Saturday, December 19, 2015

The visual power of music

Matthew Continetti writes The Star Wars Symphony, a December 19th article on NRO, and he nails it!!
Star Wars was created, in many respects, by the sounds and the score, much more than the script. As I said on a Facebook post, the score is so evocative that you could practically write the screenplay from the music alone.

This is a delightful characteristic possessed not only by Star Wars episodes 4-6, but also by the entire Lord of the Rings franchise. The music makes the movie.

There are no spoilers in Continetti's article. Read, enjoy, understand.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

What's happened to American academics?

One would like to think that advanced educational attainment is not a dominant factor in causing people to lose all common sense, but after this week I am beginning to wonder.

I found myself having a cordial but firm disagreement with a young lady who possesses a Masters and Bachelors in History and who teaches history in a local community college. She was admonishing a young college student who is in my church regarding Islam. She made the claim that “Muslims are not violent. ISIS is not Muslim if you study their history. ISIS is to Islam in the same manner the KKK is to Christianity. Can't label billions for the actions of a few.

Certainly I agree with her that you can’t label the billions for the actions of a few. But I am astounded that a woman who teaches history would have such an unhistorical knowledge of the background of Islam. A native of Mecca, Muhammad’s new religion was not accepted—at first—by the other tribes around him. They were polytheists and he was selling monotheism. He fled from Mecca to Medina, where he had greater success in building a following. Mecca itself later converted under the threat of the sword in the early seventh century. The rapid expansion of Islam in the entire Mediterranean region occurred primarily by military conquest, or the threat thereof. Islamic violence is not breaking news, it is a deep-rooted part of their history and finds vigorous theological support in the Quran. ISIS is perhaps the most faithful representation of Islamic roots that we have seen in the modern day.

She is correct that most Muslims today do not pursue violent jihad. Some have reinterpreted the Quran to view jihad as a personal spiritual battle in their pursuit of personal Islamic purity. But it will be unhelpful from both a national policy and personal relational standpoint to revise the history of Islam. Relationships built upon falsehoods are inherently unstable and unsustainable.

The second moment of dismay with academics this week also had to do with Islam. According to an article by Jessica Chasmar appearing in the Washington Times(12/16/2015), a “Christian” tenured Wheaton College faculty member said this:
“I love my Muslim neighbor because s/he deserves love by virtue of her/his human dignity. I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.”

I agree with her that we need to love our neighbor, including and especially our Muslim neighbors at a time like this. And I can grant her the stated reason of “human dignity,” though I would frame it a different way: we should love our neighbor because Christ commands us to and because all humans bear the image of God.

But her other reasons are simply incoherent. By definition a Christian is one who places their faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ for their sins. Muslims don’t believe that Jesus died on the cross, period. Which sort of puts a kibosh on the resurrection, too, you know? In other words, they deny the central doctrine of the Christian faith. Soooo, in what way exactly can she stand in “religious solidarity” with them?

Secondly, they are indeed people of the book. But it’s the wrong book. This is not trivial sectarianism. Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING we know about God and redemptive history comes from the Bible. You don’t lose part of it in the Quran—you lose all of it. Soooo, how can this “Christian” professor make such a claim, tell me again?

Third, I am to understand that we worship the same God? Really? In fact, there is no resemblance, neither superficial nor at greater depth. The true God, the Christian God, exists as one God in three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That truth is abominable to the Muslim. Both Christians and Muslims claim that their God is merciful, so that might be a similarity—until you dig deeper, anyway. Then you find that the true God of the Bible is merciful because it is His nature to be merciful and He always acts in perfect accord with who He is. Allah is not so. Allah is pure will. Islam does not think in terms of the attributes of its deity, only in terms of his will. Allah is only merciful if he decides to be so, and he may decide not to be. There is simply no correlation to be made between the true God of the Bible and the god of Islam—unless one is entirely ignorant of one or the other—or of both.

I applaud this professor’s desire to love her neighbor and to avoid disenfranchising her Muslim friends, and I stand with her in that regard. But if you stop and think about her words for just a moment you’ll realize she has dishonored both Christian and Islamic belief by trying to forge a non-existent via media between two irreconcilable belief systems. I certainly can’t stand with her there.

America once had a great educational system. But the words of these two educators make me wonder, what’s happened to American academics? They are not getting even the most basic facts right.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Intractable problems

Sin has immensely complicated matters in a fallen world, to the point at which in some cases there are not only no easy answers, there may not be any good answers. The expression of Christian love toward Syrian refuges may put at risk my neighbor. How is that loving? But refusing mercy to Syrian  refugees is not loving either. It is a conundrum, and I shouldn't be too quick to condemn people on either side of the issue.

There is only One who is able to bring resolution to a world intractably complicated by fallenness. In this Christmas season, I am glad that I belong to Jesus Christ, who has become to me wisdom, righteousness, and redemption.

Here's an article worth reading on the subject.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Hey, brothers, they’re eating our lunch!

Sitting in my sun room, marveling over Romans 5. On the other side of the glass is our suet feeder, and a Red-bellied woodpecker is having a hissy fit. Seems that the sparrows have taken a liking to her suet cake and she’s not reconciled to the idea of sharing. Funny: I don’t recall giving that suet cake to her.

Anyway, she’s (I am informed by a bird identification site that my greedy little feathered friend is of the female variety) busy fending off the sparrows, clambering around the feeder daring any bird to come close.

Problem is, that suet feeder has two sides. So while she is guarding side A, the sparrows are pigging out on side B. They’re eating her lunch. Guess who’s not eating her lunch. She isn’t. She’s so distracted that she’s not getting a bite while the sparrows are having a feast (and a load of fun at her expense).

One would think from watching this little display of greed and turfism that birds have a sin nature. Well, Paul does say the whole creation groans . . . .

This reminds me of how easy it is to get distracted in our preaching, teaching, and study. Sometimes we preachers can get off-track by the garden variety heresies such as those promoted by modern lightweights like Joel Osteen and others. Or think of how many of us get distracted by themes such as satan and demons, spiritual warfare and bondage, varieties of eschatology, or other very legitimate but lesser topics. “Lesser than what?” you ask dubiously. Well, lesser than the Gospel, for instance. Lesser than our union with Christ and all the implications that flow from it. Lesser than the nature and attributes of God, whom to know aright is life eternal. We need to concentrate on keeping the main thing the main thing.

I’ve read that when banks teach tellers to spot counterfeit cash, they don’t spend a great deal of time studying the counterfeits. Rather, they spend a lot of time handling the real McCoy so that when a counterfeit passes through their hands they can spot it immediately because it feels wrong.

And that’s what we should be doing. Unless God has given you a polemic, apologetic ministry (and perhaps, in truth, He has), the best way to protect your flock from the wolves is to consistently, day-in-day-out, teach truth and as the occasion presents itself contrast the truth with error. When the text touches on demons, spiritual warfare, eschatology, etc, then so do we. But the bulk and the main of our ministry ought to be the systematic, expositional, verse-by-verse presentation of the Christ-centered, Gospel-centered Word of God.

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths. (2 Timothy 4:1-4, NASB)

In 2 Timothy 4:1-4, Paul gives us a balanced view of asserting truth and confronting error. It's important to draw a distinction between confronting false teachers and instructing confused believers. It’s easy to be distracted and become unbalanced in our ministries and to spend too much time talking about false teachers and  their ministries. Paul does confront false teachers (for example, 2 Tim 2:16-17), and so should we. But a close reading of Paul shows him focusing on the teaching, reproving, and correcting of the sheep (see 2 Tim 2:23-26).

Nor am I suggesting that we pit expositional preaching/study against topical preaching/study—there’s a valuable place for both—but I am saying this: nothing will ground your flock so deeply as a consistent ministry of expositional preaching that enables them to keep texts in context with both the surrounding passages and the overall history of redemption.

It might take longer to see results with this sort of ministry, but in the long run you will spend less time putting out little doctrinal fires in your congregation because you’ve enabled them to connect the dots for themselves. Protect them from the wolves not by teaching them about wolves but by drawing their attention to the Shepherd.

Preach the Word, bathe them in truth, and the Spirit will give your flock discernment as needed. Otherwise the lightweights will be eating our lunch.

Now, what was I doing? Ah, yes, Romans 5. Guess I got distracted . . . .

Friday, November 27, 2015

The sine qua non of knowing God

A condition described as sine qua non is an absolutely essential condition; the expression means “without which not.” The “sine qua non of knowing God” designates an essential condition that must be satisfied in order for one to know God truly.

“He,” said Jesus, speaking of the Holy Spirit, “will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you” (John 16:14). “Whatever you ask in My name,” Jesus instructed His disciples, “that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:13). “I have glorified You on the earth,” prayed Jesus to His heavenly Father in John 17:4-5, “having accomplished the work which You have given me to do. Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.”

In that most beloved passage about the humiliation and exaltation of Jesus Christ, Philippians 2:5-11, God highly exalts His Son, giving Him a name which is above every name, with the result that at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow and “that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:11).

But what is particularly interesting is the phrase: “to the glory of God the Father.” The Father is glorified when Christ is exalted as Lord; in other words, if I wish to glorify the Father I do so by exalting the Son, worshiping the Son, bowing before the Son as Thomas did and confessing, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). To deny the Son is to deny the Father. “He who does not honor the Son,” Jesus asserted, “does not honor the Father who sent Him” (John 5:23). The apostle John proclaims, “Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:23).

What a conundrum have they who claim to worship the Father, and yet deny the truth of the trinitarian nature of God—that God exists as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. For Jesus to recieve worship must of necessity mean that He is fully divine—fully God—otherwise the worship of Jesus Christ is idolatry.

In denying the deity of Christ, one dishonors the Father who sent Christ. No one may approach the Father except through the Son (John 14:6). “You know neither Me nor My Father,” Jesus said to the Pharisees. “If you knew Me, you would know My Father also” (John 5:19).

The Father is not truly known, except through the Son. Knowing and worshiping Christ is the sine qua non of knowing and worshiping the Father. If you don't worship Jesus Christ as God, then you do not truly know the God of the Bible. At least, that's what the Bible says.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

If only . . .

If only. . . .

Two words that often express a great deal of heartache.
  • If only I had finished my degree. . . .
  • If only he had not been driving so fast. . . .
  • If only my child hadn't gone to school that day. . . .
  • If only mom hadn't caught the flu. . . .
  • If only I hadn't lost my job. . . .

Hindsight is twenty-twenty, as they say. How different would our lives be if we knew in advance the consequences of every decision?

But consider how wrong-headed that notion is. When we indulge ourselves in “if only” thinking we are behaving as if our lives, and history itself, progressed on the basis of some impersonal fate, a roll of the cosmic dice, rather than under the manifest control of a sovereign, good God.

This morning I was reading the last three chapters of Acts and it occurred to me that Paul had ample opportunity to engage in “if only” thinking after being jailed by the Romans:
  • If only I had not agreed to join in that vow! (Acts 21:23-24)
  • If only Felix had not been hoping for a bribe! (Acts 24:26)
  • If only Felix had not been such a political animal! (Acts 24:27)
  • If only I had not appealed to Caesar! (Acts 26:32)

As a consequence of these things, Paul spent over four years under arrest, and at least two of them in Roman prisons. He endured plots against his life, show trials, a terrifying storm at sea followed by a shipwreck, and numerous other problems. Paul's plans, ambitions—indeed, his life—was put on hold and forcibly redirected in ways he would not have chosen. If only. . . !

But Paul did not fall prey to this wistful, self-pitying sort of mindset. He shares with the Philippians his attitude about his troubles: Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear. (Philippians 1:12-14, NASB)

Think about it: during Paul's missionary journeys he was constantly getting run out of town, beaten, jailed, mobbed by angry crowds, hauled before local officials under false accusation, etc. But from the time he was arrested in Acts 21, Paul was under the protection of the Roman empire. He was taken to Rome, and there, though under house arrest, was provided official protection while he freely preached the gospel to both Jews and Gentiles in the capital of the entire Roman Empire. Because of his arrest and incarceration, Paul had the opportunity to share the gospel with regional governors and officials. He was priviledged to testify at great length with the Roman centurians and the guards who guarded him. While on the isle of Melita, those same Romans witnessed Paul doing miracles of healing (Acts 28:8-9). In Rome, Paul presumably got the opportunity to testify to Caesar at his hearing. Paul enjoyed massive opportunities he would have never had if he hadn't been arrested by the Romans.

If only? Really? Maybe these heartaches, Christian, have come into your life “for the greater progress of the gospel.” Rather than being absorbed in regrets, start looking for the opportunities that God will provide in the very midst of your problems.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Book Review of Mending the Soul: Understanding and Healing Abuse

Steven R. Tracy has made an excellent contribution to the growing collection of biblical counseling literature possessed by the Church. He writes with three assets that serve him well: a broad knowledge of psychological studies of abusers and their victims, a deep well of experience in counseling victims of abuse and molestation, and a rich foundation of training in handling the Scriptures accurately.

The book is divided into three parts: the nature of abuse, the effects of abuse, and the healing path. He delivers, resoundingly, what each part promises. Mixing insights from psychological studies, careful exegesis of Scripture, and case studies, Tracy fully explores the horrific damage that abusers and abusive families perpetrate on victims. But he does not fall into the trap of ennobling and white-washing the victims. He also explores the (understandable) sinful responses of victims to their abuse, and he’s not afraid to label those responses as sin.

In a word, this is gentle pastoral care of souls ravaged by abuse, wrapped into an insightful, honest volume. Whether you are coming from the “Christian counseling” side of the aisle, or the “Biblical counseling” side, you’ll find much that’s useful. Tracy does a good job of staying true to Scripture while fully employing the observations and statistics of the world of psychology.

The chapters on "Facing the Brokenness" and "Rebuilding Intimacy with God" are outstanding. Here is real hope and practical guidance for counselors who are working with victims of abuse and molestation.

As a sidelight, those who are helping combat veterans dealing with PTSD might find useful insights in this volume. Tracy does a good job of showing the relationships between various kinds of high-stress high-trauma experiences.

The weakest part of the book, in my estimation, is his chapter on forgiveness. While I find myself in agreement of most of what he has to say, I think there are better treatments elsewhere. It’s a niggling, quibbling point, though, when you consider the overall excellence of the book.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Wagon

You know that wagon you keep falling off? Maybe it's some part of personal or spiritual discipline. Maybe it's reading your Bible or doing a study or working on your anger or your tongue. Maybe it's an attempt to lose weight or change your eating habits. Maybe it's establishing a consistent prayer time, or talking to that neighbor about Christ.

Yeah, that's the wagon I'm talking about - the one you and I keep falling off.

Well, there's something really encouraging about that wagon maybe you hadn't noticed. It keeps coming back every morning so that you can climb back on.

Failure is just a bump in the road; it's not the end of the road. Failure is an opportunity to remember that we live in the grace of God, and that we will always, desparately need His grace. Failure is an opportunity to rebuke my pride, to remember who I am, and who He is, and that He is transforming me, ever so slowly into His image.

Failure is never an opportunity to quit, it's an opportunity to get up and get back on the wagon.

"Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen." (Jude 24-25)

[Picture Credit: Doris Cobb]

Friday, June 12, 2015

Book Review: Allegiance: Fort Sumpter, Charleston, and the beginning of the Civil War, by David Detzer

This is a good book. I started it wondering whether or not a 320 page book about one tiny battle would be able to hold my attention. It did. Detzer's writing is excellent, highly readable, and free from academic jargon. His research on the topic is exhaustive: he knows what he is talking about.

Detzer provides a fine snapshot of antebellum Charleston, its commerce and society, its colorful characters and politicians, and its slaves. He does a good job of pointing out the sad ironies of slavery amidst a free people: he's not preachy but at times very cutting.

Detzer sugar-coats no one, although he comes close in his portrayal of Major Robert Anderson, who is presented as a man of high character and leadership skills, who is blessed with equal but contradictory doses of pacifism and duty to country.

The final chapter was outstanding, and presented a very sensitive and appropriate retrospective on the later lives of some of the major characters as well as Charleston and Fort Sumpter.

It's an excellent book. There are a few weaknesses, all relatively minor. Dezter is a professional historian, but he gets pretty snarky in places. I'm still trying to decide whether it's endearing or irritating. He does a good bit of editorializing, as well. Usually in just a sentence, never more than a paragraph or two at a time, but liberally sprinkled through the book.

One example is his almost-gratuitous passage on the meaning of the flag, on pages 127-128, claiming that there is no true meaning of a flag. In fine postmodern fashion, Detzer intimates that the flag means whatever its wielder wishes it to mean. He then goes on to complete the book demonstrating (unconsciously, perhaps?) that it stands for the sovereignty of the nation whose emblem it bears. There seems to be no confusion about the meaning of the flag for either the soldiers in Sumpter or the civilians in Charleston--and they both seem to ascribe to it the same significance.

Another weakness in his writing is his tendency to skip around in chronology from one paragraph to the next without giving the reader due warning. I found on repeated occasions, well into the paragraph, that the matter being expounded happened before the matter in previous paragraph. I'm no fan of slavish chronology, but I would appreciate a warning when the time of the scene shifts backwards, otherwise it can be (and was) a little confusing.

All these petty gripes are minor in view of the excellence of the account Detzer has created. I recommend the book to anyone who has an interest in Civil War era history.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Thomas Jefferson, on settling questions about the Constitution

On every question of construction [of the Constitution] let us carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates, and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text, or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed. [emphasis mine]
This quotation of Thomas Jefferson was contained in a personal letter he wrote to William Johnson, June 12, 1823. In context, I understand it had to do with the Second Amendment. However I imagine that as a matter of principle this is how Jefferson would have every question on the Constitution settled ("On every question," he said).

It's a far cry from the view taken by judical activists regarding a "living Constitution."

Friday, May 22, 2015

Book Review of Stephen Ambrose, Ike's Spies

Ambrose is an expert on Eisenhower, a fact which is quite apparent in Ike’s Spies, a heavily researched, fascinating book about the beginnings of the CIA. A very good read, the volume is a good representation of the quality of Ambrose’s writing and story-telling. Though the author is favorably disposed toward Eisenhower, he does not sugar-coat Ike’s miss-steps, nor those of his agents.

The book begins with Churchill informing Eisenhower of the ULTRA secret in 1942, and then moves into the gradual development of an Allied spy network in North Africa, whose purpose was both to keep an eye on the Germans and their troop strength and dispositions, and to enlist the allegiance of the French for the coming Allied invasion.

Ambrose carries the reader through TORCH, then the Italy campaign, then OVERLORD. After working his way through the rest of the European theater of the war, Ambrose unfolds the founding of what would become the CIA, and traces America’s spying, assassination plots, and efforts to overthrow foreign governments right through the Bay of Pigs fiasco.

Two things I am taking away from having read this book are (1) the messiness of the spy business, generally, and (2) the fact that America has intruded, at times, into matters of other sovereign nations in ways that are hard to justify. Having admitted that, however, it’s all-to-easy for a civilian reader, fifty years removed, to pass judgment and play armchair quarterback of an era when a violent and repressive communism was sweeping the world, and the reader has neither the full data nor the crushing responsibility to act upon it. Ike’s Spies is an eye-opener into a world most of us will never have to deal with.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Back in business

At long last (at least it seems like a really long time!) the top secret C. H. Cobb Book and Sermon Production Facility, located in an undisclosed location somewhere in the midwest, is back in action. It is a beautiful afternoon, here at The Facility.

This afternoon's production run happens to be a Sunday School lesson on Fear, Worry, and Anxiety.

I apologize for the poor picture quality, but it's really bright out here. Hard to balance the exposure.

Lord willing, Monday we will resume production on "The Candidate," which is currently weighing in at about 12,000 words, so we've a long way to go.

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Blazing Glory

I was sitting in my sun room this morning with my coffee getting ready to do some reading. Snow on the ground, birds busy around the feeder, it’s icy cold out. And sunny.

I sat down at my table and found the sun was at just the right angle to shine right in my eyes. Brilliant, blazing, dominating—it was all I could see. It was uncomfortable. I shifted around—still blinded. Shifted some more—still blinded. I finally had to move into complete shadows, where I couldn’t see the sun at all. Only then could I see what was around me.

It was a Romans 1 moment, I realized.

The world is blinded by the Blazing Glory of God. It dominates the scene. Everything else fades into darkness, insignificance. But if it’s not the Sun of Righteousness (Malachi 4:2) that you hunger to see, it’s downright uncomfortable. And so you shift—you move—trying to get away from the Blazing Glory. And you keep moving, and keep shifting until you’re sitting in darkness and you can finally see the World that surrounds you. You settle for the dim reflections of glory in the created even while hiding from the Creator. You look for pleasure, comfort, security, and satisfaction in the World, shifting about so that the rocks and mountains (Revelation 6:16) continue to hide you from the Blazing Glory.

So, where are you sitting? In the darkness of the grave? Or in the presence of the Blazing Glory? And what do you long to see? The world? Or its Creator?

For with Thee is the fountain of life; In Thy light we see light. Psalm 36:9

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Pie in the Sky? No.

Skeptics have a field day with Christianity. As the skeptic sees it, Christians enjoy no special protection,  no blessings, no advantages, and are often, rather, persecuted for our strange beliefs. And when we claim—rightly—that our ultimate blessings come in the next life, we are met with rolling eyes and a sarcastic, “Sure they will.” The claims of the Christian are placed by the skeptic under the rubric, Pie in the Sky in the Sweet By and By. In a word, they consider us deluded.

But think about it from the perspective of the skeptic. Other than the historical record of the Bible itself, none of our truth claims can be verified in this life. We are saying that they will be fulfilled in a future that, as far as the skeptic is concerned, doesn’t even exist. That’s pretty handy for us. We can claim whatever we wish about the life to come, and no one is able to disprove us. For the skeptic, our faith is nothing more than the hollow shell of wishful thinking. The gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing (1 Corinthians 1:18).

And yet the coming Kingdom of Christ is as certain and secure as tomorrow’s sunrise—more so, really. It is at this point the suffering saint is confronted with an unavoidable question: will you walk by faith or not? Will you walk in the “assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen” (Hebrews 11:1). It’s easy to do when your bank account is fat and your health is good. Not so easy when you’ve lost your job and you are burying a loved one.

The sons of Korah knew of this pattern of suffering now, blessings later. The psalmist writes in the midst of suffering in Psalm 42:3, My tears have been my food day and night, While they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” But he knows where his ultimate hope is located: Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him For the help of His presence (verse 5).

Calvin writes of the pattern of delayed blessings in his Institutes, Book II, chapter X, paragraph 17 (emphasis mine):
Therefore, . . . , let us learn that the holy fathers under the Old Testament were not ignorant that in this world God seldom or never gives his servants the fulfillment of what is promised them, and therefore has directed their minds to his sanctuary, where the blessings not exhibited in the present shadowy life are treasured up for them. This sanctuary was the final judgment of God, which, as they could not at all discern it by the eye, they were contented to apprehend by faith. Inspired with this confidence, they doubted not that whatever might happen in the world, a time would at length arrive when the divine promises would be fulfilled. This is attested by such expressions as these: “As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied when I awake with thy likeness” (Psalm xvii. 15).
Calvin goes on to list a number of similar verses that demonstrate the Old Testament saint knew he was waiting on death to experience God’s ultimate promises.

Therefore, suffering saint, let not the skeptic cow you with his snarky doubt. Let not the bleakness of the day nor the blackness of the night shake you. The promises are true and firm. He has graven you upon the palms of His hands (Isaiah 49:16); He will not forget you nor your suffering. How shall He, who gave His very Son for us, not freely give us all things (Romans 8:32). Wait patiently, suffering saint, today you walk by faith, but a tomorrow is coming when faith shall be sight.

Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. (1 Peter 5:8-10)

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Financial stress is a revealer of the heart

The "Prosperity Gospel" is a damning indictment against those who preach it. The false prophets of earthly prosperity are guilty of perverting the pure doctrine of Christ, and turning the Cross into little more than a good deal.

But think about the indictment against those who sit under the prosperity gospel, listen to it, and love it week after week. They are revealing their loves, their kingdom allegiences, and the driving motivations of their hearts. Those who tolerate the prosperity gospel are placing on public display the idols of their own hearts.

But when I find myself worried and fearful about a financial situation, how am I any different? Am I not revealing what I trust (financial security) even as I reveal what I don't trust ("Lord, I don't trust your goodness and sovereign purposes in the midst of hardship!")?

The Prosperity gospel is an easy target, my own love of financial security, less so. But no less damaging.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Progress Report #1 on The Candidate

'Twas a productive afternoon. I now have my Moriarty, and as importantly, I know why he is doing the dastardly deeds in which he is engaged. I have landed upon his evil motivations, and they are quite authentic.

A point of trivia: his initials in the story are BG and they come from my typing page after page of schemes, only to toss them and start over. So I used the initials BG as shorthand for my antagonist, rather than typing out a name over and over as I story-boarded my tale. BG? Though I have now fitted him with an appropriate appellation employing those letters, BG really stands for Bad Guy.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Communicable Attributes of God

A few days ago I posted an intro to Session 7 (on the Incommunicable Attributes of God) of the class in advanced theological training that we offer at BFC. The thrust of that intro dealt with the comfort we gain from the proper knowledge of God. Posted below is the intro to Session 8 (on the Communicable Attributes). The main point below emphasizes that what God does arises out of who He is. While this may not appear to be a particularly profound point, read on. You might be surprized.


There are some aspects of the nature of the Godhead that must forever be owned exclusively by God Himself. This is due to the essential difference between the Creator and the creature, the Infinite and the finite. These we call the “incommunicable” attributes of God, such as His eternality, His omniscience, and His omnipotence. But there are other aspects of the nature of God that are “communicated” to us by virtue of being made in the image of God. While most of these attributes exist faintly in unregenerate man, they are weak, defective, and corrupt because of sin. The regeneration of the Spirit experienced by the redeemed restores their potential, though much of that potential is not realized until we are glorified.
As the adopted children of God, the believer is commanded to emulate these characteristics of His heavenly Father:
  • Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:29 (NASB)
  • Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 11:1 (NASB)
  • But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23 (NASB)
  • Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, . . . ” Ephesians 5:1-2 (NASB)
  • Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus . . .” Philippians 2:5 (NASB)
The aspects of the character of God that we are to demonstrate in our own lives, such as love, mercy, wisdom, gentleness, and so on, are referred to as the communicable attributes of God. Obviously God possesses these qualities in sublime perfection. We possess them only in pale imitation; nonetheless we do possess them and are able to exercise them as a consequence of the new nature imparted by the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Bear in mind that these attributes are not parts or components of God’s character. Were they such we could well imagine that they could be in conflict at times. Some theologians mistakenly write of a tension between God’s mercy and God’s justice. There is no such tension. God’s attributes describe what God is in His very nature, not just what God does in His actions. We say that God possesses the attribute of love, for example, not because He does loving things but because He Himself in all His ways is the very definition of what love is. God possesses the attribute of justice not simply because He enacts justice but because He is the definition and standard of justice.
This is an important distinction. All the acts of God are wholly consistent with the character of God. Indeed, all of God’s deeds necessarily arise out of His character. God cannot choose to not be loving, for He cannot deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:13). Ultimately, though our finite minds might not know how to grasp this, even God’s eternal judgment of sinners will be wholly consistent with His love, just as His pardon of sinners is wholly consonant with His justice.
This fact distinguishes the living God from the god of the Muslims, Allah. The god of Islam is wholly arbitrary—capricious—doing whatever he wills to do. He can at one moment speak truth, according to their religion, and at the next moment deceive. The god of Islam is pure will—Islamic theology doesn’t really speak of what he is in his nature, his essence.
Someone might dispute this by, for example, quoting Surah 1:1 of the Quran, “In the name of GOD, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.” The Quran is thick with such statements. It certainly seems to make a claim about the nature of Allah—but it isn’t. The Quran is describing there what Allah decides to be at times (ie, gracious, merciful). It is not making the claim that this is what Allah is in his essence. This is, for instance, why the doctrine of abrogation (a changing, even reversal, of Allah’s revealed will) is no problem for the Muslim. Allah decides one point to command his followers to be good to “the people of the book,” the Christians and Jews, and at the next moment to slaughter them in the cruelest ways imaginable. No problem. It’s simply Allah’s will.
Not so with the true and living God of the Bible. There is no doctrine of abrogation in Scripture. God enacts mercy because God is merciful, and He always acts in complete alignment with His character. In fact, His righteousness could be described as God’s perfect consistency in acting according to His essential character. Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, yes and forever.”
So as we consider the communicable attributes of God, once again we are venturing into the Holy of Holies by the invitation of God Himself, safely hidden in Christ from His holy wrath, invited to see Him as He really is. Our vision and understanding will be limited by our creatureliness, but we will see Him truly as He has revealed Himself.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

A Motivation for the Study of Theology

[From my introduction to the student notes for ATT Session 7, on the Incommunicable Attributes of God]

There is an important lesson waiting for us in Scripture, and it has to do with knowing God. The lesson is this: the true knowledge of God, when wholeheartedly embraced, is in itself sufficient to enable us to meet life's suffering and disappointments

We humans get this backwards. In our minds, what is necessary to meet the need of human suffering is human comfort. It certainly is important to care and express human sympathy, support, and compassion. And it is quite right and loving to do so.

But the Book of Job has something to contribute to this discussion of the sufficiency of the knowledge of God. Job suffered as few have. He lost his children, his wealth, and his health. All in a single day. His wife's helpful advice was, "Curse God and die!" (Job 2:9).

Job had three outstanding friends who sought to comfort him, investing a huge amount of time with him, grieving silently with him for seven straight days and nights. Then they sought to help him by bringing some perspective to his suffering. It is easy to blame Job's friends, but you must admit that they had earned a hearing by their obvious care for him. But their attempts at comfort fell short. They blamed Job for sin he had not committed, and Job retreated into self-righteousness, ultimately intimating that God was unfair.

But it was God who brought resolution and comfort to the situation. God sent a young man by the name of Elihu to set the stage by defending God's sovereign righteousness. God Himself then finally appeared and spoke to Job. What God said to Job is jarring to our perception of how a suffering person should be comforted. God essentially said, "Job! Look at me! Are you as great as I am? Can you do what I can do?"
When God was finished, Job repented of his self-righteousness and became satisfied in his God. Did you get that? Job was comforted when he gazed on the greatness of his God!

Think of the Letters to the Seven Churches in Revelation chapters two and three. Each of the churches was suffering some form of persecution. They each were facing certain dangers. But God opens each letter by describing Himself, and closes each by giving them a promise. 

What I am saying is this: we are so designed, so created, so wrought that we find our greatest comfort, satisfaction and delight in knowing truly our God. At the end of the day, your proper knowledge of theology is comforting and sustaining. The Catholic Church has a name for this: they call it the Beatific Vision. The Beatific Vision is said to be the eternal and direct perception of God enjoyed by those who are in Heaven, imparting supreme happiness or blessedness [wikipedia]. But we have the beatific vision now, in a sense, as we see our God through His Son and His Word. And it does indeed impart supreme happiness and blessedness--and comfort in the midst of suffering.

Is there a better reason to study theology?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Book Review: Show Them Jesus

Show Them Jesus is reputed to be a book about teaching the gospel to kids, as the subtitle suggests. But it’s actually a captivating, practical theology, expanding what it means to be united with Christ through the gospel. The author does an outstanding job of weaving an orthodox understanding of the gospel of grace into an instruction manual for reading, interpreting, and teaching the Bible through the lens of our union with Christ.

As a manual for teachers and parents, it is indispensable. The author provides practical tips in each chapter teaching how to uncover the Bible's emphasis on Jesus Christ in the background of every story. He demonstrates that the gospel is always the point. The moralism that pervades much of modern children's ministry curriculum is exposed as a sterile legalism that perverts rather than proclaims the gospel.

 But suppose you aren’t a teacher, or a parent. Suppose your view of the gospel has been that, yes, I am saved through faith, and now that I am saved God’s love for me and pleasure in me is commensurate with my obedience. That if two pounds of obedience yields two pounds of love from the Father, four pounds of obedience will double His love. Klumpenhower gently dismantles that perspective, showing that the gospel of grace is always the rule through which God views His children. This book is balm to the soul of one who has been raised in a performance-based Christian environment. Using fascinating illustrations from years of communicating the gospel to kids, the author wields an impressive command of Scripture to demonstrate that the Christian is beloved by God precisely because he is in Christ.

For too long the vital doctrine of Union with Christ has been overlooked by the Church. Happily, in our day it’s being rediscovered. This little volume is part of that renewed appreciation. Though there are a few bones I might pick at in chapter nine, I just love this book. Five stars. Ten stars, really. I thoroughly recommend this book—both as an instruction book for parents and teachers, and as a volume useful for counseling someone who’s entrapped in perfectionism or a performance mentality.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Book Review: Primary Politics

The full title is “Primary Politics: How Presidential Candidates Have Shaped the Modern Nominating System,” and the book fully delivers what the title promises. Elaine C. Kamarck has served both the DNC and the Clinton White House, as well as the Gore Campaign. She brings an insider’s view to the table.

Kamarck begins by recounting how—and why—the national political party machinery sought to retain control over the presidential nomination process. A populist reform movement began to grow in the late sixties whose vision was to place control of the nominations in the hands of the average voter.

Using the presidential nominations from 1968 to 2008, she traces how the Democratic Party in particular moved from caucuses (which favored party control) and winner-take-all primaries (which allowed weak candidates with early wins to gain more momentum than they should) to the proportional representation (which gives the voter-on-the-street control) reflected in the modern Democratic nomination process.

Kamarck shows that presidential candidates who don’t focus on the early voting states do poorly, and further, that campaigners who don’t shift their focus from winning votes to winning delegates in the second half of the campaign likewise fail to make the cut.

The last part of the book is devoted to discussing the whys and wherefores of uncommitted superdelegates, and whether or not party conventions really matter anymore. Her final chapter is particularly strong, as she talks about possible reforms being considered after the 2008 conventions.

I read the book as part of the research for my upcoming novel, The Candidate. It was an eye-opener to the back room machinations of both political parties, as well as a good primer on basic campaign strategy to capture the nomination of one of the major parties. I recommend the book if you are a political junkie looking for in-depth, behind-the-scenes problems and tactics of a race to win the presidential nomination.

Running Commentary, Part Two

Ran 3 miles today. Bluetooth headphones worked great this time. I identified my problem from before - it was a BUOD (pronounced Boo odd), also known as a one dee ten tee (a 1D10T). Might take some of you a bit to translate, but maybe if I unwind BUOD it will help: Bad User On Device.

In any case, Strava did not do much better today. I disabled the auto-pause function and was able to get rid of the running pause/running resumed problem. But the User Interface is not very intuitive. I have a feeling much of the problem is my phone: a Samsung Galaxy Proclaim. You know how the Android operating systems are designated by a cute little confectionary, like Gingerbread, Jelly Bean, or Lollipop? Well, mine is Okra. Or Eggplant. Early, early days. It's so bad that if you want to make a phone call at 11, you need to start dialing at 10:30.

So Strava is getting a bad rap on my DumbPhone. But I will say this: for all its problems, RunKeeper actually works on my DumbPhone. Strava seems to be really struggling.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Running Commentary

Okay, I ran today. It was an experience. I’m the only person you know who can turn a simple thirty minute jog into a ninety minute technological nightmare. Wanna shake my hand?

Anyway, let’s get to the good news first. I ran.

Now, on to the bad news . . .

Okay, there was more good news. I successfully carried my Christmas snacks, all of ‘em, around my three-mile course, without dying of a heart attack. That’s really good news. On the other hand, I was sufficiently apoplectic over my technology problems that it was far more likely a stroke would take me than an exercise-induced heart-attack. So I suppose I can add that to the good-news side of the ledger: I died neither of stroke nor heart attack, and at the moment of this writing remain in the land of the living.

I did, however, lose my sanctification. If anyone sees it laying beside the road, would you please catch it and drop it by the house?

That was the beginning of the bad news. Pray, continue.

Today I got to use my new Bluetooth headphones for the first time. Maybe the last time. I am seriously considering uninstalling them and reinstalling the tin cans and string that preceded them. Using these headphones requires an intelligence quotient I haven’t seen since college.

The right earpiece comes with five controls allowing me to control my music and to use the telephone—which I am bound and determined to never do. In my opinion, telephones are designed to be seen and not heard, but that’s another story: back to the music.

No one told me two essential pieces of information: first, it requires the fingers of a concert pianist to hit “volume up” rather than “dial the telephone,” especially when you are simultaneously lugging your Christmas cookies around the block.

My inability to hit the proper button perturbed me significantly until I landed upon yet another insight—the second piece of information about which I was not informed: these headphones randomly reassign the buttons to different functions as you run. Ha! Two minutes ago that WAS the volume-up button. Now it’s the “skip this song” button!

This was not a pleasant discovery. You see, part of the fun of running—wait, no, let me phrase that more accurately—part of that which makes running slightly more tolerable than a root canal is listening to music as I haul my cookies over the landscape. And because I am mostly deaf, I need a slightly elevated volume when I run. You know, sort of like the teenager who pulls up next to you at the light, music blaring so loud the vibrations readjust your mirrors? Yeah, that’s me when I’m running.

So the first mile I’m running with my fingers in my ear, punching buttons, frantically trying to get my music to a rock-concert decibel level where I can hear it. No dice. Very faint, barely audible. I found the “skip this song” button, the “dial this phone” button, the “volume down” button, but no “volume up” button.

Due solely to the fact that it is very wearisome (not to speak of embarrassing) to run with your finger in your ear, I gave up and slogged the next mile with nothing more than the faintest whisper of music.

Somewhere in mile two I decided to try again. Wouldn’t you know it, the button randomizer had assigned the volume-up function to the “volume up” button. Oh, thank you, thank you! I adjusted the volume to where it was setting off car alarms as I ran past, and I was happy as a clam.

Until mile three. When [running paused] Strava, my running program on my smartphone [running resumed] decided to flake out. Every ten [running paused] seconds it [running resumed] was telling me that the [running paused] pause function had [running resumed] kicked in. Honestly, I was not going [running paused] that slow. [running resumed]! The only advantage [running paused] was that [running resumed] it made your favorite songs [running paused] last longer be-[running resumed]cause it paused the song with each announcement.

It did this little pause/resume thing for the rest of my run. Very tiresome. To add insult to injury, I couldn’t get Strava to exit when I finished my run. Finally just turned off the stupid phone. Rock concert was over, anyway.

Next time I run, I’m leaving the headphones and telephone home. Wish I could leave the cookies home, too.

[Editorial note: this is a true story, only slightly embellished He’s still looking for his sanctification.]

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Book Review: When I Am Afraid

With When I am Afraid, Ed Welch of CCEF continues serving the church of Jesus Christ in the arena of Biblical Counseling. A companion volume to his book RunningScared, this seven-week workbook tackles the problems of fear, worry, and anxiety with a counselor’s mind and a pastor’s heart. As with all workbooks, the study is very interactive; each chapter is riddled with questions designed to elicit from the reader both information about his own fears and a response to what God says about them.

In Week 1, “Fear and Anxiety Speak Out,” Welch counsels us to discover our fears and then listen to what they are saying. Ultimately they are saying something about God Himself. Rather than turning away from God in fear, the reader is admonished to turn to God when afraid.

“The God of Suspense Reveals His Plans,” proclaims the title of Week 2. Welch illustrates from the Old Testament that God is the One who delivers at the eleventh hour. The author demonstrates that God does not give grace in advance, but instead specializes on just-in-time delivery. He calls this the “Manna Principle;” it’s there when you need it, but not before.

Weeks 3-5 address three of the more common triggers of worry, fear, and anxiety. Financial problems, death, and the fear of man each receive their own treatment as Welch continues to apply the Scriptures with the deft hand of a spiritual surgeon.

“The God of Hope Keeps His Promises” is the theme of Week 6. The summation of this week of study is that God promises to be with us in all that happens; He is near and He walks through the trials with us. God’s own faithfulness becomes our rock of refuge in time of trouble.

Welch wraps up his study with Week 7, “The Lord Reigns – Things Are Not the Way They Seem.” Though the disaster, sin, and sorrow of the world seems to be winning, the King is present and active. Welch uses Psalm 46 to reassure the reader that God’s sovereign control is exercised unfailingly on behalf of His children. One day His reign and justice will be seen by all.

The cover represents the book as “A Step-by-Step Guide Away From Fear and Anxiety.” Most of the steps Welch lists are cognitive ones that involve recognizing and relying upon the living God who is present with His people. If you are looking for a detailed check list of things you can do to defeat fear and anxiety, you might want to keep looking. Welch’s aim is far deeper: he wants to strike at the root of fear, which has to do with the heart-based perceptions of the reader. Welch proclaims a God who really is active and powerful on our behalf, who really is a provider and protector, who sees the end from the beginning and carries His people all the way through. I highly recommend When I am Afraid.