Weekend Reading: February 17, 2018

Well welcome to the weekend!  With basketball season over for the kids, that means I more time on Saturdays to compile a few items for you to enjoy and skim over.  Here’s the weekend reading…

Gonna lead off with this thought-provoking piece from the Wall Street Journal: Did My Mom Have ‘White Privilege’? She arrived from Italy in 1911 and then at age 14 went to work in a factory sewing ladies’ coats.  Key excerpt:

The legal immigrants who came through Ellis Island had to have medical exams and a clean criminal background, not to mention a job and a sponsor. This guaranteed the new arrival wouldn’t be a burden on the country or its citizens. And they weren’t. Ellis Island’s immigrants received nothing from taxpayers. Not a cent. That’s why my teenage mother worked in a factory instead of going to school.

Honestly, I haven’t spent much time thinking existentially about the lives of the generations of Americans who came here and gave up many comforts and dignities we’d unwillingly surrender now in order to make a life in America.  This short Op-Ed provoked my imagination and maybe it will yours as well.

This looks…interesting…’The NBA’s Secret Wine Society’

I was more shocked to learn this wasn’t a real headline: Media Announces Brief Moratorium On Calling Trump A Brutal Dictator To Praise Kim Jong Un’s Sister. But in truth, here’s a real story on the CNN slobber fest over Kim Jong Un’s sister.

Looking back on this article I read about Olympic Jet Lag makes me think that maybe there’s something to this (especially if the American snow boarders did it!).

If you haven’t thought about “enjoying God” for who He is and not just what He provides, then I think this article by John Piper might be a good click for you today.

I thought this was a fascinating article from a perspective that many conservatives might not normally hear: Why the Center-Left Became Immoderate: In polarized times, those without a clear guiding ideology become the most vicious partisans. One of the key excerpts:

The idea of a Trump dictatorship may be compelling, but that doesn’t make it right, particularly when it distorts how one perceives actual tyranny.

Something I didn’t know about Korea: What City Was Once “The Jerusalem of the East?”

Comment Magazine republished an article from Marilynne Robinson from 2011 this week called ‘The Book of Books: What Literature Owes the Bible’.  I like the attempt here (though ironically I think its not as clear as it could be in making the point) to show how one of the heritages we have from the Bible is its rich influence of the drama of life and salvation in our literature. Robinson gives several examples of this and that is the funnest part of the article. Her summation at the end is pretty much what I just wrote about the Bible’s role in enriching literature, but just prior she says, “In its emphatic insistence that the burden of meaning is shared in every life, the Bible may only give expression to a truth most of us know intuitively.”  I’m unsure exactly what “the burden of meaning” means, but I think that the shame of this article is that it doesn’t go on to explain what it is that makes the Bible worth using as an enrichment agent in the first place.  Why are the images and the story and the Man at its center so compelling that they transcend its cover and enrich other great literature?  I think the “why” isn’t answered here, and it ought to have been the first question she asked and the one she came back to at the end….what do you think?

A good piece of writing here from someone formerly in the scientific/medical community: Be Skeptical of Those Who Treat Science as an Ideology.

Something posted a while back by Ligonier that I thought was worth checking out again from R.C. Sproul: Do we have free will? Today on this special Ask R.C. edition of Renewing Your Mind, R.C. Sproul answers your questions about predestination, God’s providence, and free will.  I think I posted this mainly because it never ceases to amaze me how often I’m in some kind of meeting or discussion and someone says something like, “not to offend the Calvinists here, but I think people have to make a choice (in this that or the other thing)” – as if the importance and reality of choice and agency are stripped completely from the minds of orthodox reformed Christians. These are more or less statements of ignorance rather than barbs of serious debate, hence the importance of thinking through the core issues of human liberty and freedom and what is entailed in, and meant by those terms/ideas.

An interesting article by an author of a new book on transgenderism says, ‘The Sex-Change Revolution Is Based on Ideology, Not Science’.  Of course I agree with him, but I’m unsure I agree with his conclusion that this cultural moment is “fleeting”, though I hope he’s right.

Books…

This week I confessed to Kate that I’m on a bit of a distracted reading spree. I seem to be picking up old favorites and reading five pages here, a chapter or two there. It’s probably a healthy thing to do every now and again, but it doesn’t help make progress through the books I’m working on!

The main thing I persevered through this week was William L. Shirer’s classic ‘The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich’.  This is really a story of Adolph Hitler, and his cronies. I’m only 170 pages in, and its truly a fascinating read – actually not as laborious as I imagined it would be after the slow start. If you’ve read anything about Hitler’s rise (and I have), then you’ll not be as shocked at a book like this which exposes all the ignorance of the masses and the willingness to go along with the dictates and philosophical shallowness of men like this. But it doesn’t mean that the well-read won’t (or at least shouldn’t be) shocked again, and refreshed again in those ancient lessons of original evil, and the fallen state of man’s mind and reason.

I’m unsure I have written a post since finishing Lovecraft’s ‘At the Mountains of Madness’, but it was a very interesting and freaky.  I’m surprised I’ve never seen a movie about this one! It’s not overly long, but the powers of description prevent a speed read of any kind. I’m unsure if its the kind of thing one recommends, its sort of a cross between thriller and horror, salted with out of date scientific observations that can seem quaint at best, and farcical at worst.  Yet its an interesting thing to read someone you’ve never read before, and Lovecraft is well known for being influential in this genre, so I’m glad I checked it out.

I’m working on a host of books right now, and hope to finish up ‘A Good Walk Spoiled’ in the coming week.

That’s it for now – I hope you have a great weekend!

PJW

 

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Weekend Reading: February 3, 2018

Welcome to the weekend!  Here’s what I read this week and what I think you might find interesting…

The President’s first State of the Union (“SOTU” for those of you not in the political world) was this week, and I thought John Bolton’s column over at AEI was spot on, from a foreign affairs perspective. 

Speaking of foreign affairs, keep an eye on this: Yemen separatists capture most of Aden, residents say.

And, staying in similar fields of discussion, if you’re going to read one thing this weekend, read this: The kill chain: inside the unit that tracks targets for US drone wars.

Departing from the global news and heading to something almost entirely first world: Most unhappy people are unhappy for the exact same reason. I’m not saying that I agree for what they think “happiness” really means, but I do think that there is a stronger and stronger correlation between depression and anxiety and screen time being shown in all of these studies.  Parents take note…

And similarly: Why We Should Escape Social Media (And Why We Don’t)…Excerpt:

Stop attempting to be seen in social media and you vanish entirely. We dare not stop. And that’s why the first step away from social media — that first day disconnected — tastes bitter. It tastes bitter because we use the noise of media in our lives to drown out two things we’d rather not face.

Staying on the theme with a slight branch: Facebook Bans Ads for Bitcoin and Other Cryptocurrencies

This was intriguing to me because I’m part of this “micro” generation that the author is discussing: Micro-Generation Born Between 1977-1983 Given New Name.

The man who brought us IKEA died this week – he was the 8th richest man in the world. Here’s a little more about him from the liberals at Quartz.

I should have addressed this one higher up, but let me just reference really quickly the whole FBI memo situation.  I want you to check out what Mark Meadows said about a week ago over Twitter.  It’s all collected in that link by conservative click-bait catnip site IJR. It seems like releasing the memo was the correct thing to do, and that when you have such diverse viewpoints politically all agreeing on this, you know there’s some consensus forming.  Hillary’s former pollster Penn agreed, as did Meadows who is as conservative as you get, and obviously the call to do so came from our populist POTUS.  Only a few disillusioned wilderness-bound neocons and John Kasich were blubbering about “how it was done.” Well how exactly would they have done it, I’d like to know?  From my perch is seemed like we just watched an example of the brilliance of our founder’s, and how they planned for the separation of powers work.  Congress provided the oversight, they blew the whistle, they bowed before executive privilege, the executive branch reviewed and agreed, and then had the memo released to shine sunlight on the matter.

Somehow I missed including this back during the holidays – worth a chuckle…at least an awkwardly painful one: Thanks a Lot! New Reasons Not to Eat Cookie Dough

I don’t think this is a good ideaScoop: Trump team considers nationalizing 5G network

For my hipster friends: Study: 90% Of Bike Accidents Preventable By Buying Car Like A Normal Person

didn’t see this one get much play…whoops…NSA deleted surveillance data it pledged to preserve: The agency tells a federal judge that it is investigating and ‘sincerely regrets its failure.’

FYI: Sasse Statement on Cecile Richards

Books…

This week I finished the classic Sci-Fi book DUNE by Frank Herbert.  This was a very interesting experience. This book is completely other, completely different than most books you’ll read.  It’s super odd, super interesting, and super well written. Very hard to describe whether its worth reading, but I think so…if only to enjoy Herbert’s writing abilities. If you have no patience for Sci-Fi then this will stretch you beyond what you may be able to abide. But it was really enjoyable because of just how different it was.

I also finished Boundaries by Henry Cloud, and it was very helpful in many ways. In others it was a little annoying in that it stretched a concept a bit too far (i.e. the chapter on God’s boundaries was very close to causing me to puke on my kindle screen for his lack of understanding of what real “freedom” meant in the divine sense). The most helpful part of this book is how Cloud helps you evaluate different relationships and situations to see whether you’re letting others completely abuse you and run you down. He does a good job of showing what is appropriate and not selfish.  Though more than one time I found his scripture citations to be woefully out of context – like he was proof-texting to fit the point he was making. Still, many of his principles are good – and its definitely worth reading this with some discernment. For some people, it could actually be quite a powerful wake up call, and a real helpful evaluation of their priorities and relationships – some of which may have reached a toxic level of control and manipulation.

Our family finished a young adults version of Tom Sawyer that we were reading at the dinner table. It was an enjoyable read – I’m really appreciative of the Usborne books, and how accessible they make stories like this one.

Lastly, I wrapped up several weeks in Ben Palpant’s Sojourner Songs.  This is my second or third read-through of these poems in the past few years, and each time is highly enjoyable.

That’s it! I hope you enjoy your weekend and have a great week ahead!

PJW

Weekend Reading: January 20, 2018

Good afternoon!  I’ve mentioned before that sometimes its hard to find time to write a weekly post about the news and the books I’m reading, but recent encouragement has enforced the idea that this is a helpful thing to some of you – and personally I find it helps me review as well.  That said, I think that as a writer I feel this inward pressure to write something long and comprehensive, when in reality I don’t think that’s all that helpful.

With that in mind, here’s are few articles and books and such to consider!

Let’s start with the ridiculous and hope you don’t puke. NOTE: this is NOT a parody!

Gold Medalist Michael Phelps talks about his depression. It is a reminder that people – no matter what their social or economic status – are still people. They still have a need for purpose and find some of that outside of themselves.

Similarly: U.K. Appoints a Minister for Loneliness. My theory on why this is going on is that officials in the government are coming to the realization that decades of stamping out religion in the U.K. has its drawbacks.  Now, balance that parliamentary leadership decision with what you see going on over at Buckingham Palace, detailed in this important article: How the Queen – the ‘last Christian monarch’ – has made faith her message.  In fact, if you’re going to read one article, make it that one, because its very encouraging – and relevant as well, since millions are watching The Crown on Netflix.

I’ve been keeping an eye on this story, and talking to medical professionals in this line of work. It’s fascinating: Stem Cells for Knee Problems? U.S. Doctors Investigate.

I have to admit that I laughed pretty hard at this one: Trump Refuses To Let Jesus Into His Heart After Learning He’s From Nazareth.

You’d have to be living under a rock to have missed this one, but just in case: Apple, Capitalizing on New Tax Law, Plans to Bring Billions in Cash Back to U.S.

From The Wardrobe Door blog: Logan Paul and Our Embrace of Two Minutes Hate.  Good points to consider here.

Some wise words here from John Piper: Deep Bible Reading Strategies for the Tired and Busy

So I tried this new google app and didn’t find it all that awesome.  Anyone else find it better than me?

Saved and on-deck for this week: The Sacrifice of Faith. And Trust No One: Kim Philby and the hazards of mistrust.

Books: I saw that Susan Wise Bauer has finally released her new book ‘Rethinking School’.  I’ve read a lot of Bauer’s history books (as have my kids), so I’m really interested to hear her academic and personal take on how parents should approach schooling.

Similarly, this article by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam was interesting. He’s writing about public service as a Christian, and what it means to take up your cross in the political arena. The book isn’t by him but by another (A Theology of Political Vocation: Christian Life and Public Office), but he expresses some of the ideas in hopeful terms. Probably one worth checking out once the ridiculous pricing changes.

Finally, a new book by Nancy Pearcey is looking very interesting: Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality. Some of the questions addressed by Pearcey (from the Amazon description): Are transgender people discovering their authentic self? Is the hookup culture really liberating? Does abortion lead to equality for women? Does homosexuality contradict our biological sex? 

This week I read (and didn’t finish) several disappointing books. Probably got 60% through Carrie Fisher’s Wishful Drinking, my Goodreads review was “A profane literary landscape dotted by tidbits of momentary interest. Sad story – even the funny parts were sad because of how demented they were.” I started listening to this book in the airport during a D.C. trip this week – I figured, hey why not? Wouldn’t it be interesting to hear some of Fisher’s background and struggles? And ya, its interesting, but its also overwhelmingly profane and sad, and really pretty random.

Our family finished George MacDonald’s At the Back of the North Wind. I remembered enjoying this as a kid, but as an adult I found it a complete mess of literary nonsense. Almost completely devoid of plot for large swaths of the 330 pages, I would have quit after page 250 but was overruled. I guess I’ll disclaim that MacDonald was C.S. Lewis’ literary hero, and that I’ve read pretty widely in his prose and always found them wanting. His imagination is good, and sometimes he has brilliant turns of phrases, but his characters are not believable, and he meanders through a plot (if there is one) like a child lost in a cornrow.

Similarly disappointing was the new star wars compilation From a Certain Point of View. This mess is exasperating.  I probably made it through 20 or 30% of the book. It’s a compilation of 40 short stories from the point of view of lesser characters in the Star Wars saga. And by “lesser” I mean REALLY lesser.  We’re talking Jawas and droids you’ve never heard of and imperial henchmen who appear for less than 5 seconds on the screen in the movies. I thought this would be something I’d dig, but for whatever reason it just makes the whole thing seem so…trite…? Not sure if that’s the word…but its awfully boring.

There is hope though – several more good books I’m enjoying right now that I hope to report back on soon.

Until then, have a great weekend!

PJW

 

Weekend Reading: January 13, 2018

Welcome to the weekend!  Some of you are buried in snow and others have escaped the tundra to warmer climes. Regardless of where you are, here are a few items you might enjoy catching up on this week.

Before I begin, I’ll just note that some of my reading habits are changing. I’m devoting more time to reading books in my schedule, and less to reading tons of news articles – that and my work is filling in all those gaps as well with a busy season coming on.  So I may be sending a more selective list of articles, and adding in more books here from time to time.

One thing that fascinated me was the closing of many Sam’s Clubs this week. It came on the heels of Walmart’s announcement of pay raises for many of its employees.  The reason I say “fascinated” is because of the dynamics involved.  The press jumped all over the irony of the situation, but aside from that irony I think other interesting decisions were at play – and the results affect many people. If you listen to Sam’s Club executives this was just part of a larger strategy that has been moving people toward online purchases (remember when Sam’s/Walmart purchased Jet.com – I didn’t even know such a site existed). But maybe there’s more to it – ya, they were probably going to do this anyway, but they probably thought that doing it during a week where there was some good news on the retail side at Walmart would help stem some of the blow-back…they thought wrong. They may have guessed right if the decisions were affecting similar groups of people, but that wasn’t the case.  One affected only the employees, while the other affected both employees and the consumer directly.

Furthermore, maybe you’ve noticed that there’s somewhat of a community rivalry between Sam’s and Costco that gets manifested in comments between shoppers/members. Personally I loved to point out the deficiencies of Sam’s (faithful Costco member here!), and enjoyed wooing friends over to Costco…not that it takes much wooing once they’ve seen things for themselves (I jest, I jest…sort of).  I’m curious what you think – is this a big deal, and how will it help Costco if at all?

Okay, switching gears a little here – I read this article, ‘Life coaches on Instagram break the first rule of therapy—that’s why it works’ and found it interesting because its coming from a completely different mindset than I normally come from.  I had zero idea about the Instagram coaching phenom, but its not surprising to me. I do a little mentoring myself, I suppose, but wouldn’t consider myself a “life coach” – which lead me to wonder how anyone could consider themselves a life coach…what are the steps involved?  If you believe this article, there aren’t any at all…

On to religion…there’s a guest article on Desiring God’s website called, ‘How Have Catholics Changed Since Luther?’ that is pretty interesting.  I’m always trying to understand the Catholic Church better because I have many friends who are Catholic.  And by “understand” I mean the life and mindset of the church, and not just the beliefs of the church (that’s a separate – and important – discussion for another day). For someone concerned with historic Christianity and the gospel message, I have often seen the disconnect between say, what Rome teaches historically, and what a certain Pope says, or what local Catholics believe, as important.

The same is true for what the Bible teaches and what an “evangelical” megachurch pastor says from the pulpit. Often there is a disconnect there, and most often it can be traced back to men who have sought to adapt the Bible’s teaching to their times in order for it to be relevant or to fit within their assumptions/worldview. Funny enough, those adaptations have a way of sticking around for hundreds of years until the average church attender just assumes they’re part of the historic faith.

So this article isn’t comprehensive but it get the mind turning. The question I think all Christians need to ask themselves is this: does what my priest/pastor/parson/elder say on Sunday morning match up with what I’m reading in the Bible?  I’m assuming this can be done by anyone – and that you don’t have to be a great scholar, just a good reader who reads for context and asks questions. And that is the key – are we asking the right questions (are we asking any questions at all??).  Good church leaders will directly answer or help sort through our questions using the Bible, and not just their opinion. Discerning adults should know the difference whether you’re Catholic or in an evangelical denomination.

Speaking of faux evangelical leaders: Trump’s “Spiritual Advisor” Wants to Grab Your Fruit. I cannot say strongly enough how disgusting this is. It also exposes a sad lack of discernment in our President – and in more mainstream men like James Dobson who prop up the idea that the President is a real Christian man etc. Nonsense. I support the President and many of his excellent policies, and I think that overall he’s doing a good job all things considered. But while politically it may be disgusting to listen to liberals in the media rant on (and in many cases completely fabricate) a daily basis about the evils of Donald Trump, let’s not lose our ability to be discerning. There’s been enough lack of discernment, and an abundance of foolishness, which has been exhibited on the record for Christians to be able to parse out the difference between the man’s character and, say, his economic or foreign policies.

Another semi-political story that finds its roots in the tech sector: How Do You Vote? 50 Million Google Images Give a Clue

Ho boy…We Know Almost Nothing About This Secret US Government Airline

Interesting: Flashback: Harvey Weinstein Accuser Says He Used Friendship With Oprah to Abuse His Targets

Books…here’s what I’ve read thus far.  Some really interesting reads thus far.  Liturgy of the Ordinary was really encouraging and totally different, a Night to Remember was very well written and insightful, Distilled Knowledge was fantastic, humorous and well researched. It offered a scientific look at drinking and alcohol that I enjoyed. The Kim Philby spy book was fascinating and annoying at the same time. No one likes the idea that their governments can be so inept. The Agatha Christie book was very well written – the literary aspect of it was its crowning accomplishment I think. Chernow’s Death of a Banker book was a nice summary/overview of finance in the past few hundred years, though I often found myself wanting more information. Seeking Allah Finding Jesus was a fast-paced read with great insight into the average life of a Muslim who loves his faith. I found Ferguson’s The Whole Christ littered with good theology (though I disagreed with him on the covenant of redemption assertions), though it was an odd sort of book (something he might agree with) – or at least an odd approach to the topic. Yet it is likely a good thing for pastors to read through; it certainly seemed geared to them. The Pre-Suassion book was insightful, and helpful, though you could see how it could have 1. been done in a shorter volume and 2. cited more studies to backup its ideas. Mixed in there was  volume of Christian poetry, which was also very enjoyable.

That’s it!  I hope you enjoy your weekend – stay safe on those roads!

PJW

Weekend Reading: December 23, 2017

Good morning and welcome to the weekend – Christmas Weekend!

I thought about not sending anything out, but why not? I mean, you’ll have time to sit and read a few articles while visiting with the in-laws right?

So just a few for your consideration…

Let me start with one called The Salvation of ‘Napalm Girl’ which was sent to me by David B. This is a great story – the intersection of history and redemption, which is especially pertinent during the season of Christmas.

Okay, I haven’t read this one yet, but I as it is from the New York Times, I sort of just reveled in the guilty pleasure of their downcast headline: E.P.A. Officials, Disheartened by Agency’s Direction, Are Leaving in Drove…can you blame me?

There are a few stories out there about how Apple is being sued for intentionally slowing down their phones...I think this is something most everyone suspected or complained about, but apparently, it has less to do with merely the computer processing demand of new apps/software, and more to do with the limited lifespan of lithium-ion batteries. Basically, in sum: Apple put crappy batteries in their phones, to cover this up they put governing software code into said phones that would slow the speed of said phones down after only a year in order to cover up *cough*, oh, sorry, “account for and facilitate” battery life demands.  The whole thing was almost enough to send me running into the arms of another major technological giant.

This was both fascinating and infuriating: Saipan: The Island Where Chinese Mothers Deliver American Babies.  Question for you: How many American mothers are crossing oceans to have their babies in China in order to gain Chinese citizenship (not that it works that way over there…I don’t think at least)?  Okay, this is obviously ironic, right?  Okay good.

This is so painful: Good News! You Are a Bitcoin Millionaire. Bad News! You Forgot Your Password.  Excerpt:

James Howells, an IT worker in Newport, Wales, lost 7,500 bitcoin he mined in 2009 after a hard drive with his private key was accidentally thrown away during an office cleanup. His story went viral this month as the value of the hard drive’s contents rocketed to more than $100 million. Now he’s attempting to excavate the landfill and dig through four years’ worth of trash to find it.

This is really, really, really long…but you need to scan it, or at least try and find the key takeaways: The secret backstory of how Obama let Hezbollah off the hook.  Here’s a taste test:

Soon afterward, Kelly said, he ran into one of the unit’s top prosecutors and asked if there was “something going on with the White House that explains why we can’t get a criminal filing.”

“You don’t know the half of it,” the prosecutor replied, according to Kelly. “Right now, we have 50 FBI agents not doing anything because they know their Iran cases aren’t going anywhere,” including investigations around the U.S. into allegedly complicit used-car dealers.

And, this was just weird coming from someone that normally disgusts me: What if Ken Starr was Right? (Ross Douthat).

Tim Challies takes on the Love Languages…burn! 

This is fascinating stuff here: Could Crispr Help to Knock Out Superbugs? (their subtitle: A combination of gene editing and viruses that attack bacteria could help scientists fight antibiotic resistance).

Okay, so I know that I just posted a lot of articles from the Wall Street Journal.  It doesn’t always happen like that, but when it does I feel a special nagging sense of guilt. I know not everyone has a subscription to the Journal, but I’d recommend that you consider it. Also, you might be able to get access through your local library (I don’t know for sure, that’s just a random thought).  It’s worth it!

That’s it for now – have a great Christmas and a wonderful New Year!

PJW

Weekend Reading: December 16, 2017 – The Passing of a Titan

It seems Saturdays have been filled with kids basketball these past three weeks, and I’ve hardly had time to sit and compose a Weekend Reading.  However, after this week’s events, I felt it impossible not to pen something regarding the passing of theologian R.C. Sproul.

If you were to google his name today, the search would be populated with obituaries and laudatory remarks and tributes from famous men and women – I especially identified with John Piper’s tribute, which rightly expressed a profound sense of gratitude for Dr. Sproul’s teaching focus on the holiness of God, and the special way in which he could so clearly convey the complex ideas of theology to people who never attended seminary.

Joni Eareckson Tada wrote a tribute that displayed how Dr. Sproul’s teaching on the sovereignty of God was immensely comforting and helpful at a time when despair and confusion would wreck even the most spiritually wise Christian.

Dr. Sproul’s ministry, Ligonier, has posted something from Dr. Stephen Nichols, a man Kate and I greatly admire and enjoy listening to and interacting with during Ligonier events.

Now it hits me all at once how hard this is going to be to write more.  One of my heroes has died. Great people have written well. What shall I say?  I didn’t know him well personally. We were not close. Our interactions were limited to some time I had in service to his ministry a few years ago, and though my relationship to the ministry remains very close, my interaction with Dr. Sproul was never frequent. Rather, I am like the millions of others who read his books and was changed by God because of them.

It is with tears now that I recall that powerful moment seven or so years ago when, so overcome with the weight of my sin and pride, I repented on my knees in my living room in the middle of the night.  Earlier in the evening, I had been determined to finish Sproul’s book, Chosen by God. But at around 2am I’d had enough. I couldn’t take anymore. The man had leveled an all-out assault on my pride as he described a God whose Word spoke of gracious and sovereign salvation in terms I’d never before contemplated.  I’d been a Christian for years, but as a busy young father and husband, building my first business in the cutthroat realm of politics, these truths were the last thing on my mind.

What a world of change God has wrought since those formative days!

I suppose this is what God does with godly men and women: He uses them to transform others and get their attention – not so that they can focus on the messenger, but so that their gaze is more continually heaven-bound than it was before.

That is what Dr. Sproul did through his writing and teaching.

One thing that he especially did for me was to connect me with the beauty and excitement of the Bible and show me a God who was so magnificent and so holy, that gazing upon the mercy of His Son’s cross became automatically more precious to me.

Aside from being a great teacher, he was also a great man of character and personal faith. And though, as I mentioned before, I didn’t have a lot of personal interaction with him, one moment is especially and indelibly seared upon my mind. My friend and former business partner Matt and I were down in Florida to help set up and conduct a large telephone town hall conference call event for Ligonier, with Dr. Sproul as the main speaker on the program.

As we completed setup of the software and phone system, Dr. Sproul and his wife Vesta entered the large ex-mansion that is now Ligonier ministries headquarters in Sanford. Their gait was slow and sober, marked with heavy expressions they traversed the long corridor that lead into Sproul’s office where we were setting up. They had just come from the hospital where they’d visited Denise Sproul, their daughter-in-law who was fighting cancer and had a very negative prognosis for recovery.  She would die a short time later in December of 2011 – the day before my son Ollie was born.  That night, the weight of the world looked to be upon their shoulders, and I began to wonder if we could continue on with this event.

Still, Dr. Sproul rallied and even made some wisecracks at the expense of my friend Matt. And so we got the event started. Eventually, the time came to take questions from callers, and when one man called from a Pitsburg hospital where his wife was dying, I looked up from my laptop to see his wife Vesta had reached out and grabbed R.C.’s hand, conveying strength and affirmation to see him through the poignant and painful moment. She reached toward his bible, perched an arm’s length away on the desk, but he waved her off – perhaps already knowing what passages he would require (as it turned out), or perhaps just focused on listening as the man from Pitsburg expressed grief and frustration at his wife’s pain: ‘Why would God allow this? What could be done?’

“What would he say? What could he say?”, thought I.

Of course, the man from Pittsburgh couldn’t know that minutes earlier Dr. Sproul had come from the bedside of his daughter-in-law. To most any other man the situation would have either obliterated their resolve or perhaps caused them to revert coldly to some automatic reply engrained from years of rote memorization.  Instead, with the compassion, wisdom, and clear Biblical communication that marked his entire ministry, Dr. Sproul expanded on the grace and sovereignty of God in sickness and death and, indeed all of life.

This titan of theology had been tested before my very eyes. What I witnessed that day was what happens when right theology is lived out righteously, and I’ll never forget it as long as I live.

May the Lord continue to bless the memory and ministry of R.C. Sproul.  We will miss him greatly.

 

Weekend Reading: November 18, 2017

Good morning and welcome to the weekend.  Normally I would have curated a few stories and updates about books for you to peruse.  But this morning I simply want to share some thoughts about the last few weeks of news.

I’ve been thinking about all the allegations of sexual harassment that we’re hearing/reading/watching in our news streams and how to react and deal with these in a way that makes sense.  It seems to me that what is missing amongst the outrage and the venom is a careful inspection of the facts, an offer of grace for those who have sinned, and a differentiation between each case (they aren’t all the same). But the main thing that is missing is a way forward that is not complete tyranny. 

This reality drove home to me the difference between how the world works, and how God in His grace works. The world wants to sensationalize sin and then wonders why people are exploited. The world wants to marginalize and tyrannize one group to the exclusion of others as a response to marginalization and exploitation. In other words, the world’s (with the media being the expression of this) reaction to sin is to douse us with even more sin. In one very important respect, it is good for victims to be able to tell the truth, though from its outset America has been a comparatively open society for those desiring to tell the truth. So that is healthy – freedom begets both lux et veritas.

The problem we now face is environmental. An environment of liberation without diligence for truth can, and indeed has, very quickly turned into toxic tyranny. This is manifested in the oppression of accusation and finger pointing in response to the tyranny of exploitation and sexual misconduct. Generalizations flying, battle lines forming, slander spoken faster than anyone has the ability to refute or clarify. It is becoming harder for truth to be found, and this actually works against victims – though it works for ratings.

Watching the media over the last few weeks has been like pulling up a front row seat at Madame DeFarge’s knitting exhibition. We are on dangerous ground, stray but a little to the right or left and our society will be in great peril.

Don’t mistake me for siding with or against someone – I am perfectly horrified by what these elected officials have done. Even friends of mine, people I thought I knew, have resigned in disgrace this week – all the while putting a happy face on the thing or not completely even admitting their sin, and thus further enabling rumors and slander to run rampant.

But the main question I want to put to you in the midst of this is: what is the way forward?  The world is not going to offer a viable way forward. There will be no end to the toxicity – it will only get more rank.  The way forward isn’t simply codifying behavioral ethics in an H.R. document and forcing people to go through “training” – this behavior is so obviously wrong that no one ought to need such training! The fact that this is so is manifested in the well-warranted outrange of horrified Americans who are watching their elected leaders being outed as perverts.

Now, I would be remiss if I didn’t also point out the gross irony in these stories. Perhaps this week’s allegations against Sen. Al Franken best typify that irony, for if he had behaved the way he did in real life during an on-screen performance, it would have been called “art” or “just another movie.”  In short, Hollywood has trained Americans to think sexual depravity is normal. We have swallowed these lies hook, line, and sinker. And so, in a round about way, we celebrate exploitation as we chuckle at perversion in our living rooms. And now the world is outraged when people (actors like Franken, for example) behave this way in real life…where do you think they got all the perverse ideas for their on-screen behavior?

I believe that the world as typified by those in the media writing the stories, those in Hollywood and people in the Halls of Power around the country, cannot adequately deal with these issues because they lack both the moral authority to do so, and the power of grace to rebuild the brokenness that remains. They will either descend into injudicious accusatory and sensational anarchy, or they will normalize the disgusting and exploitive behavior.  In fact, they may end up doing both simultaneously.

Only (yes an exclusive claim) Jesus Christ has both the grace to say “neither do I condemn you” and “go and sin no more.”  Only Christ can justly say “this is wrong” and “you are forgiven.” There is a balance to the message of Christianity – not because WE bring balance to it, but because our darkness, our sinfulness is both exposed by His light and washed clean and forgiven by Christ’s mercy and God’s justice which Christ bore.

In one respect, it is times like these that expose the utter sinfulness of sin. You don’t think men and women need Christ’s death? You think He paid an awful cost for no reason? These are the reasons. This is the sickness that drove Him to that hill and which nailed those spikes in His hands. I defy you to turn on the news and then tell me men don’t need a Savior and that victims don’t need a Redeemer.  

While we all rightly find ourselves disgusted by the sin we see in these news stories (apparently Hollywood has not so desensitized us yet that we can still find some sense of outrage over sin), let us not be so quick to forget our own sin. Let us not be so quick to forget that for victims and for their violators there is a way forward that doesn’t involve slander and bitterness and secretiveness.

I would encourage you to read an old column from Jon Bloom to help clarify these thoughts some more. Not every Biblical example is going to be a perfect one-to-one correspondence with what we’re seeing in today’s news cycle. But the principles are there.

This isn’t a soapbox plea. It’s a reminder to all those who claim to be Christian that we hold truths so powerful that lives truly can be mended, reputations rebuilt, and, most importantly, souls redeemed and minds and hearts renewed. We can come to the aid of the victims without being surprised by the sinful natures of men that made these things possible, and the culture that elevated the sin as entertainment in another setting.  We can offer healing to the broken, and grace to those who wish to repent of their wrong. And we can do this all without forgetting who we are, and where we would be without Christ’s sacrifice.

That’s it for today, I hope you have a great weekend.

PJW