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From Brandywine Books
Full-blown film review: ‘Viking’

Viking film 2016

(I did a preliminary review of this movie yesterday. I’ve watched it a second time now, and am prepared to pontificate.)

Viking, a Russian film directed by Andrei Kravchuk and much anticipated by Viking buffs, arrived last winter with all the acclaim of the dog that did nothing in the nighttime. Critical response was mixed, and the film got almost no US distribution. The DVD is available, though, now, and you can own it. It’s worth viewing, but I expect you’ll agree that it’s a movie in search of an audience.

The film is based on the career of the historical Prince Vladimir the Great of Kiev, the man who converted the Russians to Christianity and is revered as a saint. He did not come by his sainthood gently, though, as the film makes clear (the history here isn’t bad, considered in very broad strokes).

Vladimir (Danila Kozlovsky) is the youngest of three brothers, descendants of Vikings, and each the prince of a different Russian town, in the 10th Century. Vladimir is the least of them, not only in age but in status. He’s the son of a slave woman, and touchy on the subject. The eldest brother’s men murder the middle brother, after which Vladimir arranges the killing of the eldest. Now he’s the sole prince of all the Russ, but he has to prove himself worthy. He takes a high-born wife (Aleksandra Bortich) by force, and digs up and restores what they call “Father’s God,” a bloodthirsty idol worshiped by his late father, who was revered for his strength. Vladimir hopes to acquire that same strength, at the price of human sacrifice.

Meanwhile he has taken his late brother’s wife, Irina (Svetlana Khodchenkova), into his protection, intrigued by the peace her Christian faith gives her. His brother’s followers are determined to rescue Irina and avenge their prince, and make an alliance with the fierce Pecheneg horsemen. Vladimir brings in Scandinavian Vikings as mercenaries, though paying them turns out to be a problem. Meanwhile, Vladimir is struggling with his conscience, tortured by the memory of his crimes.

Resolution is reached as Vladimir reaches out to the “Romans” (Byzantines), who offer not only military strength but healing for his soul-sickness.

The film has its virtues. It opens with a pretty rousing hunt for what I assume is a giant musk ox, and that’s impressive, though some CGI moments don’t work perfectly. There are pretty good battle scenes, though they’re not very authentic historically.

The style of the film is the “medieval grunge” look that’s become so fashionable – everywhere there is mud, and everyone wears gray or brown (except for the Byzantines, and there’s a thematic reason for that). The men’s haircuts aren’t quite as silly as some you see in the History Channel series, and anyway the Slavs were into head-shaving, so it’s more appropriate here. The armor isn’t very good, tending to leather and metal plates riveted on jerkins. That’s OK for poor guys, but princes and their bodyguards ought to wear mail. The helmets are fair, but they should be brighter. The horses the Russ ride are, to the best of my knowledge, too big for the period.

A serious problem with the American release is the very low quality subtitles. The translation is bad and hard to follow (they consistently write “trader” for “traitor”), and sometimes the words flash on the screen so briefly there’s no time to read them.

But the whole project has what I’d call an existential problem. This movie doesn’t know what it is. It’s a bloody war movie with a Christian message. It’s a Christian movie with nude sex scenes. Who did they expect would buy tickets?

My own suspicion about Viking is that it was a pet project for Vladimir Putin. He is, after all, the hero’s namesake. It’s not unlikely that he sees his career as a parallel one – he started as a ruthless “cold” warrior, and brought on himself the guilt of many crimes and injustices. Later he embraced the Orthodox faith and reinvented himself as a hero of Christianity, the protector of the faith.

Most people don’t really buy him in that role. And I fear they won’t buy it in this movie, either.

Still, by the (abysmal) standards of Viking movies, this one has to deserve a place near the top. Recommended, but with cautions for elements described in this review.

From Tim Challies
How To Distinguish True Zeal from False Zeal

I fear there is a plague of complacency among Christians today. Whatever happened to zeal? Whatever happened to Christians who are on fire to know and obey God, who have (in the words of John Reynolds) “an earnest desire and concern for all things pertaining to the glory of God and the kingdom of the Lord Jesus among men?” Yet while zeal is a noble trait, it must be properly directed, for not all zeal is good. Here are some pointers on distinguishing true from false zeal.

False zeal is blind. Paul accused some religious enthusiasts of his day of having “a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge” (Romans 10:2). The fire that consumed them was not the fire of the Holy Spirit but an out-of-control wildfire. The Athenians, likewise, were zealous for religion, but lost as to the identity of the true and living God.

False zeal is self-seeking. It is hypocritical, using religion as a means of gain. It seeks the good of self rather than the glory of God. This is the zeal of those who make a great pretense of godliness, but whose foremost concern is actually personal enrichment.

False zeal is misguided. It pursues minor doctrines and disputable matters while putting aside the weightier matters of God’s law. It is obsessed with traditions and institutions rather than obedience. The Pharisees were far more concerned with the washing of cups than the cleansing of souls.

False zeal is impulsive. It is inspired by impulsive reaction rather than thoughtful conviction. James and John said they would call for fire to come down from heaven, but were rebuked by Jesus for their impetuousness. Their zeal was false, unhelpful, ungodly.

These are all marks of false zeal. True zeal is marked by very different characteristics.

True zeal is Godward. It cannot bear to see God’s reputation harmed or his honor stolen. This was the zeal of the church of Ephesus of whom Jesus said, “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false” (Revelation 2:2). This zeal is concerned with defending the glory and honor of God.

True zeal is fearless. It is strengthened by opposition and resistant to discouragement. Zeal will cause a Christian to face dangers that seem insurmountable or enemies that seem impossible to defeat. It is a fire that burns even stronger when fanned by hostility.

True zeal is knowledgeable. It is not based on impulsiveness or ignorance, but a deep understanding of truth. It begins with knowledge of God and ends in conformity to God. Wisdom blazes the trail of zeal and holiness brings up the rear.

True zeal is passionate. It will stand for truth even when that truth is despised or opposed. “It is time for the LORD to act,” says David, “for your law has been broken” (Psalm 119:126). The more unbelievers reject the truth and despise those who believe it, the more courageous Christians become in the face of their opposition.

True zeal generates obedience. It makes us hear God’s Word with reverence, to pray with persistence, to love others with brotherly affection. It is the height of hypocrisy for a believer to be outwardly zealous while inwardly committed to sin. A godly heart boils over with holy affection for God and man.

True zeal is persistent. It cannot be quenched, no matter what winds blow against it or what water is poured over it. Just as the body’s heat remains as long as their is physical life, the heat of zeal lasts as long as there is spiritual life. Zeal that does not persist reveals that it was only ever a mirage.

Reading Classics

This article was drawn from The Godly Man’s Picture which I’m reading with a whole crowd of people as part of my ongoing Reading Classics Together effort.

Next Week

For those who are reading with me, please continue reading Chapter IV, “Showing the Characters of a Godly Man,” sections 17-19. Again, that’s a pretty sizable chunk of reading, so don’t procrastinate. Then check back a week from today and I’ll have an article drawn from it.

From Tim Challies
A La Carte (June 22)

Westminster Books is offering a solid discount on a very good collection of commentaries. You can’t go wrong with any of the ones they’ve highlighted.

Teens Who Choose Life in Unplanned Pregnancies Need Support and Respect, Not Shame

Here is a wise and winsome response to an article that was all over the news a couple of weeks ago. “Maddi’s story has served to become part of a bigger conversation about how Christians can both encourage and uphold standards of chastity and purity, while still showing respect and care for unborn children and their moms, in a way that’s truly consistent with a prolife ethic.”

A Christian Witness Older Than Canada

Fans of history and Christian history will enjoy this account of Maskepetoon, a Cree chieftain who became a believer. “He was baptized as a Christian two years before Confederation, following over two decades of reflection on the bible and the gospel of Jesus Christ. His example of Christian witness came during a time of brutal warfare between the Cree Nation and the Blackfoot Confederacy in Alberta and Saskatchewan during the 1800s.”

Mary Slessor’s Courageous Compassion

And those same history buffs will want to read about the heroic ministry of Mary Slessor. “Mary Slessor (1848-1915), a Scottish Presbyterian, served as a missionary to Calabar (southern Nigeria), West Africa, for thirty-eight years. At that time Calabar was considered one of the deadliest and most degraded countries in all of Africa.”

4 Misconceptions of the Missionary Call

“People tend to think that missionaries go because they somehow like to live in miserable places. This is just not true. Missionaries like comforts just as much as the next guy. But, the reality is that the unreached are generally unreached for a reason: they are usually the ones with the snakes, with the bugs, with the humidity. Even in Cameroon, when we were looking for a place to work, we were told that the languages by the beach were already taken.”

Gwyneth Paltrow Didn’t Invent the American Naturopathy Trend

Gwyneth Paltrow has been making a name for herself with her line of naturopathic products. She’s far from the first to enrich herself with dubious claims and outright quackery.

The New Spurgeon.org

It’s a joy to see the Internet’s best Spurgeon resource get better and prettier all at once.

What Is a Worldview?

James Anderson provides a useful primer on worldview. “What is a worldview? As the word itself suggests, a worldview is an overall view of the world. It’s not a physical view of the world, but rather a philosophical view, an all-encompassing perspective on everything that exists and matters to us.”

Flashback: Who Will You Serve and Surprise This Week?

Dutiful is good, but not good enough. Living well involves duty to be sure, but it also involves delight. Living well is made up of those things I must do, but also those things I get to do.

We waste time when we do not pray. —Iain Murray

From Jared C. Wilson
Why Should Preachers Actually Know the People They’re Preaching To?

Written by: Jared C. Wilson

A little something I shot for TGC: Why preaching pastors should know people in their congregation as much as possible.

Why Is It Important for Pastors to Personally Know the People in Their Congregation? from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

From internetmonk.com
Minds, Brains, Souls, and Gods: A Conversation of Faith, Psychology and Neuroscience – Part 8, Chapter 14: Does God Guide and Direct Us?

Minds, Brains, Souls, and Gods: A Conversation of Faith, Psychology and Neuroscience – Part 8, Chapter 14: Does God Guide and Direct Us?

We continue the series on the book, Minds, Brains, Souls and Gods: A Conversation on Faith, Psychology and Neuroscience.

Today Part 8, Chapter 14: Does God Guide and Direct Us?

Jeeves student raises the question about how to acknowledge the diversity of views about how Christians get guidance from God for life’s choices.  How much involves using the mind?  How much depends of feelings and emotions?  What about hearing voices and seeing visions?

First of all, Jeeves notes the episodes in Scripture where dramatic guidance is given.  The Saul-to-Paul-Road-to-Damascus experience, Moses and the burning bush, Balaam and the donkey, and so on.  He notes that, as far as he can see, nowhere in Scripture are we encouraged to see these as the norm.  Hearing voices and seeing visions can be strong pointers to psychopathology, and with suitable drug treatment the visions disappear and the voices can be cured.  He noted in the previous chapter (13: Does my Brain Have a God Spot) early researchers noted a relationship between religiosity and epilepsy.  In fact, Hippocrates, the father of medicine, called it “the sacred disease”.  But the most recent research shows a lack of link between religious experiences generally, religious awareness in particular, and selective activity of certain parts of the brain.  Jeeves concludes Chapter 13 with:

Ultimately appealing to subjective experiences alone as the grounds for beliefs is an unsure and moving foundation.  It was certainly never one used by the early Christians.  If you read the accounts given in the New Testament, for example, you will find that the constant grounds appealed to for taking seriously the claims of Jesus Christ are not subjective feeling in time of ecstasy, but the many and varied accounts of the life, teaching and activities of Jesus and his disciples.

In other words, for those who are willing to examine the evidence with an open and critical mind, the evidence—or perhaps better, the testimony—is open and available.  It’s important to say that it is open and available, and does not require any presuppositions, although many agree that there is more evidence for the existence and the life of Jesus Christ than for other historical figure around the same time that most people take for granted, such as Julius Caesar.  As Oxford historian Diarmaid MacCulloch wrote recently in his 1161-page magisterial volume Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, “There is, however, an important aspect of Christianity on which it is the occupation of historians to speak: the story of Christianity is undeniably true, in that it is a part of human history.”  Ultimately, however, at no point, as far as I can see, is the claim made that people are to be argued into the kingdom of God.  Rather the main thrust of the message is that Jesus Christ is alive and offers the opportunity of entering into a personal relationship with him.

Paul on the road to Damascus

Jeeves cites the groundbreaking study by neurologist Antonio Damasio on studies of individuals with injury to the orbital frontal cortex of the brain, explored in detail in his book: Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain.   According to Damasio’s theory, our life experiences help our minds develop automatic responses to events.  At moments when our consciousness lacks the relevant knowledge for a decision, we are guided by subtle emotions and intuitions.  The implications of Damasio’s theory is that emotions deliver many of our most complex and rational judgements about the world, guiding us in our moment-to-moment decision making.  Without knowing why, we often just feel that this or that is the right thing to do.

Jeeves mentions this an example of the artificiality of thinking we can totally disconnect mind and emotion.  That’s not the way we are made.  That is not how the brain works.  The question remains how to keep a proper balance.  There are no simple answers, certainly not from within neuropsychology.  When I have shared my story (especially on-line) of how I moved from atheism to Christianity I always get criticized by the atheists for “letting my emotions play too major a role”.  Conversely, I can’t hardly count the “deconversion” stories I have read where the interlocutor insists they have disconnected their emotions and made a decision strictly based on the empirical evidence and their rational thought.  That’s not the way we are made.  That is not how the brain works.

So, does God guide and direct us?  Of course to the materialist the answer is an emphatic NO!  All such claims of guidance and direction are simply an exercise in self-delusion.  The consensus of Internetmonk over the years, I think, would be termed “apophatic”.  We know how God DOESN’T lead us and guide us, let us count the non-ways: liver shivers, warm fuzzies, spine-tingles, goose flesh, words-of knowledge, prophecies, Bible roulette, proof texts, dreams, visions, coincidences… I like how Jeeves puts it:

St. Ignatius 1491-1556

I also believe that too often we fail to learn from wiser Christians of former generations such as Saint Ignatius, who had much of importance to say about guidance.  He reminded us that, at times, a careful and deliberative process must be involved.  It includes weighing up certainties and doubts, consolations (things that see to draw us closer to Jesus) and desolations (what seems to draw us away from Jesus), what attracts and appeals, what seems to be highlighted and what isn’t.  In this way, gradually, we sense God’s calling and we make a choice.  This is Saint Ignatius’s preferred way.  Keep the mind fully engaged and then, because of how we are made, our emotions will play their proper part…

And in the context of our present discussion I would add that it is together that we can be guided as, in love, we give frank advice to our fellow Christians who face choice points in their lives requiring, at times, difficult decisions.  It is so easy to deceive ourselves with wishful thinking that we need to test our thoughts against the sounding board of fellow believers.  They may bring a wider perspective on an issue with which we have become so preoccupied that it has grown out of all proper perspective.

From Brandywine Books
Pre-review: ‘Viking’

Viking film

(I’m calling this a “pre-review,” because I think this movie, for good or ill, requires another viewing before I pass final judgment on it.)

If you’ve been following this blog, you may have noted over time my anticipation of a Viking movie coming out of Russia. The film, simply titled “Viking,” arrived last winter, not with a bang but a whimper. It got very little distribution in the US. The other day I checked to see if it was available on DVD, and behold it was, on Amazon. So I have it at last.

And I’m bemused. It’s certainly an epic, and I think it succeeds on that level to an extent, with big battle scenes and special effects that worked for me (at least). The problematic part seems to be the (highly fictionalized) dramatization of the career of the hero, Prince Vladimir (the Great) of Kiev (Danila Kozlovsky). The real Vladimir was a pretty bloodthirsty character, who murdered his own brother in his pursuit of the throne. In this version, Vladimir is basically a nice guy, who sort of stumbles into his crimes (including raping the woman who becomes his wife, played here by the gorgeous Aleksandra Bortich), and he feels really bad after each atrocity. Eventually he finds peace for his soul when he converts to Orthodox Christianity, in what I consider a pretty successful evangelism scene in a cathedral.

And that points up the weirdness of the movie, a weirdness that may have doomed it with distributors. It’s a very Christian “message” film, one whose final scene is reminiscent of a Billy Graham production. Yet it also involves lots of gore and violence (heathenism is treated non-romantically, which I appreciated), and a couple of vigorous sex scenes with unabashed female nudity.

How do you categorize a movie like that? It deserves its R rating, and you probably won’t want to rent it for family movie night. (Wikipedia says there’s a family-friendly version, but it’s not offered on Amazon.)

In terms of authenticity – so-so. Better than the History Channel series, I’d say, but very much in that tradition, as well as the tradition of Game of Thrones, which may have been an inspiration for the whole project. As in the TV series, all the costumes involve too much leather and tend to be either brown or gray, contrary to the true Vikings’ love of bright colors. The armor tends to be leather rather than mail, even on chieftains. I’ll probably find many other mistakes on closer viewing, but that’ll do for now.

My overall (tentative) judgment is… let me watch it again. There may be qualities here I haven’t appreciated yet. I didn’t hate it, and it was actually better than I expected, after what I’d read of critical responses.

From Semicolon
Up Periscope by Robb White

According to Jan Bloom’s Who Should We Then Read, Volume 2, author Robb White’s books are “high action, well-written adventure yarns peopled with realistically drawn, likable characters in plausible yet exciting situations.” This particular yarn is a World War II submarine adventure that takes place in the South Pacific. Kenneth Braden, lieutenant (junior grade), U.S. Naval Reserve, volunteers for an unnamed job while he’s in Underwater Demolition School, and he soon finds himself in Hawaii, Pearl Harbor, talking to an admiral about doing something “hard, lonely, and dangerous” somewhere in the Pacific. Ken can take the job or back out. Of course, he decides to go for it.

I won’t spoil the story by telling what Ken’s job entails, but it does involve a great deal of time on a submarine. Both Ken and the readers of the novel learn a lot about submarines by the time the story is over. I knew almost nothing about submarines and submarine warfare when I started reading, and now I know . . . a little, not because there’s only a little information in the book, but mostly because I could only take in and assimilate so much. Readers who are really interested in submarine warfare will find the story absorbing and informative, and I assume the details are accurate since Mr. White served in the U.S. Navy himself during World War II. Suffice it to say I enjoyed this action tale, and World War II buffs or submarine aficionados will enjoy it even more than I did.

Apparently, the book was popular in its time, or else Robb White had connections in Hollywood. The novel was published in 1956, and it was made into a movie, starring James Garner, in 1959. White’s memoir, Our Virgin Island, about the Pacific island he and his wife bought for $60.00 and lived on before the war, was filmed as Virgin Island in 1958. The movie starred John Cassavetes, Sidney Poitier, and Ruby Dee. (White did write for Hollywood, so I guess he had connections.)

The author is just about as fascinating as his novel. He was born in the Philippines, a missionary kid. He learned to sail at an early age, graduated from the Naval Academy, and loved the sea. But he also wanted to be a writer, and he wrote magazine articles, screenplays, three memoirs, and more than twenty novels. His novels were mostly marketed to what we would now call the young adult market, but Up Periscope at least is not about teens, but rather adult men, fighting in an adult war. The only reason it might be considered a “children’s” or “young adult” novel as far as I can see is that there is a distinct lack of bad language and sexual content, a welcome relief from modern young adult novels. I counted only one “damn”, and on the flip side, several instances in which the men pray in a very natural, fox-hole way for God to save them from impending death. There is some war nastiness and violence, but that’s to be expected in a war novel. I think anyone over the age of twelve or thirteen could appreciate this thrilling story of espionage and submarine derring-do.

Only a couple of Robb White’s books remain in print; the rest are available at wildly varying prices from Amazon or other used book sellers. On the basis of just having read this one (and Jan Bloom’s recommendation) I would recommend his novels for your World War II-obsessed readers, and I would be quite interested in reading Mr. White’s three memoirs: Privateer’s Bay, Our Virgin Island, and Two on the Isle.

From Tim Challies
Preaching the Gospel with TULIP’s Tricky “L” in Mind

It’s a fair question for the Arminian to ask: How can you preach the free offer of the gospel when you believe in a limited atonement? How can you preach the “whosoever” of John 3:16 if you cannot be certain that Christ’s atonement was for every person? How can you say, “Turn to Christ and be saved all the ends of the earth” if Christ’s atoning sacrifice does not extend to all humanity?

First, a brief theological refresher. The doctrines known as “Calvinism” insist that Christ’s atonement was completed with a limited or definite purpose in mind—the salvation of God’s elect. Thus, while the atonement was sufficient for all humanity, it was intended and applied only to those who had been specially chosen by God to be his. R.C. Sproul says, “Our view is that the redemption of specific sinners was an eternal plan of God, and this plan and design was perfectly conceived and perfectly executed so that the will of God to save His people is accomplished by the atoning work of Christ.” Conversely, Arminianism insists that Christ’s atonement was unlimited or universal, both sufficient for all humanity and applied to all equally. The call of the gospel, then, is to embrace what Christ has already done for each sinner.

The question is, do those who believe in a limited atonement have the right to honestly preach the gospel and to call on people to turn to Christ in repentance and faith even when it is possible that this person is not among the elect and, therefore, not the object of Christ’s atoning work?

The old preacher John Elias faced this question in a time of great debate about Calvinism and Arminianism. He was a convinced Calvinist and a gospel herald who could honestly say of himself, “There is not one Arminian on the face of the earth who would preach Christ to all more freely.” When he considered John 3:16 he insisted, “Whosoever! There is an infinite breadth in this word; whosoever, no matter of what nation, no matter how wretched or unworthy he might be; whosoever believeth.” He proclaimed the good news of the gospel and invited all who heard to put their faith in Jesus Christ. Yet, like many other Calvinists, he was told that he could only preach this way in contradiction to his theological principles.

So how did he reconcile “whosoever” with that tricky “L” of TULIP? He did it like this: “When we preach generally that Christ is a Savior to the lost, and persuade everyone that sees his lost estate to flee to him, we do it not under the idea that they are elected or redeemed, but as ruined; thus they are to go to him.” The call of the gospel is not to believe as one who is among the elect, but as one who is among the fallen. “You must believe as a sinner before you can know anything. This is the order of things for the Christian as an individual, and it is also the approach we should take with our listeners,” he insisted. “Our great purpose should be to get them to believe in the Son of God for salvation.”

Election is true and real, a precious doctrine of the Bible. But it is not the summons of the gospel. We do not wait until we are convinced that a person is among the elect before we call upon him to put his faith in Christ. We do not tell unbelievers to concern themselves with whether or not they have been chosen by God. No, we preach the gospel trusting that it will expose their sin, confront their unrighteousness, and save their souls. The only way they can be certain they are among the elect is when they have put their faith in Jesus!

(These quotes were drawn from Seven Leaders by Iain Murray.)

From Tim Challies
A La Carte (June 21)

Today’s Kindle deals include a few books that you may want to add to your collection.

The Popular Christian Article We Need Fewer Of

Yes! “The internet could use more of a lot of things. It could use more hilarious gifs, more cute animal pictures, and absolutely more people being nice. But there’s one thing it could use fewer of—Christians speaking with simultaneous confidence and inexperience.”

Puberty Blockers Aren’t the Answer to Gender Confusion

A new study shows what should be clear: Puberty blockers aren’t the answer to gender confusion.

Why Biblical Archaeology Matters

Fascinating! “In the mid 1840s the British archaeologist Sir Austen Henry Layard made a spectacular discovery. In the throne room of king Sennacherib’s Southwest Palace at Nineveh (near Mosul, Iraq today) Layard uncovered a series of beautifully carved stone reliefs that told a grisly tale of siege, capture, and destruction.”

I Am the Center of the Universe

I’ve been thinking about this quite a lot lately and am glad to see Jared Wilson put it into words.

The Not So Simple Life

Living with simplicity is all the rage. “But my question is, Are we, just maybe, seeking after something that can never really be obtained this side of Paradise? Maybe seeking simple is really just another way we are all chasing after the wind. Is simple living just a vapor that cannot be grasped or is it a valuable state of being that should be sought after, striven for, and attained?”

A Faithful Steward of My Other Pulpit

H.B. Charles Jr. considers faithfully stewarding his other “pulpit.” “Ultimately, I am my biggest problem when it comes to social media. I would not dare go to the pulpit where I pastor to speak without prayer and preparation. But the accessibility of my social media ‘pulpit’ permits (maybe, encourages) me to speak out on an issue without forethought about the what I say, how I speak, or the consequences of my words.”

Christian Reflections on Ontario Bill 89

Yesterday I shared someone’s reflections on a Canadian bill that has recently been passed; here’s one on a concerning bill from the province of Ontario. “The passing of Ontario’s Bill 89 Supporting Children, Youth and Families Act, 2017 has created intense reactions in the Christian community in both Canada and the United States. It is not every day that Al Mohler Jr. and Franklin Graham comment about legislation passed in the Province of Ontario, and their interest is one sign that this Bill represents a significant development.”

How a Powder Revolutionized Baking

This is a fun little history of something we take for granted. “In 19th-century America, making a cake was an ordeal. ‘The flour should be dried before the fire, sifted and weighed; currants washed and dried; raisins stoned; sugar pounded, and rolled fine and sifted; and all spices, after being well dried at the fire, pounded and sifted,’ reads a common cake recipe in the 1841 cookbook Early American Cookery.”

Flashback: God Does Not Owe Us a Happy Ending 

We all desire happy endings to our suffering. Of course we do. But God does not owe us a happy ending and he does not owe us the answers. At times he chooses to give one or both.

People are seeking this or that quality in their wives. I say, “Give me a praying wife.” —Thomas Charles

From Jared C. Wilson
Living in a Big Shadow

Written by: Jared C. Wilson


In the latest installment of the For The Church Podcast, I spoke with Barnabas Piper, Marketing Manager for B&H Academic, co-host of The Happy Rant and The 5 Leadership Questions podcasts, and author of books like The Curious Christian and The Pastor’s Kid. Topics of discussion include:

Why didn’t Barnabas get any endorsements on his new book?

The perils of platform building.

Why curiosity makes a pastor a better preacher.

What it’s like living and working in the shadow of his famous dad.

What not to say to pastors’ kids.

The early days of social media.

How cynicism helps.

Check out Episode 7 for this great conversation.

Previous episodes:

Matt Chandler.

Matt Boswell.

Avoiding ministry burnout.

Jonathan Leeman.

Owen Strachan on Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option.

The Fall of Mars Hill Church.

Subscribe: iTunes  |  Android  |  RSS

From Brandywine Books
Netflix video review: ‘The Ranch’

The Ranch

Somebody recommended the Netflix comedy series, “The Ranch.” After all, it stars Sam Elliott, and he plays an unapologetic conservative.

Sam Elliott is always a draw, but he isn’t enough to sell me this spread.

Elliot plays Beau Bennett, patriarch of a ranch in Colorado. He’s acerbic and obsessive, working day and night to keep the failing operation going. He’s angry at everybody, and globally critical.

In the first episode his second son, Colt (Ashton Kutcher), returns home for a brief stopover. He’s a local hero because he was a football star and actually had a pro career, though it’s sliding downhill now. Realizing his father is in danger of losing the ranch, he decides to stay on, for which he gets no appreciation at all. He has many bad habits, and needs to grow up.

Danny Masterson plays the older son, Rooster, who stayed home like the elder brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son. He tries to be a peacemaker, but is generally ineffectual. He also seems to have a drinking problem.

Debra Winger plays Maggie, the mother, who divorced Beau but lives in town where she runs a bar.

Sound like fun to you? Maybe this set-up is comedy gold for normal folks, but for someone like me who grew up in a genuine dysfunctional home, it’s like a half hour of dipping sheep. I understand we’re supposed to be laughing, but I never even came close to smiling. There seems to be an idea abroad in the land that if you throw enough f-bombs into the mix, hilarity must inexorably ensue. This idea is wrong.

I didn’t even like Sam Elliott here. His character is – how shall I put it? – pretty much a donkey. I assume that through the course of the series we’ll be treated to moments suggesting that he actually cares for his family, somewhere deep inside. I gave it two episodes, but I’m not willing to put up with more of this abuse for the sake of such moments.

So I didn’t like it. Your mileage may vary.

From Semicolon
Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance.

Former Marine and Yale Law School graduate J.D. Vance has an unconventional background for a man with such credentials: he grew up in poor, dysfunctional, hillbilly family from northern Kentucky, mostly living in the lower-class neighborhoods of Middletown, Ohio. His mother was a drug abuser who subjected him and his older sister to a series of husbands and boyfriends, who were neglectful or abusive or at best, temporarily decent. Any stability he had in his childhood came from his maternal grandparents who were fiercely supportive, even if they had issues of their own. J.D.’s grandmother is a character from the Beverly Hillbillies, without the the silly humor, with the shotgun firmly in hand, and with the addition of some salty language that wouldn’t have been appropriate in a TV sitcom. His grandfather was a taciturn man, a former alcoholic, who supported J.D. mainly by spending time with him, availability being nine-tenths of the job requirement for a substitute father-figure.

The book definitely reminded me of my family’s lower middle class background. The violence and drug abuse in Vance’s family are mostly absent from mine, but some other forms of family dysfunction are quite familiar. Divorce, alcoholism, and poor educational choices and opportunities have dogged my working class white family, too, with some members of the family being able to move past those limitations while others became mired in their own generational poverty and family dysfunction.

It’s rather funny to read a selection of the reviews on Amazon or Goodreads for this book. Lots of people from inside and outside the Appalachian culture that Vance describes laud his deep insights into and vivid depiction of hillbilly culture. Others insist that Vance doesn’t have clue what he’s talking about, that his insights apply only to his own particular family situation or that his depiction of hillbilly life in the Rust Belt town of Middletown is either too dark or too optimistic.

I thought Mr. Vance had a lot to say about how people are able to grow and change and make good choices, partly despite their family background and partly as a result of clinging to the good parts of the family heritage. Vance’s grandparents were able to leave the Hatfield/McCoy violence and bitterness of the northern Kentucky hills behind and make a better life in Middletown, not a perfect life since they brought a lot of problems (and guns) with them, but a better life. Vance’s birth father was able to find stability and a fulfilling life in his Christian faith and church community. Vance himself was able to draw from the tenacity and love of both of his grandparents to make mostly wise choices about his own life, become a marine, get an education, and eventually write Hillbilly Elegy. Some critics deride Vance’s emphasis on a strong work ethic and moral choices to bring people up out of poverty and dysfunction, but the truth is the truth. A person who works hard and makes good moral choices about important life decisions (don’t abuse drugs and alcohol, marry your sexual partner, do what you need to do to support your family financially, try to get a good education, etc.) is much more likely to graduate from lower class poverty into at least middle class stability and functionality.

The book isn’t really preachy, however. It’s likely only to offend those who have already decided that traditional morality and hard work are useless prescriptions to ameliorate or even cure generational poverty. The author himself doesn’t state or imply that it’s easy or that he didn’t benefit from some fortuitous events and help along the way, such as a full scholarship to Yale Law School. He’s honest and gives credit where credit is due, but he’s also unflinching in his assessment of the flaws and inherent deficiencies that characterized his experience of “hillbilly culture.”

Many readers and reviewers have tried to sell this book as a guide to “why people voted for Trump” or “why Trump was elected president”, especially why lower class and lower middle class white voters were inclined to be Trump supporters. I don’t think that’s the main point of the book, and I don’t really think it’s too helpful in that regard. J.D. Vance’s hillbilly family members may have supported Trump, but they weren’t his only supporters. Don’t read the book to understand Trump voters; instead, read it to understand Appalachian and Rust Belt family dynamics and social mobility and the saga of one hillbilly who lived to tell his own story.

From Tim Challies
Are You Content To Carry the Pins?

Oh, Envy. You are a cunning enemy, a persistent foe. You linger on the sidelines of our lives, whispering your cunning words of discontentment. “You deserve better. You should have what he has. His success should be your success, her life your life.”

The Old Testament tabernacle had one exceptional feature that set it apart from the temple: It was portable. As the Israelites wandered the wilderness, slowly making their way to the Promised Land, they could pick up that tabernacle and carry it with them.

The God who had revealed exactly how the tabernacle was to be created and erected, also revealed how it was to be transported from place to place. The tribe of Levi was not only given the responsibility of serving within the temple, but also of disassembling, transporting, and reassembling it. God gave specific duties to some of the clans within the tribe. He laid out three gradations of responsibility.

To the sons of Kohath went the task of entering the Most Holy Place, taking down the veil, covering the ark, inserting its poles, and carrying it wherever God would lead. They did the same with the table, the altar, and the lamp stand. These men, and these men alone, were allowed to see the ark and the other furniture within the Holy of Holies. They alone were allowed to pick it up and carry it.

To the sons of Gershon went the task of caring for the curtains and the hangings. They would take them down, carefully prepare them for transportation, and load them onto a pair of oxcarts to follow where God would lead.

To the sons of Merari went the task of carrying the planks and poles and bases and whatever else remained. They needed four oxcarts to carry all of this bulky material.

There is a clear hierarchy here. The sons of Kohath were chosen by God to care for and to transport the most holy items. The sons of Merari were chosen by God to care for and to transport the most common items. You can’t help but wonder if, from time to time, a son of Merari envied a son of Kohath. “Why does he get to carry the ark when I only ever get to carry a plank? Why does he get to see the Most Holy Place when I only ever get to see the veil?”

But I like to think that the sons of Merari were content with their lot. Their work was good because they had been called to it by God and were able to carry out for his glory. Though it did not fall to them to carry the ark, they had a clear calling from God to serve in his tabernacle. They had a lesser calling but still a noble calling. God expected they would embrace it wholeheartedly and carry it out skillfully.

The old pastor Andrew Bonar would sometimes compare himself to the sons of Merari. He would read accounts of the lives of great men of the faith and realize that his ministry paled in comparison. In these moments, he would content himself with carrying out the little life and hidden ministry God had called him to.

A man came in to ask me to go with him to settle a quarrel between him and his wife. The Lord does not use me, like his servant, Dr Chalmers, for great things, but my way of serving the Lord is walking three or four miles to quiet a family dispute! The Lord shows me that he wishes me to be one of the common Levites who carries the pins.*

God called some Levites to carry the ark, and some to carry the pins, the tent pegs. But whether they carried the most holy or the most common items, their responsibility was to answer God’s call and to faithfully and joyfully carry out their task. We can learn from them.

It is God’s good will that some pastors minister to great congregations and some to minister to minuscule ones. It is God’s good will that some authors write books that sell in the millions and some write books that sell in the thousands. It is God’s good will that some moms write blogs that explode in popularity and some write blogs that remain in obscurity. Regardless, we can have confidence that God knows best, that God calls us to the tasks that will bring him the most glory. We must each ask, will we be content to carry the pins? We must each pray, “God, make me content to carry the pins. Let me carry them well.”

*As quoted in Seven Leaders by Iain Murray.

From Tim Challies
A La Carte (June 20)

Today’s Kindle deals do not include the most exciting list of titles I’ve ever dug up, but there may still be a book or two to catch your eye.

Do More Better, my book on productivity, is about to release a new Student Edition. We’re asking people to helps us choose a cover. Vote here. Also, if you’re a representative of a Christian college or high school, we’d love to talk to you. Cover and content customizations are available in some cases.

Is the ESV Literal and the NIV Gender Neutral?

Bill Mounce nicely shows how “literal” isn’t a helpful word when it comes to Bible translations. That’s true even when it comes to debates on gender.

Why Refusing to Resolve Conflict Hinders Prayer

“Jesus considers conflict resolution among believers a higher priority than our worship of God himself! He tells us plainly that it is better to interrupt or postpone our worship than to engage in it under the wrong conditions.”

The Demise of Expository Preaching

This article may be a stretch of Sam Storms’ “10 Things” format, but it’s a good look at why expository preaching has fallen out of favor.

9Marks Journal

The summer edition of the always-excellent 9Marks journal has been released. It looks at church mergers and plants and is free to read online or download in PDF format.

The New Human Rights

People have been asking me about Canada’s new bill C-16. This article tells why it’s a terrible, dangerous piece of legislation. “Freedom from interference is so 20th century. Modern human rights entitle. We are in the middle of a culture war, and human rights have become a weapon to normalize social justice values and to delegitimize competing beliefs. These rights are applied against other people to limit their liberties.”

Southern Baptists and the Alt-Right

You’ve undoubtedly heard something about the SBC and their resolution on the Alt-Right. Nathan Finn gives an explanation and a bit of an insider’s perspective.

Will Amazon Pay $6,000 per Slack User

I’m a daily user of Slack and a fairly regular shopper at Amazon, so I enjoyed this analysis of the rumors that Amazon is looking to buy Slack.

Flashback: I Forbid You To Say These Things at My Funeral

Here are a few things I sincerely hope no one will say about me at my funeral or any time thereafter. In fact, I hereby forbid it.

We will not wake up ten years from now and find we have passively taken on the character of God. —Jen Wilkin

From Jared C. Wilson
I Am the Center of the Universe

Written by: Jared C. Wilson

greg-rakozy-76863 This week I am having to drop my daughter off for a summer class in the morning. This has put me in the office 2 hours later than I usually arrive, and this morning as I was waiting for my coffee at Starbucks — rush, rush, rush — I could not believe how slow everyone was moving, as if they had no cares at all about my schedule. I find these same people in every line I fall into — grocery store checkouts, ATM’s, service desks.

I have also noticed that when I am trying to relax — rest, rest, rest — everybody else around me is frantic and bothering me. They ask me to do things. They make requests, interrupt my introversion, leave little piles of duty around my feet.

I can only come to one of two conclusions about my frustration over this inevitable fact of life: either I am the center of the universe and you all don’t know, or — I am not the center of the universe and I am upset that you all know.

I wake up this way. I bet you do too. We wake up in self-sovereignty mode. Then we get frustrated because we keep running into people who think they’re the center of the universe. It’s frustrating.

What a splendid mercy, even if a severe one, then, when Jesus gives us a hard shove out of our own makeshift thrones, and all the little planets we’ve set in orbit around us fall down — thump. thump. thump. thump. thump.

Where were you when I established the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.

— Job 38:4

From Brandywine Books
‘The Aggrieved,’ by Brett Battles

The Aggrieved

I’ve been following Brett Battles’ Jonathan Quinn series for some time now. I’m not generally a reader of espionage fiction, but these books deal with a different kind of character, a guy whose job tends to be a throw-away in other books – the Cleaner. The cleaner comes in after a hit has been carried out, and removes the bodies and all the evidence. Jonathan Quinn is the best at his job, and his skills make him more than equal to various challenges he meets that take him outside the limits of his job description.

In The Aggrieved, Jonathan and his team face a new kind of challenge. In earlier outings they generally ended up trying to rescue somebody. This time, due an incident at the end of the last book (I’ll write carefully, so as not to drop spoilers), they’re out for vengeance. An important member of the team has been killed, and Quinn and company are singlemindedly pursuing revenge. Meanwhile their own relationships are strained, as guilt generates resentment among friends and even family.

This was not my favorite installment in the Jonathan Quinn saga. I think that was largely due to the revenge motivation, although the author makes it clear that the killer they’re pursuing deserves no mercy. The book seemed to me essentially a sequence of planned operations, some more successful than others, without a lot of human interaction – and most of what there was, was unpleasant.

I did enjoy a fairly new character named Jar, a female Asian computer geek somewhere on the autism spectrum. She was kind of fun.

If you’ve been following the books you’ll want to read The Aggrieved, but don’t start with this one. Cautions for the usual.

From Tim Challies
Charles Spurgeon’s Dangerous Mission

This sponsored post was provided by Christian T. George, Assistant Professor of Historical Theology and Curator, The C.H. Spurgeon Library at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

David once said, “There is only a step between me and death” (1 Samuel 20:3). Charles Spurgeon almost took that step many times.

His mother, Eliza, gave birth to sixteen children after Spurgeon was born. Half of them died.

Diseases like the plague that shut down Spurgeon’s school in Newmarket could have easily killed the preacher before his ministry even began. A massive cholera pandemic killed ten thousand Londoners during Spurgeon’s first year in the city. Many of those who died were members of his church.

All day, and sometimes all night long, I went about from house to house, and saw men and women dying, and, oh, how glad they were to see my face. When many were afraid to enter their houses lest they should catch the deadly disease, we who had no fear about such things found ourselves most gladly listened to when we spoke of Christ and of things Divine (Autobiography 1:371).

Spurgeon was once walking beneath a construction site and a large boulder fell from the scaffold above, missing the preacher’s head by a distance of only a few feet. Three years before his death, Spurgeon tumbled down a flight of stairs and, according to one witness, did a “double somersault” in the air before smacking his head against the marble floor. With his failing health and fragile joints, the landing could have easily broken ribs, bones, or worse. Instead, he only lost a few front teeth.

As bizarre and seemingly coincidental as these incidents were, there were also assassination attempts made on Spurgeon’s life. It should not surprise us that the massive impact of his mission of gospel proclamation made him a target. Here are four times someone tried to kill the Prince of Preachers:

1. “If you are not out of this house this very moment, I’ll break every bone in your body.”

One night, Spurgeon was walking near the entrance of his “Helensburgh House” when he heard a loud banging on the front door. As soon as he opened the door, “a wild-looking man, armed with a huge stick, sprang in, slammed the door, stood with his back against it, and in the most menacing manner, announced that he had come to kill Mr. Spurgeon!”

“You must mean my brother,” the preacher said. “His name is Spurgeon.”

“Ah!” said the madman, “it is the man that makes jokes that I mean to kill.”

“Oh, then you must go to my brother,” said Spurgeon, “for he makes jokes!”

“No,” he said, “I believe you are the man.” Then the madman exclaimed, “Do you know the asylum at —-? That’s where I live, and it takes ten men to hold me.”

“Ten men!” Spurgeon said. “That is nothing; you don’t know how strong I am. Give me that stick.”

Seizing the “formidable weapon,” Spurgeon opened the door and with “most impressive tones” screamed, “If you are not out of this house this very moment, I’ll break every bone in your body.”

“The stranger left the house, and after a few days he was taken back to his asylum” (Autobiography 3:196-97).

2. Almost stabbed by a knife-wielding French madman.

During Spurgeon’s vacation in Mentone, France, a madman wielding a knife barged into his room at the Hotel des Anglais. Spurgeon, who was suffering physically that day, was resting on the bed when the madman entered.

“I want you to save my soul,” the stranger exclaimed.

Spurgeon tried to calm him by instructing him to kneel by the bed. The preacher prayed and then told him to go away and return in thirty minutes.

The authorities tried to subdue the man when he left the hotel, but he managed to stab someone in the street before meeting “a terribly tragic end” (Autobiography 4:209).

Every time Spurgeon visited Mentone, “he never passed that spot without looking at a certain room, and thanking God for the merciful deliverance which he there experienced” (Autobiography 4:209).

3. “We trust that a stout cord may speedily find its way around his eloquent throat.”

In the years leading to the Civil War in the United States, Spurgeon’s stance against slavery ruined his reputation in the Southern states. His sermons, books, and tracts were censored and burned. Character assassinations were published. Many wished his demise.

If Spurgeon had toured the Southern states as he planned on doing in 1859-1860, he would have likely been assassinated. Death threats like this one were common:

“If the Pharisaical author should ever show himself in these parts, we trust that a stout cord may speedily find its way around his eloquent throat” (“Mr. Spurgeon’s Sermons Burned by American Slaveowners,” The Southern Reporter and Daily Commercial Courier [April 10, 1860]).

4. An Irish bomb at the Metropolitan Tabernacle.

For Spurgeon’s 50th birthday, a Jubilee service was held at the Metropolitan Tabernacle on Wednesday, June 18, 1884. Thousands of people attended the event, including D. L. Moody and Archibald G. Brown.

Such vast numbers of people were anxious to be present, that two evenings had to be set apart for the meetings; and, even then, hundreds of applicants for tickets had to be refused, for so many applied that, if the building had been twice as large, there would have been no difficulty in filling it on both nights (Autobiography 4:241-42).

Little did Spurgeon know the Irish Republican Brotherhood planned to bomb the event.

During the Great Famine in Ireland between 1845-1852, thousands of Irish poured into England. Anti-British sentiment led to the formation of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, or “Fenians” (Fianna Eireann was the name of a legendary Irish warrior tribe).

“I suppose a Fenian never feels right except when he feels his wrongs, and is never at peace except when he is at war” (ST September 1870:432).

The police were notified of the Irish bomb threat and attended the event to make sure the “awful reality” did not go according to plan.

“There probably had never been so many detectives and policemen in the building before.”

Only a small handful of officials knew the “terrible secret.” At the time, not even Spurgeon was informed of the impending disaster.

With thoughtful and tender solicitude, all knowledge of the threatened explosion was kept from the Pastor; and it was only when he was in the carriage, on his way home, that Mrs. Spurgeon told him the alarming news which had occupied her thoughts; during the evening, and together they gave thanks that the evil had been averted (Autobiography 4:242).

Spurgeon’s Tabernacle would later be bombed, first by suffragettes in 1914 and later by the Germans in 1941. Yet during Spurgeon’s Jubilee ceremony, the plot was foiled and the pastor lived to preach another day.

Spurgeon was almost stabbed with a knife, killed by cholera, bludgeoned with a stick, crushed by a boulder, hung from the neck, and blown up by a bomb.

It is a remarkable testament to the providence of God that Spurgeon outlived his life expectancy by seventeen years (he was only promised forty years of life when he was born on June 19, 1834).

In his sermon “My Times Are in Thy Hand,” Spurgeon reflected on David’s statement in Psalm 31:15:

The close of life is not decided by the sharp knife of the fates; but by the hand of love. We shall not die before our time, neither shall we be forgotten and left upon the stage too long. . . . [M]y times are in those hands which were nailed to the cross for my redemption (MTP 37:278, 280).

At Midwestern Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri, we are committed to preserving the legacy of the Prince of Preachers long after his eventual death (1892). Our campus is home to the beautiful C.H. Spurgeon Library, which showcases 6000+ books from Spurgeon’s personal library and remarkable artifacts from his life and ministry, including his traveling desk, preaching rail, pipe, and even the pews from the Primitive Methodist church where he was converted. Our aim in housing this collection is not simply to showcase the impressive ministry of this great man of God, but to showcase his dogged commitment to that great God and—through this legacy—glorify Jesus Christ along with him.

From Semicolon
Frederica by Georgette Heyer

Best Regency romance ever with strong characters and witty and slangy repartee. I liked the romantic leads quite a bit, and I even felt sympathy for the ingenue parts, played by Frederica’s sister Charis and her crush. Oh, I just had a thought: this book would translate into a K-drama quite nicely.

The male lead of the novel, the Marquess of Alverstoke, is thirty-seven years old, rich, cold-hearted, uninterested in marriage, and unwilling to become involved in the lives and fortunes of his various relatives. However, Miss Frederica Merryville, a distant country cousin, breaks through his defenses without even meaning to do so. By the end of the novel, of course, Alverstoke and Frederica are in love and well on their way to becoming a “good match.”

I’ve been reading several of Gerogette Heyer’s Regency and other romance novels, and I find them of uneven quality. They are rather predictable, but the journey to the happy, married ending is rather fun, IF I like the characters from near the beginning. On the other hand, as in The Devil’s Cub, if the characters are unbelievable or unlikeable in the extreme, displaying the worst characteristics of the time period and culture, then it’s hard to develop much sympathy for them or interest in their eventual fate.

So far, here are the best and worst of Ms. Heyer’s oeuvre, in my opinion:

Best: Frederica, The Grand Sophy, Lady of Quality

Worst: The Devil’s Cub and perhaps by extension, These Old Shades, which is about the parents of Vidal from The Devil’s Cub. I didn’t like Vidal nor his parents in the latter book, so I doubt I would develop much affection for the Alistair family by reading These Old Shades.

Still planning to read: Cotillion, Venetia, The Convenient Marriage.

Any others you recommend I seek out?

From Semicolon
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

As I was reading this book, I remember thinking, “This story reminds me of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.” Then, I went to Goodreads to log the book as having been read, and there I discovered that several other people noticed the similarities to Conrad’s classic story. Perhaps Ms. Patchett intended to follow after Conrad, in a feminist, post-colonial setting along the Amazon rather than the Congo. At any rate, she did have a harder time taking her characters into the unknown. With our twenty-first century technology, we at least think we know everyone and everything and can communicate with anyone, anywhere, anytime.

“I don’t know how to write a novel in the world of cellphones. I don’t know how to write a novel in the world of Google, in which all factual information is available to all characters. So I have to stand on my head to contrive a plot in which the characters lose their cellphone and are separated from technology.” Ann Patchett interviewed in The Washington Post, June 17, 2011.

So, Ms. Patchett’s protagonist, Dr. Marina Singh, turns out to be particularly absent-minded and tech-averse, unable to hang onto her cell phone or make it work for any length of time. Accept that plot/character device and go on.

Dr. Annick Swenson is working, in the heart of the Amazon jungle, on a fertility drug that will revolutionize the world, if it can be brought to market. The trouble is that Dr. Swenson can’t be bothered to communicate with the pharmaceutical company that is sponsoring her work and that hopes to make a fortune by selling her discovery. The company has already sent one person down to Brazil to find out what’s going on, Anders Eckman. But he’s disappeared, reported dead. Now, they want Dr. Marina Singh, a researcher who worked with Eckman, to go to Brazil, find out exactly what happened to her friend and colleague Anders Eckman, and bring back a firm timetable for the completion of research on the fertility drug.

Dr. Singh, of course, finds that getting in touch with her old professor, Dr. Swenson, is not as easy or uncomplicated as it looked to be from far away in good old Minnesota. And once she does arrive at Dr. Swenson’s camp among the Lakashi people, Marina Singh is embroiled in a web of competing interests and secrets and lies that threatens to keep her in the Amazon jungle for the rest of her life or perhaps end her life prematurely, as happened to her colleague, Dr. Eckman.

Some of the episodes and plot developments in the book certainly stretched mu credulity and my ability to suspend disbelief, but to list these rather unbelievable coincidences and character actions would be to spoil some of the “wonder” of the story. As a reader either you decide to go with it, or you put it down. I read to the end, and although I didn’t like certain aspects of the ending very much, I still found that the book gave me much to think about:

Would it be a good thing to have a drug that enabled women to continue to have children into their fifties and sixties and beyond? Why is it that women lose their fertility in their mid-forties? Would women’s lives be improved by such a drug? Would the children who resulted from such an innovation be better off or worse of than children who are conceived and raised while the parents, especially the mother, are relatively young?

Is it really important to protect “native” cultures from the influence of modern Western culture? How important? Should we withhold what we consider to be life-enhancing technology and medicine from those native peoples in the interest of protecting their way of life? Does this novel perpetuate the myth of the “noble savage” living in a sort of paradise and the intrusive white colonialists coming to despoil and exploit those indigenous peoples? Or is it a myth?

What does this book have to say about our current Western cultural habit of putting off child-bearing to farther and farther into a woman’s life span? Is this a good idea, and should we change our biology, our biological clock so to speak, to accommodate the choice to delay child-bearing, if we can? When we abort our babies and use contraception to avoid conceiving them and delay marriage, are we doing anything different from the people in the book who work to extend women’s fertility and child-bearing years into old age?

I didn’t really like the ambiguity of the ending in this novel, but I suppose it was necessary to make it a “literary” novel. I’m low-brow enough to like all of my loose ends tied and questions answered at the end of a book, but I know that’s not necessarily in vogue in literary circles.

Fans of Patchett’s other novels, of The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, and of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness will probably find State of Wonder to be to their taste as well.

From Semicolon
Saturday Review of Books:June 17, 2017

“I was a bookish child and grew to be a bookish adult. Books gave me pleasure, but they also gave me permission to isolate myself, to turn away from the world when it bothered or frightened me. Books allowed me to hide from demands, from the day, from family and the immediate world. They provided solace and amusement in the deep night and served as surrogates for friendship when I was far away from home.” ~Kyo MacLear


Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read.

From Semicolon
The House of Months and Years by Emma Trevayne

This middle grade fantasy about a spooky house that allows certain “special” people to travel through time and space didn’t quite work for me. I’m trying to figure out why.

1) I think it’s it’s a little too creepy, spooky for my tastes. An older man/ghost, Horatio, takes on ten year old Amelia as a protege, telling her how special and intelligent and wonderful she is. He takes her to places that only Horatio and Amelia can go and shows her wonders that only she is special enough to appreciate. And he takes her to a special feast and gives her special “memory-food” that only Amelia can enjoy. There’s nothing sexual or pharmaceutical involved, but it all feels borderline icky and drug dealer and exploitative.

2) The rules of the “calendar house” and the creatures (not ghosts, not really human either) who own the calendar houses are nebulous and unclear to me. Horatio tries to explain to Amelia, hoping that she will become his apprentice and build her own calendar house, but since it turns out that Horatio is a liar sometimes, I couldn’t get a good fix on what was and wasn’t true about the world he and his fellow memory eaters live in.

So, I read the whole thing. And the premise is intriguing, at the very least. Certain houses are built to be calendar houses, with various features corresponding to the seasons, the days of the week, the number of weeks in a year, etc. And these houses are full of magic, enabling the builder to travel through time and space to other eras and climes. But there is a price to be paid for privilege of time travel. Is Amelia willing to “steal time” from others, including her own family, to give herself the ability to go anywhere and experience all sorts of times and places?

Anyway, that’s my take. I didn’t like Amelia very much; she was, for most of the book, a very spoiled and selfish child. And I liked Horatio even less, not that the reader is supposed to like him, I suppose. Amelia’s cousins, who also come into the story, are rather flat characters, tow boys and a baby who never really came alive for me. (However, the baby is named Lavender, which I thought was a lovely name.) There’s nothing overtly objectionable about this book, but as I said, I found it to be kind of disturbing and icky.

From The Living Room
[i can’t think of a title for this one]

(based on Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Romans 10:8-9)

Let all God’s people hear
The Lord, He is our God
Let all God’s people hear
The Lord our God is one

And may we love the Lord our God
With all our heart and all our soul
So may we love the Lord our God
With all our mind and all our strength

So bind Your Word upon our hearts
That we might walk in all Your ways
So form Your truth around our lives
That we might love You
That we might love You

Let all God’s people say
The Word is near to us
Let all God’s people say
He made His home with us

So we confess with our mouths
That Jesus Christ is Lord
And we believe in our hearts
That God raised Him from the dead

From Semicolon
The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher

So, I’m usually a day late and a dollar short when it comes to talking and writing about the “buzz books”—the ones everyone seems to be discussing at any given time. And since I was on a blog break for Lent, that makes me even later in my entry to the discussion. Nevertheless, I did read both The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher and Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance while I was “lenting”, and both are books which shed some light on current events and trends and decisions yet to be made.

I agree with many other writers about Mr. Dreher’s book. Holly Ordway writes, “I would say that Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option has some strengths and a number of weaknesses, but one thing I am sure of: it’s great that it’s prompting discussion about Christian cultural engagement!” Her contribution to the discussion is worth the read, even though she seems to say (rather oddly) that the real Benedict Option should not reference Benedict so much nor is it possible for anyone other than Catholics and maybe Orthodox believers. I say oddly because Ms. Ordway teaches in the apologetics program at Houston Baptist University. Maybe she has learned more about evangelicals and their ability to create sustainable communities in her interactions with HBU and all those Baptists than I know from my fifty plus years of being an evangelical Christian. But I really think it is possible to have the Holy Spirit work in us and through us to create Christian community without Catholic liturgy and without believing in the actual presence of Christ in the Eucharist. I’ve seen it done, imperfectly, in many churches and para-church groups.

That detour aside, the call for community and community-building in Mr. Dreher’s book is a topic dear to my own heart, and I am glad to see it treated with the serious consideration and wide-ranging discusion that it deserves. I wish Mr. Dreher’s book could have been longer and more specific about exactly how to build, maintain, and repair communities, but he spends most of his 272 pages writing about the need for Christian community and writing about some examples of burgeoning attempts at community both in the United States and in Europe, Italy in particular. Some of the communities Mr. Dreher references are monastic, but most are loosely organized communities, either ecumenical in nature or built around a specific church or denominational entity. Most include families and singles and people of all ages.

I think most helpful in Mr. Dreher’s book is a call to build, not monastic or cultic communities, but rather institutions that encourage and sustain Christian faith and community in the face of a secular onslaught of God-denial. He writes about home schooling and private schools as community building institutions. He also writes about discussion groups and communities built around daily worship and activities at a nearby, local church. And about hospitality and the wise use of technology and social media.

Dreher’s book has been widely lauded, but also widely criticized for what it leaves out. He doesn’t write about how the black church has preserved the faith and its own existence through community building. He doesn’t write about Anabaptist traditions and communities. Nor does he interview or write about Christians who have lived through real persecution under Communism or other non-Christian governments and cultures. How did these and other Christian communities survive cultural marginalization and political powerlessness? Dreher also doesn’t really speak to or about poor people or non-Westerners or Hispanics or you name it. He’s writing from a white, middle class, Western perspective, and that’s OK by me, partly because he makes an effort to include Catholics and Protestants as well as Christians from his own (Eastern Orthodox) tradition and partly because many of those other categories include me. If you want the “Benedict Option” (or whatever you want to call serious Christian commitment to community and faith preservation and evangelization) to be applied to people in poverty or African Americans or Native Americans or Cambodians or Pacific Islanders, write your own book and show how and why it should be done.

Which brings me to the second book that I was going to write about in this post, Hillbilly Elegy. However, I think I’ll finish up with some links to other thoughts about The Benedict Option and write about Hillbilly Elegy another day.

Top Christian Thinkers Reflect on The Benedict Option.

If Politics Can’t Save Us, What Will by Collin Hansen.

Sparking Renewal by Gerald Russell.

What Would Jeremiah Do? by Samuel Goldman.

From Semicolon
Evicted by Matthew Desmond

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond.

Milwaukee is the city. But it could be any other American city. According to Mr. Desmond, “Every year in this country, families are evicted from their homes not by the tens of thousands or even the hundreds of thousands, but by the millions.”

By living with and among the poor, first in a run-down tailer park and then in a tenement building, Mr. Desmond is able to describe first-hand the plight of a few of these millions whose housing situation is unstable at best and tragic at its worst. It’s an eye-opening account, and by the end of the book it’s hard to see how these people can be helped, unless altruistic and compassionate people with more money than the poor and less greed than their rapacious landlords come alongside and enter into long-term helping relationships with individual poor families and individuals.

Mr. Desmond’s solution, articulated briefly near the end of the book, is more government money, more subsidized housing, more government protections. And some of his ideas might be helpful. However, the one person who manages to emerge from his unstable, homeless situation into a better life in the book is Scott, a former nurse who lost his license to an opiod addiction. And Scott succeeds with a lot of help from friends, and a meth clinic, and repeated second and third chances from nearly everyone he encounters. He gets out by growing into making better life choices.

And then there’s the indisputable possibility, probability, that maybe Scott manages to pull himself out of drug addiction and poverty and homelessness because he’s a white male. Women and black people, and especially mothers who are responsible for more people than just themselves, have a much harder time escaping the eviction cycle. Desmond writes, “If incarceration had come to define the lives of men from impoverished black neighbourhoods, eviction was shaping the lives of women. Poor black men were locked up. Poor black women were locked out.” And their children are locked out with them, given a poor start in school and in life, and made to suffer for the sins and instability of their parents.

The individuals in the book who are members of a church, a white trailer park dweller named Lorraine and a black former foster child named Crystal, don’t fare much better than anyone else in the book, and they don’t get much financial help from their respective churches. Because their living situations and financial choices are complicated, sometimes wise but sometimes not, Lorraine and Crystal are left to fend for themselves, and they do so badly, with only spiritual comfort from their church families.

I would strongly recommend Evicted, especially for anyone who is called to work with and alongside the urban poor. A better understanding of why poor people make such seemingly self-destructive choices and even an understanding of why and how those afore-mentioned greedy landlords are able to rationalize their insensitivity is an important prerequisite to being able to work with and learn from our brothers and sisters who are caught in a web of poverty and yes, sin—just as I am sometimes caught in my own middle class riches and sin.

New York Times review of Evicted by Jennifer Senior.
Guardian review of Evicted by Katha Pollitt.
Kicked Out in America!, by Jason DeParle in the New York Review of Books.

From Alexandra K. Bush
Mo and the New Graduate

From Semicolon
Devil’s Cub by Georgette Heyer

Set in the late eighteenth century and originally published in 1932, this book has a lot of conflicting cultural mores and values to balance, and I’m just not sure it works in the feminist-imbued twenty-first century. A virtuous young lady, Mary Challoner, disguises herself as her sister who has a date to run away with the rakish and self indulgent Dominic Alistair, Marquis of Vidal (Vidal for short). In the first chapter Vidal very casually murders a would-be highway robber and leaves the body lying in the middle of the road because he’s too lazy to dispose of it. Then he wounds his opponent in a duel, leaves him for dead, and rushes off to arrange his assignation with Mary’s feckless and gullible sister, Sophia. So, Mary, to save her sister, runs away with Vidal, reveals herself after a while, and hopes that Vidal will lose interest in ruining Sophia. Instead, Vidal decides to abduct Mary out of spite, and he comes close to attempted rape until Mary shoots him in the arm with a pistol.

After all of that set-up, we’re supposed to believe that Vidal is just a misunderstood “bad boy”, kind of a Rhett Butler character, and Mary is just the girl to take him in hand and tame him. Oh, and we know that he’s really a good guy deep down inside because when Mary gets seasick while crossing the Channel with her abductor, Vidal fetches a basin for her to throw up into. By the time they get to France, they are in love with each other although neither one is aware of the other’s regard, and all that remains is for them to discover their mutual admiration, soothe and get the approval of the parents on both sides of the match, assuage Sophia’s wounded pride, and save Mary’s reputation and honor.

I’m just not buying. Vidal never does come across as a good character, although Mary thinks he is. If she marries him, Mary Challoner is in for a rude awakening when he murders a servant someday for polishing his boots the wrong way or tells her that he didn’t know that she would mind his having a mistress on the side. Vidal is not shown to be misunderstood or misjudged, but rather he is absolved of all responsibility and guilt for no discernible reason. He’s actually a cad and a murderer. And if there is such a thing as slut-shaming, Sophia is a victim; it’s said to be justifiable to abduct her because she’s a naive but willing runaway. However, Mary is supposed to be honorable and a cut above her sister because she would never really run away to Paris with Vidal; it’s all a horrible misunderstanding, an adventure, and an accident.

What with the male-female double standard for marital and sexual behavior in the 1930’s and the class distinctions for what is honorable and moral behavior in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, this romance is a hot mess. Honorable, decent girls shouldn’t fall in love with their would-be abductors and rapists, and if they do they can expect trouble in the subsequent marriage. As for Vidal, he doesn’t deserve a wife or a mistress, and I don’t believe his protestations of innocence and undying affection for Mary.

The spectacle of the various characters in the novel chasing one another all over France is somewhat entertaining, but othe wise this novel is both infuriating and forgettable. I’ve liked some other Heyer Regency romances, but I’d recommend giving this one a pass.

From Semicolon
Saturday Review of Books: June 10, 2017

“‘Oh, hurry up and get the supper work done so we can read,’ Mary said eagerly. But Ma said, ‘Never mind the work, Laura! Read us a story!'” ~By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder


Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read.

From The Living Room
for you and for your children

I don’t remember the day of my baptism.

I don’t remember much of my childhood–
not in the usual way, that you just forget
as the years and days get scattered behind
you like breadcrumbs leading to the present.
No, I remember my childhood as a form full of blanks
that were never filled in–one day passed over
to lead to another.

So I don’t remember being dipped underneath the
water, white-robed, little girl, nose held,
immersed for half a second in the chaos of death
before being pulled back into light and life.

Somebody once told me that the correct answer
to the question “when did you get saved?”
is “2000 years ago in Jerusalem”
or “before the creation of the world happened.”

I don’t remember.

But I don’t really need to.

From Jared C. Wilson
I Hope I Die Before I Get Old

Written by: Jared C. Wilson

cristian-newman-67308Rose: “Don’t be worried, Mr. Allnut.
Allnut: “Oh, I ain’t worried, miss. I gave myself up for dead back when we started.”

- from the film The African Queen

I previously pastored a church in the midst of a sizable population of the elderly. And while our church had begun attracting more and more young singles and young families and enjoying a bit of a baby boom, we were still smack-dab in an aging community in a state that sees most of its young adults exit its green pastures for ones socioeconomically greener. So I have had the heavy privilege of helping a few older folks pass to the other side. I’ve lost count of the funerals I’ve officiated.

Sometimes it is a great joy ministering to an old saint departing into glory. Sometimes it is a great heartbreak when the one mourned has given no indication of saving faith. Even more heartbreaking is sharing the gospel with folks basically on their deathbeds who see no need for Christ. I think of two men in particular in their final days. I sat at their bedsides praying for them, understanding they did not have long. I told them about Jesus and what he’d done and how trusting in him would mean so much gain, from the forgiveness of sins to the life everlasting.

You would think that even a spurious reception would be likely! You’d think if any time lent itself to a bet-hedging, what-could-it-hurt bit of life insurance for the soul, this would be it. Of course, I never “pitch” the gospel this way, as if one just needs to say a prayer or some magic words — as John Piper has said, “Christ isn’t won by the flip of a coin.” The gospel isn’t some good luck charm you can add to the hunches you call hopes. But I just used to figure if any situation would give way to even a “Well, what could it hurt?” Pascalian wager-taking, literally nearing certain death would do it.

But no. One fellow told me that I could pray for him but he wasn’t interested in doing anything religious himself. He’d never done it before; why do it now? The other fellow just sort of entertained my notions as the requisite “last rites” or some such things, but gave no response to the invitation to repent and believe in Jesus.

My mind goes to my friend Richard. He passed away four years ago. He was 32 years old. And by grace he was totally abandoned to Jesus. When you listen to his widow Erin talk about the turning point for them as far as dedicating their marriage to the glory of God concerns, she will say it was not when Richard was diagnosed. It was during a frustrating car ride home one day in a thunderstorm. Circumstances in their lives led them in that car ride to through tears and faith say to the Lord, “Whatever you want, whatever will magnify you, that’s what we want.” Richard had his seizure that led to his diagnosis a few days later.

What makes Richard different from these old coots who go out shaking their fist at the things of grace? Well, God. But also: Richard decided to die before he got old. He decided to die before he died. May we all do the same. Remember that Jesus said, “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39).

Die before you die. There is no chance after.
– C.S. Lewis

Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them.”
— Ecclesiastes 12:1

From Jared C. Wilson
What’s Compelling About Christianity to Non-Believers?

Written by: Jared C. Wilson

A little something I shot for TGC, with a helpful (in my opinion) entry-point for evangelistic conversations.

What’s Compelling about Christianity to Non-Believers? from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

Expanded thoughts in my book Unparalleled: How Christianity’s Uniqueness Makes It Compelling.

From Alexandra K. Bush
What is Your Family Theme Song?

Music is as integral to me as my own DNA. My life has become a continual soundtrack, with music underscoring the most powerful and even the most banal moments of my life.


The soundtrack of our lives, the music in our DNA. . .  I believe music woven through our lives rings true to the human experience.


The truth of this has meant we identified family “theme songs” which characterized different eras of our family’s life.


As a young couple with little kids scratching out a living in the middle of nowhere West Texas, we really felt we were “you and me against the world.”  Simple life, lots of work, so much love. The best Valentine’s Day ever was indulging in ordering pizza with the kids. Then the radio played  I’ll Stop the World and Melt with You and we danced in each other’s arms on the back porch.


When we were in Ukraine with a church-planting team, we had a houseful of preschool/kindergarten boys who militantly sang Lead On O King Eternal. My daily life seemed like I was “rallying the troops” for homeschooling, meals, outings, clean up. The hymn fit our life.


The boys got older, we moved to the US, and they had their first year in a traditional school. It wasn’t a bad year, but it wasn’t for us. The next year, Hubby was in grad school, homeschooling the kids, and talking to them about Foucault while making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  I was working.  We felt like we were bucking the system again, and weren’t going to be Another Brick in the Wall.


And truthfully, hasn’t that been the anthem of every homeschool family at some time?


Now as we are entering our last year in Nassau, and the crazy process of bidding on our next post is looming, our Foreign Service family theme song has been playing in my head a lot.  We dance around the kitchen, dream about the next place we’ll live, and prepare our hearts for the good-byes here.


“Roam,” the B52s


Fly the great big sky see the great big sea
Kick through continents bustin’ boundaries
Take it hip to hip rock it through the wilderness
Around the world the trip begins with a kiss

Roam if you want to, roam around the world
Roam if you want to, without wings without wheels
Roam if you want to, roam around the world
Roam if you want to, without anything but the love we feel



I’d love to know what your family theme songs have been through the years!  Or, talk to the kids — is there a song they thing “fits” the family best right now?


From Jared C. Wilson
David Brainerd’s Gospel Wakefulness

Written by: Jared C. Wilson


From Robert Caldwell’s Theologies of the American Revivalists:

“In 1739, Brainerd, the future missionary to Native Americans, grew concerned over his soul’s eternal destiny and began to seek God. After several months of employing the means of grace, he came under a deep sense of conviction yet grew increasingly vexed over his spiritual inability. ‘I could not find out how to believe or come to Christ, nor what faith was.’

“After consulting Solomon Stoddard’s Guide to Christ, Brainerd was greatly helped by the author’s directions on conviction, but when it came to trusting Christ, ‘he failed, he did not tell me anything that I could do that would bring me to Christ, but seemed at last to leave me as it were with a great gulf between me and Christ, which I seemed to have no direction to get through.’

“This lack of direction, of course, was by design, for it was intended to draw the soul’s posture face-to-face with its spiritual impotence.

“In his helpless distress Brainerd gradually came to recognize ‘that I deserved nothing but damnation,’ and he began to lose hope in the efficacy of prayer and spiritual duties. It was at this time in July 1739 when Brainerd found himself attempting to pray one evening when something new happened.

[Then], as I was walking in a dark thick grove, ‘unspeakable glory’ seemed to open to the view and apprehension of my soul. By the glory I saw I don’t mean any external brightness, for I saw no such thing, nor do I intend any imagination of a body of light or splendor somewhere away in the third heaven, or anything of that nature. But it was a new inward apprehension or view that I had of God; such as I never had before, nor anything that I had the least remembrance of it.

“From this point he came to ‘wonder’ and ‘admire’ at God’s glory and the way of salvation, and he heartily repented and trusted in Christ.” (p.37)

George Whitefield’s Gospel Wakefulness

From Jared C. Wilson
Division Begins With the Departure from the Truth

Written by: Jared C. Wilson


Do two walk together,
unless they have agreed to meet?

-- Amos 3:3

Christians who affirm the normative, traditional, historical, orthodox view of the Bible’s teaching on various sins are always accused of being divisive when in sticking to their affirmations they must disassociate with those who don’t.

It’s a disingenuous claim, however, since unity could have been preserved so long as the agreement did. But when one changes a mind on such matters, the division has begun with them (1 Cor. 1:10), not the one who says, “Ah, you’ve changed the rules; you’ve changed the agreement.” It would be like the adulterer calling after his wife as she’s walking out the door in anger and shame that she’s being divisive.

The person who objects is often told they are “singling out” this particular sin as over-important, as more important than unity! But it is not those who protest who are singling out particular sins. It is those bringing the revision, the ones asking, “Did God really say?”, the ones who suggest it should now be normal what we previously agreed was objectionable who are singling it out, elevating it above the agreement. They are the ones making it the sticking point.

We think of the historical development of credal truth. Many of the historic creeds that so many professing Christians affirm as litmus tests for doctrinal orthodoxy began as responses to introduced heresies. As unbiblical ideas took seed in church communities, those who affirmed orthodoxy thought it best to formulate and codify what had been previously assumed. But it wasn’t the crafters of the creeds who were being divisive. It was the heterodox.

And it isn’t those who believe the Bible when it says sin is sin who are being divisive; it is those who are introducing the idea that some sins aren’t. If you push a decision on something that innovates on the Bible’s testimony, you’re creating the division. Division begins with that first departure. The first step away from the agreement is the original divide. It is simply necessary, then, for Christians to walk away from a divisive person (Titus 3:10). Perhaps they may even say, “Farewell.”

They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit.
-- Jude 18-19

From The Living Room
stuff I want to do this summer

  • Get to the beach (it’s not the best beach, but it’s our beach, dang it)
  • Get to the MFAH and the Menil and the Contemporary Arts Museum and the Printing Museum
  • Road trip somewhere (maybe Austin or Waco?)
  • Survive the summer reading program season
  • Submit a piece of writing somewhere
  • Try to read 20 books between Memorial Day and Labor Day
  • Go hiking
  • Go on a picnic with friends
  • Go to a show at Miller Outdoor Theatre
  • Get to a farmer’s market at least once a month
  • Start a monthly movie night
  • Do a worship night with my church
  • Buy a popsicle mold
  • Get somewhere dark to go watch the Perseid meteor shower in August

From The Living Room
ascension day: matthew

I keep thinking of the prophet, the words
I heard in synagogue when I was young, before I
Turned traitor and started working for the Romans:
“You ascended on high,
leading a host of captives in your train…”

You have gone where we can’t follow you, not yet anyway,
Just like you said forty-three days ago at supper.
And all of us that you have taken captive
With your truth and with your great affection
Are left here to wait for You to send some sort of help
Our way, to see what happens next.

You gave us one last word before you left, though: We’re
Supposed to leave here eventually, go tell the world
About You, the King of Israel, now ascended to Your rightful throne,
And bring more people into this kingdom You promised.
But I can barely leave this hill, because I keep thinking
That You’ll change Your mind and come back to be with us,
And the weight in my chest tells me, yes, You will,
But not yet.

From The Living Room
right now.

(format stolen from Mighty Girl, who in turn stole it from someone else, I don’t remember who)

Making : A lot of graphics for my work’s Twitter account, because it’s about to be Summer Reading Program time and we are doing a crapload of programs, you guys.

Cooking : Lots of roasted veggies and chicken, because my friend Steph and I are doing a Whole 30 until next Wednesday (I am allergic to all of the things and she gets migraines a lot, and so we’re trying to figure out what food-related things make us feel like crap). I want a bowl of pho and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich when this is done. :p

Drinking : Right now, coffee (French roast from HEB, pour over, with coconut milk out of a fantastic Beatles mug I got as a bridesmaid gift a couple of years ago). I also recently discovered Topo Chico Twist of Grapefruit, and you guys. It’s so good. Target also has a brand of LaCroix-ish sparkling water (Simply Balanced, in the blue cans) and the black cherry flavor is magic.

Reading: My Bible reading plan has me in the book of Job, which is coming after a stretch in the minor prophets, so I’ve been immersed in judgment and calls for repentance and now questions of theodicy and God’s righteousness in human suffering. Nice light reading material (ha). I’m also a chapter or so in to both Lectures on Revival by William Sprague (a large influence on Tim Keller’s work on revival and renewal, which is why I picked it up) and The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp.

Trawling: The internet, for a desk (I don’t currently own one; this missive is coming to you from my couch) and for deals on mattresses because mine’s not really working for me. Also, in the near future, resale shops and other places for a new coffee table and dining table.

Wanting: Tickets to Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen and Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, which are practically impossible to procure these days, but a girl can dream.

Looking: At my feet–I got a foot mask, which is this magical liquid that you let your feet soak in for an hour or so, and after a couple of days all the dead skin will start falling off of your feet. It’s slightly horrifying, because it comes off in giant flakes, so the soles of my feet look a little gnarly right now, but once it’s done my feet are going to look and feel awesome. That being said, I plan to wear shoes with socks in public for the next few days so as not to horrify anyone else.

Deciding: On what fiction I’m going to read next, on where I’m going to go for Labor Day weekend, on whether or not I’m going to Mbird Tyler next winter

Listening: Right now, Give Up by The Postal Service. Been loving a new podcast called The Red Couch, hosted by the rapper Propaganda and his wife Dr. Alma Zaragoza-Petty, and the sermon series another church in town is doing on revival (all of the local Sojourn churches, for you Houstonians).

Buying: I pre-ordered this decal for my laptop recently.

Watching: I’m trying to work my way through the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, and catch up on Doctor Who. Also, I’ve somehow never seen The Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi and so that’s on the docket for this weekend. (I know, I know.)

Marvelling: It’s late May in Houston and it’s only 70-odd degrees outside, thanks to the rain that came through earlier this week.

Cringing: My dead skin is so gross, you guys.

Needing: To make an appointment with a dentist, my eye doctor, my regular doctor, and my counselor, not necessarily in that order. Also, I should probably get up and make my dinner for tonight at work here in a minute.

Questioning: When my friends’ baby is going to make an appearance–he’s due today and so every text I get I keep expecting it to be his mom or dad saying “WE’RE GOING TO THE HOSPITAL!” He’ll show up when he’s good and ready, I guess, but you know. Also, I’m wondering why in the world I decided to buy so many bananas last night.

Smelling: Method lime + sea salt all-purpose cleaner (I just wiped down my kitchen counters).

Wearing: Jeans + flip-flops + this shirt, although I should probably go change my clothes to something more work-appropriate here in a second

Noticing: That my mouth tastes terrible after that coffee

From The Living Room
*opens can of worms*

Let’s talk about white privilege!

I think part of the problem of discussing white privilege is that it can be easy to misunderstand what folks mean when they use that term; people can be pretty defensive about it based on a misreading of it. The following is what I’ve come up with as a definition, thanks to discussions had with people and listening to other people talk about it.

(By the way, let’s be real here: culturally, I am a white evangelical, even if I am not actually racially so. I am trying to be more aware of my own inherited white privilege, which I realize makes this conversation really weird for me to have. But I’m going to try anyway.)

White privilege does not mean:

  • Every white person has had an easy life.
  • Every white person is rich/comfortable/has not had to work for what they have.
  • People of color want white people to hate themselves and feel guilty for things they didn’t do, or they want them to be eliminated entirely.
  • All white people have intentional personal malice against people of color or don’t have friends or family who are people of color.

White privilege does mean, as far as I understand it:

  • White people in America have, in general, had more systematic advantages and fewer systematic disadvantages than people of color. For example: American white people are more likely to be highly educated and have land and other assets; white people are less likely to be prosecuted for certain crimes than people of color who’ve committed the same crime; media tends to normalize “whiteness” over and above other ethnicities; people of color face prejudice, hostility, violence, and other problems simply because of their race exponentially more frequently than white people do.
  • People of color don’t want to be superior to white people; they want to be equal to white people. And there are still so many ways that they are not seen or treated as such in America.
  • White people need not hate themselves for their privilege, nor even necessarily apologize for it (although of course one ought to repent where repentance is due). God has given them the life He has given them for a reason. What they do need to do is be aware of it and use it to work for justice and the full rights of their fellow citizens. This is especially true of Christians.
  • It is imperative that white Christians, as the party with the most cultural and social power, take it upon themselves to assume a posture of humility and teachability when people of color talk about how they’ve been treated or how they see injustice in our society, instead of ignoring, dismissing, or condescending to them. This is especially the case when what people of color say is uncomfortable or convicting, or even if it does not apply to you personally. Why? This is a way to love your neighbor as yourself–to treat them the way you would want to be treated in their position, to mourn with those that mourn, to be a peacemaker. You may not always agree with them, but you can love and honor them in your disagreement.
  • And it’s also imperative that you take responsibility for educating yourself–watch movies, read books and articles, listen to podcasts. Meet people and get to know them. The folks over at Reformed African American Network are a good jumping-off point.

I know that in these days this kind of thing can seem very political and polarizing, which is a shame; if we’re called to love our neighbors regardless of who they are or what they’ve done, I think that transcends politics. Or maybe it is an alternative politics–over and against the systems of the world, which encourages us to be tribal and alienated from one another, we follow a King whose kingdom embraces people of every color.

So what do y’all think? Would y’all add or correct anything?

From The Living Room
a survey for grownups.

Five jobs you’ve had:
1. Bookseller
2. Circulation desk at a tiny academic library
3. Barista for a Starbucks inside a Target
4. One of the folks who set up shelf layouts and displays for Target
5. Public librarian

Five things that you know you’re good at:
1. Cooking (I mean, I’m not awesome at it, but I make pretty good edible food, so I’ll take that)
2. Writing
3. Learning a piece of music
4. Collecting/remembering information
5. Reading, which seems like a silly thing to put, but advanced literacy is more than just knowing what words are; it’s about understanding, analyzing, and/or applying what you read. I’m pretty good at it (thanks, liberal arts education)

Five things you’re bad at that you probably won’t ever be good at:
1. Math more advanced than very basic algebra
2. Sports that involve good hand-eye coordination
3. Wall sits
4. Not buying books
5. Keeping up with TV shows

Five things you are bad at that you’d like to improve in:
1. Running
2. Being physically strong
3. Managing money
4. Studying the Bible
5. Praying

Five things you do for self-care:
1. Trying to get more than 7 hours of sleep
2. I’ve been trying out mindfulness meditation; it’s not spoopy and it’s helped with my anxiety and short attention span
3. Counseling appointments
4. Aerobic exercise, when I actually get around to it
5. Making time to hang out with other people

Five qualities you’d like in a spouse, or things you like about your spouse:
1. Intelligence without arrogance
2. A good sense of humor
3. Knowledge of his need of Jesus and Jesus’ people
4. Humble courage
5. Good leadership

Five goals for this month:
1. Survive this Whole30 I’m doing with my friend Steph
2. Get back to the gym and run once my body gets adjusted to the Whole30
3. Write at least five blog posts
4. Read four books
5. Get rid of some of my stuff

Five places you want to go:
1. Nashville
2. London
3. Seoul
4. Dublin
5. San Francisco

Five things you’d like to buy soonish:
1. My trash can lid broke, so I need a new one of those
2. New mattress (I bought my current one before I obtained my bed frame, and it’s too shallow for the frame, so I literally have to crawl out of bed in the morning)
3. Some more art for my walls
4. A house (does five years count as soonish?)
5. A new guitar

Five non-social media websites you read a lot:
1. Mashable
2. The Financial Diet
3. Design Sponge
4. The Kid Should See This
5. Book Riot

From The Living Room

1. Book recommendation: The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson–it’s about the Great Migration, the movement of millions of African Americans from the South to the North during the 1900s-1970s, as told through the stories of three people and their families. Thorough research, excellent workmanlike prose, and a deep respect and honor for the history and stories of the book’s subjects. It’s a long read, over 500 pages, but it’s worth your time.

2. I can’t stop thinking about something I heard on a podcast a couple of days ago: Calling is where your talents and burdens collide, or: Your calling is where the world’s hunger and your deep gladness meet. It’s gotten me thinking about what those things are for me, and also what my weaknesses are. I’ve spent my whole adult life trying to figure out what my calling is, and it’s still kind of a mystery to me.

3. Funny thing about that, too: I’ve been told by a lot of people that I’d be a good teacher, which is hilarious to me because I feel like a terrible teacher. I’ve taught stuff before, and it’s always a struggle for me, and I feel like I’m rambly and impatient with my students and I’m always casting about for things to say. Maybe I would be good at it if I got more practice and did more preparation. I dunno.

4. Speaking of teaching, I’ve been thinking about what it would take to have a catechism class at my church for both kids and grownups. We’re a Baptist church, so we don’t really do confirmation or anything like that for kids, but I think it’d be helpful in spiritual formation for everybody. I’d probably have to get a guy to co-teach it with me for the sake of propriety (we’re also complementarian) (then again, if I got a married guy to do it, would we be breaking the Billy Graham rule?), but I’d be down for something like that.

5. Not much else going on for me personally. I am thinking of and praying for the family of Jordan Edwards tonight as they’re grieving for a son who lost his life unnecessarily. His siblings saw him die. His parents have lost a child. This is wrong, and I hope the officer who did it comes to repent for it.

Ekemini Uwan raised the good point that everyone’s citing his good grades and good-kid status in order to counter the narrative that these things only happen to thugs or criminals, but even the people with bad records didn’t deserve to die. Why? Because they were made in the image of God and deserved justice and grace. Any narrative that says otherwise is counter to the gospel itself.

6. Much love to all y’all. Later.

From The Living Room
holy saturday: peter’s wife.

I’m worried about him.

John told me what happened the other night–
the curses, the denial, the rooster.
It’s enough to break anyone’s heart.

O LORD, God of my salvation,
I cry out day and night before you.
Let my prayer come before you;
incline your ear to my cry!

He’s grieving–we are all grieving–
but his grief carries the extra weight of
his shame and guilt, one that no lamb or goat
could wipe out. God knows that he tried that;
he came back yesterday covered in blood
and the smell of incense.

Your wrath has swept over me;
your dreadful assaults destroy me.
They surround me like a flood all day long;
they close in on me together.

And my grief is compounded by his, because
I am his wife and I love him, and I don’t know
anything I can do except be here and wait and
be worried. And we are all afraid, not
only because they might come for us next,
but also because we have no idea where God is
right now. Our teacher, our master, our friend
is dead, but more than that: Our would-be
liberator is dead.

You have caused my companions to shun me;
you have made me a horror to them.
I am shut in so that I cannot escape;
my eye grows dim through sorrow.

Some of the women are talking about
going to anoint his body tomorrow morning.
I think I’ll go with them; it’ll be something to do
to distract myself from all this sadness.
And then we all have to figure out what to do
from there. We might go back to Galilee,
go back to being a fisherman and a fisherman’s wife,
see if we can get back our boat from Zebedee,
live a quiet life, shake the authorities off of our backs.

God of our fathers and mothers,
where are you now?

Do you work wonders for the dead?
Do the departed rise up to praise you?
Is your steadfast love declared in the grave?

From The Living Room
good friday: joseph of arimathea.

I’m sorry: We had to hurry because the sun
was about to set and start the sabbath, and
so you didn’t get entirely properly buried.
We just wrapped your body up in some cloths
with some aloe and spices and got you into
the tomb so we wouldn’t be breaking the law.
We are men of standing, Nicodemus and I;
even in our grief we have to keep decorum.

Teacher, I am sorry that I couldn’t do more
to keep you from this fate. I said too little
too late, and now just on the other side of this
stone is your poor body, your skin
in shreds and your hands and feet broken by
Roman nails. I’m sorry I couldn’t do more than this.
Is there still forgiveness for me?
Not that there is an answer for me now.

I suppose I will have to wait until the day
the Messiah comes and raises us all from the dead
to find out.

Until then, we rest.

From home is behind, the world ahead

I always thought "trust me" was a demand. That I had to continuously pour myself empty to trust God. That He was waiting for me to break myself so that He could sweep in and save the day. That I was destined for a life that was raw and uncomfortable and I just had to "trust him."

I'm learning, now, that it's a promise. Life is going to break me. Things out of my control are going to pull me under. Heartache will find me. I don't have to force myself into those places. They come and go as they please. And, when they do, He'll be there. He is the trustworthy good refuge that I need.

He tells us to trust Him because He is trustworthy. Not because we have to.

If I could just get that.

He speaks because He is. Not because I have to.

Entangle these twisted thoughts in me, O LORD.
Make them right.
I can no longer breathe in the air I've been sucking

From fingerpost

I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death. I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside. I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.
- C.S. Lewis

From home is behind, the world ahead
She gave up social media for lent, but NEVER imagined THIS would happen next!

I decided to give up social media for lent (facebook, twitter, and snapchat). It felt like the right decision because I didn't want to do it. My initial reaction had a lot of "but"s.

I don't like it when people post a status when they are getting off Facebook for x amount of time. I get it, you need to know yourself. If you need a break for your sanity, please, go right ahead. But, when people post statuses about it, it makes it more about them than it should be. I understand that you might want people to know they can't contact you on fb... but who really uses fb as their primary means to contact someone? If they are contacting you on fb, they probably don't need to be contacting you. And if it's important enough, they'll seek you out when they discover you haven't answered. Anyway, I digress. This is not me saying "I just need a break from all YOUR opinions you guys are too political and I don't agree so I gotta shut you out". But, there is a reason I want to explain why I'm getting off. I don't know if this is any better, and might make things about me... but, this is my blog and I do what I want. (jk).

Honestly, the reason I have been hesitant to take a break from social media is because I feel like if I don't wake up everyday and post a status about resisting Trump, then I will lose my "social justice" status. I will no longer be the cool, woke girl (I don't know if I'm actually woke sorry for saying that) who gets in heated discussions over facebook. And I think that is the very reason I need to get off it for 40 days. (That's how long lent is, right?) I need to figure out how I can actually put my thoughts and opinions into action. Discourse over social media is good and can be important, but I think it should only be one of the things you do. Not the only thing. And, for me right now, it's the main thing. (I sometimes donate money or go to a protest or talk in person... but not nearly enough).

So, I'm letting go of my need to throw myself in the discussion on social media so everyone knows where I stand and I'm (hopefully) replacing it with more tangible ways to make a difference in my community and country. I'll probably fail or forget or make a mistake down the line, but every day is a new day.

I have some ideas of where to start and books to read and resources... but, please! Message me (I'm sure I'll still look at messages because that's more like texting than social media) / text me / email me if you have suggestions or whatever.

P.S. I am fully aware of the purpose of lent in making space for God in preparation for Easter, and am definitely not forgetting that. That is another reason I want to get off social media. To spend more time praying about things and seeking God and growing in understanding and wisdom. 

P.P.S. I still think Trump is simultaneously the biggest joke and extremely dangerous. I still am waiting for white evangelicals to admit this and stop bowing down to him. He's embarrassing and the longer you support him, the more of an embarrassment you become. I still hate Tonny Lame-o.

See you guys on the flip side. Or, like... in real life.

From Out of the blue

Nahum 1:7-8 (ESV)

The LORD is good,
a stronghold in the day of trouble;
he knows those who take refuge in him.
But with an overflowing flood
he will make a complete end of the adversaries,
and will pursue his enemies into darkness.

From fingerpost

The Word of God is the only power that can subdue the rebellion of our heart. There is a power in our fallen nature which revolts against divine truth, and which nothing human can overcome. No teaching of man will do it, not even that of your father and mother. The teaching of the church, and of the most beloved pastors will not do it, nor time-worn tradition, which is the teaching of the ages. All this is as powerless as the slenderest thread to lift the weight which presses us down. To make the Kingdom of God enter our hearts we need a battering-ram that can overthrow the strongest walls, and that ram is the Word of God.
- Merle d'Aubigne (1794 - 1872)

From fingerpost

God assumed from the beginning that the wise of the world would view Christians as fools and He has not been disappointed. Devout Christians are destined to be regarded as fools in modern society. We are fools for Christ’s sake. We must pray for courage to endure the scorn of the sophisticated world. If I have brought any message today, it is this: Have the courage to have your wisdom regarded as stupidity. Be fools for Christ. And have the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world.

- Justice Antonin Scalia

From such small hands
2017 Non-resolutions

I'm doomed to fail at my New Year's resolutions, but still I think about setting goals for how I would like to change my habits in the next 12 months. So here are some of my thoughts from earlier this...

From Out of the blue

When it feels like the wheels are coming off . . .

Stop the car.

Take a deep breath.

Call in the family.

Call your closest friends.

Remember – this has happened before and you made it, all of you, intact.

Get a wrench.

Lift it to the sky.

By God’s grace, work on tightening the lug nuts. Even though you know the whole axle may yet come off. You have a duty to do that’s right before you.

Thank the Lord that you still have firm ground underneath . . .

From Out of the blue
2nd verse

2016 was a really rough year, personally. I know that many, even many close to me, had worse years. We faced death but we were rescued. Others were not.

But still it was a very hard year.

While I know the turning of man-made calendar boundaries don’t really grant a “new start”, there was a hope that 2017 might be a year of healing. I think it might still be, but we once again are facing darkness and despair. It came on quickly, striking another of our beloved ones.

But there is more intentionality and certainty in our steps this time. Swifter action. The fear is still there – the yawning abyss of fear that kept me up all night the night before last. But, dear Lord, may the endurance, peace, love, and even joy that your word promises be ours.

We need thee every hour.

2 Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing. – James 1:2-4 (CSV)