Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for August, 2010


This 2008 movie offers a different take on the holocaust- that of a child.  This was sort of taken by 1998’s award-winning Life is Beautiful.  It focused on the father, and the lies he told to his son.  That movie was not so beautiful to me as I was struggling in my relationship with my father at the time.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas focuses on the perspective of Bruno as he tries to sort out what is going on in the “farm” behind their new home.  His dad is the new Commandant of the camp.  His father’s parents are split on the morality of the German government.  His father & grandfather basically have a “my country is always right” attitude (which is pretty much always dangerous- as dangerous as the “my country is always wrong” attitude).

Bruno on the swing

Bruno misses his friends and the isolation is difficult for him.  After an accident on the swing, the strange old man who peels potatoes patches up his knee.  In a sad yet amusing discussion (amusing because he tries poorly to put the facts together) he learns this pitiful old man before him used to be a doctor.  (The swing is an important prop in the film and may be a metaphor for his own shifting opinions.)

Bruno disobeys his parents and explores the woods behind the house.  There he discovers Shmuel, a broken little boy on the other side of the fence.  Bruno, hungry for company, keeps returning and slowly building a relationship with the Jewish boy.  He’s oblivious to all that is going in the world at the time.  But he slowly, and painfully, loses that innocence.

Herr Commandant

The longer they live there, the more the family is torn apart over what is happening in the camp.  Bruno’s mom begins to hate what she sees, and the brutality of her people against the Jews.   His older sister, wanting the affection of the handsome yet cruel driver, becomes the perfect Aryan princess.  She has posters of Hitler on the wall as if he were a pop singer.

Bruno begins to see the cruelty, but can’t quite figure it out.  Why did Pavel, the potato-peeling doctor, disappear?  What are they burning over the that smells so bad?  His father lies to him to cover up the truth.

One day Bruno discovers Shmuel cleaning glasses in the house.  He offers a famished Shmuel some food from the table.  It is at this moment that the driver/assistant appears.  Stricken by fear, like any 8 year-old, he lies about knowing and feeding Shmuel.  Little does he understand the gravity of the situation.  Finally he sees a bruised and battered Shmuel again.  There are tears, confessions and … amazingly, forgiveness. (more…)

Read Full Post »


I’ve written on modesty recently.  It is not a popular topic.  It is an under-addressed topic, including among Christians.  The issue was driven home to me the other day while checking the Fox News website.  Under their style section, there was an article on how to best present your “girls”.  I did not click the link since I didn’t need to see “well presented” breasts.  My calling is to satisfied with the breasts of the wife of my semi-youth.  Most men want to see them, but this is meant to be part of the exclusivity of marriage- I am to enjoy my wife’s, and not those of another.  This is not so easy with many women wanting to display theirs for all the world to see.

In his book Undefiled, Harry Schaumburg has a number of appendices.  One of them is on modesty.  In light of 1 Timothy 2, he says that one of the male issues tends to be “anger or quarreling.”  This is painful to hear, but you see it all the time.  Too many times I hear such quarreling come from my own lips, including with my wife.  I can be a contrarian at times.  I am not immune.

The female issue Paul addresses in that same text is modesty.  “Women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness- with good works.”

Paul hits displays of wealth.  It is immodest to display one’s material wealth.  It can quickly establish sinful barriers in the body of Christ.  Men can be guilty of this, no doubt.  But women are especially vulnerable to this.  One of the things that drew me to CavWife was the absence of flash.  Of course, she was not wealthy.  But aside from a few earrings, she did not wear jewelry or much make-up.  Her concern was with inner beauty.

It is also immodest to display one’s physical assets with plunging necklines, short shorts, miniskirts and the like.  It is a heart issue.  Such people (men can also do this, and as pathetically comical as it sounds I did).  In our hearts we want to be desirable, found to be attractive.  And so, out of this messed up heart comes the flaunting of the physical and material so that people will notice us and find us attractive or important.

Schaumburg quotes Carolyn Mahaney regarding this:

“If we earnestly apply his word in our hearts, it will be displayed by what we wear.  When it comes to selecting clothes to buy and wear, however, we can often feel lost and confused.  Which items are seductive and immodest and which display a heart of modesty and self-control?”

I understand that sometimes this comes from a place of sexual brokenness, a lack of appropriate boundaries due to abuse.  I remember one group I led with a female friend.  One of the women in the group often wore revealing clothing.  I was not sure how to address that, and should have talked with my co-leader.  But one day it became clear.  She announced that the janitor at work has placed his hand on her breast.  She asked us, “is that okay?”.  She thought she was community property, and by her dress he sinfully thought so too.

(more…)

Read Full Post »


This is really part 3, but the 2nd part was limited to the idea of Gospel Pardon arising from the book.  I’ve now finished the first part of The Marrow of Modern Divinity.  The 2nd part is an exposition of the law.  The first, and original, part covered some significant territory.  In case you didn’t read the other post, I’m reading the new edition with notes by Thomas Boston.

I previously wrote about the difference between the law of works and the law of Christ.  Fisher writes in the form of a dialogue between a legalist, an antinomian, a new convert and a pastor.  The pastor helps to sort out their misunderstandings about our relationship to the law.  I won’t revisit that territory.

The dialogue touches on the free offer of the gospel.  There was a strain of legalism that was hyper-Calvinistic which rejected (and still does) the free offer of the gospel.  They restrict the offer of the gospel to those who show signs of being elect- seeking Christ, and conviction of sin are two.  Some have since accused Fisher of teaching a universal pardon, or his doctrine implying one.  Thomas Boston protects him from such erroneous charges in his notes.

“… yet so long as the Lord has concealed their names, and not set a mark of reprobation upon any man in particular, but offers the pardon generally to all, without having any respect either to election or reprobation, …”  Edward Fisher

The Scriptures often make a general pronouncement of the pardon.  In fact, all men everywhere are commanded to repent.  we are merely calling them to repentance in light of the work of Christ for sinners.  God is the one who sheds his light into their hearts and converts them (2 Corinthians 3-4).  The elect will respond with faith and repentance.  The reprobate will not.  We are not to play God and try to discern whether or not someone is elect prior to offering them the gospel.

“… for all this general pardon, the formal personal pardon remains to be obtained by the sinner, namely, by his accepting of the pardon offered.”  Thomas Boston

(more…)

Read Full Post »


One of the things we have historically done on vacation is head to the Enchanted Forest/Water Safari Park in Old Forge, NY.  Late August is not typically a good time to go to a water park.  My brother-in-law and I deal with the chilly temps by making jokes.  This is what we do best (yes, pretty pathetic).  I was not excited to see that today’s projected high, yes high temperature, in Old Forge was 63.  I don’t know about you, but the thought of a water park in 63 degrees does not fill me with joy.

It was about 63 when we left just before 8 am.  I drove my brother-in-law’s G6 with CavSon in the back seat with a few of his older cousins.  My brother-in-law and I enjoyed some Rez Band.  I hadn’t heard much Rez Band recently since my Rez Band CDs were stolen in 1995.  I’d forgotten how good a guitarist Glenn Kaiser is.  I may have to pick up a few discs.

Along the way I had to slow down for a doe in the road, and her fawn.  I wish I had a camera.  They were beautiful.  The fawn scampered back into the woods as we drew near.  Later we saw a young buck with small velvety antlers grazing along the side of the road.

When we arrived at the Enchanted Forest it was 60 degrees, tops.  Real exciting.  Thankfully there are other rides not involving water there.  The kids wanted to ride the Sky Ride, so their uncle and I took them.  It may have taken a few years off of my life.  Suddenly I’m a dad knowing his squirmy son is liable to do something really stupid and plummet to the ground.  Not so much fun.  But they enjoyed it.

Then they wanted to ride the train to the other side of the park.  We neglected to tell CavWife when we passed overhead the 2nd time.  Oh well.  On the other side the kids suddenly wanted to ride other rides.  They have crossed the line- suddenly rides are exciting to them.

Tilt-a-Hurl

On the other hand, I’ve crossed the other line.  Suddenly the Tilt-a-Whirl nearly became the Tilt-a-Hurl.  That was added by the operators giving rides 2x (at least) as long as normal due to the smallish crowd.  A few years ago I realized life had changed after riding the Tilt-a-Whirl, Scrambler & Round-Up consecutively without waiting in line nearly made me lose breakfast.

The little girl suddenly wanted to go on the  Bumper Cars.  Huh?  Where did THAT come from?  On the way they went on the helicopter ride.  By now CavWife had caught up to us.  Then, the bumper cars.  Somehow I was the only man on the ride.  I shifted into alpha dog mode, wrecking havoc on the women and girls while an evil sounding laugh persistently came out of my mouth.  Yes, the great evil in my heart had erupted in destructive, dominating driving.  It was sweet.

The kids rode a few more kiddie rides, and that is when the first wave of showers passed by.  Now it was wet, and chilly.  More chilly in fact.  We enjoyed a snack during the rain.  All the kids wanted to ride the train, so 10 kids took to the train- with 1 adult.  Yes, we dumped them on the single woman.  Didn’t mean to…

(more…)

Read Full Post »


I’ve finished reading When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself.  It was a very challenging read.  I previously mentioned the foundational concepts they covered, including the differences between relief, rehabilitation and development.  We hurt the poor, and ourselves, when we neglect these differences and act the wrong way.  The 2nd section covers General Principles for Helping Without Hurting.  The 3rd covers Practical Strategies.  The book is not just theoretical, but tries to provide some helpful ways to think about missions, both local and international, and community development.

The second section helps you to identify the needs of the poor, and emphasize their assets.  The latter is often neglected, which furthers the paternalism that ends up continuing and even worsening their poverty.  Paternalism takes many forms: resources, spiritually, knowledge, labor and managerial.  Pride is very subtle, and finds many ways to exalt ourselves above others.  We mistakenly believe that since we have more material resources we are somehow better than them in all ways.  We forget the providence of God in the distribution of resources/abilities.  I say this, not to keep people in poverty, but to humble many of us that we realize the advantages we do enjoy are not earned or deserved.  We benefit from where we are born, the family, community and culture into which we are born and all that it entails.

One chapter focuses on how not understanding the culture, not listening to the people, can result of wasting resources.  They tell of a group that built a home for a pastor in Africa.  They designed the home without input from the pastor.  He tried to inform them that in his culture, bathrooms are in the back.  But they refused to listen and continued to build the home with it in the middle of the home.  This was a huge culture faux paux that would lead to great shame if he lived in the house.  Their efforts were wasted because they did not listen.

It isn’t just mission teams.  The U.S. government, in an early attempt to provide low income homes, built identical homes.  The plan called for carpets and clothes washers in the kitchen.  Most of the people worked in jobs that left lots of dirt on clothes and shoes.  Linoleum would have been much easier for them to keep clean than carpet.  Their old washers overflowed in the kitchens.  So much didn’t make since for those people.  But they thought they knew better (and things really haven’t changed).

My small group and local leaders

The chapter on short-term missions was very challenging.  It prompted me to think about my experiences in Mexico.  Thankfully, I can see that we were led by people who submitted to local leaders.  But many don’t.  As the church I pastor now considers some trips, we will need to ask some important questions.  One of those is whether or not that is the best way to use the resources.  Sometimes it is better to provide the funds to them to enhance their work.

In that chapter they mentioned the problem of our notion of “equality”.

“A STM team will tend to assume that treating every individual in the community the same way is obviously the right thing to do and may give out, say, food, in equal amounts to everyone.  But some collectivist societies have found that giving a disproportionately large amount of food to particular individuals can increase the chances of financial success for those individuals, who will then share their earnings with the community as a whole.”

I could not help think about our own nation’s quest for equality of resources via income redistribution.  Some people are better stewards of resources, and expand the wealth of the community.  They provide jobs for others.  Taking money away from them doesn’t really create jobs.  Our misguided notions of “fairness” will impoverish more and more.  It is telling that after 40+ years of the “war on poverty”, the poverty rate in America is essentially the same.  Whole lot of good that has done, and at what cost?

Locally the focus tends to be on relief.  It sells, plain and simple.  And it tends to impoverish people spiritually and emotionally.  They provide some examples of people who have implemented programs to rehabilitate or develop communities and individuals.  This is more nuts and bolts than the earlier theoretical section.  It can be of great assistance to deacons and parachurch ministries.

This was an easy book to read.  They  include questions for small groups to answer to process the information and consider how to implement it in their communities.  It gets 2 thumbs up from the Cavman.

Read Full Post »


I read False Intimacy by Harry Schaumburg in the late 90’s and discovered one of the best books on sexual addiction.  Now, 20 years after the release of False Intimacy, Harry has followed it up with Undefiled: Redemption from Sexual Sin, Restoration for Broken Relationships.  I’m only 2 chapters into the book, but already I’ve found some very thought provoking nuggets.

He mentions a phrase that I’m shamed to say I had not heard before- relationship specific erectile dysfunction.  This is the concept that a particular person’s erectile dysfunction is not rooted in a medical problem.  The person is able to function properly with another person or alone.  They only experience this failure with a specific person- obviously on a fairly regular basis.  But wait…

He mentions one of the indicators of sexual dysfunction as Diminished Masculinity and Femininity.  This means that the person, in at least that relationship (if not others) the person functions as a child or teen.  In other words, they are immature.

“One of the signs of diminished femininity and masculinity is that the wife feels like a mother with her husband, and the husband feels like a child with his wife.”

Obviously, these roles can be reversed so that he feels like a father, and she the child.  But the most common is the one he mentions.  He ties them together.

“If you feel like a child around your wife,wouldn’t impotence be a problem?  … Likewise for a woman, if you feel like a mother around your husband, wouldn’t there be a lack of sexual desire?”

Now the concept of relationship specific dysfunction makes sense.  It sort of feels like incest.  These are some of the things often missed because we fail to ask appropriate questions in counseling.  Too often we rush to the medicinal cure, and miss the relational & spiritual matters driving the dysfunction.  When we do, we actually do the person a disservice.  They are “functional” but still sinning because those relational and spiritual matters have never been addressed.

The main premise of his book is that spiritual maturity and sexual maturity go hand in hand.  Sexual immaturity hinder spiritual maturity (and vice versa).  Picture them as an interactive spiral that moves either up or down.  This is how they interact to either pull us up or drag us down.  The failure to address our sexual dysfunctions can cripple us spiritually.  But sexual function is not properly pursued apart from spiritual maturity either.

Schaumburg is offering the church a much more wholistic understanding of sexual dysfunction and restoration than we have gotten before.  This is why I’m excited to continue reading.

Read Full Post »


While I was in college “I Still Believe (Grand Design)” was often on the radio.  It was a great song, but I didn’t follow up on the band at all.  Then things changed.

First, I became a Christian.  After discovering that there were a few interesting Christian bands out there, I subscribed to a magazine called Harvest Rock Syndicate, later called The Syndicate.  They focused on Christians who were making rock and alternative music.  I found a reviewer in Brian Quincy Newcomb whose tastes closely mirrored mine.  When he reviewed Into the Woods I knew I had to check it out.  Soon thereafter I purchased my first CD player.  I bought 4 or 5 new CDs to celebrate.  Among them was Into the Woods and Reconciled.  I was hooked.

They were a progressive band- part new wave (especially the earliest albums) and part rock.  They had some great lyrics that wrestled with life.  They didn’t settle for the simplistic, but still had a soul anchor.  Tom Ferrier’s lefty guitar work was great.  They had a great sound to accompany those lyrics.

After U2 broke the world wide open with Joshua Tree, it seemed the Call was poised to take advantage.  They were called the future of American music, and people like Peter Gabriel hailed them.  I was excited.  Let the Day Begin, another fantastic album was released.  The song was popular on rock radio, but the explosion never happened.  As what often happens, the ‘next big thing’ didn’t become anything.  I wasn’t crushed when Dexy’s Midnight Runners fizzled (just an example), but I was disappointed for the Call that they didn’t take off.  It didn’t seem fair… they were more talented and thoughtful than 98% of the drivel being sold/purchased at the time.  Fantasy was in; real life honesty not so much.  U2 must have exhausted the market.

I caught a live show at Gordon College.  The acoustics were horrible, but the band was great.  They put on a good show.  Not fancy- it was all about the music.

Then they shifted styles.  Red Moon was more subtle musically.  It was a very good album, but I don’t recall hearing anything from it on the radio.  By this time I was in seminary down in FL.  My discretionary spending was nil.  Somehow a live album, Live Under the Red Moon, slipped out without my knowledge in 2000.  You can find it, but it is a bit expensive.  I may still have to bit the bullet since I love live albums.

For a short time Michael Been took a break to explore some different territory solo.  Sort of solo anyway.  His friends from The Call showed up on On the Verge of a Nervous Breakthrough.  Though different from his work with the Call, it was still a great album forged during a dissolving relationship.  He also wrote the soundtrack for a little seen movie called Light Sleeper (I’ve only seen parts of it).  It starred Willem Defoe, whom he met on the set of The Last Temptation of Christ.  I never saw that, but I think Been played the Apostle John.

The Call would release one more album, To Heaven and Back, but the magic was gone.  It was better than most albums, but not up to the standards set by earlier albums.   Around this time they played Cornerstone.  In 1997 they did a 3-piece acoustic tour.

In recent years Michael has focused on his son’s band, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.  He was working the sound board for their European tour when he suffered a heart attack.  If he still believed, to die is gain and he beholds all he’d longed for.

Read Full Post »


I’m on vacation right now.  Some may find it strange that I preached yesterday.  Yes, I preached yesterday.  Why?

In the words of Spock, “sometimes the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”  God’s people need the ministry of the Word.  At the beginning of the summer I learned that a church near my in-law’s home was in the midst of a crisis.  Their pastor was injured in a bicycle accident.  He is (at least temporarily) paralyzed.  I knew that Reformed churches in upstate NY are a rare breed, and therefore they may have trouble finding pulpit supply.  CavWife and I agreed to extend an offer to preach if they need some assistance.  As a result, I’m preaching 2 sermons that I did during a series on Parables of Grace.  In this way I could enjoy my vacation, yet provide for their needs with minimal preparation.

It was a great experience on  a rainy Sunday in the capital region of NY.  I found them to be a people of prayer, and prayer focused on Christ.  By that I mean they consciously recognized the work of Christ in their prayer, and the basis for the acceptance of our prayer and worship.  After the elder’s prayer during the service, the congregation was free to offer spontaneous prayer.  The people were aware of others, and focused on their requests.

In terms of the rest of the service, it had a “low” church feel.  The liturgy was rather simple.  I did not know any of the songs they sung.  Yep, any of them.  The worship team consisted of piano, 2 acoustic guitars, a subdued electric guitar, harmonica, subdued drums and 3 or 4 singers.  They sounded like they’ve played together often.  The songs were largely catchy so you could pick them up quickly.  There was a good focus upon the finished work of Christ.

I was greatly encouraged by the commissioning that took place in the service.  Their pastoral intern was ordained in July.  Today he and his family depart for one of the ‘stans.  Strange the providence of God.  This congregation probably could use him, but unless you’re Superman you can’t stop a speeding train.  They have planned so long and raised the necessary support.  I know they felt conflicted.  They were loved by the congregation and loved the congregation.

So, my sermon on the Parable of the Sower was appropriate for them as well as the congregation.

I spent some time talking with some of the elders afterward.  The uncertainty of the doctors adds to their own uncertainty at this time.  They don’t know how much their pastor will recover.  It is impossible for them to prepare for the future.  My advice was an interim pastor until they can determine what the future looks like for their pastor and for themselves.  This loving group of people haven’t just jettisoned their pastor due to the injury.  They are waiting to see if they can move on with him instead of without him.  So, please keep Hope Church in your prayers.  It has been a challenging few years.  Thankfully they are prayerful people as well.

Read Full Post »


In the 80’s I was a big fan of the Doors.  Yes, I got on the band wagon well after Jim Morrison’s death.  I read Danny Sugarman’s biography, No One Gets Out of Here Alive, twice in high school and college.  I first heard them through my older brother.  That is one of the joys of having older siblings.  They exposed me to all kinds of great music, including the Doors.

They had a unique sound that was hypnotic.  It really was like Morrison cast a spell on the listeners.  Krieger’s guitar sound was unlike anyone else’s at the time, sounding like a strange, dark carnival.  After I became a Christian I started to listen to them less.  Some of the songs were just too dark and disturbing.  What drew me in as a teen apart from Christ began to turn me off as one in Christ.

But, when I saw the documentary When You’re Strange was available on Netflix for streaming, I figured I’d watch.  It was strange.  Johnny Depp was probably the best choice to be the narrator.  Val Kilmer may have been a good choice too (I never saw the movie, but now that may change).  But Depp has a strange sort of charisma like Morrison.

The documentary blends old footage of Morrison and the band to tell the story of the Doors.  It is fascinating in many ways.  It is confusing in others.  There is footage that recurs about a man similar to Morrison (could be him for all I know).  It didn’t connect with the story line.  I kept wondering if this was supposed to be Jim’s new life after faking his death in Paris.  They never said.

It was interesting to hear some of the background information about the songs.  For some reason I didn’t realize they never had a real national toward.  Morrison blew that apart the first night in Miami.  I’m still not sure why he was allowed to leave the country while his felony case was under appeal.  There was one last burst of creative activity before his death that resulted in on of their best albums- L.A. Woman.  When you consider they released 6 albums in less than 5 years it is amazing to consider how productive they were (especially since spent 11 months making one of them).

This live footage from Europe demonstrates how they had to cover for his antics.  And their incredible musicianship.  I wonder at times if Bono has studied Morrison to learn about showmanship, just without the mind altering substances.  Like Morrison he was not a trained singer, and not known for a great voice.  But both displayed a mastery of bringing people into an experience.

Morrison was a conflicted man.  He loved and craved the attention.  Yet he wanted to be free.  He repeatedly wanted to walk away from it all.  His drug and alcohol abuse made life increasingly difficult for the rest of the band.  You have to wonder, if there was someone wanting to fake his death, it would be Morrison.

While the movie was interesting there are certain realities regarding rock stars, particularly during the 60’s.  The various footage includes plenty of profanity and some nudity- both male and female.  It is for adult audiences, not interested teen-aged fans.

Read Full Post »


One of last year’s more important books was on the topic of helping the poor.  When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor … and Yourself was written by Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert.  This is no treatise hatched in the hot house of academia.  They have been engaged in developing these models on the field.  They have often had to learn from their mistakes.

I haven’t finished the book yet, so my comments are only with regard to the first 5 chapters of the book.  The book does come with an endorsement from John Perkins who has worked in tranformational ministry for decades.  He’s one of those guys shaking his head when Glenn Beck lumped everyone who talks about social justice in the same bucket.  John Perkins sees a connection with redemption (we seek it as redeemed people longing to see that redemption extended to others) and the need for solid theology- not liberation theology.  The book has the “dubious” distinction of being recommended by people as diverse as Ron Sider and Bryan Chappell (or Joel Belz) and Steve Childers.  This means it has enough gospel in it to be Christian, and enough justice in it to get Ron Sider to buy in.

It starts with the premise that much of the work going on around the world to alleviate poverty actually makes matters worse.  John Perkins recognizes this with the U.S. government’s war on poverty.  It left people dependent on the government.

John Perkins

Another important premise is that most Americans (and other westerners) live as though there is nothing wrong in the Majority World.  We have no grasp of how serious things can be, and think a little money can make it all better (or a concert fundraiser).  We live as if not much is wrong.  We don’t need to feel guilty for our wealth, but we do need to think of ourselves as stewards instead of consumers.

Theologically they embrace both the individual and cosmic implications of the redeeming work of Christ.  Yes, there is the forgiveness of sins.  But there is much more too!  Some churches (and Christians) seek to bring forgiveness but neglect the justice of the kingdom.  Some people seek the justice of the kingdom without bringing the forgiveness of the king.  They illustrate this from the story of a southern pastor and civil rights workers.  They both got it partly right and partly wrong.

(more…)

Read Full Post »


As I read The Marrow of Modern Divinity a few things have become clearer to my mind.  One of those is the difference between Repentance unto Life (as the Westminster Confession of Faith calls it) at conversion and the on-going repentance of a Christian.  This distinction is what The Naked Gospel by Farley doesn’t recognize.

There is a difference between repentance during conversion in which one moves from the covenant of works into the covenant of grace and after conversion respecting the law of Christ.  Fisher touches on some of the realities at play here:

“… when believers in the Old Testament did transgress God’s commandments, God’s temporal wrath went out against them, and was manifest in temporal calamities that befell them as well as others.  Only here was the difference, the believers’ temporal calamities had no eternal calamities included in them, nor following of them; and the unbelievers’ temporal blessings had no eternal blessings included in them, and their temporal calamities had eternal calamities included in them, and following of them.”

So, for believers earthly blessings are a foretaste of eternal blessings.  Both are earned by Christ and his merits, not ours.  Because of Christ’s merit and satisfaction, we are not condemned for our sin.  But because God loves us He disciplines us when we break the law of Christ (Hebrews 12).  It is restorative and not punitive, designed to produce a harvest of righteous character in us.  We repent, not because we’ve lost our salvation but because we have disobeyed our Father.

(more…)

Read Full Post »


I’ve finally begun to read The Marrow of Modern Divinity by Edward Fisher.  It is the newer edition with Thomas Boston‘s notes.  So, you get 2 Puritans for the price of 1.  Hard to hate.

I am finding it a tough go at times.  Perhaps I’ve been slack in my reading of the Puritans lately.  Perhaps it is the layout.  The longer notes by Boston are laid out together, but cover a few different pages.  Since I don’t want to continually flip back and forth I sometimes lose the context.

The books starts with a few historical questions.  It briefly recounts the Marrow Controversy in the Church of Scotland and Thomas Boston’s involvement in that Controversy.  It also examines the identity of E.F. and which Edward Fisher probably wrote this important book that discusses the Christian’s relationship with the law.

The book is like Cur Deus Homo? in that it is in the form of a dialogue.  But instead of 2 characters, there are 4 to represent 2 erroneous views (legalism and antinomianism), the proper view and the new Christian who is caught in the crossfire.

One of the interesting aspects for me is that occasionally Boston disagrees with Fisher on finer points.  There are quite a few finer points I disagree with one or both on due to how they are using Scripture in particular instances.  These are non-essential to the arguments, however.  Boston does not require that Fisher agree with him on everything to recommend him as beneficial.  Sinclair Ferguson (his Pastoral Lessons on the Controversy are excellent!)and Philip Ryken also recommend the book (as well as a few other prominent Puritans like Burroughs) which goes to the point that a recommendation does not entail approval of every jot and tittle.  They agree with the main point, not every rabbit trail.

(more…)

Read Full Post »


I’m a little behind on movies.  The Hurt Locker was one I’ve wanted to see for some time.  CavWife didn’t realize it made it to the top of the Net Flix queue.  In many ways it was Platoon in the desert without the Oliver Stone agenda.  I say this because it is about the struggle between 2 Sgt.s for the soul of a young soldier.  I’ll try not to give up too many spoilers.

Pearce from the opening sequence

The movie opens with the bomb squad  doing its job in the midst of Baghdad circa 2004.  The robot breaks down in mid-mission.  The team leader, played by Guy Pearce (dude, where have you been?), puts on the suit to set the charges to set off the IED.  The team seems to have some good cohesion.  They joke with each other to ward off the fear they all feel.  They like to play it safe.  The suit is a last resort.  These guys just want to get home in one piece.  But something goes terribly wrong, resulting in the team leader’s death.  Sgt. Sanborn seems able to move on, but Specialist Eldridge is left to pick up the metaphorical pieces, feeling guilt for an inability to prevent the deadly explosion.

Sgt. Thompson’s  replacement is quite different.  He’s not approachable, a bit caustic.  Over time we learn he’s a Ranger whose disabled well over 800 bombs.  We also learn that he loves this.  The movie opens with a quote about the addiction of war.  It refers to Staff Sgt. James.  The rest of the team soon realizes that he loves the suit.  We don’t see the robotics again.

Jeremy Renner as Staff Sgt. James

The team has only 38 days left in their deployment.  The film focuses primarily on the missions during that time frame.  But the scenes in between are telling.  James is a confused man who only finds clarity in the suit.  But he often puts his team at risk, which has Sanborn less than upset.  But not everyone is.  David Morse plays a Col. who loves the craziness of James.  He too is addicted to the rush of adrenaline.  They are like kindred spirits, and Sanborn just doesn’t get it.

Sanborn is not a coward, by any means.  He’s just not into unnecessary risk.  At one point he and Eldridge are watching while James heads back to a detonation site to get his gloves.  They are in the middle of the desert to destroy some ordinance.  Sanborn entertains the idea of setting off the bomb to kill him before he gets them killed.  Accidents do happen, after all.  It is a chilling moment- he hates what this man represents and the fact that he places them all in jeopardy.

(more…)

Read Full Post »


Don't let the picture fool you

The Gospel Coalition asked some prominent leaders how they would change the seminary process.  Here is one of my professors’ response:

What’s the one thing I would change about seminary education? If I were king and could wave my magical scepter, I would radically change the basic agenda of seminary.
After 22 years of teaching in a seminary, I slowly began to realize something. We were not preparing the kinds of leaders that evangelical churches in North America need. Let’s face it; evangelicalism has seen better days. God is at work in many places and in many ways, but on the whole, the news is not good. Our numbers are dwindling; our theology is unraveling; our zeal for Christ is dissipating. Now more than ever, we need seminaries to give the church leaders who are empowered by the Spirit for radical, sacrificial devotion to Christ and his Kingdom. And they’d better do it quickly.
I was recently in China, talking with the president of a house church network of over one million people. He asked me for advice on preparing the next generation of pastors. I looked at him and said, “The only thing I know is what you should not do.” He smiled and asked, “What’s that?” My reply surprised him. “You should not do what we have done in the West. The results of that approach have become clear.”
The agenda of evangelical seminaries are set primarily by scholars. Professors decide how students will spend their time; they determine students’ priorities; they set the pace. And guess what. Scholars’ agenda seldom match the needs of the church.
Can you imagine what kind of soldiers our nation would have if basic training amounted to reading books, listening to lectures, writing papers and taking exams? We’d have dead soldiers. The first time a bullet wizzed past their heads on the battlefield, they’d panic. The first explosion they saw would send them running. So, what is basic training for the military? Recruits learn the information they need to know, but this is a relatively small part of their preparation. Most of basic training is devoted to supervised battle simulation. Recruits are put through harrowing emotional and physical stress. They crawl under live bullet fire. They practice hand to hand combat.
If I could wave a magic scepter and change seminary today, I’d turn it into a grueling physical and spiritual experience. I’d find ways to reach academic goals more quickly and effectively and then devote most of the curriculum to supervised battle simulation. I’d put students through endless hours of hands-on service to the sick and dying, physically dangerous evangelism, frequent preaching and teaching the Scriptures, and days on end of fasting and prayer. Seminary would either make them or break them.
Do you know what would happen? Very few young men would want to attend. Only those who had been called by God would subject themselves to this kind of seminary. Yet, they would be recruits for Kingdom service, not mere students. They would be ready for the battle of gospel ministry.
Dr. Richard Pratt President, Third Millennium Ministries

I would agree that we spent far too much time in classrooms, and not enough doing field work.  I remember reading Iain Murray’s biography on Jonathan Edwards.  At times he actually lived with a pastor who was his tutor in theology/languages.  He would also follow the pastor.  There was much learning “on the job” under the wing of a more experienced man.

In seminary I had an internship.  Since I was still in transition from Calvinistic baptist to Presbyterian I didn’t really fit anywhere.  I did my internship at the Rescue Mission where I worked.  I got to preach far more than most seminary students (apparently I needed the practice more than they did), often with no notice.  I did plenty of counseling.  I had to go make sure someone was dead and call the police.  I held the arms of a man who attempted suicide with a broken light bulb until the EMTs arrived.  I had to help people after seizures.

Thankfully I was also able to teach SS.  I was worshiping at a church that didn’t seem to want to use me.  One of the Associates would offer me opportunities, but the Sr. pastor largely shut me out.  I’m grateful for my time at the Rescue Mission.  I guess it didn’t prepare me to deal with widows, power brokers and the well-dressed.  But I dealt with many things my peers did not.

But churches didn’t see it that way.  They thought I had “no experience”.

I think we need to do plenty of reading- but Pratt is right.  We need to spend far more time sweating, serving, praying and evangelizing.  I think we could even do away with degrees.  The point is competency: in knowledge and ability.  Both can be gained without a formal education.  Perhaps we should shift back to the old days- an experienced pastor assigning work in theology and languages, and overseeing their development of skills “on the job”.

Read Full Post »


The Cavman is on vacation. One of the many benefits of vacation is the ability to catch up on the reading I’ve been meaning to do. Since we flew across the country, I had plenty of time (except when CavSon was rambunctious) to dig into Sinclair Ferguson’s By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me. If you haven’t read Sinclair Ferguson before, I ask you “Why?”. I always find food for my soul in Ferguson’s books.  This book was no exception.

This book, a companion to his recent book In Christ Alone, is different. Ferguson utilizes a hymn by African pastor Emmanuel Sibomana to explore the amazing nature of God’s grace. Each of the 7 chapters uses the corresponding stanza as a spring board into good pastoral theology. By that I mean the application of theology to pastoral/personal matters.

“Being amazed by God’s grace is a sign of spiritual vitality. It is a litmus test of how firm and real is our grasp of the Christian gospel and how close is our walk with Jesus Christ. The growing Christian finds that the grace of God astonishes and amazes. … Sadly, we might more truthfully sing of ‘accustomed grace.'”

My Chains Fell Off– the gospel begins with liberation. Ferguson begins with the bondage we experience before being liberated. Christians look back and see their prior bondage. Non-Christians often don’t even notice the chains they are so accustomed to them. There were a few twists I did not expect. He quotes part of the Kinks’ song Dedicated Follower of Fashion.  Later he quotes the Rolling Stones’ (Can’t Get No) Satisfaction [one of the few Stones song I like]. I thought of a few more songs that illustrated depravity while reading along.

“Every time she walks on by, wild thoughts escape” U2God Part 2

“‘We’ll walk on thru heaven’s door and proudly raise our heads.’  I said, ‘Man, you must be crazy, our hands are covered blood red.'”  The CallBlood Red

We are in a bondage from which we cannot free ourselves. But when we forget the depths of our bondage grace becomes boring. Part of the bondage is that when it is pointed out, people feel insulted. “How dare you call me a sinner!” Until we grasp the severity of the bondage we won’t grasp the wonder of the freedom. Even from respectable bondage, like those which enslaved the Pharisees.

(more…)

Read Full Post »


Communication is a problem for all of us.  It is a problem as old as that fateful day the serpent spoke to Eve.  It plagues our marriages, families, churches and the work place.  There is no place on earth where there are people that there is not a struggle to communicate.

Paul David Tripp wrote War of Words: Getting to the Heart of Your Communication Struggles with this pervasive proclivity in mind (also available in CD book, a DVD seminar, discussion guide and here is a sample chapter).  He does get to the heart- focusing on the heart, not just technique.

This book is not just a practical self-help book.  Actually, it isn’t a self-help book at all.  It is intensely theological, but applies that theology.  The help it offers is the gospel.  Jesus alone is able to end the war of words of which we are all apart.

Theologically he does not shy away from the reality of indwelling sin.  Our problems are rooted here, which is why only Jesus can resolve them.  He also puts forth a rigorous doctrine of sanctification.  This book is really about the process of sanctifying our speech as we root out the sin in our hearts.  This is a book that often prompted me to repentance, particularly as he illustrated matters with personal stories.

My only ‘complaint’ is the amount of material repeated from Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands.  It really isn’t a complaint- I probably needed to hear it repeatedly.  There is a great deal of overlap in the approach of the books- the problem is in the heart, the solution is the gospel, and change takes place in personal ministry.  So obviously there will be overlap.  I just happened to be reading both books at the same time.

This is not a book to read quickly, or take lightly.  It is not meant for application for others until there is application to yourself.  But I encourage you to read it- it just may significantly change your relationships, if you are able to apply the truth uncovered here.

Read Full Post »


In the final chapters of his book, Gospel-Powered Parenting, William Farley focuses on instruction and love as important tools of parenting.  He already discussed the first part of parenting from Ephesians 6:4, and now concentrates on the second, instruction.

He begins with an analogy.  The father who does not provide for his children materially is to be considered “worse than an unbeliever” according to Paul in 1 Timothy 5:8.  Should we not think the same thing for a father who professes faith but how fails to provide for his children spiritually?  The consequences of such failure are even more devastating than failure to provide materially.

There are 4 beliefs or assumptions that keep many parents from fulfilling their spiritual duties to their kids.  The chapter focuses on helping parents overcome those false beliefs.

First, parents think they can delegate their responsibilities to others.  Instead of seeing youth group & SS as supplementing their endeavors, they expect them to take care of the job for them.  Youth group is not evil, but while there is instruction, or should be, there is not the discipline necessary to raising a child in the fear and admonition of the Lord.  Families are to join discipline and instruction (as Eph. 6:4 notes).

“Most fathers do not understand the power that God has given them over their children’s hearts.”

(more…)

Read Full Post »


In the next 2 chapters of his book, Gospel-Powered Parenting, William Farley covers the tools of discipline.  No, it isn’t about spanking spatulas, switches and the like.  Discipline is one of the tools parents use to instruct and guide their children.  The gospel does not eliminate discipline, but provides a foundation for loving, gracious discipline.

His starting place is Ephesians 6:4- “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”  The 2 tools of parenting here are discipline and instruction.  To neglect either is to provoke your children.  We forget that discipline, from a biblical perspective, is an expression of love (Hebrews 12 which quotes Proverbs 3).  With our Father in heaven as our example, we see that love motivates discipline.  This is because the parent wants what is best for the child and seeks to protect the child from danger- including self-destruction.  We fail our children when we kid-proof our lives.  They must learn proper boundaries, and that there are consequences to crossing boundaries.

He gives a list of reasons why the gospel is the proper foundation for discipline:

  • It convinces us that indwelling sin is the real problem.
  • It convinces us that authority is a crucial issue in parenting.
  • It convinces us that the heart is the issue and we must seek heart change.
  • It convinces us that discipline can preach the gospel to our children.
  • It motivates us to fear God.
  • It helps us to grow in humility and sincerity.

When I worked for Ligonier I used to have a sign on my cubicle that read: It all leads back to depravity.  All of the customer service problems (and employee problems) were rooted in that.  The same is true for parenting issues.  Children do not need to be taught to do wrong- it apparently happens ‘naturally’.  We do have to work hard to teach them to do that which is good.  It leads back to depravity.   When we think our kids are basically good, we think all they need is a little info instead of a new heart that longs to obey, which is only promised in the gospel.

Discipline, or the lack thereof, also preaches.  We communicate whether or not disobedience is taken seriously, which can have disastrous results as adults (they can become irresponsible and unable to maintain relationships and jobs).  We also forget that if we don’t discipline them, God will.  By the time he does, they are far more entrenched in their sin and rebellion.  It will be that much more painful.  We are wise to discipline them while they are young.  We show a lack of love if we refuse to discipline our kids.

Farley brings the discussion back to the fear of God (the fear of a son, not a slave).  If we do not fear God, we will inevitably fear our children.  We will live for their approval and love in return.  We will not do the important but difficult things necessary to correct them and show them the right way.  The gospel shows us how deadly sin is, as well as God’s gracious work of adoption, which work to develop respect for our heavenly Father.

Farley does not delve into details.  He’s looking at the heart.  These are helpful chapters.

Read Full Post »


I am slowly making my way through Gospel-Powered Parenting by William Farley.  I’m going slower than desired.  I have lost track of how many books I’m currently reading.  As he describes one of his sons, I have hope for my son.  He’s one stubborn little guy.  Days like today make me wonder if I’ll survive the parenting process.  It is not must about their character changing, but also mind.  Not only does the Boy need the gospel, the Dad needs the gospel.

The first tool of parenting he addresses is marriage.  “Huh?” you might say.  Yes, marriage.  The gospel we live must be the same as the one we preach.  If our lives make the gospel unattractive, our children will be repelled by what they think is the truth.

“Frank and Kim’s marriage preached an unattractive gospel to their children.  It contradicted the gospel preached at church and school.”

Farley gets this largely from Ephesians 5.  Sadly, it seems so novel in evangelical circles.  This points to how little we pay attention to the Scriptures.  M’ Cheyne once commented that the church’s greatest need was for his holiness as their pastor.  Similarly, your children’s greatest need is for your personal holiness to adorn the truth of the gospel.  Your marriage will preach a message that will either attract or repel your children.

“Proud parents are ill equipped to help their children escape the clutches of pride.”

In my margin I wrote that you could replace pride with any other sin.  We cannot teach our kids to escape the clutches of any sin that has us in its clutches.  Our only hope to escape the clutches of any sin is the gospel.  If we are not applying the gospel to our sin, how can they learn to apply it to their sin.  All we could offer them is moralism.

(more…)

Read Full Post »


The last few weeks have been pretty busy.  The final push before vacation will be busy too, so I took a “mental health” break.  I caught an afternoon showing of Iron Man 2 at the local 2nd run theater.

Iron Man is giving Spider-Man and Batman a run for their money.  While all 3 are based on comic book heroes, they are very different in tone.  Spider-Man has had a playful sense of humor to balance off the relational issues and conflict.  Batman is very dark with sparse humor as Batman also struggles with relational issues in addition to the criminals.  Iron Man’s style of humor is sarcastic and the enemies are not limited to one city- Iron Man is world wide.

They all have relational issues.  Spider-Man didn’t know his father, though was raised by an uncle.  His disobedience opened the door to his uncle’s death.  This haunts him.  He is broke.  There is a woman he loves, but is afraid of putting her in danger.

Batman watched his parents die.  As their sole heir, he is rich.  He uses his riches to protect people from evil men.  He loves a childhood friend but she fears his dark hobby as a vigilante.   His father was a strong man, however, and his strength is extended in his son.

The Woman He's Afraid to Love

Iron Man is different.  He is not a hidden hero.  Everyone knows it is him.  Like Master Wayne, he is the rich heir of a strong father.   But he was estranged from his father while alive.  Part of his irreverence and sarcasm is connected to this lack of approval from dad.  He too has a woman he loves.  But he is afraid to let her know.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »