate one’s freedom while at the same time shocking the reader at the lengths to which totalitarian governments will go to control its citizens.  The reality of the depths of man’s depravity is portrayed here, whether Johnson would call it that or not.  To me it points to the need of the Savior.  A remarkable, well-written, ghastly, and sometime explicit book.

Paul Barnett’s The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (New International Commentary on the New Testament series) is thorough and helpful, though it occasionally lacks clarity and sometimes doesn’t answer the questions one is asking.  But the positives far outweigh the negatives.  My go-to commentary on 2nd Corinthians (even over Hafemann’s).

The Valley of Vision, edited by Arthur Bennett, is a phenomenal prayer book.  This was my fourth time praying through it.  How it helps me pray!

In The Disappearance of God, Albert Mohler, Jr. helpfully deals with contemporary issues affecting the church.  Perspective-shaping.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together gave me new perspectives on the blessings and dynamics of Christian fellowship.  Theological and practical.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Great book for men

What Every Man Wishes His Father Had Told HimWhat Every Man Wishes His Father Had Told Him by Byron Forrest Yawn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Best book on manhood I've read. Practical, and more biblical than most. Balanced between the extremes of feminine men and chest-thumping bravado.

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Tuesday, January 8, 2013

God will then appear for the safety of his people

Englishman Matthew Henry, resident of the 17th century, wrote a commentary on the entire Bible.  I frequently visit that commentary enlightenment and inspiration.  An example is Henry's comments on Isaiah 25:4
(For you have been a stronghold to the poor,
a stronghold to the needy in his distress,
a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat;
for the breath of the ruthless is like a storm against a wall,  [ESV]):

He has seasonably relieved and succoured his necessitous and distressed people (v. 4): Thou has been a strength to the poor, a strength to the needy. As God weakens the strong that are proud and secure, so he strengthens the weak that are humble and serious, and stay themselves upon him. Nay, he not only makes them strong, but he is himself their strength; for in him they strengthen themselves, and it is his favour that is the strength of their hearts. He is a strength to the needy in his distress, when he needs strength, and when his distress drives him to God. And, as he strengthens them against their inward decays, so he shelters them from outward assaults. He is a refuge from the storm of rain or hail, and a shadow from the scorching heat of the sun in summer. God is a sufficient protection to his people in all weathers, hot and cold, wet and dry. The armour of righteousness serves both on the right hand and on the left, 2 Co. 6:7 . Whatever dangers or troubles God’s people may be in, effectual care is taken that they shall sustain no real hurt or damage. When perils are most threatening and alarming God will then appear for the safety of his people: When the blast of the terrible ones is as a storm against the wall, which makes a great noise, but cannot overthrow the wall. The enemies of God’s poor are terrible ones; they do all they can to make themselves so to them. Their rage is like a blast of wind, loud, and blustering, and furious; but, like the wind, it is under a divine check; for God holds the winds in his fist, and God will be such a shelter to his people that they shall be able to stand the shock, keep their ground, and maintain their integrity and peace. A storm beating on a ship tosses it, but that which beats on a wall never stirs it, Ps. 76:10 Ps. 138:7.

Matthew Henry's commentary is also online.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The hidden ways you help

In the classic Christmas movie, It's a Wonderful Life, George Bailey, desperate and depressed, is ready to take his own life because he thinks his life has been a waste. But an angel intervenes and shows him the radical difference he's made in the lives of so many people and his hometown as a whole. He just wasn't aware of the difference he had made.
I want to suggest that we believers are similarly unaware. At times the devil whispers in our ears that we're not accomplishing anything, that all are efforts in ministry and in following Christ are futile and ineffective. He's dead wrong, and he knows it.
Where am I going with this? A couple things:
1) If you look back at last year and wonder, "What good did I do? Did I really make a difference?", let me tell you that if you were living out your calling to the best of your ability last year, then YES, you did make a difference. You just can't see it.
2) Our job is not to worry so much about the results of our lives. Our job is to be more concerned that we are living our lives in obedience to God and in faithfulness to the settings in which he's placed us. If you are obedient and faithful, rest assured God will use you, whether you see results or not.
So this year, resolve to be faithful in your calling, whatever that is--in family and work and church and community. Resolve to draw close to Christ daily, and he will shine that much more brightly through you. Know that if you are faithful to Christ, you ARE salt and light; you just can't see all the ways in which you are making a difference.