Apr 01

Nature’s Case for God: A Brief Biblical Argument, by John Frame ***

This is a very short book which I was able to start and finish on the train from Tacoma to Kelli (on the way to San Diego). The book is divided into three parts, the first being the witness of the physical world, the second the conscience and the third part a discussion of natural law by the use of several letters that Frame wrote. The case of the physical world argues for the vastness, the perceived unity, the goodness, the wisdom, and God’s presence in the world. Arguing from a presuppositional basis, his arguments are that the world gives strong support for a creator God of the description found in Scripture. Regarding the argument for conscience, Frame demonstrates how conscience in its various modes truly attests to God.
A book of this sort suffers from the problem of its briefness. None of the arguments were as well developed as they should of been. I didn’t find the book in toto to be a compelling case for God save for the person who believes and needs no case for God.


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Mar 23

Schaeffer on the Christian Life: Countercultural Spirituality, by William Edgar ★★★★

My dear friend Robert Case recommended that I read some William Edgar, and I’m most happy that I followed his advice, as I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this book. I not only learned much about Francis Schaeffer, but also a bit about Bill Edgar. I had no idea that Bill became a Christian under the ministry of Schaeffer. Dr. Edgar documents his encounters with Francis Schaeffer through the years, including his work at L’Abri.

The book is divided up into three segments. The first segment is a very brief and truncated biography of Francis and Edith Schaeffer, noting only some of the most important events in Schaeffer’s life. Edgar interestingly provides insights on how Francis’s image is as much that of Edith as him. I’ve not met Francis but have met his wife and spent a moderate amount of time with her when she came to Tacoma as an invited speaker at a Pierce County Crisis Pregnancy center when I was chairman of the board. Her personality is unforgettable, and precisely what I previously considered to be that of Francis, save that I presume him to be a bit more brooding and her more vivacious. It was great to get Edgar’s view of their life and personalities.

The second section is on true spirituality. In this, Edgar mostly summarizes several books of Schaeffer, most notably True Spirituality, and showed how what Schaeffer said and how he acted were very consistent. He was genuine to the core in his speech and behavior.

The third second was about trusting God for all of life. This segment mostly closely reflected on how the Schaeffers thought and how they lived. Edgar details in a chapter how Francis and Edith spent much time in prayer. This chapter was most convicting to me, a lesson on prayer tends to be the first thing neglected in our lives. Those that truly believe that God exists and is a personal God who listens to our prayers surely would wish to spend much time speaking with Him, yet we tend to ignore this admonition. Through affliction, God forms us into the people that He wishes us to be, and Edgar shows how affliction and the Schaeffers were constant companions. Schaeffer’s view of the church in light of the problems occurring in the Presbyterian church is discussed. There is then a lengthy chapter on Schaeffer’s thoughts and behavior regarding the cultural mandate, to be citizens of the world, and to react lovingly and as a testimony with all whom we encounter.

Anyone who has read my Memoirs will realize that Schaeffer and his writings has had a major impact on my life, as few others have had (my parents, Dr. DasGupta, Pastor Rob Rayburn, and JI Packer being the others that most quickly come to mind, though many many others also had a HUGE impact on my life—in case I just happened to not mention your name!). I had read and reread all of Schaeffer’s works many times. He more definitely than anybody else is why I am here writing as a Christian person. So, I am delighted to see what an impact Dr. Schaeffer has had on so many other people in this world. In this book, you get a small taste of the remarkable character of this man and his wife. Edgar creates a highly readable picture of the man, the legend, and the giant, of whom many owe their very faith to him. This is a delightful book to read, and I can soundly recommend this book as a quick image of why Schaeffer stands so strongly in so many people’s hearts and minds.

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Mar 16

Christ Among Other Gods: A Defense of Christ in an Age of Tolerance ★★★★★

This book is a set of 12 sermons that Lutzer delivered at Moody Church a few years ago. The reading of this book is very easy as the writing is in a relaxed narrative style. Though the book is 246 pages long, it can be read in several nights sitting.

The forward by JI Packer is most interesting, in that Packer is most deeply a Reformed theologian, and yet Lutzer is dispensational and elaborates dispensational thinking in one chapter of the book, chapter 10 on the return of Christ. Yet, Lutzer also heavily quotes recent Reformed thinkers that are distinctly outside of his camp, such as BB Warfield and JG Machen, showing that both Packer and Lutzer don’t have restrictive eschatologies. In the course of this book, Lutzer tends to suggest a drift away from strict dispensational soteriology and towards a more Reformed understanding of the nature of salvation from an infralapsarian perspective (which I also hold).

This book is not a book on comparative religion, as is offered by JND Anderson. Lutzer does not detail the various religions of the world, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Animism, etc., but speaks in general terms about those religions in comparison to Christianity. Lutzer is correct that there is a very distinct gulf between all other religions and the Christian faith, making it imperative that the Christian religion be examined for its worth. Lutzer spends a chapter covering the issue of “tolerance” and the Christian perspective on tolerance. He discusses relativism—can Christians truly make absolute truth claims? The majority of chapters then delve into Christian claims, most centered around the Christ event, including his birth, his life, his authority and claims, his death, his resurrection, and ultimately, his return. In chapter 11, he addresses the claim that Christianity is unique, arguing that challenges to that uniqueness ultimately fail. In chapter 12, he calls on Christians to share the good news. We have a set of truth claims that neither Muslim, nor Buddhist, nor atheist, nor any other religion can ultimately challenge since it is based on the true creator God of the universe.

I enjoyed reading this book much because it reads so easily and provides a non-technical rational for our Christian stance in the forum of multiple religions. Also, the book was a wonderful reminder of sitting under the pulpit of Erwin Lutzer during our Chicago years. The book is a spiritual challenge to me to be bold in presenting a real, true faith to an ever more pagan world. So, I highly recommend the book to all, Christian and non-Christian alike.

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Mar 11

When A Nation Forgets God, by Erwin Lutzer ★★★★

This is a very short book of seven chapters, that can be read easily in 1-2 evenings, and represents sermons that Lutzer preached at Moody Church in Chicago. Lutzer has frequently spoken of the theme of lessons from Nazi Germany in his sermons, but in this book, the focus is entirely on how the USA is paralleling Nazi Germany in forgetting our Christian roots and marching after other drummers. The seven chapters address how our freedom of religion is slowly lost, how compromise to the Christian faith is accomplished through economic concerns, how evil laws can somehow allow moral permissiveness, how propaganda from the state tends to affect the evils we become inured to, how the state becomes the educator of our children much to both our own and our children’s detriment, and how political correctness is killing us. As a solution, Lutzer calls for ordinary heroes to stand up for the faith, and how the cross of Christ needs to be our all and total focus in life.

I had mentioned elsewhere how we enjoyed sitting under the pulpit of Erwin Lutzer, and in this review (and the next), find that reading his books brings back many memories of our time at Moody Church. Lutzer is not an expository preacher but is excellent at confronting our culture in a cry for returning to Christ and Scripture for our guidance in life. This book is recommended as an easy and enjoyable reading experience.

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Mar 08

God’s Will: Finding Guidance for Everyday Decisions, by JI Packer with help from Carolyn Nystrom ★★★★★

As a young man, I worried a lot about receiving guidance from God and was offered a potpourri of bad advice as to how to achieve that guidance. As an older man, I now am in a position of giving younger people advice as to how they might receive guidance from above. I had mentioned quite briefly in my Memoirs the modus operandi that I have used over the years in getting guidance from God which has set the course for my life. It is mostly in accordance to that found in this book. I have also reviewed a similar book on guidance written by Bruce Waltke (see 02JUL2009). His text tended to be more technical, showing that many of the ways in which Christians seek guidance from the Lord are more akin to witchcraft than to honest inquiry as to the will of God. It also is an excellent book and most worthy one’s attention.

Packer approaches finding God’s will in a similar fashion to Dr. Waltke and also John Newton, for which he has a lengthy quote at the end of his book. Starting with the 23rd Psalm, Packer acknowledges that simply by being one of God’s sheep necessitates him being your shepherd and directing your path. Packer then works through a number of issues on a chapter by chapter basis, including 1) maintaining good spiritual health, 2) paying attention to commands in Scripture as to how to live, how to walk, and how to think, 3) seeking maturity and wisdom of the Solomonic type, learning how to think wisely through problems, 4) seeking Godly counsel, consulting friends and family, 5) looking to people that model the Christian life and living accordingly. The Lord Jesus Christ stands primary as our model. 6) when it comes to major life commitments, such as a job, school, marriage, moving, etc., trusting in the Lord’s guidance knowing that God will direct your heart and mind in the way that you should go, 7) when ethical concerns cloud the situation and ethical dilemmas arise, trusting in God for wise leanings and taking care regarding the many temptations that will assault you, and 8) relying on the Holy Spirit. Packer spends careful time on speaking about the Holy Spirit, correcting mistaken ideas such as hearing a voice in your ear or seeing a vision that will direct you. As an example of how the Spirit really works, Packer suggests that the Holy Spirit has a “floodlight” ministry in illuminating a narrow segment of the “stage” that directs you in the way that you should go. Specifically, Packer notes mistakes made by “superspiritual” Christians, including a) undervaluing God’s gift of reason to you (i.e, just think things out!), b) overvaluing the role of patience and waiting on the Lord (when action should be taken), and c) programming, or putting limits, on the Holy Spirit’s work by demanding or expecting exactly how the Holy Spirit should act. Contrariwise, Packer also labors intensely in condemning the opposite extreme, which he calls the sub-spiritual extreme, where a Christian does just the opposite of the three points above, with point c) being that of expecting nothing from the Holy Spirit.

The book is an excellent read, and worthy of any Christian interested in walking according to God’s will. Packer writes in a very pastoral fashion, and reading his books is almost identical to listening to him. I believe that many of his books are exactly that, lectures or talks that have been transcribed. Packer has the ability to take the most complex theological ideas and make them simple. In addition, Packer never ceases from emphasizing that theology demands both praise and practice, walking joyfully and thankfully in His ways. I would recommend this book to any interested reader.

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Feb 24

The Everlasting Way: A Study in Psalm 139, by E.J. Young ★★★★★

This book is a short Banner of Truth publication authored by Ed Young, who provides each chapter with a verse by verse interpretation and elaboration on Psalm 139. As stated in the back cover review, Young is the prince of conservative Old Testament scholars. He was one of the giants in academic theology that left Princeton Theological Seminary to found Westminster Theology Seminary, which also included J. Gresham Machen and Cornelius VanTil, all of whom are heroes of mine. Using both his skills in Hebrew and Aramaic languages, Young provides not only insightful but a greatly devotional reflection on the greatness of God in this Psalm.

Many use Psalm 139 as an anti-abortion statement, or as a ponderous statement about predestination. While it is both of those, neither abortion or predestination is a theme of this Psalm. Rather, it is a reflection on the complete transcendence and yet immanence of our God. It is a God who is wholly other, yet is imminentely with us, with His hand on us. We never can escape His presence, and we can never know something that God doesn’t already know.

David longs to identify with the morality of God, to hate what God hates, to love what God loves, to have the same enemies as God, and to cherish what God cherishes. Since God is intimate with us, knowing our thoughts before we know them, David desires God to search his thoughts, and lead him on an everlasting way.

Young skillfully offers many alternative interpretations to the text, especially where the Hebrew language is not so certain in its translation. Young, as a true Biblical scholar, is able to quickly demolish any liberal thinking, such as the idea that Psalm 139 was actually written long after King David since there are Aramaicisms in the Psalm. Truly, Young’s desire is to be first and foremost a Biblical scholar, holding the Scripture up as infallible and its own best interpreter, and demonstrates what is so often missing in the new generation of conservative Bible scholarship.

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Feb 14


Reading Genesis Well: Navigating History, Poetry, Science, and Truth in Genesis 1-11, by C. John Collins ★★★★

I had purchased this book from Amazon last November when it just came out, but finally have found the time to read it. I know Jack Collins, and have enjoyed the other books that he has written. Thus, my interest in reading this text.

The title strikes me as a bit offensive. Reading Genesis well? Haven’t we read it well in the past? Is this book offering us the new definitive manner of “reading” Genesis? Is there some novel hermeneutic technique that we will be discovering in the course of this book? Do we read the book of Genesis differently than we read the remainder of Scripture? Is this book a rebuttal of liberal scholarship? Is it a caving in to liberal scholarship? Has Dr. Collins discovered a new version of Joseph Smith’s Urim and Thummin, a translation stone which some angel dude gave to him? Collins answers most of my more critical questions in the text of this book.

Dr. Collins starts his text in full speed. The initial discussion centers around historical literary criticism of the text. I’ve not heard of either Jowett or the 19th century literalists, and know about James Barr but unfamiliar with his attempts at literary theory. Neither does Dr. Collins give a summary of the issues at stake, so I’m left in the dark. In the subsequent chapters, Collins takes a literary critical approach to the first 11 chapters of Genesis, discussing how different literary approaches might lead to different ends in the interpretation of Genesis. Collins avoids the strict approaches which have been taken in the past, such as defining the genre of a literary piece (is a segment of Scripture poetry, strict history, allegory, etc., etc.). As a take-off of CS Lewis, he asks questions regarding the text audience, how they would have seen the world and what they would have taken the text to mean, and how the author might have intended his text to be interpreted by the reader.

In later chapters, Collins works through the pericopes of early Genesis, offering solutions to their interpretation. He then discusses issues of competing thoughts, such as, whether the formation of man was by strict evolution, theistic evolutionism, young earth creationism, and the many variants that fall between. Helpful is Collin’s insistence on differentiating one’s world view (the overall concept of God creating the world) vs one’s world picture (the notion of how we picture the world in our mind at this time). In ancient times, the world was pictured phenomenologically, but then, don’t we still describe our world in mostly phenomenologic terms?

I end up with an ultimate question—how has Collins helped our understanding of early Genesis? Is this a radical new approach to interpretation that Collins offers in this book, or is it a new cloak for traditional means of Genesis interpretation? Several concerns come to mind. Most contemporary authors offer interpretations of early Genesis that are overly concerned with maintaining concordance with the current state of science. Perhaps this approach is brutally chronologically arrogant, offering “science” to high of place in our thinking of Scripture. Do we really think that science has given us a substantive grasp on the nature of the universe, when all of our past ancestors lived in darkness? When science changes, will our hermeneutic change? I don’t say this critical of science, because I am myself a scientist and have a respect for what we’ve learned about the world, yet I also have a cautionary approach for the certain-to-be scientific paradigm shifts that will alter our “view” of Genesis.

Collins is correct that we must not read Genesis from a scientific perspective, especially since the ancient Hebrews did not think with the scientific context that we think. He is also correct that the various pericopes of early Genesis cannot be labeled as strictly poetry or history. Even if they were labeled as history, the Hebrews would have viewed history in a different fashion from the Greeks. So, what do we do with the stories of early Genesis? Is it even necessary to provide a contemporary answer to every story in Genesis that seems to clash with “modern” science? My personal approach tends to be more VanTilian, in that our approach to Scripture must allow that God’s word provides the interpretive framework for seeing the world, rather than our own framework as forming the structure for interpreting Scripture.

I provide a simple example of where I’m left swimming, in terms of interpreting Scripture. Using the first chapter of Genesis, I agree with Collins that the primary intention of the author was to offer the reader a world view, that of God being the creator ex nihilo of all things. Yet, I can’t leave it at that. Is Genesis 1 poetry? It doesn’t read like poetry! Is it history? It doesn’t read perfectly like history! Is it allegory? Perhaps, but then I can’t explain why the author structured the creation narrative in the manner that he did, giving a deception of some sort of historical event. Other events provide very similar questions. God forming Adam out of the dust of the earth; the fall; Adam and Eve being cast out of the garden; the garden????; civilization during the time of Cain and Abel; the flood; the tower of Babel; all of these offer questions as to the nature and extent of what really took place, that only imperfect solutions are available. If readers up to the contemporary epoch had it totally wrong and we’ve just now figured that out, that seems to do discredit God as being a terrible communicator, yet He is the ultimate author of Scripture. Perhaps God messed up???? Do we need to be specialized in literary criticism and ancient languages to grasp the new principles of interpretation of Genesis? If so, then we are trashing the doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture. Maybe the Pope was right, that only he and a few of his closest buddies had a grasp on interpreting Scripture—except that Protestants have exchanged the pope for people in academia. I don’t know what to think here in terms of where Collins is eventually taking us. I don’t think that Collins would be willing to offer an ultimate statement on precisely what happened in space/time during the accounts delineated in Genesis 1-11. It is not that Collins has failed, it is that nobody will probably be able to generate a true final statement while we spend our time on earth.

I have enjoyed reading Jack’s book. He writes well. He is very provocative to the thought processes, and I appreciate that. Not being a literary theorist, or even a theologian, I might have missed a bit of Dr. Collins thesis, and he might read this review wondering what kind of bozo missed some of the fundamental points of his text. Oh well. I will persist in remaining somewhat of a creation agnostic, clinging mostly to the emphasis that Genesis provides a Weltanschauung. When I encounter young earthers, I acknowledge that perhaps they are correct. When I encounter old earthers (which I tend to prescribe to), I acknowledge that they might be correct. When I encounter theistic evolutionists, I pray to God that He would forgive their heresy and unbelief in Scripture.

Which brings me to a point. Perhaps more time needs to be spent at “fencing” in orthodoxy, and defining the boundaries from which a person might go “off the edge” in terms of believing Scripture. Where do we draw the line on the interpretation of Genesis where we accuse the interpreter of unbelief in the text? I’m not a theologian, and will leave that to Dr. Collins to work on.

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Jan 01

The New Year is a good time to reflect on life, including the past, present and future. This New Year brings particular note, in that it is the first year I enter as a retired person soon to be on Medicare and social security, and making the transitions in life that are ultimately an end to a long journey. It remains a mystery as to how long the ending will be. I could die as I write this piece (okay, I’ve finished this piece, and remain alive), or I could live to be past 100. If I had my choice, I’d live for a full but short life, rather than a long life.

In the past month, Betsy (my wife) and I have purchased our funeral arrangements, caskets (the cheapest wood casket on the market!) and burial plot with stone—the only absence from the headstone is the dates of our death, and that’s something that only God knows. Funeral preparations remind one how fleeting life is. As I look back on life, I cannot help but think that it is but for the grace of God that Betsy and I are still here, more madly in love than ever, and yet so different from each other. We’ve had some very difficult times in life, though the blessings have been so much greater, and it overwhelms any of the trials we may have had to bear. I know of a certain that I could not have made it without her, and I don’t think any other person in the world could have filled her shoes.

This coming year offers some exciting times for us. 1. We have to figure out how to do Medicare. We’ve already applied for social security, which will start in March. 2. I am very busy making preparations, including planning, packaging resupply mailers and doing training hikes, for my 2650 mile walk on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) which runs in the mountains, through desert, and follows the Sierra Nevada and Cascade ranges from Mexico to Canada. I face it realistically, and realize that it may end up being nothing but a section hike, but it is a dream that I will pursue until circumstances possibly prove otherwise. 3. Betsy begins a year of babysitting our youngest grandchild Rachel, daughter of Sarah. This little Fleischklopps is cuter than cute, and a precious little kiddo. 4. Our youngest daughter Diane graduates from Nurse Practitioner school with a doctorate in nursing. We are so proud of her. I call her a “noctor” (not a doctor), but I feel comfortable that Diane is brighter than many of the doctors that I know. She will do well. 5. We celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary on 20OCT. I’m not sure what we will do. Betsy and I love to go to Jamaica to vacation, but this year is something special that I will leave undecided for now. 6. Reading… I have a veritable stack of books that need to be read by me. I love reading history, and have large volumes awaiting on the founding fathers and civil war era. I really want to get back into Herman Bavinck’s magisterial four volume work in systematic theology, titled Reformed Dogmatics. Ever since I took a systematic theology class from JI Packer, I have had a love for reading through systematic theology texts. Bavinck’s is the most challenging one I’ve encountered. 7. Getting back into long-distance cycling. I’ve taken a short pause from cycling in order to be prepared for the PCT, but have an endearing love for cycle touring. 8. Refreshing my language studies. I have taken German, Russian, French, and Chinese in my life. I no longer have an interest in Russian, and Chinese is interesting but maybe a little too challenging to pick up. I’m reasonably good at German but would like to become semi-fluent. I’m passable in French, but would like to be better. Some day, I’d like to hike the Camino de Santiago with Betsy, and so would maybe want to learn passable Spanish. 9. Trying to spend a little time a day practicing my trumpet. 10. Possibly start writing a Memoirs. My father wrote a short book on the history of his life, at the behest of us children of his. It was awesome. It may be perhaps time to do the same, before my memory fails me too badly. 11. Last, but definitely the most important, I would like to have this year as more consecrated to my Lord Jesus Christ, more devoted to His word, more diligent to walk in His ways, and more eager to have entire being, thought, word, and deed centered around Scripture and obedience to Him. Soli Deo Gloria

The things that we love tend to be our motivation for doing things in life, and there are three things that I identify that seem to be my loves, and motivation for still living. They are listed in order of my priorities.

1. Scriptures —I’d offer a lengthy quote or perhaps wax eloquent here, but perhaps the best statement is to encourage the dear reader to just go over Psalm 119. May I also regard God’s word as more important than silver and gold and everything else most precious to me.

2. Family and friends. First and foremost is my wife Betsy. We have been together nearly forty years now. We’ve had our hard times and good times. We’ve had fights, but most overwhelmingly, we’ve had cherished moments of loving each other, ravishing each other, enjoying each other, and pleasing each other. I could not think of another person who could better fit me as a lover, friend, helpmate, advisor, companion, support, wife, mother, grandmother or human being. She truly has been a gift from God to me. My children, all four of them, have been the joy of my life. The grief and trials they have brought us pales in the light of all the joy they have given us. I am grateful that they all are Christian, and have been very successful in life. Plus, they have given us the most adorable grandchildren. It is now Opa’s (grandpa’s) duty to teach them to walk rightly and to help them enjoy life. I wish to have special time taking each one separately backpacking and on outings. My siblings also have been a delight. Now with retirement, I am able to make better contact with them, and it is wonderful to be able to enjoy their fellowship once again. I think long about many of my current and past friends and the change of year causes one to focus particularly on past friends. One would love to be in perpetual contact with them, yet it is humanly impossible. Sadly, I have many past friends, all of which are cherished by me, and often thought of. The words from a wonderful song “Blest be the ties that binds” come to mind “When we asunder part, it gives us inward pain; but we shall still be joined in heart, and hope to meet again.” My pastor has been a source of strength and encouragement, a soul coach, but also a good friend. On a slightly darker note, I also think of what I would call false-friends—those friends who were friends in appearance only, but then revealed their true self, who used you, who gained your trust, only to mislead and betray your trust. They are the Judas’s in one’s life. Even King David had such experiences, and reflects on it in Psalms 55,

For it is not an enemy who taunts me—
then I could bear it;
it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me—
then I could hide from him.
But it is you, a man, my equal,
my companion, my familiar friend.
We used to take sweet counsel together;
within God’s house we walked in the throng.

Memory of these false-friends sometimes bring deep grief and sleepless nights, wondering why a person would act and behave the way they did. I’m thankful that there have been few of these in my life. I truly pray that I have not been a false friend to anybody else.

3. Nature. This is my Father’s world! The heaven’s declare the glory of God, and the firmament His handiwork. God has given me the strength and capability to delight in his world, and I will do that to the fullest possible. From the seashore to the desert to the mountains, all are wonderful. My favorite spot is in the mountains. I will lift up my eyes to the hills, from where my help comes. My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. Whether on a bicycle, on foot, or in a car, I love adventuring into wilderness. It is my best chance to reflect, meditate, and wonder over the goodness of our God. soli deo gloria! 

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Dec 15

He
33 Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes;
and I will keep it to the end.
34 Give me understanding, that I may keep your law
and observe it with my whole heart.
35 Lead me in the path of your commandments,
for I delight in it.
36 Incline my heart to your testimonies,
and not to selfish gain!
37 Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things;
and give me life in your ways.
38 Confirm to your servant your promise,
that you may be feared.
39 Turn away the reproach that I dread,
for your rules are good.
40 Behold, I long for your precepts;
in your righteousness give me life! ESV

OK, I’ve spent the last month, reading and re-reading multiple times over Psalm 119. It seems to be one of the most neglected Psalms in Scripture, except for a few choice verses. There are hidden gems in this Psalm that misses inattentive readers.  Here is an example of progression in faith in God in the segment titled He. Note particularly…

33 “Teach me”  Faith demands knowledge, knowledge that requires active interaction of the Almighty. You can’t have faith in God without knowledge, gained by spending time in Scripture and prayer. 
34 “Give me understanding” You know the facts, you know the Bible, you know the teachings, statutes and ways of the Lord. Head knowledge must then lead to a deeper understanding. What do the statutes of the Lord really mean? Jesus Christ in the sermon on the Mount provided a wonderful example by taking various of the 10 commandments, and showing their full implications, eg, you shall not kill implies not hating your brother, neighbor, or enemy. 
35 “Lead me” So you now understand the ways of the Lord, but do you DO them? Walking in the way is much different that just knowing it. 
36 “Incline my heart” You are now doing the commands of God out of duty, but do you really delight in His commands? Do you cherish them above all things, above riches and silver and gold? 
37 “Turn my eyes from… worthless things” Maturity demands focus, and focus on the Lord and His ways need to be a total preoccupation of our hearts and lives. This takes time!
38 “Confirm …your promise”. Everybody wishes for instant confirmation, proof that the Lord is good and worth serving. The Lord confirms in His own time. It is not evil to ask the Lord to confirm Himself, but it is evil to demand a time schedule of Him
39 “Turn away the reproach” Anybody truly walking with God will come under reproach. It should be an assumption rather than an exception. But, David shows that it is not evil to ask for relief from this reproach.
40 “Behold I long for your precepts” This is the statement of a mature man of God. Do we constantly long for God in every moment in our lives? Do we see that walking in God’s ways is the most wonderful thing in the world. Sadly, we reach that phase, and then we die.

Or, we go on to reading the next section of Psalm 119, waw. Psalm 119:he is a wonderful illustration of maturity in our Lord. May be all grasp His teachings in this wonderful Psalm. 

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Dec 05

Esther & Trump, by Robert Case ★★★★★

This book is the result of a series of Sunday School lessons of which I most fortunate to be a participant. I know Robert well, and would consider him a dear friend. (He might not consider me the same after reading my review!) Perhaps the reader may consider my review as heavily biased, but I have attempted to remain as objective as possible, and thus will also include criticisms of the book. Robert is a compelling speaker and writer, leaving one spell-bound when hearing or reading him. This book was a delight to read, and offered fresh perspectives on Esther. True, it is now trendy to offer fresh perspectives on biblical themes, such as the new perspectives on Paul, Genesis, Jesus, or Isaiah, just to name a few. Where I find most of these new perspectives to be dull and unoriginal if not patently heretical, the same is not true of Robert’s “new perspective” on Esther. He offers a perspective of the book of Esther which is not offensive to a mindset that holds Scripture to be the directly inspired word of God. 

The first several chapters of the book outline the historical context of Esther, mostly by detailing the lineage of Kings of Persia from the fall of Babylon through to Alexander the Great. The character and historical details of Xerxes is elaborated, which is most important in understanding the book of Esther. 

Subsequent chapters offer a textual commentary of the book of Esther. In this section, Robert manages to illuminate aspects of the text which are very clear but completely missed, as we traditionally read the book of Esther with our eyes wide shut. The character of Esther  is shown for what it really is—a person without sexual moral principles, and willing to break the laws of the Torah to achieve her own end. She is NOT a role model of virtue. But then, neither is the Jewish community living in Persia, where their sins are also laid bare. With the absence of narrative evaluative judgements as seen in all other Scripture, we miss those details that Robert Case is able to illuminate. Particularly evil was Mordecai in administrating the slaughter of all of the known enemies of the Jews, which is a story that would best be found in the book of Judges, everybody doing what was right in their own eyes. There is good reason why Esther is not portrayed as a model of faith in Hebrews, even though other quite sinful people like Samson and Gideon are mentioned. 

Toward the end of the book of Esther & Trump, Robert attempts to make a plea for the political nature of this book. He is correct that it is a book laden with politics, in that the story centers around the King (Xerxes) and his appointed officials (Mordecai and Haman, as well as other unnamed personnel). Referring to the Jews in Persia as “the church”, it is made to seem that Mordecai and Esther serve as representative agents of the church. This unfortunately is an extrapolation of the text rather than an overt claim, as we don’t really have a clue how involved Esther and Mordecai were with the Jewish community. If they were highly involved, then they show the Jewish “church” to be quite wayward. There is too much not mentioned in the book to allow strong conclusions to be made. 

Perhaps Esther really is included as a part of the canon of Scripture as a lesson in politics, as Robert claims. Yet, it is troubling that the absence of evaluative judgements leave the reader puzzled as to what amounts to proper interactions of the church and state, rather than to simply have the church infiltrating the state government. Perhaps brought to mind by me is another book I have read in the distant past, the Politics of Jesus, by John Howard Yoder. In the Politics of Jesus, Yoder effectually demonstrates the strong political nature of Jesus and his teachings. With the aspect of pacifism aside (which Yoder does a very poor job defending), there is a strong reason why even the teachings of Jesus offer the Christian or Jew a reason to interact if not participate in a political fashion with the state. Certainly, Case makes a good case from Esther for Christian involvement with state functions. 

The book has problems. There are many typographical errors, way too many sidebar distractions, and arguments on the political nature of the book of Esther which I think could have been better developed. Most distracting though was the title of the book. The book title is misfit, in that Trump is barely spoken of, except in passing toward the very end of the book. Are we to think of Trump as a form of Xerxes? If so, why was Obama not chosen as a far better choice, or Bush, or Clinton, all of which in many ways share more of Xerxes’ characteristics than Trump? If God was obscure in the Esther text, well, so is Trump, and I fail to see a connection between Trump and the politics of Persia. For such a seminal and needed text on Esther, this commentary truly deserves a more fitting title. 

In spite of problems, Esther & Trump still deserves a five star rating. There is great scholarship, brilliance in thinking, and illumination of the text in a way that is perfectly clear once one opens their eyes to what is plainly in the text. Case provides some hints as to why Esther was included in the canon of Scripture. To that end, I highly recommend Biblical scholars to give this book a fair reading.

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