Archive for October, 2012

While we were still in the process of adopting, a friend mentioned a book about the Congo prior to his trip to Africa to do some counseling. I thought it would be a good idea to read the book to understand the recent history of the region. I wanted to keep it so my kids would be able to understand the land they left.

I didn’t expect anyone to say this:

“It is true that the Tutsi killed,” Bugera told me at one point. “But we all had brothers, schoolmates, uncles who had been killed. It’s all part of the whole. Can you portray that to your readers in Arizona or Berlin? Can you make them understand why someone would kill?”

Dancing in the Glory of Monsters by Jason Stearns is a difficult book to read. He tries to help you understand “why someone would kill” and not just other soldiers, but even women and children. Correct that, why they think they should kill. It is difficult to read because there are so many stories of horrendous acts. He interviewed many people, and gives us their eyewitness accounts through much of the book.

The book covers the history of the Great War of Africa, which was largely ignored in the West even though millions of people died. Coverage of Darfur greatly exceeded coverage of The Great War even though far more people died in the Great War.

“There is no Hitler, Mussolini, or Stalin. Instead it is a war of the ordinary person, with many combatants unknown and unnamed, who fight for complex reasons…”

He theorizes that one reason is that there were no clear cut good guys and bad guys. Everyone had blood on their hands! Another reason may just be how utterly confusing it can be due to the enormous cast of characters. It is like a Russian novel. He has a page and a half of acronyms, many of which are the various military groups.

The first part of the book sets the stage for the war, analyzing the problems that contributed to the war.

“The Congo has always defied the idealists.”

One important factor was that during the time of colonization, the Belgians had set up the Congolese to fail. There were no native leaders that made their ways up the ladder of power. There was no one ready and able to rule and administrate a nation when they left. They had impoverished leadership, and slowly ate up the left over capitol left behind. Called Zaire, prior to the War, it was run by a deified dictator (aren’t they usually) who used privilege to purchase loyalty. But the infrastructure was rotting, and the military leaders were selling off supplies, parts and arms to maintain a good standard of living. Zaire was rotting from the inside out. Stagflation was impoverishing the nation.

The civil war in neighboring Rwanda was another contributing factor. Many of the refugees fled into eastern Zaire. The Hutu, who were in power, were guilty of stirring up the genocide which saw 800,000 Tutsi and Hutu killed by the army and militia groups. Eventually, Tutsi rebels led by Kagame took power in Rwanda. This time it was the Hutu crossing the border into Zaire to find refuge.

“Such is the human being: when he is afraid, he sees enemies everywhere and think the only chance to stay alive is to exterminate them.” Beatrice Umetesi

Racism drove a number of regional conflicts that erupted into larger conflicts. The camps were divided, and refugees outside the camps often attacked those inside. Humanitarian crises broke out in the camps. One UN official noted, “It was like watching a train wreck in slow motion.” The UN was not allowed to get accurate counts for well over a year. They underestimated the amount of money needed to provide food and medicine for the refugees. They ended up dying by the thousands. The U.S., under Clinton, not only did essentially nothing but blocked efforts on the part of the international community. They would help in Bosnia, but not the heart of Africa.

Rumble in the Jungle: Zaire in its short-lived glory

Mobutu liked to shelter the enemies of his enemies however. It would de-stablize the region. Eventually it would catch up with him as those foreign enemies assisted his domestic enemies.

It was not just the Hutu who hated the Tutsi. Generations earlier, in the 1800’s, some have moved west into the Congo. Called the Banyamulenge, they were ostracized and minimized. They were considered outsiders even though they’d lived there for over 100 years. They were denied citizenship. Apparently everyone hated them. They didn’t fit in. They were insulted with slang words for “penis” and the word kijuju after a local plant similar to the cassava, but which could not be eaten.

“Everyone seemed to be a killer or a victim or both.”

The Congolese were stirred up against the Hutu and Tutsi refugees. And the local Banyamulenge.

It is here that Stearns makes explicit the pattern we too often ignore in such situations of racism. Each side only remembers the atrocities committed against them, not those they have committed. As a result, each side feels justified in their hatred and thinks nothing of the damage they do in return. Think of race relations in this country. Both whites and blacks have selective memories whenever something comes up.

Mobutu’s foreign enemies needed a Congolese face to head the attempt (which was successful) to remove him from power. They found one of the few domestic enemies that Mobutu hadn’t locked up- aging Communist and eccentric Laurent Kabila. He was crazy, like a fox. They underestimated him. But he would underestimate how hard it would be to rule the Congo.

There is plenty of back story and intrigue in the first part of this book. It could be confusing at times. But the whole story is confusing as seemingly unrelated things all came together to make something greater than their sum. It is a sad, tragic story that reveals the darkest sides of the human condition.

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Ever feel like you are missing something? It can happen when big names, wise men, hail a book. People you know find the book life-changing. Self-doubt begins to creep in, “Am I missing something important?” Perhaps I had erroneous expectations.

The book is Tullian Tchividijian’s Jesus + Nothing = Everything.

The big names include guys like Paul Tripp, Scotty Smith, Matt Chandler, Gene Edward Veith, Michael Horton, and Steve Brown.

Scotty Smith called it “a faithful and fresh exposition of Colossians.”

I began to read the book because I’m preaching on Colossians. I had heard his sermon on the subject at hand, and thought it was very good. So I thought this would be a great book.

“Progress in obedience happens only when our hearts realize the God’s love for us does not depend on our progress in obedience.”

My expectations were off. I expected an exposition of Colossians. What I read was a polemic against legalism. Don’t get me wrong, we need polemical material against legalism. And he said some really good things.

“The gospel is the only thing big enough to satisfy our deepest, eternal longings- both now and forever.”

Where I struggled was that was the vast majority of the book. It did not seem to move linearly. It was more like progressive parallelism. It looked at legalism from different perspectives. And there was no exposition of Colossians.

“Even as believers, we don’t adequately realize how Jesus is enough to meet our deepest needs, so we’re always pursuing an add-on approach- Jesus plus something.”

Colossians can be summed up by the formula that Tullian presents for us. The problem in the Colossian church was multifactorial, to steal a line from Ben Cherington. There seem to be a few different things added to Christ to find fullness. Tullian just hits legalism. So, it seems a bit reductionistic to me.

“The gospel frees us from trying to impress people, to prove ourselves to people, to make people think we’re something that we’re not.”


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There are many books on love. Not all of them are good. They don’t seem to get to the heart of the matter- loving others is hard. By love I’m not talking about warm, fuzzy feelings. But sacrificing yourself for them day in and day out. Actually, it goes beyond hard.

“The problem is that we are less loving than we think we are and a lot less loving than we ought to be.”

Phil Ryken has written an excellent book on love with Loving the Way Jesus Loves. He brings us through 1 Corinthians 13 and illustrates each aspect of love from the earthly ministry of Jesus. As a result, you get a very Christ-centered book. Jesus is not merely an example to follow. He is the One who loved us and gave Himself up for us (Gal. 2:20). Apart from being loved by Him, we cannot love (see 1 John 3-4).

“He does not love us merely to love us but also to love others through us as we learn to love the way that he loves.”

This book is not a commentary. It draws from a number of commentaries and books by godly people thru the ages, but it isn’t academic in tone. It is pastoral in tone. While he is honest about our failures to love, he is not condemning. He offers hope in Christ who loved us and laid down His life for us. It is … gently convicting. I certainly felt convicted much of the time. I didn’t feel condemned. I felt I still needed to grow, and Jesus was at work growing me. But that is about me, this is about the book.

In a sense, the book is structured “artificially”. He structures it not according to the order Paul uses, but rearranged them so the life of Jesus is in chronological order. I think the book is better for that.

“This is what love does: it lets the needs of others set our agenda, rather than letting our agenda limit how much we are willing to serve- …”

In the process of explaining the nature of love, he reveals to us how unloving much of what we do really is. We don’t really ponder the true nature of things like irritability. It is only as we own up to the true of that matter that we will be set free to love. It is only as we repent of these things that we will begin to act in ways more consistent with love.

Ryken blends exegetical insights, biblical illustrations, helpful words from the saints of old (Edwards, Chrysostom, Tertullian and more), events from the lives of ordinary people and of course Jesus to offer a most helpful book about love. It is not about idealism. It is about how Jesus loves us, and how He teaches us to love others. This is a great need in the church, and Ryken provides some effective medicine for our disease.

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In the past year so there, a discussion (not a conversation!) has been going on about the nature of sanctification. Much of this as taken place on the internet, among people who are (or seem to be) friends or at least acquaintances. One of those men was Kevin DeYoung. He believed that he should write a book examining the Reformed Tradition’s view of sanctification. I, for one, is glad he did. The Hole in Our Holiness is that book.

Kevin avoids the temptation to write a polemic against other views. Instead, he is more positive approach, instructing people line upon line. He generally writes concisely, making the book accessible for lay people. He is not overly technical either. The most technical chapter is “Be Who You Are” because it covers our union in Christ. He does a good job explaining what it is, and how our sanctification flows out of that union.

DeYoung begins by addressing the odd gap that exists in broader Reformed circles. We speak much of being gospel-centered, but we don’t seem to be making as much progress in our sanctification as we would think. Isn’t the gospel sufficient? Yes, it is. And yet God has appointed various means of grace.


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I’ve been a fan of The Choir since shortly after Diamonds and Rain came out (thanks to Harvest Rock Syndicate’s review). I saw them at one of the New Sound festivals over 2 decades ago. Not the best experience. I think they opened the festival, I was not close to the stage and the sound dispersed. I couldn’t see much of worth. I missed a chance to see them with Russ Taff since it was on the wrong side of Boston on a weeknight and I had to work.

Last night I had the opportunity to see them live on their current tour for both the 25th anniversary of Chase the Kangaroo and the release of their new album The Loudest Sound Ever Heard. It was an intimate setting, with under 100 people in attendance. It was an easy 90 minute drive from my house to Foothills Baptist Church, which seems to have an enclave of people who enjoy the older alternative Christian bands like DA and the 77s. Easy drive aside from the guy who tried stubbornly to run me off the road. Thankfully I did not end up hearing a choir of angels sooner than I anticipated. I was anticipating The Choir.

They performed as a “power” trio. Dan Michaels was only able to make a few dates on this tour. But Tim Chandler was there to thump the bass for his first tour in 16 years. Life on the road is hard, so I understand not touring. Their ‘hey day’ is gone, but they still love to play music and meet the people who’ve been with them for years. It is like a reunion of sorts. They often see familiar faces. Mine wasn’t one of them, obviously.

I set up shop on Derri’s side of the stage. I like seeing guitarists do their thing. He had 3 guitars ready to go. He spent most of the night playing his starburst Fender Strat. He also played a Gibson on a few songs and a blue Gretsch guitar. The thing looked huge when Derri played it. He had an array of pedals to get his signature sound. He’s more like the Edge, not a flashy soloist.


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No, I’m not talking about progressivism. I’m not talking about evolutionary progress. I’m not talking about the progress of civilization.

I’m talking about progress in sanctification. Sometimes we fall into the trap that it really isn’t possible. We see our sins more clearly and more abundantly than we did before. We seem mired in it.

In the final chapter of The Hole in Our Holiness, Kevin DeYoung address the very real possibility, and expectation, of progress. There is such a thing as hope and change, in the life of a Christian.

He starts in 1 Timothy 4:15. Shortly after his ordination, it clicked for him.

15 Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. 16 Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.

Paul wanted people to see Timothy’s progress, not just as a pastor but as a godly man. He was to practice “the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” But in verse 12 he’s told to “set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” He was to be growing, making progress, in these things. This implies that while Timothy was godly, he was not perfect and could become more godly.

“Paul didn’t think “set an example” means “get everything right the first time.”


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Kevin DeYoung continues with the general theme of our union with Christ in the 9th chapter of The Hole in Our Holiness. That union is the foundation of our communion with Christ. That communion with Christ is important to our growth in holiness.

Communion with Christ is only possible for those who are in Christ, or united with Christ. Communion, or fellowship, with Christ is our ultimate goal. All of the blessings of the gospel, including sanctification, come to us in Christ. We do not seek them, including holiness, apart from Christ. We seek them from Christ. All that you could ever seek, with the exception of sin, is to be found in Christ. Seeking them elsewhere is an exercise in futility.

“Just as a once-for-all, objective justification leads to a slow-growth, subjective sanctification, so our unchanging union with Christ leads us to an ever-increasing communion with Christ.”

DeYoung distinguishes between union and communion. They cannot be separated from one another, as if you have one without the other. But they are different. Our union with Christ is unbreakable. Our communion with Christ is subject to change depending on whether we are pursuing Him or sin at a given time. It is like marriage, he notes, we are in the state of marriage regardless of how we feel about each other at the moment. But the strength of our marriage is variable, depending on love and sacrifice. You are not more or less marriage. You either are or are not. But your marriage can be more or less healthy. Similarly, we are not more or less a Christian (union with Christ), but our relationship is more or less healthy (communion & sanctification).

“I don’t want to belabor the point, but it’s important we understand that communion with God is predicated on union with Christ and not the other way around.”


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Someone, somewhere, has proclaimed this Free Speech Pulpit Freedom Sunday (see what happens when you blog after getting up at 3 am- this was the least of my worries). People do that- declare a Sunday for their causes. It can be good to move us to focus prayer on particular issues like abortion, adoption, and the persecuted church.

Free Speech Sunday is a new one, at least to me. Sometimes I feel like I live in a cave. You’d think I wasn’t connected to the internet by an umbilical cord.

The purpose, as I understand it, of Free Speech Pulpit Freedom Sunday is to recognize what the IRS says a church can and cannot say. My understanding of the tax code (I am not an accountant, and getting one’s opinion on the tax code is about as helpful as asking a roomful of theologians a question) is that churches can address political issues, but not lobby for particular candidates. That this law is not fairly applied, from my opinion, is not the point. Actually, it is the point in terms of the intention of the day. Some use this fear of removing 501(c)3 status from conservative churches to silence them. But churches can talk politics, according to the law. We can say if a candidate’s position on abortion or marriage is immoral. We can say if the candidates break the 9th commandment (oh, boy do they do that early and often). We are on less solid ground when discussing the economic theory of the candidates (I have strong opinions on this matter, having a degree in economics, but that is not the same as comparing someone to a biblical standard on truth-telling in campaigning, or killing babies.


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Only one set of sins has its own chapter in The Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung. He does not address that set of sins because it is popular to do so (in some circles it is easy to do so).

He addresses them for two reasons. The first is their connection to union in Christ, which Paul draws out in 1 Corinthians 6. The second is that they seem to be the blind spot for the contemporary American Christian. That might not seem obvious to us. Each generation and culture has its blind spots. Earlier generations had a blind spot on issues of race. That is one reason the practice was able to flourish in largely Christian nations. That was why Jim Crow laws and other manifestations of systematic racism were common in this nation in which most people would classify themselves as a Christian.

Sexual sins surround us. Part of Kevin’s point is that while we still call the most grievous manifestations sin (few Christians refuse to call adultery and pornography use sinful) but we have seen an erosion of our sexual mores that represents a significant departure from the biblical standard. Things like fornication, nudity in movies, songs encouraging non-marital sex etc. have become so common place that we are not shocked anymore, and don’t seem to mind them.


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