Psalm 150: “Oh come and praise the Lord” (Jeremy Walker)

6 6. 6 6 (St. Cecilia)Psalm 150Oh come and praise the Lord,Praise in his sanctuary;Come, praise him in the heavens,On earth with bended knee.Give praises for his deeds,And reach for fitting words,Enlarge your hearts to hymnThe glories of the Lord.With …

Winter in North County San Diego December 2012

HB Classic: What Do We Mean By “Comfort”?

Reformed theology and piety has been frequently caricatured as “dry” by which I take it critics mean to suggest that it is overly academic, overly intellectual and unconcerned about the interior, spiritual life of the believer. That this is a caricature is . . . Continue reading →

Peter Martyr Vermigli on Law and Gospel

In the history of Christian theology there have been two ways of speaking about the relation between law and gospel: 1. historically and 2. theologically or hermeneutically. These two ways of relating law and gospel are complementary. The first way of relating . . . Continue reading →

Books I’ve Heard Lately

While I’ve always been an avid reader of books, in the past twelve months or so I’ve also become an avid listener. After seeing hundreds of Audible ads advertising “Download a Free Audiobook Today!” I finally went ahead and signed up and downloaded my free audiobook (and yes, you actually can join, get that free audiobook, and quit the program within fourteen days). There has been no looking back and I’ve become a bona fide lover of audiobooks. I listen while commuting, while doing dishes, and in that time when I’m too tired to read and but not tired enough to go to bed.

Here are a few of the books I’ve listened to in the past few months.

Washington by Ron Chernow

Washington ChernowOne of my long-term projects is to read (or listen to) a biography of each of the American presidents. Chernow’s Washington: A Life is a brilliant account of the life of George Washington. It represents 42 hours of listening, but it didn’t ever grow the least bit dull. There are two aspects to the life of the first President that stood out to me more than anything else. The first was the unexpected interplay between Washington’s pride and humility. Though he was a proud man—vain even—he was also motivated by higher ideals than self. So even while he was desirious of having power, he was willing to give it up. He is the one man in American history (the one man in human history, perhaps) who has had access to complete military power and complete political power and who has willingly given up both. That is remarkable. The other aspect of his life that stood out to me was the deep sadness of his wife. Both of the Washington’s wanted to live a quiet country life, and yet time and time again duty came calling, taking George away. Martha lived with constant sadness that she and her husband spent so much time apart. Her life displays just some of the sadness of life in a fallen world. (Buy it at Amazon or Audible)

Truman by David McCullough

TrumanAs I continue to work my way through the presidents, I knew I wanted to move quickly to Truman since it collides with another of my projects—working my way through all of David McCullough’s books. McCullough’s biography is considered the definitive work and I can’t see how it will ever be equalled. Even longer than Washington, Truman clocks in at 54 hours, but is fascinating from beginning to end. To give a sense of the value of reading this biography, I’ll refer you to an article my mother wrote after she read it for the second time: My Favorite New Deal Mason. Here’s a key quote from that review: “I think Truman’s fundamental weakness was his misunderstanding of human nature. He was a committed humanist and had no category for entrenched personal evil. This influenced many of his decisions in a way that has proven counter-productive over the long term.” (Buy it at Amazon or Audible)

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

Behind the Beautiful ForeversThrough much of 2012 I had seen Behind the Beautiful Forevers on various lists of bestselling books, but it wasn’t until I returned from a week in India that I decided to pick it up. I’m glad I did. Boo spent three years in Annawadi, a Mumbai slum community. In this book she relates her experience there and tells about the lives of the people who live in that slum. I guess you might term this “narrative non-fiction” and it is very well done. She aptly highlights the despair of people who are victims of their circumstances and victims of the systemic corruption that plagues modern-day India. The contrast between rich and poor, between the haves and the have-nots, is stark and startling, the characters unforgettable, the stories tragic. (Buy it at Amazon or Audible)

Killing Kennedy by Bill O’Reilly

Killing KennedyKilling Kennedy is the follow-up to O’Reilly’s Killing Lincoln. (Because of its narrow focus, it does not count toward my presidential biography project) Both books made their way to the New York Times list of bestsellers and are there still. Killing Kennedy is a short, punchy account of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It avoids swinging into conspiracy theory territory and simply recounts the facts as the history books have recorded them. It is fast-paced and well-told. Unfortunately it also has rather a “tabloid” feel. While no account of Kennedy’s life can be told without referring to his wild, unrepentant philandering, O’Reilly dwells there for a little bit too long, especially considering that this is an account of his death more than his life. There is no good reason for it, except that it is lascivious and, therefore, captivating. This book may still be worth listening to if you want to better understand one of America’s defining moments, but do be aware of that unfortunate secondary emphasis. (Buy it at Amazon or Audible)

Columbine by Dave Cullen

Columbine CullenI listened to Columbine this summer, long before the tragedy in Newtown. Somehow recent events have made the shootings at Columbine High School seem even more tragic. Years after Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered one teacher and twelve of their fellow students, Cullen assembled the facts and did his utmost to separate truth from error and fact from fiction. The book’s editorial description says it well: “Over the course of this gripping narrative, Dave Cullen approaches his subjects with unrivaled care and insight. What emerges are shattering portraits of the killers, the victims, and the community that suffered one of the greatest—and most socially and historically important—shooting tragedies of the 20th century.” One of the greatest lessons may be that it will take years before we can really know what happened at Newtown, Connecticut. It will take that long for the reports to be gathered and filtered. In the end, much of what we think we know will be corrected. (Buy it at Amazon or Audible)

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When God Pulls the Rug Out (Most Read of 2012 – #3)

Has this happened to you?

You read all the signs that were so blatantly from the Lord—“yes, this is the path, go this way, I am with you.”

You have been amazed at the way he opened doors—you were scared but you walked through them.

The Lord confirmed his will for you through other people too—they were excited that God was doing this.

Finally, you were on board. You were excited. You were all in. You had peace about your decision.

And then, splat, he pulled the rug out from under you.

How will you be able to trust God again?

This, I think, is a common experience. Very common. It happens with all kinds of decisions: business, vocational, financial and relationships. You pray earnestly, you see God moving, you are amazed, and then…  it looks as if he simply vanished and left you on your own. You especially see it in broken relationships. That is, you seek the Lord about a marriage or relationship decision, it starts almost too well, and then the relationship takes a sudden and tragic turn, and there is no explanation for it.

You want to know why

Some problems are universal, but this one is for those who are spiritually mature. It happens to people who are earnestly seeking God, and only the mature do such things. And though anger toward God might flash occasionally, it isn’t the real issue. The real problem is that you feel you no longer know him. You want to know why God did this, yet he is silent. It doesn’t make sense: he gives with one hand and takes away with the other.

“Why?”

When no response comes, you start filling in the blanks. Maybe you deserved it. Maybe you have done wrong and you need to figure out what it is. That’s what maturity gets you; you see yourself as the culprit. This approach is understandable and—misguided.

Not a scavenger hunt for sin

“Why, O Lord?” is a recurring question in Scripture. In response, God does not send anyone on a scavenger hunt for sin, and does not fill in all the details that the asker might want to know either. Instead, he reaffirms that he does see trouble and grief (Ps. 10:14), and he will strengthen those who are weak (Is. 40:27-31). With these words he is revealing to us what we really need to know.

Check your assumptions

But there is another matter to consider.

All this started with our assumptions about how God works—we had confidence that we could know the will of God. We could discern the “open doors” and had that “peace.” Even more, we were confident that those open doors would lead to blessing, according to our definition of blessing. Perhaps it is time to re-evaluate.

The Apostle Paul held very different assumptions yet he believed that he knew plenty about God’s will. The King reigns, the Spirit has been poured out, the nations are ripe for the picking—that was enough for him. The times he received specific direction, he was confident that it would mean blessing for the larger church and hardships for him. He knew that if God was in it there would be challenges—challenges that reveal weaknesses and test faith.

God is not playing games when he pulls the rug out from under you. He is up to something, but it is probably not what you think it is. 

 

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The F250 Gospel

A free pickup truck and an even free-er Gospel.

A La Carte (12/31)

Happy New Year – Paul Tripp offers a lot of wisdom when it comes to resolutions. “Few smokers actually quit because of a single moment of resolve, few obese people have become slim and healthy because of one dramatic moment of commitment, few people who were deeply in debt have changed their financial lifestyle because they resolved to do so as the old year gave way to the new, and few marriages have been changed by the means of one dramatic resolution.”

How Not to Read Your Bible – “When it comes to daily (or not-so-daily) Bible reading, January 1 can be a welcome arrival. A new year signals a new start. You’re motivated to freshly commit to what you know is of indispensable importance: the Word of God.” Well and good. But here is some counsel on how not to read your Bible in 2013. Meanwhile, once you’ve decided how to read the Bible well, here are some Bible-reading plans that may help.

Holland vs The Netherlands – Here’s a funny and fascinating video explaining why you should stop referring to The Netherlands as Holland. Good luck following it all the way to the end.

True Religion – “It is popular today to decry the word ‘religion.’ And I suppose the goal here is a good one: to show the futility and falseness of a ritualistic, cold, unlively, practices of religious stuff. At the same time the word religion is a biblical word, used in James 1:27. It describes the practice of godliness.”

The Danger of Theological Novelty – C. Michael Patton nails it in this article about theological novelty. “You see, in theology, for many people ‘in the know,’ once something becomes mainstream, it becomes disqualified. Once it becomes too popular or normal, it becomes naive. Once everyone thinks it is correct, it is no longer qualified to be  anything but a foil for the correct. We become theological swingers whose end is not to find the truth, but simply to swing to the next partner.”

23 Reasons to Be Joyful – Here, from the book of Philippians, are 23 reasons to be joyful.

God often comforts us, not by changing the circumstances of our lives, but by changing our attitude toward them. —S.H.B. Masterman

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Check out

Anthony Bradley’s Year, 23 reasons to be joyful, Praising Denominations, The handwritten note, Hobby Lobby hope

5 Ways to Pray for Your Pastor in 2013

Just the other day I received a letter in the mail from a medical doctor whom I have never met before. Having told me how he had benefited from some of my sermons and articles, he went on to tell me, “I pray for you. I will be able to do so on a very …