Archive for the ‘Random ruminations’ Category

Having studied…how companies become great and how companies fall, I’ve concluded that there are more ways to fall than to become great.”

Jim Collins – How the Mighty Fall: and why some companies never give in.

Collins, well-known author of Good to Great, while wrestling with the data of companies who failed, was surprised to find it far more difficult to draw general conclusions about the failing companies than it had been for the good-t0-great companies.

This simple truth ought not surprise us, but does. What else should we expect in a poor, fallen world? We ought to be intrigued that things actually work as well as they do. It is a testament to God’s creative power (Rom 1) that sin, with all its destructive effects, cannot completely shatter His handiwork.

However, this business observation reflects a far deeper spiritual reality. There is only one narrow path that leads to life, and impossible it is to tread out that path on our own. But wide is the path and easy the way that leads to destruction.

There are more ways to fall than to become spiritually great (Christlike) simply because each of us has a vividly, actively sinful imagination that constantly leads us astray, while God has one, lone, simple plan.

Who, indeed, shall rescue us from this body of death? Thanks be to God, through Christ Jesus our Lord.


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Having been a teacher for ten years before having a family of my own, you would think I would have learned something.

I should have known that there is “never a good time” to discipline my children. I was a teacher after all and it was “never the best time” to properly correct a student.

I should have known that I would look at my children with a completely bewildered what-were-you-thinking look. I am a teacher after all and have taught this student, and that one, and him, and her, and…

I should have known that my biggest problem as a husband and father would be me. I was a teacher after all and was all too selfish and sarcastic.

I should have known that God would do a whole lot of work in my family despite my mistakes. I was a teacher after all and saw too many situations when kids learned in spite of me.

I should have known that I would learn more by being a husband and dad than I would teach my family. I am a teacher after all and learn many of my best lessons from my students.

I should have known that jokes at the expense of others too often doesn’t feel like a joke to them. I was a teacher after all whose humor was often not very funny.

I should have known that my wife and children would quickly forgive. I am a teacher after all who was quickly forgiven by students.

I should have known how much it would hurt to see my kids hurt, or be hurt, or fail, or be left out. I was a teacher after all and talked with weeping parents.

I should have known that my best teaching would come when I least expected it. I am a teacher after all and have had too many God-sent opportunities outside of class.

I should have known how much being a husband and dad would drive me to my knees admitting my utter inability to do anything of eternal value. I am a teacher after all and observe God doing too many God-things in which I am just a bystander.

I should have known how much fun it was to live each moment with my children. I was a teacher after all who has had students who lived vibrantly and enthusiastically.

I should have known how eager I would be to see the next step of my children’s lives. I am a teacher after all who rejoices as his former students keep walking in truth.

I should have known the enormous power and sheer joy of words of encouragement and genuine praise. I am a teacher after all and have seen faces light up and confidence build.

I should have known how incredibly satisfying it is to give of myself for the growth of my children. I am a teacher after all and revel in the sanctification of my students and former students.

I should have known that I would learn so much from Jill. I was a teacher after all who was learned from numerous gifted teachers.

I should have known the exponential power of partnering with my wife. I am a teacher after all who co-labored with outstanding colleagues.

I should have known how necessary this partnership is. I am a teacher after all who has needed the wise perspective of fellow teachers.

I should have known that being a dad would be so thrilling and delightful and challenging. I am a teacher after all and God has blessed me with great students.

I am a teacher, and a dad, and a husband. And I would not change these for the world.

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A while back I read Eric Metaxas’s biography of Deitrich Bonhoeffer, and was both fascinated and confused. Metaxas writes extremely well, and his description of the daily events in Germany, particularly the German church, of the 1930’s and 40’s sheds light on things overshadowed by world events.

However, his silence and even whitewashing of Bonhoeffer’s neo-orthodox theology left me quite puzzled. In the months since the publication of Bonhoeffer, numerous scholars also have weighed in on this, as Tim Challies notes in this column.

I ran across an interview that Metaxas gave in which he was asked about the controversy, and I found his answer to be a lengthy example of ‘begging (evading) the question.’

4) There has been some criticism that perhaps you paint Bonhoeffer as “too evangelical”. I thought this was unfair, that you had painstakingly given the whole of Bonhoeffer’s theology, even quoting lengthy excerpts. How do you respond to this criticism?

I find the criticism hilarious on the one hand, and tragic, on the other.  Bonhoeffer and any other serious Christian is less concerned with being an “evangelical” — whatever that really means — than with being a Christian, a devoted disciple of Jesus Christ.  One thing I have said over and over:  I never set out to paint any portrait of Bonhoeffer other than what I saw, for good or for ill.  That some seem to think that I have put some English on the ball seems to say more about their expectations than about the reality of his life.

Note how Metaxas 1. invokes personal feelings to point attention away from the real issue. 2. blurs the term ‘evangelical’. 3. conflates orthodoxy (right beliefs) and orthopraxy (right conduct). It is possible for a person to do right, but believe wrong (Mtt. 7.21-23). 4. uses an ad hominem attack on critics rather than deal with the substantive charges.

The facts are what they are:  Bonhoeffer thought of the Bible as the living “Word of God” and prayed every day and pointedly criticized the regnant theological liberalism of his era (both in Berlin and at Union in New York) and called abortion “murder” and advocated a traditionally biblical view of sexuality and called for the Lordship of Jesus Christ over every realm in history and culture, and advocated obedience to God under all circumstances and spoke against mere “religion”…  so, yes, he tends to look pretty “evangelical.”  But that really is a label that is unhelpful when trying to understand him.   Bonhoeffer was a devout disciple of Jesus Christ.  That should suffice, I think.

What does Metaxas mean by “the living ‘Word of God'”? Particularly, what did it mean to Bonhoeffer? The charge is not that he was a liberal theologian, but that he was neo-orthodox in his beliefs. Note again Metaxas conflating orthodoxy and orthopraxy.

Not that some ideologues on the left and right haven’t been annoyed, as you mention.  But they are annoyed at reality, not at my depiction of reality.

It all really is somehow funny, though.  It has to be noted that theologically liberal Bonhoeffer scholars have kept deadly quiet for decades, while chest-beating humanists like Christopher Hitchens and “Bishop” John Spong have claimed Bonhoeffer as one of their own.  But when  Bonhoeffer is portrayed as the robust and serious Christian that he was, they have howled with all their might and main and have practically scampered up palm trees to cast down their cocoa-nuts of bitter fury.  One wonders where their priorities lie.

Fussy theological conservatives, on the other hand, who have accepted this false theologically liberal view of Bonhoeffer, are another story, no less tragi-comic.  They bring to mind the guy on the beach with the metal detector and headphones, oblivious to the staggering beauty of the sand and sea and sky.   They seem bent on discovering any scrap of evidence that “proves” Bonhoeffer was neo-orthodox, and if not that, then something else unpalatable — anything!  I think even a cigarette butt in the sand would thrill them.  They sometimes seem to be worshiping an idol of theological purity.

But to have perspective on it all, we must remember that both types, left and right, have always been with us.  As a friend of mine once said:  ”They are like the children in the marketplace who say, ‘We played the pipe and you would not dance; we played a dirge and you would not mourn!’”   Quel domage [what a shame!].


Nowhere does Metaxas begin to deal directly with the question of Bonhoeffer’s theology, which was controversial while he was alive as well as in the ensuing years. Setting aside that specific issue, it is irresponsible for a biographer to avoid dealing with this specific point which is undeniably a substantial part of Bonhoeffer’s life story.

Metaxas’s book is well written, but flawed for the gaping hole at a crucial juncture.

His response here does, however, serve Christians well, for he highlights a necessary question: What defines an evangelical? Orthodoxy or orthopraxy?

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Confession, so they say, is good for the soul, and I must come clean.

I am not a fan of Glenn Beck. Something has always seemed a bit off to me. Don’t know why. A few years ago when I had opportunity, I listened to him for a while to try to figure out what it was. I came to a conclusion about what bothered me, but don’t remember what it was. I ignore the Mormonism stuff, so that’s not it. I agree with the majority of the political and cultural stuff I hear him say.  But something doesn’t ring true with me, so I don’t listen to him a lot. Thus endeth confession #1.

I was somewhat startled to find out a while ago that Beck doesn’t like Teddy Roosevelt. “What?!” said I. “Surely not.” After a wee bit o’ research, surely so.

Confession #2: I highly respect Teddy Roosevelt. Contrary to JFK’s thoughts about Thomas Jefferson, TR was likely the most brilliant and accomplished Chief Executive to steward the White House. He was a great man, a Christian worth emulating, a faithful, loving husband, and an excellent father.  TR was a man of immense integrity.

He was a man of his time and for his time. Beck accuses him of being a “Progressive,” making the typical yet horrific mistake of reading contemporary thinking/perspectives into the past. Beck sees socialism in the overreactions to TR’s achievements and thoughts. (sigh) Every good idea can be perverted by taking it to extremes. Even Paul had to write Romans 6 to combat an overreaction to a key point of God’s gospel. We don’t need to run around blaming God for idiocy on man’s part. And arguing from greater to (much) lesser, Beck sure doesn’t need to blame TR for the idiocy exhibited by Wilson and Obama, among others.

Anyway, now that I have that off my chest I feel much better. As my daughters would say, “X Beck. Circle Teddy Roosevelt.” I suspect, however, that TR would not pay much attention to the likes of Beck. After all, Roosevelt faced critics in his time and provided his thoughts about them:

Remember, it is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.

George Grant posted eleven things he has learned from TR, and they are well worth reading. If you haven’t read Grant’s book about TR, I would highly recommend it.

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  • why do I need to be stretched in order for God to prove Himself and His promises to me…again?
  • why is it necessary for life to get so uncomfortable for God to answer prayer and prove His promises are reliable?
  • why is my vision so limited and selfish that I overlook and take for granted the multitude of promises fulfilled every day?
  • why do I feel so distorted while I am actually being stretched and changed into the image of Christ, being made into what I was intended to be?
  • how disconcerting it is to conclude from the Bible that I am so used to these distortions that I think they are the way things really are.
  • it is amazing to consider that one day God will do away with the imperfections and all will be as it should be.
  • I wonder how long it will take to get comfortable with that.

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“God moves in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform.” At the end of May I began working with my brother to renovate a house for resale. I enjoy the physical work. I especially enjoy the fact that much of the work is pretty brainless and I can listen to various things while working.

My listening habits are odd, I guess: I rarely listen to music. I love listening to lectures, workshops, sermons, books, anything I can learn from. I often do this while cooking. Cutting up vegetables, mixing up spice rubs while listening to George Grant, Mark Dever, Russell Moore, Mark Minnick, Al Mohler, or a host of others has created a wealth of strong memories.

In July I learned that the teaching job I expected to begin in the fall had disappeared. What to do? I decided to continue painting, etc and this has allowed me to listen to quite the collection of audio resources. Most of these I have found on the web, but I am not going to begin to link to all of them!

  • The George Grant Collection. George Grant is one of my favorite classical educators. He makes history live by telling the biographies of important figures. WordMp3 has a collection of these bios and they are fascinating.
  • Included in this collection are his 2000 Modernity lectures at Franklin Classical School. Fascinating on two levels: the history is excellent, and learning how he runs a class is equally edifying.
  • Series on Scottish-American History and Islam by George Grant. You can find these on SermonAudio.
  • Together for the Gospel 2010. (I finally ‘got’ several of these sermons about the third time through!)
  • Together for the Gospel 2008. You have to listen to RC Sproul’s sermon “The Curse Motif of the Atonement.
  • Hebrews series and Exodus series – Russell Moore
  • Revelation series and Romans series – Mark Dever
  • Al Mohler’s “The Briefing” daily analysis of news and events.
  • Tony Grossi’s and Terry Pluto’s weekly podcast breakdowns of Browns games. (I am a Browns fan. It is chronic. What’s worse is that I am infecting my children. It is my duty.)
  • The Pilgrim’s Progress.
  • Joy’s Eternal Increase: Jonathan Edward’s on Heaven by Sam Storms.
  • Handel’s Messiah: Comfort for God’s People
  • Two sermons on the church’s reactions to and dealing with singles by Joe Tyrpak. Not bad for a guy that I suspect got married young.
  • Ancient and Medieval Church History – Dr. David Calhoun, Covenant Seminary
  • Reformation and Modern Church History – Dr. David Calhoun, Covenant Seminary
  • Next Conferences 2007-10
  • various 9Marks interviews
  • The Pleasures of God – John Piper
  • The God Who Is There – Don Carson

I am sure that I have forgotten some, but this is fairly comprehensive.

Why do I do this? I must learn. I crave learning. I itch to learn. I yearn to learn. I must teach. I crave teaching. I itch to teach. I yearn to teach. I may not be teaching now, but when I get back to the classroom, I want to have more in the storehouse.

Any recommendations for things to listen to?

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I read this post listing ten reasons for expository preaching, which are listed here:

  1. Expository preaching identifies exactly what is at the heart of the Christian message
  2. Expository preaching requires that the shepherd concern himself with the intent of the Divine Author for every text.
  3. Expository preaching respects the integrity of the textual units given through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit
  4. Expository preaching keeps the pastor from riding his favourite hobby horses.
  5. Expository preaching requires the preacher to preach the difficult or obscure texts and challenging truths of the Bible.
  6. Expository preaching will encourage both pastor and students alike to become students of the Bible.
  7. Expository preaching gives us boldness in preaching for we are not expounding our own fallible views but the Word of God.
  8. Expository preaching gives confidence to the listener that what he is hearing is not the opinion of man but the Word of God.
  9. Expository preaching is of great assistance in sermon planning.
  10. Expository preaching provides the context for a long tenure in a particular place.

Listen, I love expository preaching. When done well, it feeds wonderfully well and I agree that it ought to be a regular part of the diet of a church, perhaps even the most regular staple form of sermon. However, expositors have flaws too, and an exclusive diet of exposition can lead to problems.

  1. Expository preaching can lead to majoring on minutia. Hobby horsing around is a pretty easy for a poor preacher, and expository preaching just gives some guys an excuse to “dwell on a passage/verse/phrase/clause/word” or to “explore its depths”. I guess my ‘favorite’ example is a rapturous report from a pastor of a sermon he heard at a national conference based on “it came to pass” and then the ‘preacher preached’ for 50 minutes on “Aren’t you glad it came to pass and didn’t come to stay.”
  2. Expository preaching can lead to misunderstanding the text. God doesn’t put all the information about a topic in any one location. Focusing on one passage/verse/phrase/clause/word can easily lead to an incomplete understanding of the subject. Granted, a decent preacher will have a grasp of the whole, but he can’t talk about the whole in one sermon and that can lead to the hearers misunderstanding.
  3. Beginning preachers really ought to learn how to do expository sermons based on long passages and chapters (and I say this from personal experience), rather than verse by verse. Most preachers ought to stay in this mode and never get more detailed. Here’s a bit of advice: “You are not John MacArthur.” Please repeat to yourself once daily and ten times each Sunday.

Given enough time, I guess I could come up with eight more reasons, but this is a plea for balance. A well-ordered and planned preaching schedule ought to include regular and significant meals of expository, textual and topical sermons. Go from the forest to the trees and back out again on a regular basis.


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