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.