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The Psalms are good medicine for the soul. While they are honest about how hard life is, they restore God to the center of our very messed up lives. Many people are unfamiliar with Hebrew poetry, and struggle to understand and apply the Psalms. This is not helped by the fact that we don’t always, or often, know the context of particular psalms. It is like peeking in someone’s journal as they wrestle with their circumstances.

Dale Ralph Davis is a former OT professor (he has numerous acclaimed commentaries) who is a pastor. He is able to get into the nuts and bolts of the Hebrew for us, and yet this is not an academic exercise. He reveals the pastoral sensitivity throughout the book.

The book is The Way of the Righteous in the Muck of Life. Davis looks at the first 12 psalms. They read like they are adapted from sermons. For instance, this line:

“So .. how happy the man who does not … He is counter-cultural. He is, in a word, different. He is not just a nice, easy-going, tolerant chap who likes to share a Lowenbrau with you. There’s a difference between the righteous man here and what my culture calls a ‘good old boy.'”

Do people drink Lowenbrau? Is is still sold? You get the point though. Davis does live in the real world. He helps us to understand the Psalmist’s world and connects it with ours. These are not happy psalms, but about the muck of life. This is, therefore, a serious book about how to live as a Christian in the real, and fallen, world. This is in sharp contrast to many popular books that somehow give the impression that the Christian life is one of relative bliss and ease. There is no “best life now.” This is the kind of book people need to read, a book they should read.

While it could be good to read it in the midst of difficulty, we should prepare for hard times. People used to have “rainy day funds”, money set aside for unexpected expenses. Credit cards have made dealing with such things easier (and gotten us into plenty of trouble at times). People don’t prepare for broken bones or cars by saving money ahead of time anymore. There is little forethought.

We should have spiritual forethought, and not just financial forethought. We should invest in our spiritual life so when the muck of life comes we are prepared, ready and able to stand firm. This book helps us do this. When hard times comes, it is good to go back. I’d recommend investing in your spiritual life by getting this great little book that brings you to the hard places of life and shows you how God is there and at work in us and our circumstances.


If you are like me your experience with and knowledge of Eastern Orthodoxy is limited. I grew up Catholic so I understand Roman Catholicism. To many Protestants the Eastern Church is quite mysterious. Rare are the books by Protestants about Eastern Orthodoxy. Robert Letham has written a good book to help people like me understand our brothers and sisters from the East. In this day, with increased persecution in places like Iraq and Syria we hear more about Eastern Orthodoxy. The vast majority of them are not Protestant but either Catholic or Eastern Orthodox.

Letham’s book, Through Western Eyes, is not a polemical book. His purpose is not to expose the errors of Eastern Orthodoxy. He does compare and contrast its teaching on various doctrines with both Roman Catholicism and Reformed Theology. Why just Reformed Theology (and a bit of Luthernism)? Like Roman Catholicism it is a confessional faith. Much of evangelicalism shuns creeds and confessions therefore exhibiting a wide variety of beliefs. Letham himself also comes from a Reformed perspective and therefore compares it to what he knows and loves best.

Letham structures the book in 3 sections: history, theology and evaluation. The third section is not very long. In it he seeks to point out areas where we could learn from them, where they could learn from us, gross misunderstanding and divergence.

The section on theology spends much of its pages dealing with the ecumenical councils. How they do theology is quite different than how we have done theology. Since the Scholastics and particularly since the Enlightenment theology in the West has been done in the universities, and not necessarily in the church. There have been numerous confessions and catechisms to lay out theology as well as many systematic theology books. Theology in the Eastern Church is grounded on the Councils (which we also affirm for the most part), communicated in their liturgy and is done mostly by church men: pastors and bishops. Their dependence on the creeds reflect their understanding of polity: there is no hierarchical structure. The Patriarchs do not function like archbishops or the Pope. How their theology developed is interesting, at least to me.

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It has been a quite restful vacation in many ways. This year we didn’t have any adoptions about to happen. There were no on-going discussions about a possible church unification. While we are starting a church renovation and expansion, most of time I’ve been out of the loop. It is only in the last few days that I have been involved.

I’ve been trying to turn the “Fat Farm” into the “Fit Farm” by relying on my FitBit to help meet some goals. I’ve been walking almost every day and getting close to 10,000 steps. I’ve been listening to Sinclair Ferguson’s sermons on Romans during my walks around the property.

One of the events around here has been the moving of the goat pen. Thankfully I was not asked to help with it. After it was moved a new goat arrived. CavDaughter #1 loves animals and took an immediate liking to the new coat whom she’s called Coco (with marshmallows) because she is a dark brown with white tips of her ears. She has put a leash on this goat and walked her around the property. The goat sees this as a welcome relief from the other 3 goats who are determined to remind her she is at the bottom of the pecking order. She allows my daughter to lead her, even up on the pile of big rocks in the center of the property.

Good friends Mike and Amy drove up from FL with their 2 daughters for a week of vacation with us. They decided to rent a car this time, and ended up with 4 different rental cars on the trip up. The first got a flat. Its replacement got horrible gas mileage. The 3rd had bad tire sensors and the 4th was just right.

They had come up once before during VBS week. They purposely came up the same week this time. We were able to enjoy “VBS Date Night” with them during the week. During the day the kids would play out on the property. The first night we went to Stewart’s and enjoyed some ice cream with CavWife’s brother and wife joining the 4 of us. Tuesday night we ended up at Tanners’ pub since Bar Vino was quite busy. I got the Chocolate Mousse cake. Before we left to pick up the kids we got a weather alert. There were tornado warnings in our area but the big storms were farther west. When we arrived at the church they had everyone in the basement due to the warning. The kids were upset, particular CavGirl #1 who is quite sensitive. Shortly after we got home the skies opened up. No tornadoes, we thought.

The next morning we found out there was one in North Creek. Mike and I had to run into town for some food anyway so we stopped off to walk the site and take pictures. With all the trees that had been knocked down there seemed to be little damage to homes. Some sheds and barns got crushed but the damage to homes was minimal. Due to that extra walk I got over the 15,000 step plateau.

That night we ended up at BarVino. Amy and I enjoyed mussels. I love their mussels. My green curry mussels were hotter than I’m used to them being. Amy exclaimed “I’ve been waiting 3 years for these.” The down side was that they had a guitarist playing music. Our seats were right in front of him and it was loud. Too loud for CavWife and Mike who escaped as soon as they were done leaving Amy and I to our mussels. The guy was good, just too loud for that venue. It inhibited conversation.

The next night we ended up at Basil and Wick’s. They don’t have a great dessert menu so I ordered an appetizer which was not available and finally order Sweet Chili boneless wings. Once again we were joined by CavWife’s brother and his wife.

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A church building project is like a roller coaster. This metaphor fits lots of things (pastoral searches come to mind) but I am reminded of the Hulk coaster at Islands of Adventure in Orlando. The first time I rode it I did not realize the climb to the top of the first hill was not a slow climb but that you were rocketed up the second half of the hill. It didn’t slow down after that.

I’m not sure which coaster this project reminds me of most. There have been plenty of twists and turns, and a few loops too. Since we approved the project as a congregation there have been a few changes we did not expect.

All was going well as we wrapped up a few things before I left on vacation. While our Treasurer dealt with our bank I pursued some alternative methods of financing. The loan officer for a group that loans to churches and ministries that is based in California happened to be in Tucson, just down the street. We had a quick meeting so he could see the dimensions of our project and get us started on the process.

We also had a meeting over lunch (during which I ordered that huge shrimp chimi enchilada style) with the modular company to do the “red line” and then sign. They came up with a lease to own option just in case we had problem with getting a loan. Our Treasurer, rightfully, wanted to make sure we didn’t end up owing money we didn’t have before signing off.

We did expect the Fire Marshal to retire, but not as soon as he did. Suddenly we are dealing with a new fire marshal who may interpret the rules differently. As a result we weren’t sure if the new guy would want the sprinkler risers to be inside the building since they were currently outside. There is a 3 week delay, minimum in the building of the modular right off the bat. Our plans to have it ready to go for the start of the new ministry year which begins early August.

We also learned that the county, based on the size of the modular, needed to have a civil engineer examine the drainage. Big waste of money, most likely, since that part is flat anyway. It is not placed in the path of a drainage path. The money we recouped by not having to bring the sprinkler pipes under the road just got used.

With these delays to the modular, the contractor wants to start on the renovation. The sequence has been changed, and I (we?) were not prepared for that. It is fairly difficult to adjust when you are on vacation. My office will be moved in my absence. Question is, should we start the remodel before we know we have the permitting for the modular. If we don’t get the permitting we wouldn’t have space for Sunday School classes. We are on the horns of a dilemma I tell you.

The renovation started early as the palo verde tree in front of the entrance split and fell to the ground. Termites got to it, and hopefully haven’t wrecked havoc on the building.

It is hard to deal with the feelings of powerlessness. Everything is out of my control. I’m not there to guide and lead. I’m stuck a few thousand miles away. Apparently movers will pack up my office and put it in the annex. I’m not sure what will be available except for what is on my library cart. So I asked for a few books having to do with the book I’m writing to be added to the cart.

There is also disappointment. I learned the bank we use turned us down for a loan because we weren’t large enough. Who cares if you can afford it! It is easy to get frustrated with the sense of injustice due to arbitrary guidelines.

I expect to be in shock when I show up and see all the change that has happened in my absence. It may be like returning home after Hurricane Charley raced through Winter Haven while we were on vacation. Things will be different and we are not sure when it will all be done. We are beginning the Exodus of sorts and an wilderness journey. Our facilities will be under construction around us as we worship each Sunday. We await our arrival into a better land with more seats and more Sunday School room. Hopefully it will not prove too great a challenge as we face unexpected obstacles. Pray for us.

 


One of the newer challenges to God and the Scriptures is to question the morality of God, particularly in the Old Testament. Both atheists and liberal theologians are finding this to be a fertile field right now. It is this challenge that Greg Beale meets in his booklet The Morality of God in the Old Testament.

He does not simply dismiss the charges made by others that God is essentially immoral to command acts often considered evil. His response is a mere 40 or so pages. It is not easy reading, but rises to the challenge. He lays out a 5-fold approach that he believes answers this problem. But first he mentions 2 common, but unsatisfactory, responses.

  1. Wartime Ethics Are Legitimately Different from Peacetime Ethics. Tied into this is the fact that we tend to judge the Scriptures based on our wartime ethics. As late as Vietnam we had no problem engaging in carpet bombing. In more recent conflicts we are loathe to harm civilians (unless using drones) in policies that often put our soldiers at risk. We are concerned about perception and ignore the reality of the threat they face in conflict. But this booklet isn’t about that ethical dilemma. While it is common for us to speak of a wartime ethic, Scripture doesn’t seem to offer us one explicitly.
  2. The Divine Command to Kill All Women and Children Is Not Meant to be Taken Literally.  Some argue that documents  from the ANE use exaggerated language in describing conquest similar to this. It refers essentially to thoroughly defeating the enemy. It functions as a rhetorical device. However, the Scriptures clearly indicate that particular people, like Rahab, were spared because they aligned themselves with Israel. Others escaped. So this argument does not seem to hold.

His proposed 5-fold approach tries to look at the problem from different angles. It is not a simplistic answer to the questions raised by atheists, agnostics and liberals. It is, I think, a thorough answer.

  1. The Commands Demonstrate God’s Justice in Response to Their Immorality and Idolatry in a Unique Redemptive-Historical Circumstance. That is a mouthful! During Abraham’s years in the Promised Land, we are told the Canaanites’ sin was not yet full. God was not ready to judge them. See how patient He is with societies and cultures. It was not that Abraham’s family wasn’t big enough, but they hadn’t sinned enough yet. By the time of the conquest they had. God was not just giving Israel the land, but judging the Canaanites. This is unique because there is no other Promised Land that needs to be conquered. The commands were not binding, but tied to the circumstances of the conquest. He was using the Israelites to execute His justice against them (just as He would Assyria against the Northern Kingdom and Babylon, and later Rome, against Judah). Everyone died because everyone was guilty and part of an utterly corrupt culture.
  2. The Commands Were to Remove Moral Uncleanness as Part of a Unique Redemptive-Historical Commission to Purify the Land as a Sanctuary. He goes back to the Garden and the Creation Mandate. Adam was to expand the borders of the Garden as a sanctuary for God. Israel was to treat the Land as a sanctuary. They were a corporate form of Adam as a kingdom of priests. After the conquest, the civil law laid out severe penalties for those guilty of similar sexual and cultic sins as the Canaanites.
  3. God’s Sovereignty Justifies His Command to Annihilate the Canaanites. As the Scriptures teach, He will have mercy upon whom He will have mercy and hardens whom He will harden. And judge too!. God is free to deal with us as He chooses. While we may be relatively better or worse that other people, in God’s eyes we are all sinners who fall short of His glory and have earned the wages of sin which are death. God is free to annihilate any nation He wants to annihilate. We usually see His patience and mercy, and therefore presume upon them as if they were required of Him.
  4. God’s Command is an Anticipation of the End-Time Judgment of All People, and Thus a Suspension of the Expression of His Common Grace to Unbelievers during the Epoch of Israel. This is pretty much Kline’s intrusion ethic. This is an intrusion of the final judgment in which God will annihilate all who are not His. This is not the only type of the final judgment we see in Scripture. We also see the destruction of Samaria, Judah, Babylon, Assyria and other nations. There is evidence for this in how the NT uses the OT in judgment passages.
  5. God’s Command and the Imprecatory Psalms Anticipate the End-Time Judgment When Love of the Unbelieving Neighbors Ceases. While we are to love our neighbor now, in the final judgment we will not love all our neighbors but only those who love Christ as we do. God’s mercy and patience toward unbelievers reaches an end. He reveals His holy hatred for sin and the wicked.

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The deal is the deal.

Sometimes.

Because sometimes the deal changes.

My parents were supposed to visit us in NY for a few days. My father has some things he wanted to talk about. But when your mother has Alzheimer’s things can change. She wasn’t up for a long ride to New York, and she really wasn’t sure who she was going to visit.

My father called an audible, which was okay. I’m not really sure how to handle this development with my kids. I’m not sure how they will respond if they realize my mother has no idea who they are.

So I agreed to travel to them and spend a night at a friend’s house. My plan was to leave around 7 am. Man plans, and God laughs. No, nothing dramatic. I just wanted to do a few things before I left. I packed light, except for books.  I needed my caffeine fix so I made tea. I needed a travel much to keep it in so I borrowed one from my in-laws. By the time I wrote down the routes I wanted it was nearly 8 am. I was off. I could still make it to NH around lunchtime.

Just before I reached the end of Route 8, about 10 minutes away, I realized I forgot the book I was going to give to my father. I’d picked up an extra copy of Keller’s Walking with God through Pain and Suffering. I’m not sure he’d read it, but you never know what the Spirit might do. I knew that I should have taken it out the night before. Well, heading back wouldn’t cost too much head back and I really didn’t want to mail it. So I turned around. When I left, for real, it was 8:30. I didn’t see a cup holder, so I had to pull over to secure the travel mug because things were sliding around. Things just weren’t starting off well.

The radio in the Subee ( the nickname for  the Subaru) doesn’t have an aux jack, so I had to settle for the few stations. These were not good options. Mostly they were NPR. I learned quite a bit about Albany’s politics, including the stat that since 2000 10% of the state legislators have left due to corruption of one kind or another. I actually made pretty good time into Vermont. At times I got stuck behind the scenic drivers, the ones who drive 10-15 miles below the speed limit for unknown reasons. I recently read the Heidelberg Catechism on providence (actually I’m reading Kevin DeYoung’s book on it). I was neither patient, not thankful. I have a ways to go yet in this thing called sanctification.

When I finally took a sip of my tea, I made a shocking discovery. Teaffee! The coffee taste from the mug overpowered the taste of my tea. Not good, not good at all I say.

I had to change the station a few times to another NPR station, usually, as I made my way across Vermont. I often stop at a restaurant near the Quechee gorge. This time I was a little early for lunch when I arrived in Quechee. I tried to call my father to see if they had lunch plans but I had no service. That is another common problem alone Route 4 in Vermont. Shortly after getting on 89 I called my father and talked to him. We would be getting together for lunch. No more than 2 minutes after hanging up with him the highway became a parking lot. I had just passed an exit and was drawing near to a turn around. I quickly used my map app (thankfully I actually had service) and discovered a road that ran parallel to the highway to get me to the next exit. I turned around and got off the highway at the exit.

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This may be a sign of things to come but two big things changed right before we left for vacation. First, my parents won’t be heading to NY to visit with us. Due to her illness I will have to make a quick trip to NH instead. Second, we decided to cancel our hotel reservations in Phoenix and just head up on Monday morning. Our flight was late enough that we’d probably get up about the same time and arrive in Phoenix before the traffic got really bad. I’m pretty good with saving $150 but was disappointed that we didn’t get to have dinner Sunday night at Longhorn. We enjoyed going there when we lived in Winter Haven. Until recently there wasn’t one in Tucson, and the new one is about 30 minutes away from our house. The ride there is mostly through city streets, not the highway. Did I mention that I hate traffic?

I ended up awakening earlier than expected Monday morning. This meant I got an early start on the last minute preparations. We were out the door at 6 am and made great time on the way to Phoenix, arriving earlier than expected. After we checked our bags we had breakfast before heading through security. I finished quickly and took a tour through the bookstore to see what was selling. Or at least being sold.

We got to the gate with at least an hour to go before boarding. In the past this has been a problem but this time the kids spread out and took some toys from their backpacks and played nicely and relatively quietly. CavWife and I were able to relax. She still has to wear a brace for the elbow that she broke in December in an effort to regain extension. This was a good opportunity to get an early boarding pass. In the past this meant we could all board early. This time it was only her. So she saved two rows while I waited for the family boarding time.

We had a relatively uneventful non-stop to Newark. The mother in front of us was obviously a germophobe, meticulously wiping down the seat and tray. Head trauma, not so much of a worry as she let her child move about their row without a seat belt despite the stretch of turbulence. Apparently she never heard the precautionary tale of Larry Norman.

Our kids, well…. three of them, watched one of the movies we downloaded onto the iPad. They were mostly good, but the Number 1 son grew restless near the end. This, obviously, caused some minor issues with his sisters. I, on the other hand, made some good progress in a Daniel Silva novel.

CavWife’s sister picked us up in their parents’ new minivan and we went back to her house for dinner and a good night’s sleep. As I pondered sleep, thinking it is only 8 according to my body clock, I remembered I woke up around 4 am. Time for sleep.

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