December 30, 2020

Review: Geronimo's Story of His Life by Geronimo


Geronimo's Story of His LifeGeronimo's Story of His Life by Goyahkla Geronimo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a great look through the eyes of a famous warrior into like in the Southwest circa 1840-1900. Also gave you a peek into the mind of a man devoted to a people and a place.

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December 29, 2020

What is Preaching?

Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash
 There is a helpful book review/essay over at the site St. Eutychus, on the nature of preaching. Here's a brief excerpt:

"Do I do my job best locked away in an office with the Bible and some commentaries open, typing into a word processor for 30 hours a week, or do I do my best listening to the wisdom of the body talking to others, with the Bible open, and thinking through how the passage best speaks to the diversity of people in the body, and to the world in a way that makes what is being said plausible and engaged, rather than detached and idiosyncratic. Let’s take Paul’s metaphor of the body seriously; and metaphorically — a metaphor is not an exaggeration of the true state of affairs, but an accessible simplification — a sign that points to a greater reality — a ‘simplification’ you use to make something more complex understandable… so when Paul speaks of the church as a body we’re not meant to think he’s over-applying the reality of our union (with Christ, by the Spirit), but pointing to a deeper mystery. And we might, to use Paul’s metaphor, understand preaching — as in the spoken word in the gathering — as the act of the body’s mouth; when my mouth speaks it is connected to my brain, powered by my lungs, informed by my eyes and ears… and representative of the rest of me (and my actions) if my words have integrity."

It's a long piece, but very well worth your time if you are a preacher, or interested in what preaching is all about: https://st-eutychus.com/2017/what-is-preaching-a-conversation-with-sam-chans-preaching-as-the-word-of-god/ 

December 24, 2020

God With Us

 This is a sermon from our Christmas Eve Service at Remsen Bible, I pray it is a blessing to you!







God With Us

Matthew 1:18-25, Remsen Bible Fellowship Christmas Eve Service, 12/24/2020

Text:

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,

and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.



Introduction:

The story is so familiar to us that we can miss the gravity of what’s at play. A young Jewish couple are betrothed to be married. It’s probably been planned for some time, and they are eagerly anticipating the day. And then Joseph gets the awful news. Mary is pregnant. She has betrayed him. His plans for the future on hold, probably deeply hurt and angry. And now he holds her life in his hands. If this becomes public knowledge, that Joseph has had to go through the divorce process with his bride to be because she has broken her vows to him, it would destroy her life. He lays in bed, contemplating these things. No, destroying her and bringing her to public shame would be wrong. Do justice, but love mercy. Joseph is a righteous man. He cannot move forward with this relationship and stain his good name, but he doesn’t need to drag her through the mud. He’ll put her away quietly. A quick, simple divorce. The facts are clear.


Disruption:

As Joseph contemplates this all in his bed, finally sorting things out in his mind and drifting to sleep, God sends a disruption. And that disruption is in the form of an angel of the Lord, a messenger sent from on high. God’s message is clear: do not fear to take Mary as your wife. That’s awful bold! Doesn’t God know the rumors that will fly? But the truth is more important than the rumors, and the truth is this: That which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. God has miraculously, inexplicably, created a life inside the womb of this young virgin. This would be a jarring message in itself. But I want to think about the rest of this message from the angel, because as hard to comprehend as a virgin birth may be, the rest of what he says is just as amazing.


Deliverer:

First note that the angel calls Joseph a Son of David. That’s important, because David is the king by whom all kings of Israel are measured. And while Joseph is his descendant, this carpenter probably doesn’t go around thinking about kingship. That’s not how he would be seen or how he saw himself. But the angel opens this way, because David received a promise of an eternal king to reign on his throne. And Joseph is about to find out that his David lineage is going to play a key role in that story.


The angel then tells Joseph that the child to be born Mary is to be named Jesus. Jesus. The Greek form of the Hebrew Joshua or Yeshua: Yahweh Saves. The name of the leader who delivered the people into the promised land, conquering the foes who would stand against them. So this child is to be a mighty deliverer like Joshua of old? Will he save us from the Romans? No, here is a different type of deliverer: this Jesus will save his people from their sins. There is an enemy bigger than the Egyptians, the Caananites, the Amalekites, the Moabites, the Amorites, the Assyrians, the Philistines, the Babylonians, the Romans, or whoever it is you fear in this world today. The enemy to worry about is the enemy that lives within you, condemning you before a Holy God: your sin. But Jesus came to save his people from their sins.


Who are his people? Certainly Joseph would have thought of the Jewish people when he heard these words. But even as Matthew is writing he is hinting that Jesus’ people include more than the ethnic children of Abraham. In verses 3-6, we find 4 women in the genealogy of Jesus. Each has their own interesting background, but they hold one thing in common: their outsider, Gentile status. Tamar is a gentile, Rahab is a gentile, Ruth is a gentile, and Bathsheba was married to Uriah, a Hittite gentile. The new people of Jesus, those saved by Jesus from their sins, will not be identified by their physical lineage. They will be identified by this: trusting that Jesus is the Savior they need.


Decision:

Note the other name we see for this child, this time from a quotation out of Isaiah 7: Immanuel. Matthew gives us a translation for this name: God with us. Do you see your need for God to come save you? That’s where each of us stands on our own, the whole world lying in the power of the evil one, each one of us in the grip of sin. But Jesus came into this world to be the One who would save us. God the Son, the Eternal Word of the Father, took on human flesh and dwelt among us. Eternal God, lying in a manger. Incarnating not as some royal prince or priest, but coming and dwelling for nine months in the womb of an unknown, obscure virgin.


If this all sounds far fetched, that’s understandable. Why would God so care for us? We are left in the same place as Joseph: there is a decision to be made. Joseph had to choose: would he trust the message of the angel, believe that Mary was honest and that this was God’s son whom he was to raise? Believe that God was breaking into the world to save his people from their sins? He made the choice to trust. He obeyed the voice of the angel, took Mary as his wife, and named the boy Jesus. That same Jesus lived a perfect life, the life Joseph couldn’t live. And he died a horrible death on a Roman cross, bearing the weight of Joseph’s sins. And he rose from the dead, guaranteeing new life for Joseph, deliverance from those greatest of enemies, sin, death, and the wrath of God.


Will you receive that same gift this Christmas? Will you trust Jesus, and receive him as your Immanuel? Let every heart prepare him room.

December 23, 2020

Review: On Reading Well by Karen Swallow Prior


On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life Through Great BooksOn Reading Well: Finding the Good Life Through Great Books by Karen Swallow Prior
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Prior engages the classical virtues and their role in our lives via a discussion of great literature and the role it can play in shaping said virtues with us.


I was a little worried that this would simply be a collection of book reports, as it were, but was pleased to find more. Swallow has thought deeply about each of these virtues, and so is interacting not only with the chosen book for each chapter, but also theology, philosophy, and ethics.

The entire book is worth reading. However, if you're on the fence, and happen to be one of those dinosaurs who likes to walk through a Barnes and Noble and thumbing through a book before purchasing, read the chapter on Kindness. It's worth the price of the volume.


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December 18, 2020

Shut Up and Listen


 "A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion." Proverbs 18:2


We live in a day when the right to self expression, codified in America by our constitutional right to free speech, is not seen as something you are simply entitled to. Expressing what is happening to you and in you at any given moment is not something we are only allowed to do in our social media age, but is considered a positive virtue. How does this line up with Proverbs?


The writer in Proverbs 18:2 seems less enamored with free expression than the typical modern American. In fact, the free expression of one's opinion is juxtaposed, held up against and contrasted with, finding pleasure in understanding. Whereas the dispenser of this biblical wisdom might give advice that sounds like an old school dad- "you have two ears and one mouth, use them in that proportion" - the modern individual, who sees self-expression as the highest ideal, might counter - "ah, yes, but I have seven social media accounts. Who has time for using their ears?"


Of course the one who freely expresses their thoughts is doubly doomed, and the Sage of Proverbs knows this. First of all, to go freely venting your thoughts will make you look the fool, thus he gives advice to bridle your tongue in chapter 17. "Whoever restrains his words has knowledge [...] Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent." (v27a, 28). Subtext: if he opens those lips the sea of his folly will burst forth. And even the man already acquainted with knowledge knows better than to think he always has something to say.


And if you want to learn, to acquire knowledge (the highest of goals, see Proverbs 1:1-7), it is going to involve a lot of shutting your mouth-or restraint from typing-and instead listening. You have to shut up in order to listen to others and, as James 1:19-21 would say, you have to shut up to hear from God.

December 16, 2020

Review: Mansfield's Book of Manly Men by Stephen Mansfield


Mansfield's Book of Manly Men: An Utterly Invigorating Guide to Being Your Most Masculine SelfMansfield's Book of Manly Men: An Utterly Invigorating Guide to Being Your Most Masculine Self by Stephen Mansfield
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After listening to an interview with Mansfield, I commented to my wife that this book sounded interesting, and she purchased it for me. I was disappointed. His telling of biblical stories (all the stories, actually) is thin. Not in a cliff notes, skip-the-fluff way, either. Lots of froth and extra words and not enough actual narrative.

That said, I learned about a couple of guys I was previously unaware of. There are some good quotes. And he reproduces a few poems that will hopefully spark the interest of a few readers.

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December 09, 2020

Review: The Gospel Comes with a House Key by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield


The Gospel Comes with a House KeyThe Gospel Comes with a House Key by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Read it. Be convicted. Be moved to laughter and tears. Maybe argue a few points. But most of all, learn and apply.

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December 02, 2020

Review: The Superstition of Divorce by G.K. Chesterton


The Superstition of DivorceThe Superstition of Divorce by G.K. Chesterton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The original articles toward the front are typically brilliant Chesterton. The chapters he adds in addition to the original articles are good, though perhaps a bit tedious in comparison.

The thing I found primarily fascinating was less his arguments, and more the fact that he saw this as a problem 100 years ago, at a time which many of a conservative bent today look back upon as some sort of golden age. But modernity and its individualism at the expense of the family was already doing the destructive work which we now see in fuller fruition.

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November 25, 2020

Review: The Meateater Fish and Game Cookbook by Steven Rinella


The Meateater Fish and Game Cookbook: Recipes and Techniques for Every Hunter and AnglerThe Meateater Fish and Game Cookbook: Recipes and Techniques for Every Hunter and Angler by Steven Rinella
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The recipes are good, the introductions to different varieties of game and how to properly butcher are educational, and the photography is beautiful. Worthy of a place on your coffee table, if you weren't busy using it in the kitchen.

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November 18, 2020

Review: The Coaching Habit by Michal Bungay Stanier


The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead ForeverThe Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever by Michael Bungay Stanier
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a thin, very broken up book. It reads a little like a coaching seminar. So if you're looking for a long book with lots of careful argumentation and footnotes, this isn't for you.

However, if you're looking for a quick and easy read with some solid takeaways, then Stanier has written a helpful little manual for you. I personally struggle in conversation, due largely to what he calls the Advice Monster. I want to jump in and speak, rather than asking follow up questions and drilling down where the other person is coming from, in pursuit of helping them come to their own conclusions. He offers helpful tools to combat that tendency.

Also, as a tool tip, all 7 questions are listed on page 200. Might want to dog-ear that page for future reference.

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November 11, 2020

Review: Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor by D.A. Carson


Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor: The Life and Reflections of Tom CarsonMemoirs of an Ordinary Pastor: The Life and Reflections of Tom Carson by D.A. Carson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As a bivocational, small-town church planter, this was hugely encouraging. Tom Carson, and many men like him over the centuries, labored in relative obscurity. Often having little observable success. But God sees their labors, and as the writer to the Hebrews says, he is not so unjust as to forget them. So keep reading your Bible, ministering to people with that Bible, and trust that the Lord who sent you will work. Be faithful to the end. May the Lord raise up more men like this in our day.

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Speak No Evil

Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. Titus 3:1-2

The World We're In

We're coming, as a nation, out of the most contentious election cycle in a number of years. While negative ads and trying to make it seem like voting for the other side would be an awful idea are nothing new, this year did seem to elevate the level of rancor that we've seen, at least compared to elections that I've observed (which reaches back to Clinton/Dole, 24 years ago).

But while this tactics are certainly nothing new, it seemed the volume was pushed up to eleven this year. Part of that, undoubtedly, was that fact that this is 2020. The year of coronavirus, the year of shutdowns and a massive economic downturn, the year of rising deaths and the burden of facing all this trauma disconnected from so many we know and love. If you voted for Trump, you were for his horrible COVID response and you may as well be a murderer. If you voted for Biden, you were trying to shut down small businesses and starve the small business owner and his family. Or so the narratives went (and continue to go). 

And of course, it wasn't just at the top of the ballot. Here in Iowa we had what was expected to be a close Senate race (though it turned out to not to be). So we were bombarded in every way, TV, radio, Youtube, traditional mailed flyers. All proclaiming the various virtues and horrors of Theresa Greenfield and Joni Ernst. But do you know what my 7 year old was able to identify, that I fear many adults miss? That all this advertisement is so much smoke, no actual information is being conveyed, and so it's useless to listen to any of it if you want to know the truth. That wasn't quite her wording. I believe the exact statement she made to her little brothers was, "don't listen boys, they're saying opposite things so we can't tell which is telling the truth." 

And she's exactly right. Of course the unhidden secret in all political advertising is that it depends on lies, half-truths, and painting things in such a way as to make your opponent seem as awful as possible. There is no sense in which politicians are out there seeking to uphold what Jesus calls the second greatest commandment: Love your neighbor as yourself.

How Ought Christians Speak?

Into this reality busts a passage like Titus 3:1-2. Paul there tells believers to speak evil of no one. Did he just mean the people who look like you or vote like you? If so, would he really have needed to make a point of saying this? No, Paul says to speak evil of no one, because he knows we are often out to make ourselves look better by putting others down. It gives us a feeling of moral superiority. And that is a dangerous feeling in political discourse, because it moves the conversation from "I disagree with you, and here's why" to "you are a bad person, because of your evil intentions. You monster." 

I wish how I described that was exaggerative. But I feel I may have muted how vile our discourse has become. 

As a Christian, of course, this sort of thing should never surprise me. A youth pastor friend of mine called it "the world being the world." And this is apt. But what does disturb me is when the world is setting the tone and agenda for those inside the church. Brothers and sisters, it should not be so.

Speak evil of no one. That doesn't mean we fail to call evil ideas evil. It doesn't mean that we don't speak out against injustice. Far from it, if someone if walking in sin the role of the Christian is often to clearly speak the truth in love. In love. Because both truth and love find their source in God, you can't actually have a truthless love or a loveless truth. The absence of one diminishes the other. And so when we are told to speak evil of no one we are being called to treat others as if they are what they are: image bearers of God. Those who have been made in God's likeness (James 3:9). Even if we have profound disagreements with a person we are never given license to speak in a way that is derisive, that mars to truth to our advantage, or seeks to unfairly score points. Speak evil, speak falsehood, speak unfounded accusations of no one.

November 04, 2020

Review: Peace Like a River by Leif Enger


Peace Like a RiverPeace Like a River by Leif Enger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a book I had picked up for dirt cheap when a book store I shopped was going out of business and the owner was begging me to fill bags with books. It then say on my shelf neglected and always perilously close to becoming the victim of one of my occasional book purges, until I ran across a few reviews that led me to think I ought to give it a read.

Very glad I did.

The story had me gripped, and Enger's prose moves between good and very good. My heart was often tugged, and I felt every jarring blow to the back that Reuben Land takes. We'll worth your time.

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October 28, 2020

Review: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain


The Adventures of Tom SawyerThe Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The obvious issues that a 21st century reader will have with Twain: racism, sexist stereotypes, etc. But, man, that dude was funny. With an uncanny knack for capturing human nature, especially the nature of boyhood. It moves a little slow at points, but if you like to laugh this is worth your while.

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October 21, 2020

Review: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass


Narrative of the Life of Frederick DouglassNarrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Douglass was a compelling writer with a powerful story. The temptation for our day is to look backwards and to say, how could do many people have acted in such an evil way. But to quote a recent George Will column, it wasn't hard. Human nature is bent toward such evil, and the evil if today simply takes a different form. But we should be genuinely thankful that the forms of Douglass' day are seen for the genuine hellishness that was present.

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October 14, 2020

Review: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain


A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's CourtA Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It's Twain, so there is plenty of humor, some of it side splitting. The satiric treatment of slavery deftly brings forth the folly not only of the institution, but of the underlying racism.

It is also a somewhat tedious book. The lists (which Twain can use to great humor, as in Roughing It) got a little out of hand at times.

A good audiobook option to laugh away a commute or job where listening to books is an option.

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October 07, 2020

Review: On All Sides Nowhere by William Gruber


On All Sides Nowhere: Building a Life in Rural IdahoOn All Sides Nowhere: Building a Life in Rural Idaho by William Gruber
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is part memoir, part American History, part anthropology, and part philosophy. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

As someone who grew up driving and hiking around Alder Creek and living at the foot of the Benewah in the early 2000s, I found this a fascinating glimpse into life in 1970s Idaho.

Gruber, as an outsider, has the perspective to notice the peculiarities of life up Alder. But he doesn’t write them up sarcastically or condescendingly. He writes from a perspective of love for the place and its people.

Well worth the time.


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September 30, 2020

Review: Chapters from My Autobiography by Mark Twain


Chapters from My Autobiography: 1906-1907Chapters from My Autobiography: 1906-1907 by Mark Twain
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Some of the reflections he went into after sections written by his daughter were among the most moving I've ever read (or listened to, as the case may be).

Twain was a man of many regrets. And an exceptional gift for capturing feeling with language.

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September 23, 2020

Review: What Did You Expect? by Paul David Tripp


What Did You Expect?: Redeeming the Realities of MarriageWhat Did You Expect?: Redeeming the Realities of Marriage by Paul David Tripp
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Practical, gospel-saturated. The biggest takeaways are that your marriage’s biggest problem is you and your sin, and the only solution is rightly aligned worship. He frequently repeats the important concept that marriages must be fixed vertically before they can be helped horizontally. Worthwhile read for married folks; I was using it in premarital counseling with a couple and it promoted several good discussions in that context as well.

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September 09, 2020

Review: Hokahey! A Good Day to Die! by Richard G. Hardorff


Hokahey! A Good Day to Die!: The Indian Casualties of the Custer FightHokahey! A Good Day to Die!: The Indian Casualties of the Custer Fight by Richard G. Hardorff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Very informative, well researched. Not exactly a compelling read, but good for what it is.

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September 02, 2020

Review: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi


When Breath Becomes AirWhen Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The best book I read in 2019. Beautiful, devastating, inspiring.

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August 27, 2020

Review: The Forgotten Church by Glenn Daman


The Forgotten Church: Why Rural Ministry Matters for Every Church in AmericaThe Forgotten Church: Why Rural Ministry Matters for Every Church in America by Glenn Daman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A good, well-researched book. Covering why Rural Ministry matters, a number of the cultural and societal issues facing the rural church, and offering practical suggestions for ministry, Daman’s book is very practical. At times I think he overstated his case, but given the neglected nature of the subject matter this is understandable.

If you’re interested in rural ministry, involved in it, or curious about why anyone would “throw their life away” on small town small church ministry, this book is worth a read.

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August 26, 2020

A Hole

 Joe Blackburn

It’s 5:30 am. The morning is in transition from the grey of first light into something more approximating daylight. I look out over the porch, through a gap in the pine trees, to the wheat field across the road. I remember them mostly growing bluegrass in that field, but maybe wheat prices are up this year. Or maybe they thought they would be before the COVID mess.

My baby girl is laying on the floor to the right of me, intermittently sucking on her bottle and pulling it away to smile. She’s so happy. I wish he could have met her.

This is the first morning I’ve slept in this house, my grandparent’s place, since my grandpa died last December. I came out in June when we did a belated memorial service, but the house was packed with family from all over the country, so I just crashed at my brother’s place in town. 

We never called them our “grandparents”, always Grammie and Pak. When or how Pak became our equivalent for grandfather I’ll never know for sure, though I’m told it was my doing as a small child. He shaped me so profoundly. How I respond to people, how I tell a story (though my ability pales compared to his), even how I hold my fingers when I wave at someone--all bear the stamp of Pak’s influence. When my mom called me on December 17th of last year to tell me he was gone, I wasn’t surprised. But I still entered a state of numbness similar to shock. Then I got home and told my kids. My oldest, then 6, sat with me on the couch. And we cried.

This house feels so different without him. Not empty, there are more people moving to and fro than ever, a couple of my siblings have moved in during the past few months. But there is a vacancy. Something missing. A feeling that I could accomplish something while I’m here that would prove meaningful to the man I so much admired. Now he isn’t here. No more chances to share what’s happening in my life, hoping to hear his words of approval. No chance to fix something around the place for which he would have thanked me. Not because I wanted the thanks so much as they were a tangible evidence that I had in fact helped him, and I so desperately wanted to give back to this man who gave so much to me. 

I set my coffee down to think. Man. I miss my Pak.


August 23, 2020

Sermon Sunday : the Psalms

 here is a link to the sermons from the Psalms on the Remsen Bible page: https://remsenbible.blogspot.com/p/sermons-from-psalms.html?m=1


May the Lord bless your Sunday!

August 21, 2020

Who will accuse whom?

Here is a link to an excellent review of C.S. Lewis's masterpiece, Till We Have Faces. 

This book is one of the few novels I've ever re-read, and much like the author of this piece, I found the second reading far more rewarding. Lewis is using the metaphor of this myth to pierce into the deepest realities of our souls. Read the review to taste that, pick up the novel to experience it. 

An excerpt: 
Telling her strange story for posterity, this old queen presents a body of evidence, for her goal is to make a case against the divine. She details her complaints against the gods—their cruelty, hiddenness, jealousy, and trickery. But as she tells the story of hurt and injustice, something else develops. She realizes her case is, in reality, a case against herself.

Indignant, she discovers that, after all, she was the cruel and unjust one. Logical and learned, she discovers that, after all, she was the liar and deceiver. (The worst lies she tells are to herself.) Pragmatic and effective, a ruler who has built a solid and abiding empire, she discovers that, after all, her kingdom will be given to a distant relative she hardly knows.

Meanwhile, the one behind the stories was always drawing this queen to meet him, to show her that abiding satisfaction and truth never was found in the usual places—in shrines and magic, in book learning, or in politics. It was always, only, and forever found in him. Not found in a “what” or a “why,” but in a “whom.” 

Read the rest of it.

August 20, 2020

Reasons to Pray (part 1)

 This post is the first of three on prayer, drawn from the opening chapter of 1 Samuel. 


Do you pray? Maybe you're like me, someone who definitely prays, who even counts prayer to be a significant part of your life-and yet you find yourself feeling guilty that you still don't pray with near the frequency you should. After all, the apostle Paul told us to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). I hardly manage to pray with substantial frequency, let alone constancy. 


Reasons

Thus, I find it helpful when reading Scripture to observe the various reasons we are to pray. In prayer, God doesn't just give us an action to perform. He is welcoming us into a deeper relationship with himself, the very relationship for which we were designed and made. But our default tendency is to believe we don't need this relationship, that we are sufficient on our own. Which is why the first reason for prayer that I want to examine is this: desperation.


Desperation

Have you ever felt desperate? In the opening pages of the Old Testament book of 1 Samuel, we meet a woman named Hannah. And Hannah is a woman distressed to the point of desperation. 

She is desperate for a couple of reasons: she has to share her husband with another woman. She has no children of her own, while the rival wife (Peninnah) is able to have several. Thus we read in v7 that Peninnah would provoke Hannah to the point where Hannah wept bitterly, and would not eat. In v10 we find her at the door of the tabernacle, where she was deeply distressed and prayed to the LORD and wept bitterly. Her lips are moving, but she is so beside herself in anguish that no words are coming out, and the priest at Shiloh, an old man named Eli, assumes that she is drunk.

Maybe you can place yourself in Hannah's shoes. You have a deep desire for something, an ache so bad it hurts. And then your lack is rubbed in your face by a rival, and even your loved ones and the figures who ought to represent some level of comfort (eg, Hannah's husband Elkanah, and Eli the priest) don't understand you in the least. In the words of Proverbs 14:10, the heart knows its own bitterness. 


To whom shall she turn?

In these times, who can we turn to? Hannah knows. We find this in her reply to Eli's accusation of drunkenness, "I have had neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the LORD. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation. She is deeply troubled, anxious, and vexed. And she turns to the Lord in prayer. Elkanah hasn't heard her. Eli hasn't heard her. But Hannah trusts that God will hear her.

We will look in upcoming posts at how God responds to Hannah's prayer, and the encouragement we can take from that. But what I want to draw your attention to in this post is this simple fact: Hannah knows herself to be desperate. And she takes that desperation to God. 

We so often live under the delusion of self-sufficiency. We don't think we need any help, let alone God's help. But God knows better. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust (Psalm 103:14). When we see ourselves in this light, as so much dust, always on the verge of returning to that dust, we will understand how desperate we are. Maybe it takes an extreme circumstance to put you there-an illness, a job loss, the death of a loved one. Or maybe the creeping realities of age, an unstable world, or always feeling tired give you daily reminders. Whatever is the cause of our coming to grips with frailty, the result should be the same: it should drive us to our knees. 

Oh, what peace we often forfeit, oh what needless pain we bear! All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.

August 19, 2020

Review: No Quick Fix by Andrew David Naselli


No Quick Fix: Where Higher Life Theology Came From, What It Is, and Why It's HarmfulNo Quick Fix: Where Higher Life Theology Came From, What It Is, and Why It's Harmful by Andrew David Naselli
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Super helpful, very clear. Useful book for lay people and pastors alike.

View all my reviews

August 17, 2020

You Reap What You Sow

 Yesterday our church celebrated its one year anniversary of meeting together as a local congregation. Our guest speaker was Mike Hulinsky, lead pastor at LeMars Bible Church.

As he preached from Galatians 6:7-10, his first point was simply a restating of verse seven: you reap what you sow.

This seems obvious, intuitive, and you almost ask, why, Paul, is this even necessary to state? But there is a reason he needs to say it: we don't want to believe it. We want to think that our actions don't have consequences. We want to act like they don't. 


Wild Oats

There used to be a phrase, which I don't hear as often anymore, but I think that has more to do with a change in vocabulary than a loss of the idea. You'd see someone, usually a young man, making some very foolish decisions with their life, and it would be described as sowing their wild oats. Johnny is doing a lot of partying and spending time with girls who are sexually indulgent, just sowing his wild oats. Ronnie takes up gambling and is getting into the drug scene, it's a phase, he's just got to sow his wild oats. And honestly, growing up, I just thought this was a phase most people went through. It was obvious to me that you didn't have to. But I thought it was normal, and while maybe not intelligent, not particularly problematic. 

However, as one old farmer once remarked, the problem with sowing wild oats is that you then are harvesting wild oats. Or, as Paul says in Galatians 6:7, Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. Choices have consequences, to think otherwise is to mock God. Those are pretty stark terms to put it in.


Realistic Hope

Now, the good news of the book of Galatians is that God is more than willing (and able!) to both forgive and change sinners like you and me. We all have done more sowing of the wrong seed than we would care to admit. But Christ died as a substitute, that we need not die eternally for our transgressions of God's law:

Galatians 3:13-14, Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us--for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree"--so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

Jesus takes our curse, takes our ultimate punishment. And if our hope is in him, we are given the Holy Spirit of God, who himself is the power to change us. He will conform our desires to God's, so that we can choose to sow good seed. 

But this doesn't remove the reality of our earthly past. While we can find forgiveness, hope, and the power to change in Jesus, we often still face the painful realities of the choices we have made that are wrong. God does not magically remove every temporary and earthly consequence just because he's removed the eternal punishment. We still live in a world in which cherry tomato seeds produce cherry tomatoes, corn seeds produce corn, and wild oats produce wild oats. Your decisions still matter. Don't think that you can mock God. Sow to the Spirit.


August 16, 2020

Sermon Sunday: Cross Shaped Joy

 This is a sermon I preached back in March, out of John chapter 16


https://remsenbible.blogspot.com/2020/03/cross-shaped-joy-john-1616-24.html

August 15, 2020

Should Churches be Open?

 The first thing to say in this post is that I am profoundly thankful to live in Iowa these days. While there has certainly been COVID in our area (including among some members of our church), it hasn't reached the levels of other parts of the county. Additionally, our government, both local and state, have been very restrained as to what they restrain. 

As to the question I headed this post with, should churches remain open?, I don't propose to have an actual answer. Our church decided to begin meeting in person again the 1st Sunday in June, about a month after the legal ban on group gatherings lifted here. To be honest, it is a decision that I do feel was correct and prudent, but it is also one that I have lingering doubts toward. The balance between obeying Christ's command to gather, coupled with vital role of gathering in the Christian life seems to me to outweigh the potential risks to life and health--especially in a place where bars and restaurants remain open. Would my judgement be different if I lived in a place where the state were saying no to indoor gatherings? I'm not sure. I'd like to think that I'd be searching for creative ways to both address the spiritual needs of the church and honor the earthly authorities he has put in place (see Romans 13, Hebrews 10, 1 Peter 2). 

Here is my brief take, and then I'm going to link to some reading for you.

Churches need to be willing at this point to reevaluate what is actually important in ministry. Even if we make the call to go back to meeting, there is no scriptural warrant or need to force back into place all of our previous ministries and programs. Wisdom is needed. What are we called to do, specifically by Scripture? How can we best do that, while staying within governmental guidelines and protecting, insofar as possible, the physical health of our members? Not simple questions to answer. But important ones to ask.

Here's a statement that's gotten a lot of traction, including among people I know. I think I agree with what they're doing...but I think the statement itself has problems.

Here is a response from Brad LittleJohn (a long read, but worth it)

And 3 from 9Marks ministries: #1 Leeman Article

                                                    #2 Podcast, Leeman and Dever

                                                    #3 Leeman Follow-up

August 14, 2020

How Can I be Okay?

 Preface: This isn't "writing" per se, this is the first of three posts that will be lesson outlines from the VBS our church is conducting this week. The titles are, Where Did I Come From?, Am I Important, and How Can I Be Okay? My hope in sharing is that if you work with kids, or simply are interested in answering these questions for yourself, you will be edified.


How Can I Be Okay?


Gold bean bag

  • Do you ever feel broken? Like something inside of you just isn’t right? 

  • The last couple of days the kids have been working on a verse, Gen 1:1, In the beginning, God created…

  • The Bible starts not with people, not with some slog beginning with an immense hydrogen explosion, but with God. A speaking God. A God who speaks life into being

  • What did God call his creation? Very good (v31)

  • Part of that very good creation was an image-bearer: people

    • Kids, who made everything? God!

    • So, who made you? God!

    • So, who’s the boss? God is!

  • Right, God is the boss. And he gave people a job: take care of creation, and reflect what God is like, 1:26-27, 2:15

  • We were made to mirror what God is like-but do we?

    • What went wrong?

  • Kids, who’s the boss? God!

    • But remember, that’s good news. Why is it good news?

    • Who loves you? God!

  • Right, God loves you, and he knows everything. So when he makes a rule, it is a rule that flows from his love.

    • How many rules did he give to Adam and Eve? 1 rule!

  • Genesis 2:16


Black bean bag

  • In Genesis 3 we read about that start of everything that goes wrong: a snake comes into the garden. Gen 3:1-13

  • The snake comes with a terrible lie: God doesn’t love you. God doesn’t care about what’s best for you. Be your own boss, your own ruler. 

  • And the woman and the man both eat the fruit, and the black poison of sin takes root in their hearts


  • Did you know, that is the same poison that lives inside your heart? 

  • 3:15, God promises a Rescuer to fix things

  • The whole rest of the Bible is the story of God preparing a people to be the family of the Rescuer

    • But guess what? They keep failing, because the are full of sin, just like you and me

    • And do you know what the worst part of sin is? It cuts you off from God’s presence: you can’t be covered with sin and enjoy standing before God

  • So what’s going to happen?


Red Bean Bag

  • God wasn’t going to leave people separated from him forever.

  • John 3:16. God sent his Son into the world

  • But was Jesus just going to rescue his people out of the bad place, like a prince swooping in to take away the princess?

  • No, there was a price to be paid. Romans 6:23

  • Jesus came and shed his blood to cover your sins


White bean bag

  • Did you remember where I said you couldn’t stand when you’re covered in sin? 

  • The Bible says if you trust in Jesus, his blood covers your sins, and you get to wear his perfect righteousness. You get clean clothes! It’s called being forgiven

  • Have you ever had to ask for forgiveness? You can be forgiven by God, and live with him, because of what Jesus has done. 

  • You can’t do anything to earn it: it’s a free gift


Green bean bag

  • But this free gift of life isn’t the end of the story. Because eternal life is a real life that starts now

  • So we need to grow. How can we grow? We pray, read the Bible, go to church to spend time with other people who have been forgiven by Jesus. And we tell other people about what he’s done. 

Big Lesson: who made everything? Who made you? Who loves you? Who gives the gift of forgiveness and life to all who ask? God!

August 13, 2020

Am I Important?

Preface: This isn't "writing" per se, this is the first of three posts that will be lesson outlines from the VBS our church is conducting this week. The titles are, Where Did I Come From?, Am I Important, and How Can I Be Okay? My hope in sharing is that if you work with kids, or simply are interested in answering these questions for yourself, you will be edified.


Am I Important?


  • Have you ever felt small and unimportant? 

  • Did you know you are important to God? God cares about little things and little people, because God values all people. 

  • What did we talk about yesterday? Creation

  • Who remembers what the most important part of creation was? People; Gen 1:27, 31. 

  • Gen 2:

    • 7-9, how did God make man?

    • Where did God put him?

    • 15, why did God put him in the garden? Remember how people are supposed to take care of God’s world?

    • 16-17, God gives them a rule. How many rules? 1 rule!

    • What is the rule? Remember that, it’s important.

    • 18-23, God didn’t want Adam to be alone, so what did he do? Made him a wife! Does anyone know her name?

  • When you tell a story, do you like to talk about the boring part or the fun part? The fun part!

  • God spent the first chapter of the Bible telling us how he made everything. Then he spends another chapter telling us how he made one thing. People. 

  • Which part do you think God thinks is the fun part? People!

  • I want to read you a couple of Bible stories that show how much Jesus loves people: 

    • Lk 8:40-56, who did Jesus heal? 

    • John 4:46-54, who did Jesus heal?

    • Mt 19:13-15, who does Jesus love?

  • The Bible tells us (Jn 1:18) that Jesus came to show us what God is like, and Jesus shows us that God has love for all kinds of people. Like you.

  • Big lesson: Who made me? God made me (x3)

    • Who’s the boss? God is!

    • Who loves me? God loves me! (x3)

About Me

Follower of Jesus. Husband of one. Father of four. Pastor at Remsen Bible Fellowship (remsenbible.com).