Friday, October 13, 2017

Book Write-Up: Seeking Refuge

Stephan Bauman, Matthew Soerens, and Dr. Issam Smeir.  Seeking Refuge: On the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis.  Moody, 2016.  See here to buy the book.

Stephan Bauman and Matthew Soerens work for World Relief, which partners with churches for the purpose of international relief and development.  Dr. Issam Smeir is a counselor who is a specialist in trauma, specifically for refugees, torture victims, and children who have been abused and neglected.

As the title indicates, this book is about refugees.  It addresses a variety of questions: Who are the refugees?  What are they fleeing?  What challenges do they face in the United States, and how has the church helped them to adjust?  Do refugees take jobs away from American citizens and burden the system?  And does allowing them into the United States increase the threat of radical Islamic terrorism on U.S. soil?

The book effectively makes the points that it wants to make.  It tells anecdotes that demonstrate the human face of the issue.  Its description of the economic and psychological problems that many refugees face is vivid.  Its critique of the claims that refugees may pose a terror threat and burden the U.S. system are well-documented.  The book draws from studies, including studies from such conservative organizations as the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute.  (Yet, one should remember that there are divisions within the right over issues.)  The book also stresses the importance of remembering cultural differences as the church seeks to assist refugees in the United States, and it encourages Christians to view refugees as an opportunity, as they can replenish the church as millennials leave it (though the book stresses that the church should not help refugees primarily to increase its numbers).

Although the book effectively critiqued the argument that refugees may pose a terror threat if they are let into the United States, there were times when it seemed to argue that this issue does not matter: God wants us to help the alien, and we should obey, period.  The book likens those who want to increase restrictions on the entrance of refugees for national security reasons to the Pharaoh of Exodus 1, who had national security concerns about the foreign Israelites in Egypt.  Their theological and religious arguments certainly deserve consideration, but they could have been developed further.  There are places in the Bible that call upon God’s people to trust in God: for example, prophets in the Hebrew Bible exhorted Judah to trust God for her national security rather than entering into foreign alliances.  At the same time, there are biblical passages that encourage wisdom in the pursuit of self-protection (i.e., the Proverbs), and those, too, deserve consideration in discussions about immigration.

While the book was informative, some topics could have used more detail.  What happens to the refugees who are waiting to enter the U.S., who are not allowed to enter, or who lack financial resources?  The book addressed this tangentially, but not always in detail.  More detail would have strengthened the book’s case that help is necessary.  While the book provided some details about the process by which the U.S. Government decides which refugees to admit, it should have explained what questions it asks.  Some argue that it is difficult to discover the background of some of the refugees, so the book could have further alleviated concerns about the refugees by explaining how the Government learns more about them, beyond saying that this agency compares notes with that agency.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher.  My review is honest.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Church Write-Up: Finding One's Calling

The pastor at one of the churches that I attended last Sunday was talking about finding one’s calling.  He said that we should be who God made us today rather than trying to be somebody else.  The pastor appealed to the “David and Goliath” story in the Bible and how David defeated Goliath in his own way, rather than by wearing Saul’s heavy armor, as King Saul recommended.  The pastor said that we should pursue our passions (good ones, of course) and hopefully channel them into a calling, even if our passions seem unusual; the pastor shared that his passion is tea, which is unusual in Oregon.

The pastor also highlighted the importance of receiving counsel, since our own vision can sometimes get blurry, and we make excuses for not pursuing our calling: past failure, apathy, etc.  Mordecai gave Esther counsel when he exhorted her to have a conversion with the King of Persia that could save the Jewish people from annihilation.  Yet, the pastor also made points that indicate that other people can be unhelpful, in that they discourage our dreams.  He told the story of Michael Jordan, who was but from his high school basketball team but still felt deep-down that he was meant to play basketball.

Moreover, the pastor encouraged us to try out service opportunities, which can perhaps help us to discover talents that are unknown to us.  He said that the church has service opportunities for introverts, extroverts, and even non-believers and people unsure about what they believe.

The pastor also remarked that, in some cases, work may be a drudgery to people because they have not found their true calling.  At the same time, he also said that our past work experiences can equip us for our calling by giving us skills.

Here are some personal reactions:

—-I was thinking of the point about unpopular (yet good, or not necessarily bad) passions earlier this past week.  I was reflecting about how I love the TV show Touched by an Angel, but many academic types—-including evangelical academic types—-would probably deem me unsophisticated or naïve for so doing.  There are some episodes that I used to like but did not like as much in my most recent viewing.  Still, I am enjoying some of the episodes, including ones that I used to dislike.

—-I question whether all good passions can be channeled into some profound calling.  I enjoy watching Touched by an Angel, but I do not feel called to the entertainment industry.  A lot of sweat, pain, and toil go into the production of shows and movies.  Perhaps one way that I can channel my interest into a calling is by blogging about episodes that are meaningful to me, as I have done with shows in the past.  For a variety of reasons, though, my passion for blogging has waned over the years.  Nowadays, I obligate myself to write a weekly Church Write-Up about the church services that I attend (and, to be honest, I am tempted to write these reflections in a personal journal rather than on my blogs), and to review the books that are sent to me to review, and other books that I have read.  I am required to write reviews on my blog about the books that are sent to me, and I write about the other books on my blogs to make a personal record of what I have read and learned from books.

—-Drudgery may not indicate that one has not found one’s calling.  I think that life often entails doing work that one does not want to do.  The pastor in a past sermon referred to doing chores that we would rather not do as “adulting.”  There are many mornings in which I have to drag myself out of bed because I do not feel like working on my dissertation.  But it is the task in front of me at this stage of my life, and I want to finish what I started.

—-Should I be the way that I am, or the way society says I should be?  I have Asperger’s, and I feel that I need at least to try to be like others to get anywhere in life.  And my impression is that many Christians look down on people who are abnormal or lack talent in certain areas, rather than truly believing that God can use them, too.

—-That said, I appreciated how the pastor recommended the service programs.  I may pick up the brochure that the pastor recommended.  I did not check the box asking to be assigned a service project, since I do not drive and what if it is at a place that I cannot access?

—-The pastor said that many Christians leave church or the faith due to broken relationships.  I can identify with that.  I have been disillusioned with many Christians (which is not to say that I think I am perfect, or even better than them), and with God’s command (as I understand it) that I have some affection for them.  The pastor recommended a seminar on conflict resolution.  I may attend that to learn some social skills.

—-I hand-wrote this before typing it.  I have not felt like typing on a computer that much lately.  Even with my dissertation, I am spending a lot of time handwriting, as of late.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Book Write-Up: Answering the Toughest Questions about Suffering and Evil

Bruce Bickel and Stan Jantz, with Christopher Greer.  Answering the Toughest Questions about Suffering and Evil.  Bethany House, 2017.  See here to buy the book.

In this book, Bruce Bickel and Stan Jantz address the problem of evil from a Christian perspective.

The book has its assets:

—–The back cover of the book says that the authors “leave enough space—-and grace—-for you to keep wrestling, asking, and seeking truth.”  Such an approach is preferable to Christian books that act as if they have all the answers and have closed the book on the subject.

—-The book has stories about evil and how the authors (and the sufferers) believe that God has been at work in the midst of it.

—-The opening chapter, “If God Created Everything, Did He Create Evil?”, is compelling in that it does not just settle for standard Christian answers but tries to go deeper.  It also delves into Christian views that evil is a deficiency or a corruption of the good.

—-The book vividly demonstrates how acts and thoughts that seem only minutely evil can have profound, corrupting consequences.

—-The chapters open with anecdotes, often personal anecdotes, that draw in the reader and set the stage for the discussion.

—-While the humor was a little overrated, the humor in the biographies about the authors was actually quite funny.

—-The book’s contrast between God being our strength in our weakness (the Pauline view) and us becoming stronger as a result of our suffering and failures is poignant.

—-The book’s point that people who escape certain forms of suffering should thank God that they have been recipients of divine grace (not salvific, but temporal) may not answer a lot of questions, but it may be a useful way to approach a question: should people thank God for their fortune in a particular case, when others suffer misfortune?

Here are some critiques:

—-The book’s justification of divinely-sanctioned violence in the Bible is weak.  The chapter opens with a story about a lawyer who challenged one of the authors about the slaughter of innocents in the Bible (i.e., Canaanite children).  The book did not really address that issue, though.

—-If the authors are correct that suffering performs an important role in this world  (i.e., it manifests God’s respect for free will, it allows people to build character), why did God not create the world with suffering, and why will God eliminate suffering in the eschaton?  What is lacking in this book is a panoramic look at the question of suffering.

—-The authors blame a lot of suffering on the Fall.  They should have addressed evolutionary history, which some believe casts question on whether there even was a historical Fall.

—-In response to the question of why bad things happen to good people, the authors echo the common Christian response that there are no good people.  Where exactly are they going with that?  Are they implying that God punishes everyone for human flaws or sins?

—-The book offered helpful advice about what not to say to people who are suffering, but it was rather short on advice about things to say and do for sufferers.  The book also should have been more specific and practical about how to help people in the world.

—-The book had stories about people who died when they were young and did not get to fulfill their vocation.  They did well to tell those stories, but such stories, in my opinion, amplify the theological problem of suffering.  What purpose does it serve for so many people to die when they are young?

—-The book was honest and had some good insights, but, overall, it rehashes a lot of the typical Christian answers to the problem of evil.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher.  My review is honest.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Book Write-Up: City of God, by Augustine

I read Augustine’s City of God over the last four months.  Here are some things that I found interesting (not that this post does justice to this mammoth work):

A.  The back cover of my Penguin Classics edition states:

“Augustine discusses first the ancient polytheistic religion of Rome; secondly, the arguments of the Greek philosophers, with emphasis on the Neo-Platonists; last, creation, time and eternity as presented in the Bible.  His thesis is that Rome, as the earthly City of God, should bring together the revelation of the Bible, the wisdom of Greek philosophy and the honour and dignity of her own tradition, and so enable the members of her church to enter into the eternal City of Heaven through regeneration in Christ.”

I definitely saw in the City of God the first point that this quotation makes: that Augustine critiques pagan polytheism and philosophy.  I did not see the second point, at least not entirely.  That is not to say that it’s not there, but that I do not recall it.

Augustine is responding to the pagan argument that Rome fell because it converted to Christianity and thus displeased the gods.  Augustine mounts many arguments against Greco-Roman pagan religion in City of God, such that he was practically the Robert Ingersoll of his day, at least when it came to pagan religions.  One argument that Augustine makes is that paganism fails even on its own assumptions.  Is misfortune a sign of displeasing the gods, according to Greco-Roman religion?  Then, Augustine inquires, what about the misfortunes that pagan Rome suffered back when it was pagan, and piously pagan, at that?  Christianity, by contrast, has a way to account for suffering, even of the righteous.  According to Augustine, suffering encourages people to be humble and to value eternity.  Moreover, Augustine believes that God gives and withholds temporal blessings for a reason: God gives them to show that divine providence actually exists, while God withholds them to encourage people not to worship God primarily for temporal rewards.  Augustine asks other questions, as well: If the Greek and Roman gods are not as immoral as they are depicted, as some pagans argue, then why did these gods (according to pagan writings) demand that cities put on plays depicting the gods’ immoral acts?  For Augustine, the answer is that these gods are demons, perversely delighting in such plays about them.  If the entire world is God or indwelt by a divine World Soul, does that mean that anything we trample underfoot is God?  Augustine’s arguments go on.

The second point—-about Augustine wanting Rome to combine the Bible, Greek philosophy, and Roman tradition—-is somewhat present.  Obviously, Augustine favors the divine revelation that is in the Bible.  On philosophy, Augustine takes a rather dim view of it, seeing it as internally contradictory and often unreasonable.  He values Platonism because it comes close to Christianity in certain concepts (i.e., creation), and he even suggests that Plato may have encountered Judaism, but he maintains that Platonism falls short.  At times, he argues that Christianity is consistent with certain pagan philosophical ideas, against pagan arguments that Christianity makes no sense, on such doctrines as the physical resurrection of the dead.  Overall, though, while Augustine is quoted as saying that Christianity should plunder the wisdom of Greek philosophy, his view of philosophy in City of God seemed to be dim.  On Roman virtues, Augustine acknowledges them, but he also points out a lot of Roman vices, or he argues that the virtues fall short (e.g., he asks what makes suicide so virtuous, as some Romans argue, when one would think that endurance would be more virtuous).

That second point sounds like Augustine was promoting some sort of Christian theocracy.  Maybe he had that agenda, but it did not stand out to me in City of God.  Rather, Augustine presented the City of God as God’s righteous people, going back to the antediluvian times.  The City of God is also eschatological, in that it is the heavenly city where the saints will ultimately go.

B.  Augustine extensively picks apart Greco-Roman paganism, but does he offer a positive case for Christianity?  I do not recall that much of a positive apologetic being presented in City of God.  Augustine contends that the barbarians’ preservation of the Christian churches when they invaded attests to the truth of Christianity, on some level.  He tells anecdotes of Christian miracles he has seen and heard about, often revolving around Christian saints.  He says that it is a wonder that so many people have embraced the Christian doctrine of the resurrection, when that runs contrary to prominent pagan philosophical ideas.  Augustine goes out of his way to explain apparent oddities in Christianity, but, in some cases, he seems to rest on mystery.  Augustine says that murder and suicide are wrong, but then he has to deal with Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac, Jephthah’s sacrifice of his daughter, and Samson killing himself with the Philistines.  Augustine essentially says (as I understand them) that these actions must be right because God commanded them.  Augustine does not strike me as a Josh McDowell sort of apologist, one who attempts to show that Christianity has a solid evidential foundation.  He comes across as more of a fideist, yet he also tries to present Christianity as internally reasonable.

C.  Augustine is renowned for believing that the male sex drive is a result of original sin.  In City of God, he believes that God before the Fall intended Adam and Eve to have sex, in order to be fruitful and multiply.  But they would have sex without the male sex drive being part of the sexual activity.  Augustine appears to be pro-marriage, here.  At the same time, he seems to think that Christian singleness is preferable.  Augustine attempts to refute an interpretation of I Corinthians 3:10-15, which talks about building on good and substandard materials and the prospect of some people being saved through fire.  As is the case today, some people back then were saying that professing Christians can enter the Kingdom of God without living a holy life, for they would be saved through fire.  Augustine responds that I Corinthians 3:10-15 does not teach this, but rather is about holy people who marry, and will experience the loss of marriage when they enter the Kingdom of God.

D.  The Protestant Reformation is often considered to be a return to Augustine.  Augustine believed in original sin (i.e., a severe human propensity towards evil) and thus the necessity for divine regeneration, whereas Aquinas supposedly had a stronger view of human free will.  On justification, however, Augustine in City of God came across as Catholic: he did not stress God imputing righteousness onto the believer and considering the believer forensically righteous, but more the believer becoming practically holy and righteous through the power of God.  When Paul in Romans 10:3 states that the Jews wrongfully sought to establish their own righteousness rather than accepting the righteousness of God, Augustine does not appear to define the righteousness of God as God’s free gift of imputed righteousness, as a number of Protestants do.  Rather, he treats it as the practical righteousness that God enables believers to have, through the Holy Spirit.  He undoubtedly believed in divine forgiveness of sins, though.

E.  Augustine is sometimes presented as proto-Calvinist, or so he came across to me when I first learned about him years ago.  Augustine believed in predestination: that God chose those who would be saved.  At the same time, at least when it comes to Lucifer and the demons before their rebellion and pre-Fall Adam and Eve, Augustine appears to have a stronger (or more libertarian) view of free will than, say, Jonathan Edwards.  Jonathan Edwards argued that something needed to cause Adam and Eve’s sin, since choices cannot pop out of nowhere, and he maintained that what caused it was a withdrawal of divine grace.  Augustine, by contrast, seems to maintain that Lucifer and the demons and pre-Fall Adam and Eve could make a genuine choice for God or against God.  Still, when it comes to the eschaton, when saints will be unable to sin, Augustine affirms that their inability to sin at that time will be consistent with them having free will.  In this case, Augustine comes across as compatibilist: that the saints will act according to their choice (to be righteous), even if they will be unable to choose otherwise (to do evil), and thus they technically have free will.

F.  A number of progressive Christians have presented Augustine as a Christian thinker who did not take the creation account of Genesis 1 literally.  Maybe he did not, in another writing.  In City of God, however, he defends a young age of the earth against Greek views that the earth was much older.  Moreover, while Augustine does maintain that several events in the Book of Genesis have a deeper, allegorical meaning that concerns Christ and the church, he still believes in their historicity.  For example, Augustine attempts to answer a skeptical question about Old Testament figures having advanced ages when they had children.  Did they seriously refrain from sex until they were a hundred or so years old?  Augustine replies that, of course, they had sex and children long before that, but that Genesis is only mentioning the child they had when they were at an advanced age.  The goal of the genealogy, after all, is not to list all of the children that the people had, but only the children who led up to Noah, or Abraham.  The children listed in the genealogy are not necessarily the oldest, but they are the ones who lead up to Noah, or Abraham.  That made sense to me at first, but then I noticed that Genesis 5:32 appears to say that Noah was five-hundred years old when he had Shem, Ham, and Japheth.  As far as I am aware, those were his only children.  In light of that consideration, the question that Augustine was addressing still stands (unless one wants to say that Noah had children before them, and they died prior to the time of the Ark and the Flood).

G.  Augustine maintains that both the Hebrew Old Testament and the Septuagint are divinely-inspired, even though he is aware that there are clear differences between them.  Looking at Book 4, Chapters 13-14, Augustine seems to vacillate between saying that we should go with the Hebrew when it contradicts the Septuagint on genealogical ages, and saying that the LXX is divinely-inspired.  Another thorny issue, for Augustine, is Genesis 6:2.  Augustine interprets the sons of God who have sex with the daughters of men in that verse as the sons of Seth, the righteous line, not as angels.  But the LXX and the Book of Enoch regards the sons of God as angels.  Augustine argues that the sons of God were human yet had some sort of angelic status, due to their righteousness.  Regarding I Enoch, Augustine expresses doubts about its authenticity, though he does believe that Jude 1:14 (which is in I Enoch) is an authentic saying of Enoch.

H.  Regarding Augustine’s interpretation of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Augustine believes that it points to Christ.  In some cases, Augustine believes that the text’s Christological meaning is in addition to its historical meaning.  Augustine appears to believe that Hannah’s song in I Samuel 2 is about the birth of Samuel, on some level, but that, even more, it is about Christ.  Augustine argues that some aspects of Hannah’s song do not fit her or Samuel: Hannah says in v 5, for example, that the barren bore seven sons, whereas she bore Samuel and five other children, not seven (see v 21).  For Augustine, Hannah’s song is ultimately about Christ overturning evil.  Augustine also regards Samuel as a type of Christ, in that Samuel, technically, was not legally qualified for the Aaronic priesthood; similarly, Christ would be a non-Aaronic priest.  While Augustine believes that some texts in the Hebrew Bible have a double application, there are many cases in which he argues that the Christological meaning is the only meaning.  When Malachi 1:11 affirms that God’s name will be glorified among the Gentiles, Augustine sees that as a prediction of the Gentiles coming to Christ, nothing else.  Other points: Augustine regarded the temporal blessings for the righteous in the Old Testament as symbolic of eschatological, spiritual blessings for believers in the afterlife.  Augustine also had an interesting interpretation of Malachi 4:6, which states that Elijah will turn the heart of the father to the son and the son to the father.  Augustine notices that the nouns are singular in the Greek and thus interprets the Father as God the Father and the son as Jesus Christ.  For Augustine, the passage is about God’s exaltation of Jesus.  Augustine believed that the Jews would eventually embrace Christ, in response to that.

I.  Augustine was an amillennialist, in that he believed that the millennium of Revelation 20:2-7 is a current reality rather than a paradisaical earthly kingdom that Jesus will rule after his second coming.  According to Revelation 20:2-7, Satan is bound during the millennium, and Augustine leans heavily on Matthew 12:29/Mark 3:27, in which Jesus implies that he is binding the strong man (Satan) in his earthly ministry, at his first coming.  This view can inspire a question: What about the New Testament passages that indicate that Satan is active during the church age (II Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 2:2; I Peter 5:8; etc.)?  How is this consistent with the amillennialist belief that Satan is currently bound?  Augustine attempts to offer explanations.  Whether or not they are convincing is another question.  Looking at these sections (Book 20, Chapters 7-8) a second time, I see his argument that Satan is bound in the hearts of the impious, and that Satan is limited in his ability to tempt.

J.  Some Christians nowadays assert that we should not love ourselves but should love God and neighbor; or, more accurately, they say that God does not command us to love ourselves but assumes that we do so and exhorts us to love others as ourselves.  Self-love plays a significant role in City of God, however, for Augustine affirms that Christianity leads to personal happiness.  For example, Augustine argues against the view that people can live unholy lives while atoning for their sins through forgiveness of others and giving alms, and he does so through an appeal to I Corinthians 13, which states that giving to the poor without love is nothing.  Essentially, Augustine argues that those who who give to the poor while living an unholy life are not loving themselves, for they are not pursuing what is good for themselves.  In this case, Augustine interprets a chapter that is about love for others in reference to enlightened egoism.

I’ll stop here.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Book Write-Up: Inspirational Explosion from Deep Within

Leroy Hubbert.  Inspirational Explosion from Deep Within: God’s Anointed Touch.  Xlibris, 2014.  See here to buy the book.

Leroy Hubbert served in the U.S. Air Force and was in the military for 22 years.  This book contains some of his life story and experiences, his spiritual Facebook statuses, his poetry, his interactions with Scriptures, his prayers, and his visions.

His spiritual Facebook statuses were like aphorisms, only they were longer.  Reading them was like reading Confucius or the Tao Te Ching, only they are from an evangelical Christian perspective.  They are statements that require some thought and meditation to digest.

His poetry was all right.  The stanzas had four lines.  The first two lines rhymed with each other, and the last two lines rhymed with each other.  Or they almost rhymed.  It took talent to write those poems, but the rhythm was not always consistent, which was a distraction.

The interactions with Scriptures, the prayers, and the narrations of Hubbert’s visions could have used an editor.  A lot of times, they read like my translations of ancient Greek in classes: awkward.  They also had typos and misspellings, and the sentences were long.

The parts of the book about Hubbert’s life story and experiences were good in terms of their content, in that Hubbert talked about his spiritual struggles and his joys.  Hubbert communicates with honesty, but the narrative style could have used some work.  It ran into the problems that I mentioned above, plus it could have been more vivid and compelling.

In terms of the spiritual substance of the book, Hubbert says a lot of things that other Christians have said, about waiting on God, God’s plan for our lives, how trials produce character, and the importance of forgiveness.  Hubbert’s application of these principles to his own journey is respectable.  His point that forgiveness is turning over people and situations to God has been said by Christians before, but it resonated with me as I read Hubbert’s book.  There were times when Hubbert shared a fairly deep concept, as when he said that praising God “brings understanding to why we have been called” (page 173).

The book is all right and may help people (it probably has already), but, as I said, it could use some editing—-or at least parts of it could.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author.  My review is honest.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Church Write-Up: Pie-Eating Contest, Forgetting, and Salt

For church last Sunday, I attended the evangelical church that I call the “Pen Church” (since I get a free pen there), and the African-American Baptist church.  In this post, I will talk about something that happened to me at the Pen Church, then I will discuss the sermons at the churches.

A.  I went into the Pen Church, and a woman asked me if I wanted to be part of some drawing.  I initially declined, but then I asked if it cost anything, and she said no, so I got a ticket with a number.  I was hoping that my number would not be called, but I had a vague sense deep-down that it would be.  And, sure enough, it was the first number that was called!  I went up to the stage, three other numbers were called, and all four of us participated in a pie-eating contest, with pumpkin pie.  This was the first pie-eating contest that I had ever done.  There was a fork in the pies in case we wanted to eat them with a fork, and a towel in case we wanted to stuff our faces!

I had some strikes against me.  For one, this was around 9 A.M.  I do not have much of an appetite in the morning.  That’s why I don’t eat breakfast, even though people insist to me that it is the most important meal of the day.  I’m just not hungry in the morning, and I feel queasy when I eat.  Second, this was pumpkin pie, which has a weird sweet taste.  Third, while I like pumpkin pie, I do not like downing it really quickly.  The clock started, and I took my bites and chewed.  I could not down it quickly, since I needed to chew and swallow my food!  I lost the contest, but it turned out that I did about as well as the others.  Nobody finished their pie.  The winner only finished half of it in the allotted time!  I finished a little over a fourth of it.

B.  The sermon at the Pen Church was about the Joseph story and about how God can use the things of our past that we would rather forget for God’s glory and to help others.

Earlier this past week, I was reading a book about forgiveness.  Reading that book, and hearing the sermon at the Pen Church last Sunday, reinforced in my mind a question that I have frequently asked myself: if I could take an eraser and erase the painful memories from my mind, would I do so?  A lot of times, forgiveness is presented as forgetting the pain that we have experienced from others.  We are not to dwell on the past, we are told, but we are to stay in the present and move on.  But I think of what Captain Kirk said in Star Trek V, when the Vulcan Sybok offered to take away Kirk’s pain: “Our pain makes us who we are.  If we lose that, we lose ourselves.  I do not want you to take away my pain.  I need my pain!”  My pain has produced negative effects: resentment, jealousy, hatred, and a dearth of hope.  But, at times, it has produced positive effects, such as compassion for others.  And, as the pastor said, what would Joseph’s story be like without the painful aspects of his life?  He would look like he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but that was not the case, for Joseph suffered.

In terms of how I believe I should deal with the past, I do not think that I should dwell on negative memories as much as I do.  But I can still acknowledge that they are there and that God can use them.  They are a part of me, whether I dwell on them or not.

C.  The sermon at the African-American Baptist church was about how Christians are the salt of the earth.  They are to pray for people, live lives of dignity and righteousness, and make people thirsty for what Christians have, as salt makes people thirsty.

I could identify with what the pastor said about praying for our leaders.  I do so regularly, on account of Trump being President and my fear of disaster that can result from him saying something inappropriate.  But I have particularly been praying for President Trump and the mayor in Puerto Rico to cooperate and to help Puerto Ricans get the food and water that they need.  Maybe both are responsible for their conflict with each other, on some level (and I will NOT get into a debate about that on this blog, or anywhere else), but my hope is that they can bury the hatchet and work together on what is important, rather than squabbling.

In terms of making people thirsty, I do not do that, or even try to do that.  I am all for trying to be a good person, but, speaking for myself, I find being an advertisement for Christianity to be phony.  It entails me acting as if I am better than I am, and as if I have solid answers that I do not have. 

That said, I found an interesting blog last week, and I included it in the Asperger’s section of my Blogger Blog.  This blog that I found is called “Asperger Ministry.”  One post was entitled “How Neurological Differences Affect Our Christian Witness.”  I liked this statement from the post (and I have slightly modified it):

“[In f]ocusing on being a good witness[,] the focus is on self and not Jesus. We need to approach others with the mindset of Philippians 2:3. Christians, being human as we are, can easily get effect and cause subtly twisted backwards. Jesus never asked His Heavenly Father to show Him how He could be a good witness. The reason He didn’t need to do this was because He was humble. Walking in the Spirit can’t be done unless we’re humble.”

Friday, September 29, 2017

Book Write-Up: 21 Ways to Forgive

Wes Daughenbaugh.  21 Ways to Forgive: Plus Nine Reasons We Must Forgive.  Redemption Press, 2016.  See here to buy the book.

Wes Daughenbaugh is a teacher and an evangelist, whose ordination is with the Assemblies of God.  In this book, Daughenbaugh presents nine reasons that people must forgive, followed by 21 suggested ways to forgive.  There are illustrations throughout the book that have a Mad Magazine sort of style.

The assets of the book are many.  The illustrations help drive home Daughenbaugh’s points.  The book also has stories in which Daughenbaugh demonstrates that he knows of what he speaks from personal experience and struggle.  The insights make sense.  They encourage people to move on from bitterness, to do good to others so as to have other memories besides negative ones, and to hope that God will use the offender for God’s benevolent purposes, as God used the apostle Paul, who had persecuted Christians.

Overall, the book backs up its insights with Scripture.  There are biblical passages that discuss the health benefits of having a positive attitude rather than an attitude of envy and bitterness, and passages that encourage people to put away bitterness.  One of Daughenbaugh’s thoughts was uncomfortable, yet he did cite Scripture in support of it: he said that unforgiveness could land a person in hell, citing Matthew 18:21-35 for support.  In some cases, Daughenbaugh made somewhat of a leap, even though aspects of his point are plausible, from a Scriptural perspective.  I think of his recurring argument that our pain is treasured in heaven, and God may draw from that deposit to show mercy to the offender or the offender’s descendants, such that the offender can bless others.  I can think of no Scripture that explicitly presents that scenario, but the apostle Paul is an example of a wrongdoer whom God used to bless others.  (Daughenbaugh also acknowledges that God may send judgment.)  Sometimes, Daughenbaugh does not support his thoughts with Scripture but rather with anecdote: he says, for example, that we should not rebuke the devil because that could draw demons to us.

There were cases in which Daughenbaugh offered an interpretation of Scripture that was new to me.  For instance, according to Daughenbaugh, when Paul said in Philippians 3:10-11 that he wants to be like Christ in his death, he meant that he wanted to die “without angerness, bitterness, or self-pity.”

Daughenbaugh writes from a certain perspective, one that is charismatic.  He believes that God has spoken to his heart, offering him guidance and insights in certain situations.  He also seems to believe in temporal blessings and curses, on some level, which are related to forgiveness and unforgiveness.  (At least that was my impression, and I am open to correction.)  That made the book interesting to read, even if I am unsure about the extent to which I agree or disagree.  Granted, Jesus does appear to connect the faith that moves mountains with forgiveness in Mark 11:22-26.  There are passages in the New Testament epistles about bitterness being conducive to Satan’s activity, and about the devil somehow influencing or working in people.  But I wonder if there are other (or additional) ways to interpret those passages than what Daughenbaugh presents.

In terms of suggestions that I have, the book did omit an aspect of interpersonal forgiveness that occurs in Scripture, and that is confrontation of the offender (see Leviticus 19:17; Matthew 18:15).  Daughenbaugh did well to highlight Scriptures that exhort people not to start quarrels or to insult others (i.e., Proverbs 17:14; Ephesians 4:29), and, indeed, that raises an important question: How can we rebuke without telling a person off?  Daughenbaugh should have wrestled with this question.  To his credit, he did present ways to develop an attitude of love and compassion towards the person who offended.  But there are cases in which a person may be nice and helpful towards a person, while hating that person inside of his or her heart, making the outward love fake.  In such cases, confrontation may be helpful and healing, provided it is done right.

Another suggestion: Daughenbaugh should have offered some suggestions about how a hurt person can go out and love and help others.  That is not intuitive to everybody.  At the same time, Daughenbaugh did tell a good story about how this particular insight (i.e., spiritual warfare by loving others) worked in his own life.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through Bookcrash.  My review is honest!

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