Thursday, November 15, 2018

Review of Priceless Jewel, by John Marshall with Marilyn Marshall

There are some things we cannot know apart from experiencing them. Among them is what it is like to be seriously chronically ill, or to be the caregiver of one who is. John and Marilyn Marshall’s book, Priceless Jewel, cracks open the door to give us an inside look at two lives and a marriage in which grievous suffering—for decades—was the order of the day.

In addition to the physical pain, the book explores the spiritual agony of the sufferer wondering why (“Lord, why are you doing this?”), what (“Lord, what do you want me to do in the midst of this?”), how long (“Lord, when will this trial come to an end?”), and the other questions and doubts that plague a faithful believer when encountering pain most of us can’t even imagine. As readers, we get to observe how genuine faith is buttressed by Scripture, loving friends, a faithful church, and competent, caring members of the medical community.

The major sections of the book are organized around Paul’s formula in 1 Corinthians 13:13: “But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.” Each chapter contains citations from rich resources such as Streams in the Desert, Amy Carmichael, Puritan writers, and other giants of the faith. The Marshalls’ writing is crisp and engaging. While the book belongs in the genre of personal memoir, it’s truly an excellent theology of suffering set in the real-world story of a two lovers who had to wrestle with the consequences of an increasingly confined and painful life.

Much of the book was taken from Marilyn’s journal. She recorded not just the physical struggles but the deeper spiritual wrestling matches that occurred as she experienced serious physical illness without any certain diagnosis. Her struggles were exacerbated by laymen and sometimes even medical professionals who advised her that it was “all in her head.” By the time the primary diagnosis of lupus was nailed down (after several decades of suffering), she was experiencing a cascade of concomitant diseases and prescription drug reactions. In her journal Marilyn gives full voice to her struggles with fear, doubt, anger, confusion, and the supremacy of faith. John provides us with the viewpoint of a caregiver who must live caught between the demands of employment, care of the house, preparing meals, and the intensity and heartache of ministering to the one he dearly loves even while he watches her gradually crushed in the slow-motion train-wreck of her illnesses.

Amid the severe trials she maintained a steady faith in the goodness and sovereignty of God and was committed to sharing the joy of Christ with everyone who crossed her path. Marilyn was a true missionary, not to souls in some dark rain forest but to white- and blue-gowned professionals in bright, pristine, antiseptic halls. As the book records, Christ touched dozens of lives through her witness.

Thankfully, few of us will experience or even know someone who suffers a situation as extreme as Marilyn Marshall’s. But most of us do know people doing battle with chronic illness, either as victim or caregiver. This book will be both a comfort and a challenge to those who are caught in the grip of God’s severe mercy. Five stars—highly recommended.

[Full disclosure: I am a friend of the author.]

Saturday, October 13, 2018

My Garbage disposal is indisposed

[Editor's Note: The following story is true. Mostly true. Okay, somewhat-but-not-too-greatly embellished. Names have been changed to protect the incompetent.  Any resemblance to someone you know is purely accidental. No garbage disposals were harmed in the following account. Well, not too much, anyway.]

"What is that?" you ask.


No, really, it’s an award-winning photograph looking down the maw of my voracious garbage disposal. Only I haven’t really won any awards with the picture. I keep hoping Better Homes and Gardens will see it.

Anyway, my garbage disposal is indisposed, is no longer voracious, and therefore I am, well, disposing of it. In a moment of inexplicable madness, I decided to do the job myself. I never learn. 

It doesn’t help my confidence when Step #1 tells me to use a qualified installer. Oh well. At least one-twentieth of the instructions are in English—surely this can’t be too hard! I can do this, even if it does have seventy-four steps and a release of legal liability I need to sign. No sweat.  

I convince myself that the hardest part of the task will be getting to the disposal. The valuable contents under my kitchen sink would probably fill two Mayflower moving vans. Okay, I’m exaggerating a little—the contents aren’t really that valuable.

Anyway, I am psyching myself up for this job. I want to see how long it takes me, so I’m setting the calendar app on my phone to time myself. Not sure whether I should choose the “week” display or the “month” display. I’m optimistic, so I’ll choose “week.” Ready, set GO!

Oh, brother. The first problem is Mandy. As I’m trying to unload the contents under the sink into a spare 40’ shipping container on the driveway, Mandy wants to explore. Under the sink. Go away, cat!

I removed enough glass vases to stock a flower shop well into the 22nd century. Some of those vases were big enough to plant a large sapling in. If you need any glass vases, give me a call. I’ll pay you to take ‘em.

There were enough cleaning supplies under there to sanitize Love Canal. Oh, wait, most of you probably aren’t old enough to get that reference. Never mind.

When I finally wheeled away the stuff that was stored under my sink I had enough room to chase down the little troll that lives under there. I boxed his ears and told him to go live in the basement drain. 

Wait, sorry, overactive imagination. There is no troll under my sink. But there are probably a few orcs under there. . . .

As I get deeper into this complex job, the number of tools on the jobsite grows. I later discovered that I didn't need the shovel. But I have a feeling I might need the crowbar. For . . . something.

See this little guy right here. He’s crucial for the job. He’s also a little life-threatening, especially if you happen to be a certified jack-leg (which I am). You see, there’s this little collar that holds your disposal up to the bottom of the sink. The little funny-shaped wrench is what you use to turn the collar and release the disposal.

I figured that after sitting there disposing of garbage since the 1960’s, that little collar would be frozen solid. So I wormed around, contorting my 6’2” frame into a space designed for one of the Seven Dwarfs, put that wrench on that collar and applied some real potatoes to it (you know, like enough to open a file drawer). That baby's got to be frozen solid.

Nope. That ol' garbage disposal came down like a satellite reentering the earth’s atmosphere. I wasn't ready for it. It crashed into the (rotten) cabinet floor and I was sure it would keep going all the way into the basement, and crush the poor troll (who by this time, had wisely relocated to where he thought he would be out of harm’s way). (Guess again, sucker!)

Anyway, glad it didn't hit me on the way down. Whew! After playing dodge-ball with the old disposal, I discovered this in the new disposal's box. Wish I'd seen it earlier.

Finally, got the flotsam and jetsam cleaned up. Discovered a significant fact in cleanup: did you know that when you’ve disconnected all the plumbing under your double sink, and then run some water to assist with cleanup, that water doesn’t go where you think it’s gonna go—even if you run it into the side that didn’t have the indisposed disposal?

After cleaning up the mess and having survived heavy fallen objects and other artifacts of ineptitude, I am finally ready to install the new disposal.  I look at my timer. Good! The calendar page hasn’t flipped yet! We're still in the same week! After shooing Mandy off the instructions I dive in. Hmm. I wonder what plumber’s putty is?

Finally get most all the pieces parts in their proper place (I am ignoring the ones remaining—obviously the manufacturer must have shipped spares). It is now time for the big moment. Somehow I need to lift this ninety-pound disposal with only one hand while laying on my back and using the other hand to guide it into place, while I use my OTHER hand to tighten the little ringy thing that keeps the whole assembly from falling on me (like a satellite reentering—you remember). This is the other place where that funny little wrench comes into play.

Wait. I’ve just got two hands, and neither (nor both together) can lift this boat anchor into place whilst on my back.

Houston, we have a problem.

This requires some thought.

The final solution (disturbing phrase, that) was to wedge myself under the cabinet with the disposal resting on my knee (glad I’ve been running—plenty of strength there), and leverage it up with my knee while my two hands guide the beast into place and turn that bloomin' collar, desperately trying to prevent the monster from duplicating the reentry descent of the old one.

It worked. Whew. The disposal is secure.

Now for the electrical. This I can do, no problem, as soon as I figure out why some wires are white and the others black. Do opposites attract? Or is it birds of a feather? Oh whatever! Just hook ‘em up and worry about color later . . .  

After much weeping and gnashing of teeth, interspersed with multiple trips to Lowes, a few calls to my psychiatrist, and totally redoing the plumbing under the sink, I finish the task. Probably not in record time, though. Doesn't matter. My disposal disposes. That's what counts.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Finally figured it out

Yes. This. This is who I am. This is what I do.

Art of any lasting value honestly explores the profound enigma of the human condition and the questions that influence our lives and our destinies. This is the type of writing that honest authors strive to produce.
Rage against mediocrity.
Imbue your fiction with truth.
We are artists. We are writers—slightly neurotic and probably addicted to coffee, late nights, sunsets, laughter, tears, and heartache. Creativity is our drug. We lose ourselves in the smell of old books. We’re bewildered by how we can live in a world this full of glory and grief and not be awestruck by every moment. And we write stories to help wake people up before they fall asleep for good.

[Steven James, Story Trumps Structure, p 244]

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Discovering a fresh loss

When a loved one dies, it isn’t possible to immediately assess all that has been lost. Sometimes it takes years to realize all that I am missing when someone close passes away.

If that person is a Christian, you know you haven’t lost them—they’ve just been promoted to God’s presence, where one day you too will be if you know Christ as Savior. You’ve not lost them but you no longer have access to them, and all that they were and all that they did and all that they meant is has been pulled away from you and carried off. Relocated. Out of sight. For a time.

Certainly they left a blessed legacy, but they themselves are gone.

You can’t sit down and have a cup of coffee with a legacy. You can’t hug a legacy, or shake hands with a memory. The loss is real.

I discovered a fresh loss yesterday. Tom Perry was (is!) my brother-in-law. He was (is!) the husband of my wife’s identical twin, Diane. Tom went to be with Jesus on June 21st of this year. It was unexpected—a shock.

Yesterday I sent out the first two chapters of my next book to my beta-readers. Tom was one of my beta-readers. He would read with a very positive, yet critical eye. Although he could pick out a typo readily, Tom wasn’t into grammar and syntax. He could spot stuff that didn’t belong. A character acting out of character. A plot point that stretched credibility.

And he could provide positive suggestions, nuances or scenes I hadn’t thought of. And he was always very encouraging. A great beta-reader. A great friend and brother-in-law.

I discovered a fresh loss yesterday. Yes, it is a selfish thing, my loss. Trivial in the overall scheme of things. Perhaps. But a loss, nonetheless.

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13–14)

Saturday, August 25, 2018

A Crunch-Munch Experience!

So, the doorbell rings while I'm unloading the dishwasher. [Yes, I actually do know how to do that. And I can load it back up, too!] I open the door to find Mailman Rich walking back down my driveway, and a big box from Amazon on my doorstep, along with some mail.

[If your mail is like mine, the vast majority is junk. Please note that's not Rich's fault.]

[As a side note: were you aware that a land mass approximately the size of California is clear cut every day to produce those all-important privacy notices, credit-card solicitations, and political advertisements?]

[Okay, I just made that statistic up. Don't quote me or I'll send you a privacy notice. But back to the point . . .]

So, what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a big box from Amazon. "Doris, did you order anything from Amazon? No? Neither did I. What's this?"

"Open it," she says. So I did. And oh, my, my my!

Someone saw my Facebook post about having exhausted my Crunch Munch supply--some wonderful, merciful, generous person. [And I really don't know who!]

[Honest, I didn't order it for myself!]

Here's the best part: it came with strict instructions printed on the case. Instructions I intend to fully comply with:

 Inside the carton was this wonderful sight:

Twelve boxes! Let's see, if my calculations are correct, in order to fully comply with the strict instructions, I'll be needing to eat a box a week in order to finish them by December 1.


But how do you know they're not for Doris?, you ask.  Ha! Easy answer. My name was on the shipping label. But I will share. Thankfully, she's not quite the fan I am. [Oops. Did I really say that?]

This wonderful gift might require me to start running a little more faithfully each week, lest I begin wearing the stuff around my waist.

To my unknown benefactor: many, many thanks! This is going to fuel many late nights writing Outlander Chronicles: Icarus! [With coffee, of course.]

[Hmm. Wonder if I can work Crunch Munch into the story?]

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Book Review: Zach Eswine's Spurgeon's Sorrows: Realistic Hope for those who Suffer from Depression

This is cherry-picking Spurgeon at his very best!

The term “cherry-picking” is often used pejoratively—I don’t use it that way here. Zach Eswine has mined Spurgeon’s sermons with the sort of care for detail a private investigator might employ in evaluating a target’s email. Spurgeon was both a sufferer of depression as well as a comforter of the depressed: he knows well of what he speaks. As Eswine demonstrates, the nineteenth-century “prince of preachers” provided a treasure-trove of wisdom regarding depression.

Like Spurgeon’s own experience of depression, Eswine’s book is for two audiences: counselors and the depressed, as is made clear from its organization. Part One has to do with understanding the dark pit of depression. Sufferers will find that they are reading an author who understands their despair. Eswine’s use of metaphor and his commentary on the Scripture’s use of metaphor turns his writing into a thing of sensitive beauty, although counselors might itch for him to get from description to prescription (an impatience the author warns us about).

Part Two, “Learning How to Help Those Who Suffer from Depression,” contains almost as many cautions for those seeking to help the depressed as it does positive directions for soul care. Chapter 7, “Helps that Harm” illustrates things not to do when caring for the depressed.

Eswine provides good advice for weary souls who find themselves in the black night of despair in Part Three: “Learning Helps to Daily Cope with Depression.” In his chapter “Natural Helps” the author makes a case for the judicious use of medicine, as well as other remedies such as laughter and times of rest. His chapter on suicide is gentle but firm.

This is an eminently usable volume: it is accessible to the average reader, it is full of excellent advice, heavily footnoted for those who wish to do extra study, and it’s brief (only 143 pages). It’s the sort of thing you can give a counselee or read yourself as a counselor. Eswine has done the world of Biblical Counseling a favor with this book; I recommend it highly. Five stars.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Review of Winston Groom's The Aviators

It takes a very skilled writer to accomplish what Winston Groom has done in The Aviators. He weaves the tales of Rickenbacker, Doolittle, and Lindbergh into seamless whole.

It’s a great book, filled with fascinating stories of perhaps the three most fascinating characters in the history of aviation, outside of the Wright brothers themselves. Groom tracks all three characters in a fairly tight chronology, writing a virtual biography of each man. The most confusing feature of the book for me will probably be the favorite feature for other readers: the accounts of the three are intertwined at the chapter level. This chapter might be devoted (wholly) to Lindbergh, the next chapter to Doolittle, and so on. It definitely holds your interest. But the net effect for me as a reader was that—other than the single major event that defined their lives (Rickenbacker: WWI ace; Lindbergh: first cross-Atlantic flight; Doolittle: the 1942 raid on Tokyo)—I became confused as to who did what. The three tales converge in World War 2, as each man has something of significance to contribute to the war effort.

Groom’s writing style is excellent. Rather than projecting the cold distance of the academician, the writing is warm and accessible, more of a story-telling format. The book is meticulously footnoted, and Groom does an good job of presenting both sides of points that are in dispute among historians. He’s not afraid to render his own ideas on the matter, even when disputing a majority opinion.

In a nice touch Groom takes each man’s story all the way to their death, and then writes a clear-eyed retrospective on their lives.

If you are researching the early days of aviation, or are merely fascinated by its history, this book is a must-read. Five stars.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Review of R. C. Sproul's Knowing Scripture

Car advertisements on TV have progressed (??) from being informative in years past, to idiotic, to truly moronic in modern times. So please pardon me when I borrow an overused phrase from contemporary silly car commercials, but Sproul’s little volume, Knowing Scripture, is truly “best-in-class” for concise books that help the reader interpret the Bible.

Sproul’s writing is warm and friendly, almost whimsical at times, which belies the immensely intelligent, well-schooled, sharp mind behind the volume. The average layman will find this book easy to read, easy to understand, and very encouraging as it admonishes him to read—and interpret—his Bible.

The first chapter explores the motivations and necessity behind the Christian’s obligation to read the Scripture, and the second chapter follows on smoothly with the question of private Bible interpretation. Sproul argues for the idea that private interpretation is necessary and legitimate, but must be informed by the teachers (through history) God has gifted to the Church. He also deals with the matter of objectivity and subjectivity in interpretation.

A wide-angle view of hermeneutics occupies the third chapter as Sproul deals with larger issues such as genre analysis, metaphor, the grammatical-historical approach, source criticism, and how such matters inform literal interpretation.

If chapter three deals with hermeneutics on the “strategic” level, chapter four approaches it from the “tactical” level as the author unfolds and explains eleven rules to guide the interpretive endeavor. Chapter five deals with some of the difficult issues swirling around the question of how both the biblical writer’s and modern reader’s cultural contexts affect meaning.

Finally Sproul lists numerous helpful resources and tools for Bible study in chapter six. As a humorous side note, Sproul thinks it is a simple matter to master the Greek and Hebrew alphabets (well, okay), and a thousand-word vocabulary of Greek (ah, not so simple). Maybe it is simple for him and for other men and women of his intellect, but I found it very challenging (and then found maintaining a hard-earned Greek and Hebrew vocabulary to be nigh unto impossible, since other demands crowd into post-seminary life).

Knowing Scripture is truly the “best-in-class” volume for an introductory look at how to read and interpret the Bible. Highly recommended.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Review of E. B. Sledge, With the Old Breed

This was a fascinating but painful read. E. B. Sledge has been in the worst of combat that man can endure (in fact, most cannot endure it) and writes with the quiet, unembellished confidence of a survivor who managed to retain his sanity--and decency. Sledge is one of the few writers I have ever read who exposes the raw brutality of war--and hates war and all its wanton destruction--and yet admits to the sad fact that war is sometimes the only solution.

With the Old Breed tracks the actions of K Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment of the 1st Marine Division at Peleliu and Okinawa. Once the narrative gets to the actual extended battles, it is a horrific exposition of a meat-grinder beyond what our imaginations are even capable of conceiving. Sledge writes as an enlisted man: the perspective of the jarhead in the foxhole. He manages to convey to the reader the mud, the bone-weariness, the filth, the stench, and the terror of extended battle under constant shelling and nightly attacks from an opponent for whom suicide raids were standard operating procedure.

I understand that With the Old Breed is required reading in officer school--and it should be. It should also be required reading for every politician at the federal level.

May we all come to hate war with the passion, logic, and reasonableness of Sledge--even while understanding that in a fallen world filled with evil, war is sometimes the only way to restrain the worst of men and societies. Five stars, highly recommended.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Review of John MacArthur's Strange Fire

This book is an outgrowth of the Strange Fire conference that MacArthur hosted in 2013. As has been the case with the cessationist/continuationist debate, no doubt the book will be met with divided opinions, sometimes bitterly divided.

MacArthur’s thesis is that the modern-day Charismatic and Pentecostal modes of worship, which focus on the employment of the charismatic gifts common to the apostolic church of the first century, constitutes worship foreign to what Scripture provides for the post-apostolic church—hence the title, “Strange Fire.”

While he treats the leading theological lights of the movement (genuine, credible scholars such as Grudem and Piper) with respect, nonetheless MacArthur makes a strong case that the movement in the main is theologically aberrant, having been swallowed up by the false gospel of prosperity and health. Using a deluge of well-documented statistics, he shows that the vast majority of the charismatic and Pentecostal movement have adopted the prosperity gospel—and that the number of responsible scholars in the movement who remain faithful to the true gospel is vanishingly small. These two charges (improper worship, and the majority pursuing the prosperity gospel) form the core of the author’s contention.

Part One documents the beginnings and history of Pentecostalism and its spin-off, the charismatic movement. Of particular note was the original Pentecostal view of modern manifestation of tongues (they were considered known languages by the founders of the movement), contrasted with the doctrinal change made necessary when it became clear the modern manifestation was not known languages. Uncomfortable to some readers will be the exposure of the doctrinal and behavioral deviations of the founders of the movement.

Part Two takes the charismatic gifts one by one (the gifts of apostleship, prophecy, tongues, and healing) and explores the movement’s doctrinal claims for their continuation. Using solid exegesis, MacArthur makes his case for why he believes these gifts have ceased and that the modern demonstrations of them are wholly illegitimate. Some readers will again be very uncomfortable with the heavily documented exposure of many of the movement’s leaders and adherents.

In Part Three, MacArthur lays out what he believes to be an accurate exposition of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. He concludes with “An Open Letter to my Continuationist Friends,” in which he pleads with them to consider the harm their positions are doing to the Church.

While John MacArthur can at times really turn me off with his harsh polemics, I find it very difficult to dispute with his contentions in this book. He has made a strong case for his position. One of the things I gain from the book is the understanding that the moment you allow subjective experience to govern your hermeneutics, you have just thrown away the guardrails of doctrine. Grudem and Piper, though I love them and read their books, are hard pressed to contend with the abuses of the movement they have aligned with. When subjective experience has been allowed to inform their theology, they cannot very well question someone else’s experience—they would have to saw off the limb on which they themselves are perching.
Four stars. Highly recommended.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Enjoy the beach, the lake, or the recliner with a good book!

Are you looking for some fun summertime reading?

Would you like some action-packed page-turners that don’t require you to wash the filth out of your brain when you’re done with ‘em? Maybe something with a little more substance than your average pulp fiction? Let me suggest a few ideas. By the way, if you are already ON vacation and forgot to bring a good book, all of these can be ordered on Kindle and enjoyed on your tablet or smart phone using the free Kindle App. You could be reading in ten minutes!

MILITARY/ESPIONAGE THRILLER: The Falcon Trilogy: Falcon DownFalcon RisingFalcon Strike.

Major Jacob “Falcon” Kelly is shot down by the Soviet Union and captured in a hi-tech kidnapping during the Cold War. He is the chief test pilot for a new, super-secret F16 weapons package, and the Soviets intend to interrogate him to learn its secrets. They’ve detained him at a secret GRU facility in Siberia, but whether or not they’ll be able to hold on to him is another matter. He has some skills of which they are unaware.

Of Falcon Down, Kirkus Reviews said:
Cobb has clearly done his research on multiple counts and, like Tom Clancy or Dale Brown, masterly intertwines military technology and behavior into a tightly plotted narrative in which every development follows logically and smoothly from what came before. This deft touch extends to the characters . . . .
An Amazon reader says of Falcon Rising, Book 2 of the Falcon trilogy: If you want a book you can put down, this might not be for you! I loved this book and the first book (Falcon Down) in this series as well! C.H. Cobb transports and entangles you alongside his characters with such vivid detail. I felt like I was one step behind them the whole way through this action-adventure. Can't wait for the next one!

Of Falcon Strike, an Amazon reader says: Cold War Russia in the 80's with all of the intrigue and eavesdropping, plus the US military at its very best. The reader gets a front row seat for the back room discussions of both sides with clear descriptions that provide a vivid mind picture of all the action. Plenty of unexpected twists and turns with several places to hold your breath waiting for the worst to happen.

Another reader comments: The third book in the Falcon series does not disappoint! It was as engaging as its predecessors. I could not put it down. The final battle was epic. Make sure you read all 3.

Henry Marshall is a principled Christian conservative blogger who is convinced that both major parties have abandoned the Constitution. His intention is to be nothing more than a political gadfly, but his friends won’t allow him to stay on the sidelines, and his enemies don’t intend to allow him to live.

Journalist and author TJ Martinell said:
Penned before the 2016 election cycle and the Trump phenomenon, The Candidate is a political thriller that unwittingly earns a place within the alternative history genre for its exploration of how far a man can go armed only with a message – and how far those within the establishment will go to stop him. . . . [M]any of the aspects of the plot seem prophetic, rather than slightly fanciful.
A pastor by trade, Cobb’s writing reflects extensive background knowledge of mainstream media, political strategy, the military, and of course constitutional history; each chapter begins either with a Bible verse or a passage from the Federalist Papers. The technical preciseness gives vital story subplots a sense of authenticity and realism.

The year is 2120, but life in the USA—and around the globe—has been reduced to primitive survival. Eighty years earlier, a biological weapon of mass destruction caused a global smallpox pandemic, leaving only eight million survivors scattered around the entire globe. Jacen Chester, living near the ruins of Philadelphia, PA, decides that there must be more to life than mere survival. He determines to restart civilization and culture. He is aided by a mysterious stranger, and opposed by murderous groups.

One reader remarked about Phoenix: Dystopian fictions are so extremely popular and common right now that I made the mistake of lumping Phoenix in with all of the other ones, before having read it. What this book offers, from the beginning, is what others have a hard time offering. And that is a message of hope. [Amazon reader review]

Outlander Chronices: Pegasus
Book 2 of the Outlander Chronicles series. The Phoenix community has the mistaken notion that upon crossing the Mississippi west into Iowa, their troubles will be over. Little do they know that the worst challenges lie ahead of them.

[Pegasus is due for a June 15 release (print version) and July 10 (Kindle version). It will be available in print and Kindle versions, from Amazon and bookstores everywhere, as well as from my website.]

Psalm 90 is explored paying particular attention to the backdrop of the remarkable life of its author, Moses. Two themes in the psalm create a dramatic tension: divine wrath and grace. Jesus Christ is shown to be the necessary answer to Moses’ prayer. Suitable for groups or individuals.

Chris Cobb’s exegesis of Psalm 90 is solid and sobering. In a world that takes sin lightly, Christianity needs to hear the message of this Psalm which Chris Cobb has brought to life. [Dr. Brent Aucoin, President of Faith Bible Seminary,

Lafayette, Indiana]

All the books above can be purchased in print or Kindle format on Amazon, or can be ordered at your local bookstore (in Greenvlle, OH, at Bread of Life Bookstore). You can order signed print copies from me at or

Sunday, May 20, 2018

That moment when you realize you're an idiot.

Have you ever had one of those “aha!” moments in which an aspect of your own behavior you had thought wise is revealed to be utterly foolish?

Having preached on wisdom this morning from Proverbs 2, this is a particularly embarrassing “aha.” More like an “oops.” Or perhaps a “well, duh!” Maybe even a “you bonehead!”

‘Twill be a bit complicated to unwind this thing, so bear with me. It’s about my books [I write books you’ve never heard of, okay?]. It’s about trusting in the Lord, or rather, misplaced trust. No, I must be honest here: it’s about sheer, fire-engine red, fog-horn-blasting stupidity. On my part.

Maybe I’d better back up and start over. I write books. I like to write. I write great stories [just ask me—I’ll tell you]. But I hate marketing. So I figured to be religious about this marketing business: “If the Lord wants my books to sell, He’ll make it happen.” Sounds very spiritual, doesn’t it? Sounds like real confidence in the Lord, right? It’s super-spiritual, wise serenity, right?

Well, yeah. Of course it is  . . . At least, it sounds that way.

Until we apply that logic elsewhere. Allow me to demonstrate:
“If the Lord wants this field to grow my crops, He’ll plant the seed.”
“If the Lord wants me to pay my bills, He’ll bring in the money whether or not I work.”
“If the Lord wants me to be a marathon runner, He’ll give me the cardio, the leg muscles, and the absolute foolishness [wait, I didn’t actually say that, did I?] to run 26.2 miles. [Don’t forget the point two, otherwise you ain’t crossin’ that finish line, Bubba.]

We pause now for theological identification . . .

The theology in the prior paragraph is known as Keswick theology, and is usually identified by the mantra “let go and let God.” While there is a time and place in which that saying has good credibility (such as, I’m going to let go of my dream of a pain-free life, and let God work through me even in the midst of my suffering), in most cases it winds up meaning, “I’m going to stop sweating it and sit back in my rocker and let God sanctify me.” The problem is that many purveyors of this theology forget to ever get out of the rocker, i.e. they missed the memo that said, “DISCIPLINE thyself to godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7).

We now resume our normal programming . . .

So, there I was, letting go and letting God, trusting Him to not only cause the growth but cultivate and plant the ground as well. I have been doing NOTHING at all about marketing these six excellent stories I have written. It finally struck me the other day that though I profess the biblical view of sanctification, when it came to my books I am a functional Keswicker [is that even a word?].

That’s gonna change. I still HATE MARKETING. But I see now that I need to work hard at it, and THEN trust the Lord for the results. So for the near future, there’s gonna be less writing and more marketing. [Sigh. I really, really don’t like marketing . . .]

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Review of Thomas Howard's Chance or the Dance

A garden of delight is the little book (136 pages) titled “Chance or the Dance, A Critique of ModernSecularism,” by Thomas Howard. Although the topic is serious, the writing is Lewis-like, almost whimsical, and very enjoyable.

The thesis of the author is that a new myth (“if you can’t measure it, it does not exist”) has replaced the old myth (angels, demons, gods, heaven, hell); and with that changing of myth has come a necessary alteration of significance. Under the old myth, everything means everything: the patterns and rhythms and images of everyday humdrum existence all point to an Ultimate Reality—they all mean something. Conversely, under the new myth nothing means anything: everything is the product of random chance, the fortuitous collocation of molecules and atoms and therefore the very concept of meaning or significance is an impossibility.

The book is not a philosophical tome by any means – the writer eschews jargon and uses garden-variety experiences and objects (wherein is the whimsy) – lunch, acorns, soup cans, dishrags – to assert his argument (lurking behind it all I sense he is drawing allusions to Plato’s forms). But it’s not a book to exhaust the reader with mental gymnastics – his points are simple. He also draws richly from the world of art, literature, movies, poetry, etc, to make his case.

Do not be fooled: this is not a book for skimming. He builds the wall of his argument a brick at a time and if you skim you’ll wind up missing bricks here and there. Pay close attention to the first two chapters where he lays out his ideas of the old/new myths, the notion of form and content, and imaging/imagination. These are matters Howard uses constantly throughout the book, and you’ll want to note well what he means by them.

Like Lewis, Tolkien, and Chesterton, Howard comes from the tradition of Anglo-Catholic philosopher/writers. If there’s a bone I have to pick with this excellent and clear-minded tradition it is the exaltation of reason to an excessive height, often putting God at the wrong end of the microscope and making Him the object upon which we exercise our rationality, rather than seeing God as the author of a rationality to which He himself is not subject. This tradition often overlooks the darkness which sin has imposed on our ability to think rationally. In any case, you’ll enjoy Howard’s exquisitely precise argument that comes wrapped in the clothes of everyday life.

Howard only intimates but does not state the ultimate point of his book. He suggests rather than proclaims. As a reader who knows the Ultimate Reality behind the images, I found this to be a little frustrating, something like listening to a truncated rendition of a glorious piece of music. The conductor, coming to the finale of a bravura performance of a gorgeous symphony, waves the orchestra to silence and neglects the the final page. The music hangs in the air, begging for its crescendo. But that is just the sort of subtlety that defines all the pages of this little volume—Howard leaves the reader to connect the final, obvious dots. Perhaps, in the end, that is part of its appeal.

That resolution does come (in the edition that I read) in the afterword by Tyler Blanski. One might accuse Blanski of stating the obvious, but in four pages he does it well. Many readers of this book might be muddling about in darkness. Connecting the lines to the final dots might be asking too much. Blanski marks the path clearly for those wearing the opaque glasses of secularism.

Five stars to Howard’s Chance or the Dance; it is a relentlessly more powerful apologetic than citing facts, figures, and statistics.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Review of Michael D. Aeschliman’s The Restitution of Man: C. S. Lewis and the Case Against Scientism

While neither Aeschliman, nor the philosophers he quotes, possess Lewis' happy ability to clothe complex philosophical notions in the lingo of common man, nonetheless his defense of Lewis' concern about scientism is well done. Aeschliman describes scientism as a misuse of science that asserts "what is not in principle observable is not in fact in existence."

This is an excellent book for exposing the inherent contradictions in philosophical materialism. Reducing man to an object of study is fatally contradictory, because, as Aeschliman points out, the realm of scientific theory is limited to objects lower than man. But when man the observer of man the object assumes that one is higher and the other lower, it is but a short distance from there to the idea that the proper end of science is the manipulation of some men by others for the sake of maximum utility. Man becomes a means to an end, rather than the end itself. Brute facts having triumphed over values (the former being seen as objective and real, the latter as merely subjective), there is no longer any wisdom (what Aeschliman terms sapientia) to govern the use of technology--it may be as readily employed in eugenics or nuclear war as it is in delivering water to an African village.

“Modern scientistic doctrine," Aeschliman says, "holds all fact to be objective and all value to be subjective. To call it a ‘doctrine’ is to draw attention to the fact that its characteristic assumption that only factual statements have validity is itself nonfactual, speculative, and dogmatic; it is, in fact, a diabolically ironic article of faith” [74].

Note well: the book is not anti-science; rather it is a call for science to once again be the handmaiden of wisdom: the recognition that there are ultimate values that define right and wrong, anchored in God Himself. Highly recommended.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Review of Joseph Ellis, The Quartet

At the close of the Revolutionary War Americans tended to view themselves as citizens of sovereign states that were organized into a loose cooperative, not as citizens of a new nation composed of united states. That understanding was codified into the Articles of Confederation. Any hint of a united nation was anathema to the colonists-turned-revolutionaries: that sort of unity smelled like the monarchy they’d just spent precious blood and treasure to escape. Nationhood was the farthest thing from their mind, something viewed with suspicion, not favor.

It was the prescient knowledge of the “quartet,” the four uniquely talented patriots of whom Ellis writes that foresaw coming disaster if the thirteen states failed to unite firmly into a national government worthy of the name. The Philadelphia Convention of 1787 was called by the Confederation Congress to correct the deficiencies of the Articles that had by this time become glaringly obvious. These four men, with the help of several others, hijacked the Convention and wrote a wholly new constitution. Their action—which went far beyond the commission granted by Congress—was technically illegal and constituted a second American revolution.

This is the thesis of Joseph Ellis’s remarkable book, and using primary sources he builds an airtight case for it. Heavily documented but so engagingly written it reads like a novel, the book traces the upbringing and early careers of the quartet: George Washington, John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison. Ellis manages to explain—very believably, I might add—how their backgrounds influenced these four to think and act as they did. The author points out the flaws in the Articles of Confederation, but also explains the political temperature of the populace so we can understand why the Articles came to have such short-comings. Ellis does a great job tracing the sometimes secretive and circuitous means by which three of the four principals managed to put together a convention that would take the radical step of replacing rather than revising the Articles. Along the way they also faced the difficult task of convincing the fourth, George Washington, to throw his considerable political clout behind the effort.

Ellis treats us to the best of the debates and behind-the-scenes maneuvering as the Convention squabbles its way through the creation of a blueprint for a strong federal government capable of administering the massive continent of North America, while leaving a great deal of sovereignty in the hands of the states.

Having recently read The Federalist Papers, this book greatly added to my understanding of the crucial moments and movements of that important post-war period. In closing I should also say that Ellis boldly resists the modern error infecting much contemporary historiography. He refuses to judge the Founding Fathers by the canon of contemporary post-modern “correct” behavior. Ellis evaluates them by their own times and morals and avoids the trap of turning the Founders into either semi-divine saints or slave-holding devils. He has a refreshing objectivity and offers the reader a much more accurate account of late eighteenth-century America than will the politically-correct pieties of many modern historians. I highly recommend this book.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Review of The City that Does Not Age

Americans cannot identify with a modern city built over top of ruins that reach back to the fifth century BC, and even earlier—in other words, a city continuously inhabited for over 2400 years. But that is the situation of modern-day Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, once known as the ancient Thracian city of Serdonpolis. Bistra Johnson has compiled an interesting and comprehensive record of the history of this remarkable place in her book, The City that Does Not Age.

After a prologue that introduces the reader to the topic, Johnson begins to trace the history of Sofia through Thracian and Roman times. The city figured significantly in the history of the Roman Empire as it sat astride the Via Militaris, the Roman road which stretched from Constantinople (modern Istanbul) to Singidunum (modern Belgrade).

As the Roman empire declines through internal assassinations and external threats of the invading Germanic tribes throughout the Middle Ages, Johnson does an excellent job of tracing the volatile fortunes of Sofia, as the welfare of the city rises and falls under different leaders and foreign overlords.

After the crusades the city succumbs to the Ottoman empire, which maintains alternately loose and close control of the city, ultimately resulting in the somewhat peaceful if decidedly tenuous coexistence of local Christians, Muslims and Jews. The level of detail of Johnson’s research and her use of primary and secondary sources pays off as she is able to relate many fascinating accounts of both major and minor events during the period.

The liberation of Sofia from Ottoman domination, and the eventual attaining of Bulgaria’s independence is carefully chronicled. She includes a section on the resurgence of the arts and intelligentsia of the city, as well as its entrance into the modern age. The changing loyalties and fortunes of the city from the beginning of the 20th century until the end of the Soviet era complete the story, bringing the reader to Sofia’s present status as the capital of Bulgaria. Johnson includes a bibliography and an excellent index.

One of the notable tasks Johnson has accomplished is giving the reader an understanding of the significance of Sofia to the larger history of Europe. The city’s location on the Balkan peninsula made it a strategic prize, the control of which gave armies and nations a means of projecting power and influence over a much larger area.

There are some negatives. Two difficulties which frequently bedevil independent authors are apparent in this book: the cover is not impressive, nor is the formatting and editing. Every writer needs a good, professional editor and Johnson is no exception. Even so, her writing is solid though a little uneven at the beginning of the book and the very end.

If I was evaluating on the editing alone I would give this book three stars at most. But the excellent historical account and the strength of the research combine to make this book a good read, well worth the effort. All things considered, I’m giving it four stars.
[Full disclosure: I received a complimentary copy from the author for the purposes of review.]

Friday, January 5, 2018

Review of David Powlison's Making All Things New

Making All Things New: Restoring Joy to the Sexually Broken” is an outstanding book, suitable for both counselors and counselees, and in all probability needed by both (and for the same reasons). Even if we’ve never crossed the line in sexual sin (possible, but highly unlikely in light of Matthew 5:27-28), we’ve all been tempted to find our comfort in resources other than God Himself. That’s ultimately the issue David Powlison addresses.

Though expressing himself in prose Powlison writes like a poet, with deep empathy and suffused with understanding and hope. The intended audience includes both the victimized and the victimizer, and both men and women. This book is no “bible band aid,” but is a theologically responsible, Christ-centered look at the knotty problem of sexual sin.

Powlison spends Chapter 1 orienting the reader to his approach; it is grounded in the realities of the biblical Christian faith: sexual fidelity is good, sexual sin is wrong, and Christ alone can transform the unfaithful into the faithful. The reader is questioned in Chapter 2 about where he or she stands in relation to the topic of sexual brokenness. Hope wrapped in warm understanding of life’s suffering and difficulty is offered. The road of healing is characterized as “walking toward the light,” a metaphor that disabuses us of the notion of quick fixes, all the while holding forth hope for the future.

In Chapter 3 he explores the wide varieties of behaviors that can turn God’s wondrous gift of sex into tragic darkness. At each turn he reveals how such behaviors fall short of and pervert God’s good intentions, and how God in Christ draws near to offer deliverance and healing to both the victim and the predator.

Chapter 4, Renewal is Lifelong, is outstanding. Though aspects of sanctification are indeed crisis events, and God does sometimes deliver in a single stroke, more frequently the process is a long one involving progress, regress, and sometimes standing still. Both healing and growing in obedience are challenges requiring endurance and patience. For biblical counselors, this is a helpful corrective to some of Jay Adams’ earlier writings. One could get the impression from, say, “ChristianCounselor’s Manual,” that nouthetic counseling fixes problems in a relatively short time. Sometimes it does. But the more frequent experience (and I think Adams would agree) is that progress in overcoming habitual sin issues is often slow, beset with setbacks, and in many cases continues until the end of life. Powlison makes the important point that the crucial issue in sanctification is that we are oriented in the right direction—towards Christ.

In Chapter 5, Powlison pulls the dirty veneer off long-term sexual sin, demonstrating that there is more going on in the heart than simply the fall to lust. In fact, what’s going on in the heart might be even more abominable: a reduction of grace to an inverted retribution theology (“I serve You, but You haven’t given me what I want, therefore I will take revenge by indulging in sexual sin”).

In Chapter 6, Powlison discusses some of the motives that might be at work behind sexual transgression, and some of the motivations that might be behind a victim’s responses.

Chapter 7 is spent peeling back the layers of the onion to show that the battle is not simply against the outward, obvious, “big” sin. There are progressive levels of sin and temptation on which the battle for Christ-glorifying purity will be fought, some of which are so subtle and insidious we can barely detect them except in retrospect.

Powlison reminds the reader in Chapter 8 that the goal is much larger than merely not sinning: it is Christlikeness. God’s words to us, “I am with you,” become the focus of the final chapter, in which Powlison encourages us to “get down to today’s skirmish in the great war.”

David Powlison is a gifted counselor and writer: this book just might be Powlison at his best. Highly recommended.