Weekend Reading: April 29, 2017

Good morning and welcome to the weekend!  Let’s get right to it…

First off, there was a major story that many might have missed this week about the way in which Obama administration officials (read John Kerry) dealt our country a serious blow during the Iranian nuclear negotiations.  Namely, they released many folks back to Iran that we were detaining for terrorism-related reasons. Apparently, over the last 15 months, the release of these people has had further reverberations inside the intelligence community.  Politico’s in-depth investigation can be found here, and I’ll warn you that it is LONG.  So you might want to grab another cup of coffee before you pull that one up…

Continuing on with the foreign policy theme, there’s a story by Bloomberg out there that details how the fleet we’re sending into the Korean theater isn’t equipped with the capability to shoot down their missiles.  This seems…odd. But we DO have such firepower sitting pretty close to Japan, which can be mobilized pretty quickly I’d imagine. The reason I link to this is not to highlight some policy blunder (I’m not pretending to question a strategic military decision), but because the story has a lot of useful information about what kinds of weaponry we have in the region, and what our capabilities are.

Science…(sort of)…lots this week about Bill Nye. He’s (again) saying controversial things.  I suppose to just get attention? Well, just an FYI, I think it’s helpful to keep an eye on these kinds of popular debates over science.  I saw that Justin Taylor over at Gospel Coalition also wrote up something on the nature of arguments and how to disentangle them – and he used the global warming argument (that Nye has highlighted again) as an example.  It’s not interesting enough to link to, just know that Nye is creating enough waves that it’s sparking a wider dialogue out there…

Oh NO!  Jaws Of Life Needed To Remove Worship Leader’s Skinny Jeans

TECH: Is this creepy, or is it just reality? (h/t Lisa W.)

Tech/Science that was buzzing around social media this week: This Fluid-Filled Bag Lets Lambs Develop Outside the Womb. Humans Are Next. (h/t Katie W.) I’m unsure what to think of things like this without extensive thought. We should obviously be excited about any opportunities to save the lives of babies. Yet on the other hand, the more we dig into stuff like this, the more we are challenged by tough ethical questions. What amazes me the most is how many Christians simply skip over the latter assume that the ends justify the means.  And, maybe they do in this case. I’m still noodling this. But we need to be thinking carefully about how we approach these kinds of issues – not only for ethical concerns but because many of us have had situations where this tech could have saved a lost child.  I believe we can be both thoughtful, and sensitive at the same time, so long as we are committed to the fundamental principles of loving our neighbor, and not working to displace God from His sovereign creative work.

And then there’s this: 911 call: Man wants police dog to search for stolen heroin…oh man…

Politics….from the New York Times:  At a ‘Unity’ Stop in Nebraska, Democrats Find Anything But.  This is an interesting look inside the Democratic Party right now. There are a ton of lessons to be gleaned from this, not only if you’re a Republican, but also if you’re a Christian considering worldview implications.

History: Ten Common Misconceptions About George Washington

MORE History: Why Did People Stick One Hand in Their Jackets in Old Photographs?

Good Stuff: God Plans for the Unexpected and Inconvenient.  Tasty excerpt:

I don’t have resident in me the resources to meet the needs around me. Our lack tempts us to avoid others’ needs rather than expose our insufficiency.

Theology: Implications of Definitive Atonement.   This is from Jonathan Gibson, who has already compiled a massive book on this topic (which I have enjoyed for a few years now).  It’s more of an anthology than a book you’d read straight through. Nonetheless, it’s really thought-provoking, and for you theology nerds it’s probably worth getting.

Books…In case you hadn’t noticed, I may have spent more time on reading books this year than reading articles. At least that’s the way it feels to me. This week I’ve been continuing to work through Bronte’s ‘Jane Eyre’, and finished David McCullough’s ‘Mornings on Horseback’, which is a biography of the first half/part of Teddy Roosevelt’s life. It doesn’t get into his Presidency, but it does give a good sense for his family, who he was, what he was all about. It is especially helpful in understanding what were the major shaping forces in his life. Very fascinating and well worth it.

I’m also probably 40% into Phil Knight’s autobiography ‘Shoe Dog’ and am really enjoying it thus far. He really started this shoe business from scratch. His exploits are the kinds of things entrepreneurs will eat up. I finished another time through Rutherford’s ‘The Loveliness of Christ’, which is a small book, and is essentially a compilation of quotes from his letters, and is highly worthwhile.  I don’t recall mentioning before that I read The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb: Searching for Jesus’ Path of Power in a Church that Has Abandoned It’.  It was well worth the read (h/t Nick N.)! These two young guys spend a lot of time interviewing older, wiser men and women who describe their journey in ministry – they are essentially exploring what J.I. Packer terms ‘Weakness is the Way’ (and they interview him about this book in the first chapter!) It’s really good. 

That’s it!  I hope you enjoy your weekend!

PJW

Weekend Reading: April 22, 2017

Welcome to the weekend!  I took the week off for Easter, and as a consequence, some stories I’m sharing have an older publish date.  Which is fine. It’s fine because one of the things I’m learning is that, yes, the news cycle is constant these days, BUT…many of the ideas being debated and discussed are continual and ongoing. 

On that note, I want to draw attention to an article from the New York Times’ David Brooks called ‘The Strange Persistence of Guilt’.  If you read one thing this weekend online, let this be it.  Here’s an excerpt:

American life has secularized and grand political ideologies have fallen away, but moral conflict has only grown. In fact, it’s the people who go to church least — like the members of the alt-right — who seem the most fervent moral crusaders.

In politics there are two things that interested me this past week or two. First, was the evolution of President Trump on many of the key issues he campaigned on.  I hate to give the Washington Post any credit for real journalism these days, but I found this catalogue of policy changes from the President very insightful

SIDEBAR: But at least he did do something good on the planned parenthood front….

The second thing I found interesting and important politically was the North Korean menace.  First, and foundationally, there’s a story from WaPo that explains the mindset of the North Korean people (and how they worship their dictator as god).   Second, the powers that be over on the northern end of that Asian peninsula are really puffing out their proverbial chests. One Fox News headline read ‘North Korea: ‘Super-mighty pre-emptive strike’ will reduce US to ashes’.   

I remember when I was in college 15 years ago and Kim J.I. was rattling the saber. The talk was strong, yet nothing came of it. Still, there’s many reasons to take these guys seriously.  They’ve had time to build their rocket program, and the state has become increasingly unstable, with Dear Leader Un offing political opponents and dissidents left and right.  This is one to keep an eye on, and to pray simmers down.  Pressure from the Chinese has always kept a lid on these rogues, but they are increasingly out of control. 

Of course these are serious and concerning events. I look at Kim Jong Un and his idolatrous regime and shake my head. Why can’t he just lead a peaceful society? Why bother the US?  Etc etc.  but I take comfort in the Lord’s sovereignty. Those who mock his authority and terrorize the earth are held in derision. When Kim Jong Un continues a policy of king-worship (to himself), he sets themselves up not against America or South Korea, but against the Lord’s Annointed.  And that’s a “terrifying” place to be. As Psalm 2 makes clear:

Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, “Let us uburst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, “As for me, I have yset my King on Zion, my holy hill.”

In other words, the Lord takes his sovereignty seriously. And those who seek to supplant him will find themselves the focus of his terrifying wrath.  Our prayer ought to be for peace and the safety of our two countries, and for the utter destruction of this satanic quasi-communistic ideology which sets itself up against the Lord Jesus’ authority. 

Also on the foreign policy front…..Writing for ForeignPolicy mag, Marc Ambinder (who at least used to write for the Atlantic, right?) has a cool piece called ‘The American Government’s Secret Plan for Surviving the End of the World’
Click bait: Trump’s first White House Easter Egg Roll, in photos

A great message of encouragement this week from Sinclair Ferguson might be worth checking out: the Spirit of Sonship.

Hilarious:  Answer These 3 Simple Questions And We’ll Assign You A PERFECT Life Verse

Books….

For the radar – one I might buy in the near future: 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You

Enjoyed McMaster’s ‘Dereliction of Duty’. Very helpful perspective on the lead up to the Vietnam war. 

400+ pages in and I’ve pretty much given up on ‘Truman’ by McCullough.  Not McCullough’s fault, but Truman is one of the most uninspiring go-along-to-get-along nincompoops I’ve ever read about. The more I read the more my respect meter for this guy goes down.  Not only was he the product of a corrupt political machine (which he remained loyal to even in the White House), not only did he seem to make thoughtless decisions that adversely affected those around him, but he was continually being played by those smarter and bolder than he was. Only a few times did he stand up for what was right in these first 400 or so pages, and those times were anomalies.  

Also got to enjoy Barry Goldwater’s classic ‘Conscience of a Conservative’. I’d never read this (surprise my college profs didn’t have it on the reading list) but found it surprisingly relevant. 

Perhaps the Goldwater book was all the more relevant because I’d also just finished Arthur C. Brooks’ ‘The Conservative Heart’.  This book was excellent!  I’d like to buy a box and give it to everyone of my political colleagues, so helpful was it in articulating the classic conservative perspectives in moral (and not simply economic) terms. 

That’s it for now!  I’ve been typing this out on my phone, so I’m sorry it’s not as extensive as it might otherwise be. But I hope you all have a wonderful weekend!

PJW

Weekend Reading: April 8, 2017

Welcome to the weekend!  Here’s what I read, watched, and listened to this week that you might find informative or enjoyable.

It’s Masters week at Augusta, and Jason Gay at the Wall Street Journal has a very tongue-in-cheek article you might enjoy, highlighting 15 “well-kept secrets of the Masters.” They also have a neat story called, ‘Green Jacket Winners Include Every Masters Champion and This 55-Year-Old Attorney’

Additionally, the editor in chief over at Convivium (which is a Canadian think-tank/magazine/ministry) Father Raymond J. De Souza wrote ‘Tiger’s Twisting Moral Tale’.  It’s not every day you see a theologian or pastor/father write this kind of piece, which is part of what makes it unique.

On a more serious note, the U.S. Senate approved Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court. In an historic move, Republican leadership decided to make the long-discussed rules change that allowed a confirmation based on a simple majority vote.  From everything I can tell, Gorsuch is going to be a fantastic judge, so hopefully this was the right thing to do. Certainly there was no reason (other than politics) for Democrats to block his nomination.

Flashback from Joe Carter: 9 Things You Should Know About Neil Gorsuch and Supreme Court Confirmations

The other big story of the week is that American ships launched 59 Tomahawk missiles into Syria, effectively knocking out the airbase used just days prior by President Bashir al-Assad to gas his own people.  This was not the first time Assad had gassed his own people, it was simply the first time it happened under the watch of President Trump.  Here’s a link to Al Mohler’s briefing about this, the Gorsuch vote, and a highly interesting remembrance of the anniversary of U.S. entrance into WWI. 

Writing for WSJ, Yaroslav Trofimov does a good job of dissecting how this strike on Syria differs contextually from what President Obama was facing during his reign…errrr….presidency.

I read/examined a sobering photo-essay this week about the starvation going on in the Horn of Africa that you might want to take a moment and see.

TECH: over at Gizmodo they’re looking at the effects of the new law President Trump signed allowing ISP’s to sell browsing history: Want to Stop Your Internet Provider From Selling Your Browsing Data? It Ain’t Easy

Crazy Story….Over at the New Yorker: DOOMSDAY PREP FOR THE SUPER-RICH.  I didn’t get to read the whole thing, but its the second such story that I’ve seen about this topic in as many weeks – here’t the one I saw a week ago. (h/t Ben F.)

Interesting: The Surprising Role of Guardian Angels

More Tech: This Video Made $4,215 at Auction. How Ads Work on YouTube.

What is stirring out there on the interwebs: Top Obama Adviser Sought Names of Trump Associates in Intel

Hilarious: Comedian Ed Wiley standup ‘If Trump were on staff at your church…‘ (h/t Alex W.)

For those watching the evolution of the Amazon business model: ‘I Went to Amazon’s Physical Bookstore And…’

Best books I read this week: Sherpherding a Child’s Heart (Tedd Tripp) and Inventing Russia (Arkady Ostrovsky)

Worst book I read this week: Truman (David McCullough) – I will probably write more about this at a later date.  It’s not entirely the writing or the author, I like David M.  It’s that 250 pages in I absolutely have zero respect for his subject.

I know that’s short, right?  But that’s what I have!  I hope you enjoy the weekend!

PJW

Weekend Reading: April 1, 2017

Welcome to the weekend – I hope its a good few days for rejuvenating reading and renewing your mind before Monday comes for you!  I’ve been traveling all week, only getting back last night at 1am. So I’m personally looking forward to some rest.

I have just a few stories for you today, but before I get to those, I want to take a moment up front and ask for your prayer for the family of Nelson Penn, who suddenly lost his wonderful wife Robyn this week to cancer. They were a part of our last church family here in Ohio, and have young kids who are undoubtedly going to be hurting.  Though you may not know them, please take a moment and lift them up before continuing.

On to a few stories I found thought-provoking…

Often we have discussions politically about China, and sometimes the nature of its horrid civil rights record pops up. As much as China wants to be like the west economically, the freedom we currently have in America to educate our children how we think is best is not afforded to parents over there – as a new story out of China details (h/t Kate W.).

The Chinese education story is interesting if you consider that in Russia, it was largely the press that was used to either prop up communism, or promote glasnost.  This is something detailed in a new(er) book by Arkady Ostrovsky called ‘The Invention of Russia’ that I’ve found pretty interesting thus far.

The New York Post, often sensational in its headlines and news coverage, has an interesting opinion piece this week from John Crudele bashing rival NY Times, ‘The New York Times’ ongoing dishonesty only helps Trump‘. Though we have to take all of this with a grain of salt, considering the source, Crudele makes some good points in his documentation of the Times’ dishonestly.  Personally, I find it fascinating how much mainstream media outlets are struggling to do their work in the world of a President Trump. Perhaps if they’d been more pure in their journalistic principles, and stuck to a truly non-partisan form of reporting in the first place, they’d not have even had to wrangle with this President…perhaps…

Speaking of the media, and how it intersects with the Trump administration, this week Fox restored Judge Andrew Napolitano to his role of on-air commentator. Napolitano, you might recall, had stated on air that he had three sources who informed him that President Trump’s claim of being surveilled by the Obama Administration was true, and that it was done by the British at the behest of the American President (Obama) through a sort of wink and nod agreement. This type of agreement is apparently used from time to time to get around the legal issues of spying on one’s own citizens without a warrant.  During the last two weeks, House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes made a trip to the White House to say he had seen evidence to support Trump’s claim. This caused all manner of outrage, most of which took the form of accusations that Nunes didn’t share this information with the ranking Democrat(s) on the committee (eye roll).

Of course all of this controversy and political correctness misses the point. In a world where we all generate countless points of data throughout our day, how that data is collected, sold, and utilized by companies and governments is more and more important – and concerning. The supreme irony of this is that for all the Democratic bluster over President Trump’s alleged ties to Russia, it is looking as though President Obama’s actions more closely mirrored what Vladimir Putin would do to a political opponent. He did stop shy of the Putin style of treatment; Trump lived to see Election Day, after all.

Can you imagine Hillary Clinton having had this kind of power? 

Speaking of power and its abuses, Ivanka Trump has (rightly) decided to take an official role in the White House. I think this is good because, as I commented last week, if you’re going to have an official cell phone, office, security clearance, and get to sit in on all the important meetings, then you should be saddled with the responsibility of being an official employee. It’s only right – whether you think this is nepotism or not.  For me, that’s not the issue. It’s a matter of operating within the chain of command and under the responsibilities of the laws associated with positions of power of this kind.  She has graciously declined any salary for her position – which makes the move to rectify her earlier course, much more palatable to anyone examining the situation (at least from a political perspective).

What is the Roman Catholic view of justification, and how does that differ from the Protestant view?  I appreciated R.C. Sproul’s short discussion on this topic this week.  He takes some time to tear down a few straw men arguments that Protestants often use, and gives some background as to why and how Catholics view of salvation came to be what it is today.  Being that this is the 500th anniversary year of the Protestant Reformation, I’m going to continue to come back to some of these themes throughout the year, in an effort to discuss why the Reformation took place, and why its important even in our day.

Making the rounds on social media this week: Children who eat too much sugar are developing diseases that only alcoholics used to get

Some satire: Stone-Hearted Man Scrolls Past Jesus Meme Without Sharing It

Not Satire…though perhaps it should be: Alone in the Wild for a Year, TV Contestants Learn Their Show Was Canceled

Interesting Take…from WaPo: How Trump’s presidency is succeeding

Foreign Affairs: Erdogan’s International Network of Muslim Cleric Spies

More….From the New York Times (ironically): The Jihadi Who Turned to Jesus

Tech:  Uber to Suspend Autonomous Tests After Arizona Accident

Off the beaten path….The Broomway: A perilous medieval road leading right into the sea. 

That’s all I have for now!  There are probably 10 more stories and books (including items some of you sent me) that I still have yet to digest. Hopefully I’ll have more time next week for that!  Until then, have a wonderful weekend!

PJW

Weekend Reading: March 25, 2017

Good morning and welcome to the weekend!  It was a busy week in the world of news. The two big political items were the defeat of the GOP healthcare replace/repeal bill (although no actual vote was taken), and the continuing (although now more serious) saga of stories about high level Trump campaign operatives having been in strategic communications with Russian officials during last year’s campaign.

Now, I’m sure you’ve heard a LOT about all these stories, and there are many other interesting items to get to. But in case you haven’t, there are a few good ones you may have missed. First, reporter Bob Costa jotted down his conversation with the President over the phone after the Healthcare Bill failed – I found this interesting because it gives you a window into how Trump is going to spin this defeat.

The next is a column from Fred Barnes. Fred doesn’t hide his contempt for the Freedom Caucus (the small group of conservative Congressmen who successfully blocked the bill), but he also gives them some props for understanding some of the flaws of the bill and standing tenaciously on principle. The Dems also stood against it – as you’ll read in the Costa piece, not one of them switched sides to vote with Speaker Ryan.

During it all, I guess the siren call of the slopes couldn’t be resisted by top White House advisor (and Trump son in law) Jared Kushner: Trump unhappy Jared Kushner took a powder on the ski slopes as health care bill floundered.  Now, this was reported by CNN, so take it with a grain of salt. But again, interesting dynamic there.

Sort of along similar lines: FIRST DAUGHTER IVANKA TRUMP GETS WEST WING OFFICE.  At first I read this story about Ivanka with indifferent amusement – it brought me back to my own days at the White House, and how cool the West Wing was (it never got old!), and how special it must have been to have an office there. Most of the staff is dispersed across three other buildings near the White House, and only the top echelon get to actually have an office IN the West Wing. But as I read along, I became bothered by the thought that someone not employed by the government and therefore not accountable to those standards, has an office in the West Wing of the White House. I think its great that Ivanka can advise her father on some issues – that must be a really special relationship. But if you’re going to have security clearance, a special phone, and a special office next to the most powerful man in the world, then it stands to reason that you should also have the responsibility that comes along with those perks.

Now I want to give you two pieces that are a bit older, but are pretty interesting and will get your mind churning.

The first has a title as long as a Puritan sermon and is called ‘Welcome to the Dark Net, A Wilderness Where Invisible World Wars are Fought and Hackers Roam Free’ (seriously, that’s the title).  You’ll enjoy this one if you have even a passing interest in what goes on behind the scenes on the interwebs.

The second is from the Atlantic, so understand that its coming from the quasi-intellectual bastion of the left. It’s called ‘How Casinos Enable Gambling Addicts’.  I am unsure that I agree with the conclusions in this article, but there are some interesting items in here, and especially interesting insights into how slot machines are made to function these days. My view on gaming is that if you walk into a casino with $200, a reasonable (and sane) position to hold is that you’ll not be walking out with it. It’s entertainment, and its expensive entertainment at that. If that’s how you get your kicks, then go for it. But what is at issue here (at least in my mind) is the predatory nature of the gaming industry, and how far they’re willing to go to get more money – the article paints them as overtly greedy, which differentiates them from most fortune 500 companies who at least try and appear (or pretend to be) interested in the social implications of their products/work/influence. There’s also an apparently growing amount of evidence that the areas surrounding casinos (for instance) increase in crime, and even some opponents who say that politicians aren’t getting all the money from the deal they had hoped when negotiating casinos in their states, due to the crime costs – its not a net victory, some say.  Though I don’t know if these are verifiable stats, they are items of concern mentioned in the article as well.  Good food for thought here.

Did anyone else see this?  ‘In Cold Blood’ Killer’s Never-Published Memoir Raises Questions About His Motive.  I thought it was pretty interesting, especially after having slogged through Capote’s original hit book on the matter just this year.

This was funny: O NSA, You Have Searched Me and Known Me

Now, let’s get to the Russian stuff…First, from the Denver Post, Fox pulls legal analyst Andrew Napolitano from air after Trump report’.  And then…from the Associated Press, ‘Before Trump job, Manafort worked to aid Putin.’  Manafort seems to have been an international “gun for hire” (says the AP’s Horowitz).  This is all new information, but it also all happened a decade ago (which the AP acknowledges).

That’s interesting stuff, but not really super relevant since Manafort has long since been at a distance from the Trump orbit.  What seems to be a lot more relevant is this story from CNN: US officials: Info suggests Trump associates may have coordinated with Russians.  This is all emanating from Monday’s revelation from FBI director Comey’s testimony before Congress.  Heck, all of this may be nothing at all. But there’s a lot going on here on multiple fronts, and we may never know if its anything legit or not. Usually in politics, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. But we’re living in a world right now where news organizations that used to be legitimate have been going out of their way to ruin politicians from opposing political factions irregardless of how flagrant their bias appears.  Mike Allen concluded as follows,

Watergate was a coverup of a burglary. This could be the coverup of a nuclear-armed U.S. nemesis that infiltrated our politics with the specific aim of disrupting the very foundation of our democracy — a presidential election — and did so, possibly, in a manner that elected its preferred candidate and locked in all party control that could decimate the opposition party for years.

My CONCLUSION…In days like these, we must be extra discerning before we jump to partisan sounding conclusions, and weigh everything we hear with wisdom. Mouthpieces on the tube and the twitters all have agendas and perspectives to justify – this goes for folks on the right and left alike.

Speaking of the Twitters: Why Even Donald Trump Can’t Save Twitter

DID YOU KNOW…that during all this hubbub about Russia and healthcare, there’s been a Supreme Court nomination in progress?  Here’s a funny moment from the hearings this week. 

OOOOOPS: Authorities: Man errantly texted prosecutor about drug swap

Also happening in the midst of our American political mess, was a terrorist attack in London. The Bobbies have two in custody (the attacker was dead on the scene). Apparently this attacker was operating as part of a wider group/plan.  These are the kinds of things that happen and you shake your head and wonder ‘what can I do about this?’  It all seems so far away, doesn’t it?  Possibly the best thing to do would be to pray for the family members of the victims, that their lives would be protected, and that they’d find more ultimate salvation and comfort spiritually.

Physics Lesson? From the Wall Street Journal: How a 145-Pound Golfer Became One of the Game’s Longest Drivers

Lastly, I wanted to bring some items to your attention this week that were really fascinating and sad. The first is on how secularization is letting us down. The Atlantic (again) talks about how there was this great promise of secularization sweeping away all the tension and strife and polarization in society, and how that promise was wrong.  The second is how Tim Keller, one of the most popular and helpful and conservative preachers/theologians in America is now being denied some snooty award from Princeton, after Princeton initially offered him the award. The reason seems to be that (all of a sudden?) there has been an uproar over Keller’s views on the role of women in the church. Keller believes women ought to have a prominent and important role in the life of the church, but unlike the liberals at Princeton, he doesn’t believe women should be ordained to preach, nor does he believe that people of an LGBTQLMNOPQRSTUVWZYZ (just wanted to cover all my alphabetical bases there) persuasion ought to be ordained ministers. In other words, he holds to the Bible.  Al Mohler covers both items really pretty well in his briefing here.  Of course the sad thing about the Keller situation is that Princeton used to be a great bastion of conservative intellectual thought, and produced some of the great defenders of orthodoxy a hundred years (and longer) ago. The institution has teetered on liberalism many times and was rescued in the past by towering conservative intellects like Gerhardus Vos. This was once the home of the great B.B. Warfield. It’s sad to see it degenerate into theological heresy/liberalism.

That’s it – that is all I have in terms of news and such.  It was a sobering and not a super uplifting group of stories from the week. Corruption/compromising of prominent institutions (both state and religious) is discouraging. So what are Christians supposed to think and do? Do we cynically say “well that’s just the way the world is”?  I think we have to acknowledge that we’re living in a fallen world, certainly, and that all of us (even those of us who have been rescued and redeemed by the Lord) are sinners whose mess gets on everything.

But Christians are also called to take the word of Truth, the Bible, notjust  the opinions of the church or of man, but the Bible, and shine the light of the Gospel through word and deed. More often than not, this means individual conversations. Corruption in the public square ought only to serve as a ratification for all we know about the human heart, and what we know of the solution.

That same Bible says that Jesus lived during a time of extreme corruption and violence. Not only were the Romans violent oppressors of the populace, but in the case of the Jews of Palestine, even their own people sold them out for money.  But I am hopeful – even for our own times – because I remember men like Matthew. He was a tax collector, one of these turncoats who sold his own people down the river, extorting hefty sums from them so he could live in opulence. His situation, his influence created a social and political problem – the kind we read about in the stories I posted above – and it was solved. It was solved in his life and sphere of influence when he was ransomed by Christ. He was drawn to a much more desirable kingdom.

The gospel changes lives; Christ still changes lives. And for those of us involved in the world of politics, it would be good to remember that – even when the headlines, and the people we know, seem to be gradually succumbing to and reflecting a greater tide of corruption and polarization.

PJW

Weekend Reading: March

Welcome to the weekend everyone!  There are some interesting stories out there to check out…ready? Here we go…

Society: The NYTimes has a story about the ‘Decline of Men’ and its significance that is worth skimming. It’s sort of a cultural and educational gut check.  One of the things that seems to be a significant takeaway is the importance of the family:

Among children raised in single-parent households, however, boys performed significantly less well than their sisters in school, and their employment rate as young adults was lower. “Relative to their sisters,” Autor and his collaborators wrote, “boys born to disadvantaged families” — with disadvantage measured here by mother’s marital status and education — “have higher rates of disciplinary problems, lower achievement scores, and fewer high-school completions.”

It’s not surprising to me that what shows up in the studies is what most folks held as common sense for years: family (traditional family with a man and a woman as the parents) is a good thing for kids.

Society Con’t………The Boston Globe as interesting article, Paltering,’ a New Way to Not Tell the Truth, in which fellow weekend reader David Clementson is quoted using the word “diabolically”, so it must be good!

Should we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day?  Stephen Nichols has a great little article about the day and its origins.  Of course the Babylon Bee reports Nation Celebrates Devout Christian Missionary by Getting Totally Hammered.  

This was really good……from R.C. Sproul ‘What is Free Will’?  Dr. Sproul has a talent for taking complex issues and sorting through them winsomely and helpfully.

Spies and Such: The Graveyard of Empires and Big Data.  I am not sure what the takeaway on this one is. It ended in a sort of odd way, but its pretty fascinating nonetheless. Speaking with my brother about it afterwards, he pointed out that it brings up the familiar dilemma between data, its maintenance, and our freedoms.

Along similar lines, former Congressman Pete Hoekstra had an Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal that is worth scanning:  Can Americans Trust Their Spies? “If intelligence agencies can’t keep their secrets, they can’t credibly assure us they follow other rules.”

Culture and Religion: So there’s a guy named Rod Dreher and he’s got a new book out called ‘The Benedict Option’ and its causing a lot of buzz, some good and some bad (I guess).  The book is less important than the discussion it brings to the fore, namely the changing society we live in, and how its becoming less and less Christian. Some have put it this way: cultural Christianity is going away (others have tacked on “good riddance” – and I tack onto their tack on “amen”!).  The election of Donald Trump was a flash point I think, not really because of who he is or the political dynamic, but for what it revealed about the culture as a whole and its pastors. When I say “revealed”, I’m not talking about an analysis of the ballot box results or who people ended up voting for, but rather the things they were saying about their choice, and the reasons we were given by leading pastors and Christian advocates for supporting Trump.  It opened up the hood on the thought process of Christians in America. That thought process, the morals that govern the country, are said to be on the decline. I think that’s a fair statement, with some caveats. First, we haven’t acted like a “christian nation” in several decades at least…and 2. even when we did act like a Christian nation (scratching around for examples here…maybe the nuclear family and values pre-television era?) those were inherited social mores created by a tradition of christian foundation, not personal christian morals sprung from a heart changed by God. 

There are a few articles to tease this out a bit that deal with the Dreher book, but also take on the topic of christianity and morality in America and where we’re going.

Moral Minority – Patrick Deneen, a prof. at Notre Dame takes an extensive look at this and contrasts the Jerry Falwell ‘Moral Majority’ from the 80’s with the situation we have now. I think this is an insightful article, and I agree with most of his assessment of the culture, BUT he is Catholic, and though I agree with much of what he has to say in analysis, when it comes to solutions he’s all bandaids. This is where the rubber meets the road, and if you have no gospel-based solution you will never have any hope to change lives. This shows up in places where Deneen seems to think it odd another Catholic author would advance the notion of the Bible and the church actually having the power to change the culture. This is typical of a tradition that doesn’t read their Bible, and doesn’t hold to Sola Scriptura. True Christians believe that the Word of God actually changes people and institutions, because its a living and powerful and inspired truth that God’s Spirit uses to change the minds and hearts of men. So keep all that in mind as you read this article.

Jamie Smith over at Cardus has a pretty good response to the book called ‘The Benedict Option or the Augustinian Call?’ the sum of which is a call to be in the culture and not of it.  On of his summary graphs:

Dreher’s Benedict is one option the church could take in the twenty-first century. As I argue in Awaiting the King, my hope is that instead we’ll answer an Augustinian call: centring ourselves in the life-giving practices of the body of Christ, but from there leaning out boldly and hopefully into the world for the sake of our neighbours.

Andy Crouch breaks down the book by percentages

D.A. Carson did an interview with Desiring God guys on this Benedict Option.  “Scripture stands over against all parties.” More:

There is a sense in which instead of having a Judeo-Christian heritage all around us in which we’re playing a slightly more righteous part and preaching the gospel, we’re increasingly dealing with, especially in the most secular parts of the country, an essentially alien society. Then, it’s important for not just the individual Christian, but for the Christian church, the Christian community to live differently. That needs to be thought through and worked out much more systematically than it has been.

This is getting soooooo old: Could Southern Baptist Russell Moore lose his job? Churches threaten to pull funds after months of Trump controversy.  But again, its another outgrowth of the stuff above and how some mega church baptist pastors would rather have their guy in DC go along to get along so he can have “influence” with the White House, rather than helping the church fulfill its prophetic role in society.

I know many people saw the McDonalds tweet bashing the President. The tweet said that Trump was ‘actually a disgusting excuse of a President and we would love to have Barak Obama back, also you have tiny hands’……what?!   They claim their account was hacked, but then didn’t really feel like removing the tweet – maybe its finally down now? Who knows…all I know is that its pretty ironic for McDonalds to call anything “disgusting”.

Tim Challies wrote this week on Suburban Sprawl and the Dying Dream of Community Churches.  I’m not entirely sure he’s correct on this, that is to say that I think his assessment is probably correct, but I’m still pondering his conclusions. He admits at the end that he has much more to say on the matter.  So its worth pondering and thinking about how and why it is that we choose our churches.

Fascinating stuff here: ‘Don’t be so quick to laugh at Trump’s wiretap claims’ – maybe “wiretap” is the wrong vocab, but the right idea. How our government works with other governments to illegally spy on our own citizens is scary stuff. (h/t Alex W.)

Oh WAIT! What?  ——- Putin Spokesman: Russian Ambassador Met With Clinton’s Aides During The Presidential Campaign

Books….

This week I finished a few books, you can find my complete list here.  This week’s books were ‘Einstein’ by Walter Isaacson (interesting insight into his personal life here), Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church, by Michael Lawrence (very helpful book for preachers and teachers), Tempted and Tried, by Russell Moore (definitely worth reading for anyone going through difficulties or wanting to learn more about Jesus’ temptation in Matthew 4), The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde (a creepy, cynical, and dark classic that is instructive in several ways, if accidentally), The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, by Joseph Ellis (an invaluable book on the formation of the country’s constitution and bill of rights and government structure etc.). I also read a few Sherlock Holmes adventures, which was enjoyable. I’ve been making my way through these when I have time, and find them a nice distraction from the norm.

That’s it!  I hope you have a wonderful weekend!

PJW

 

 

 

 

Weekend Reading: March 11, 2017 Reformation Edition

Happy weekend to you from Orlando!  Kate and I have been enjoying the Ligonier National Conference. The central theme of the conference is the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. You can find video from talks already given along with the live stream on their Facebook page. 

Let me talk a bit about why I’m here in Orlando, and what it is that these people are celebrating. Ligonier’s celebration of the Reformation has not simply been a look back in time, but a look forward. With the Roman Catholic church, and some top Anglican church leaders, calling for more and more ecumenicalism (in attitude, though not in doctrine, it would seem), its important to note that the reason for the Reformation still stands today. The Catholic church organization, along with many other so-called Christian churches throughout the world, are still mired in the darkness of the dark ages. Rome still lives in the dark ages – they still abide by the Council of Trent and Vatican I, though with the attitude of Vatican II, one might say. There’s some irony in this, but you might rightly say that their theology isn’t old enough!  For they have forsaken the Bible’s teachings for centuries leading up to the Reformation, and still do so today. This grieves any Christian who reads Francis, or the 1993 catechism, or the pronouncements of Popes for the last few hundred years. Reformation is needed more than ever, and I pray that some of the light spoken from this conference and others throughout this anniversary year will vanquish the darkness of ignorance and pride and superstition that still inhabits many churches today.

Now, perhaps you think that I’m being melodramatic, or over-hyping the importance of these issues. But I think these are issues of vital importance – especially as someone with many close Catholic friends whom I dearly love. I’d challenge you to take a little time travel trip back to the days before Luther.

500 years ago, the church was a sham living in and propagating utter darkness. The one institution supposed to bring hope, joy, and truth to the earth, was preaching superstition and lies to the poor, and acting as a footstool (or worse) for the rich and powerful. Life dramatically changed all over the world for the better thanks to men like Luther, Calvin, Knox and others. How did it happen? They read the Bible. They preached the Bible. They believed the Bible, and they did so over against the opinions of men in the church who had created their own rules – their own doctrines and traditions. These non-sensical traditions and superstitions still reign in the Catholic Church today, and I’d urge anyone who doubts this, to read. Read and discover the sad truth of that situation. But most of all, read the Bible, and discover THE truth.

Where are we today? Doctrinally, nothing has changed in the Catholic Church. They never reformed their waywardness. They never recovered the gospel, and therefore ceased to be much more than a social club long ago.

That’s why we’re here in Orlando. Because theology matters, and we’d like to see truth reign on this earth.  If you’d like to listen to a few messages from the conference, then I’d recommend elders and pastors hear some encouragement from Steve Lawson on the preaching of the reformation, and that everyone listen to John MaArthur on the “non-negotiable gospel.”

If you’re of the Catholic Faith, and think that perhaps we ought to find common ground, I’d encourage you to read R.C. Sproul’s book ‘Are We Together?’. This will talk eloquently, fairly, and plainly about the differences between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism.  There are significant differences, indeed. Life and death differences.

Now…Some Articles…

While we’re on the topic!  The Pope himself made some news this week by saying he may allow priests to marry. My first thought was that perhaps the Pope read 1 Corinthians or something, but it seems that the impetus (according to news reports) has more to do with a declining clergy, and the need to expand into the pool of non-celibate folks. Generous of the Pope to (after hundreds of years) consider giving his stamp of approval on something God in his divinely inspired Word already gave approval to.  Heck, the next thing he might say is that the God’s Scriptures carry as much authority as his papal pen……..but I’m not holding my breath!

Since we’re sort of on a theology kick here, I want to draw some attention to what John MacArthur said in his sermon at this Ligonier conference last night about N.T. Wright. If you connect these dots, he’s calling Wright a false teacher. He’s not the first to bring up issues with Wright, just the latest. My friend Jack J. reminded me that Dr. Tom Schreiner had written an easy to understand refutation of Wright’s incorrect view on the imputation of Christ’s righteousness which (ironically) was posted on Ligonier’s site a few years back.  This is stuff worth considering because of how many people really admire and enjoy Wright’s past teaching.

MORE FOR THE CHURCH: Tim Keller Stepping Down as Redeemer Senior Pastor (h/t Jim B.) This is a pretty big deal, though I think Keller’s literary output is not going to slow down an iota.

Mohler spoke out on the ‘The Shack’ and the lost art of evangelical discernment. 

SATIRE: and oh, is this perfect timing: Washed-Up Actor Excited To Begin New Career In Christian Films

CULTURE: And since I have Mohler on my mind, he linked to this little piece worth tumbling around in your cranium: No, Stay At Home Moms Don’t ‘Waste’ Their Education

ART- Thank goodness for Craig’s List? The American Government Is Searching For Its Own Lost Art.  The whole time I read this I kept thinking Carl Hanratty would make a surprise appearance.

Wha??? Say it isn’t so! – The Flag Office elevator goes up and down, flying American flags in bulk “over the U.S. Capitol.” 

MILITARY: To keep an eye on: US COMMANDER SIGNALS LARGER, LONGER US PRESENCE IN SYRIA…..AND…GENERAL SAYS NO BAD DECISIONS IN YEMEN RAID, PROBE IS OVER. This was in follow up to this disappointing story: Slain SEAL’s dad wants answers: ‘Don’t hide behind my son’s death’

NOT SATIRE:  ‘Rent is Too Damn High’ Leader Running for Manhattan Council Seat as a Republican

Kinda Gross: Vets remove 915 coins from stomach of turtle named ‘piggy bank’

From the department of ‘Put that in your pipe and smoke it’: Trump Tells Planned Parenthood Its Funding Can Stay if Abortion Goes

I know this will shock you: Rapport Between Donald Trump, Barack Obama Crumbles

Somehow I forgot to post this last week, but its just too funny not to:  Which Character Are You In The Story Of David And Goliath? Take The Quiz!

That’s it for now – I hope you enjoy your weekend. And if you have any questions or thoughts about my post, or the Reformation, please send me a direct message and we’ll discuss!

PJW