Book Write-Up: At Work Within, by Rick Osborne

Rick Osborne.  At Work Within: Be Transformed into All God Created You to Be.  Impartation Idea, 2016.  See here to buy the book.

In At Work Within: Be Transformed into All God Created You to Be, Rick Osborne talks about how Christians can be spiritually transformed.  According to Osborne, the Gospel is not just about accepting Christ and going to heaven.  Referring to New Testament passages, Osborne makes a case that the Gospel is also about Christians becoming conformed to God’s image, and people becoming righteous like God.

How do Christians become this, with all of their sinfulness, wayward thoughts, and uphill spiritual battles?  Osborne raises a variety of considerations, as he continually appeals to Scripture for support.  Osborne emphasizes God’s activity of working within Christians to will and to do God’s good pleasure (Philippians 2:13).  There is Christ’s presence with and within Christians, discipling, motivating, and empowering them.  Faith that God will accomplish this spiritual transformation and hope for the good that God has in store for believers also play a significant role in the Christian life, according to Osborne.  Christians are to recognize that they are new creations, which means that they are acting according to how they truly are when they are righteous, and against who they truly are when they sin.  They are consciously to put off fleshly attributes such as sexual immorality and anger, and put on attributes such as humility and love (Colossians 3).

Scripture reading, memorization, and prayer about Scripture are crucial aspects of sanctification, according to Osborne, for the Holy Spirit uses Jesus’ words in instructing believers (John 14:26), and focusing on Scripture enables believers to keep God’s agenda in the forefront of their minds.  In the picture of sanctification that Osborne presents, God plays a role in instructing and empowering Christians, and Christians remind themselves of godly attributes through reading and memorizing Scripture and demonstrate their continued reliance on God through prayer.  Osborne’s model is not rigid, for the Holy Spirit can be flexible in terms of what he wants to teach a believer at a given time.  Osborne also stresses that Christians should regard spiritual transformation as an act of divine grace, which God gives freely, not something that they deserve or earn.

In the Conclusion, Osborne has a more communal focus, as he talks about discipleship.  Osborne expresses problems with spiritual mentorship.  For Osborne, the goal of discipleship is not for mentors to create clones of themselves, but rather to point disciples to Christ, so that they can learn from Christ themselves.  Osborne believes that Christians should go deeper than listening to a sermon once a week and going to a small group, noting the intensive teaching and discipleship that occurred in the New Testament.  Still, in discussing practicalities, Osborne seems to fall back on the paradigm of church services and small groups.

Osborne shares his own experiences of spiritual success coupled with spiritual fruitlessness and emptiness (these co-existed, according to Osborne).  He talks about dreams that he has had that he believes are from God, and what he thinks that those dreams teach him and can teach others.  Each chapter also ends with short sayings, many drawn from the book itself, which readers can share on social media.

In terms of positives, Osborne conveys a compelling and passionate thirst for God, one that wants to go deeper in a relationship with God.  Osborne asks interesting questions and makes intriguing observations about biblical passages.  He notes, for example, that Paul in Romans 1:15 wanted to share the Gospel with Christians, whereas many evangelicals today often act as if the Gospel is primarily supposed to go to non-believers so that they can be converted.  In discussing Ephesians 3:17-21, Osborne observes that Paul is asking Christians to know what is beyond knowledge, which appears rather paradoxical.

Osborne portrays a relationship with God in which God is tangible and real, and I have difficulty identifying with that.  Therefore, I appreciated something that Osborne said on page 55: “…Jesus is walking with you and teaching you, whether it always feels like He is or not…”

Osborne does well to criticize authoritarian impulses in Christian circles.  In response to Christians who rely on their favorite teachers, Osborne points out that Paul in I Corinthians 10:15 encouraged the Corinthian Christians to judge for themselves what Paul says.  Osborne’s contrast of discipleship with mentorship was also effective.

Overall, Osborne painted a specific picture of the sort of spiritual activity that he was prescribing.  He gave examples of what believers can do in praying about Scriptures, and he described how that worked in his own life.  His story about how God transformed his attitude towards women (moving it from lust to humanizing and honoring them) conveyed where Osborne was, where God wanted him to be, and how God moved him in that direction, with Osborne’s participation and cooperation.

In terms of critiques, I think that Osborne’s method can be effective, in some areas, but I doubt that it can remove or heal every deep scar, weakness, or inability, at least not by itself.  Many people may need more, such as counseling, or medication.  Osborne mentions counseling in one brief passage, but the book would have been better had it presented a more holistic picture of healing and transformation.  Osborne also could have been more specific about how Christians can edify others, beyond advising them to share passages from the book on social media.  Since I am a bit of a loner, I somewhat gravitated towards Osborne’s individualistic picture of the divine-human relationship (not that he necessarily intended it to be individualistic).  Still, as he acknowledges, Christians are to take their transformation into interactions with others.  He should have been more specific about how that can occur, and what it looks like.

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

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Thanksgiving, the Problem of Evil, and Eschatological Hope

I have three items about last Sunday’s church service.

A.  Someone was telling the congregation about his Thanksgiving.  He was talking about sitting on the couch, watching football on TV after having his Thanksgiving meal, dozing off.  In the midst of all this, he said, he had a sense of God telling him that everything will be okay.  He said that we can have this experience when we are with family on Thanksgiving, or if we are alone.

B.  The pastor was preaching about the importance of thanksgiving.  He was talking about an experience that he had when his daughter was sick.  All of the doctors were believers, and he said that he could feel the presence of God.  The pastor said that God may not always do that sort of thing, but there are occasions when God does.

The pastor also talked about how God may have delivered us from peril, and we were not even aware of it.  Someone may have been about to assault you, for example, but God diverted the would-be assaulter’s mind onto something else.

When a Christian says this, my mind cannot help but to ask “problem of evil” questions.  Why didn’t God stop that other assault, or misfortune?  Some think it makes more sense to say that God doesn’t intervene at all, rather than to say that God stops evil in some cases but not others.  With this mindset, can we truly thank God, as if God is the source of our good fortune?

I cannot provide a satisfactory answer to the problem of evil.  I do not dismiss the possibility of God’s existence, though, for there are people who have what seem to be God-moments.  I also believe in having gratitude and expressing it towards people, rather than taking people and positive circumstances for granted.  That sort of attitude, as opposed to a sense of entitlement, can help a person have a better attitude towards life, and maybe to get along with others better.  As far as the problem of evil goes, people who have should think about people who need and, if they can, they should help provide for their needs.  That does not exactly solve the problem of why God seems inactive in the face of evil, but it does hopefully discourage an attitude of being satisfied with our good fortune and leaving things there.

C.  The pastor was saying that we should get used to thanking God here, because we will be doing that a lot in heaven.  He said that there will be no football and baseball in heaven!  No, we will be praising and spending time with God, and we will be spending a lot of time with God’s people!

That reminded me, somewhat, of a Mark Driscoll sermon that I heard last week.  Driscoll was saying that God is loving, even towards people in hell.  God loves the people in hell, Driscoll said, but God will not let them into heaven where they can hurt God’s people.

What troubles me about these sentiments is that they assume that how people are now is how they will be in the afterlife.  I fare positively and negatively, according to these criteria.  On the one hand, I do enjoy spending time with God in prayer and listening to and singing praise songs.  On that criterion, I will love heaven!  On the other hand, I do not particularly enjoy socializing with Christians, and there are times when my attitude towards God is negative.  On those criteria, I won’t like heaven that much!

I suppose that one can say that God will transform Christians and cleanse them of sinful imperfections before letting them into heaven.  I am hesitant, though, to say that heaven and this life are radically discontinuous from each other.  Why am I in this life, building character, if God will transform me and everyone else after we die, anyway?  Is it so I will better appreciate my transformed state, in which I will no longer struggle against sin because I will be sinless?

What exactly is my eschatological hope?  I grew up in Armstrongism, which said that believers would become godlike beings, ruling the earth and creating their own universes.  This may beat sitting on a cloud and playing a harp, but it does not particularly appeal to me.  Some Christians talk about learning, attending lectures, and listening to Mozart playing a live concert in heaven!  That appeals to me more!  Such a conception may allow there to be football and baseball in heaven, even though the pastor has a point when he notes that God will be a significant figure there, and so maybe in the here and now we should prepare ourselves for that by loving God.

The first time I really developed an eschatological hope was when I read Jonathan Edwards’ sermon, “Heaven, A World of Love.”  Edwards said that heaven is a place where people love each other.  If you do not have companions, Edwards said, do not hate those who reject you, but look forward to heaven, a world of love!  Edwards himself could get frustrated with people in this life, and his daughter, Esther, hoped even more for the millennium as she was dealing with difficult people (see here)!  On some level, Edwards may have believed that the love that believers have and show here will be continuous with the love that they will have and show in heaven.  But he and his daughter also allowed their social frustrations in the here and now to be a foil for the happiness and harmony that will exist in heaven.

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Open Forest: Anxiety Month

Psychiatrist Michiel Bosman edits the web site Open Forest.  This month, the site is focusing on the topic of anxiety.  Dr. Bosman asked me to share either the overview page or one of the blog posts, and I would like to share this article:

Helping Your Partner with Severe Social Anxiety: 5 Experts Weigh In

Something that Michele Paiva said in the article stood out to me:

“Social anxiety can be a wedge in an otherwise healthy relationship, and bring on patterns that lead to dysfunction. Imagine having a partner that refuses to, or creates stress around, family visits, going to a child’s school play, attending a holiday performance, going to work picnics, or simply being cordial to neighbors.”

A lot of the advice in the article sounds reasonable: be supportive, set small goals with your partner, and understand that your socially-anxious partner may need time to recharge.

One of the contributors, Carolyn Dean, says that magnesium can alleviate anxiety and “will go a long way in keeping a person calm in social settings.”  I’m neither endorsing that claim nor criticizing it, since I don’t know enough to evaluate it.  But she has links and a book, if you are interested.

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Mesothelioma: Virgil’s Story

Virgil Anderson has Mesothelioma, and he asked me to post his story, which he sent to me.  Here it is:

Mr. Anderson was born and raised in Williamson, WV.  His father, a coal miner, passed when Virgil was 8 years old. Virgil worked in demolition work and excavating since high school. This required the physical tear out, and hands on removal of asbestos containing insulation in walls, ceiling, attics and heating and cooling systems. To remove this required saws and sledge hammers all of which sent the asbestos fibers flying into the air. Unfortunately for Virgil the material had to not only be freed from its location but also picked up and carried to the disposal area. Once asbestos is disturbed it can stay in the air for 5 days. On some occasions there was a haze of dust and debris that you could actually taste in your mouth. He also came in contact with asbestos while working on his family’s farm and during his job as a press operator in the manufacturing of stovetops.

Virgil Anderson was recently diagnosed with mesothelioma cancer, which is a cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. Many other groups of people come in contact with a lot of asbestos and are also at risk.

When he was diagnosed with mesothelioma he needed immediate medical attention. He found a few websites on the internet that are supposed to help people with mesothelioma cancer but nobody got back to him.

Then he found Mesothelioma.net. Even though he contacted them on a Sunday one of their patient advocates gave him a call back within minutes. They gave him a great deal of helpful information on doctors and resources available to him.

As a result of their website, he is now being treated at the national cancer institute and the patient advocates have even provided him with financial assistance so he could afford a place to live during his chemotherapy. If he had not reached out to this website he would likely be homeless and more importantly in Hospice waiting to die. These people gave him his only chance at survival.

One year ago before all this happened, Virgil was very active but now he has become extremely limited in his activities. Now he spends his extra time spreading awareness and helping others who are in need of assistance. If you would like to contact Virgil, his email is virgil.anderson@mesothelioma.net.

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Book Write-Up: The Prayer God Loves to Answer

Daniel Henderson.  The Prayer God Loves to Answer: Accessing Christ’s Wisdom for Your Greatest Needs.  Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2016.  See here to buy the book.

The back cover of the book says (and these are excerpts, not the whole two paragraphs):

“Should I take that new job?  How can I be a better parent?  Who should I marry?  How can I make ends meet?…The source of all wisdom and knowledge has not called us to figure out life’s uncertainties for ourselves…In this book, Daniel Henderson shares his practical approach to prayer.”

In my opinion, this book is not exactly as it is advertised.  The writers of that summary may sincerely believe that their description is faithful to the content of this book, and I am not accusing them of being intentionally misleading.  What I am saying is that readers should expect something different from this book.

The book is essentially about Spirit-led character formation, and relying on God in prayer for that godly character.

What is the prayer that God loves to answer, to echo the title of this book?  According to James 1:5-6, God loves to answer people’s prayer for wisdom, provided those prayers are made with faith.  And what are the characteristics of the wisdom that God gives to those who ask?  James 3:17-18 states: “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.  And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace” (KJV).

That is how the book is organized.  The chapters unpack each of those characteristics of wisdom from above, then the book interprets v 18, which states that “the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace” (KJV).

The book has its share of positives.  It seeks to define the characteristics enumerated in James 3:17-18, rather than just assuming that readers know what they mean, and it looks to Scriptures for illumination.  Occasionally, it provided an insightful interpretation of Scripture that was new to me.  For example, it discussed James 3:1’s statement about teachers receiving stricter judgment in light of what James 3 later says about cursing and vain ambition; for Henderson, these would-be teachers may have been guilty of precisely that.

There were good quotations, such as the quotation of Charles Haddon Spurgeon that said that people’s unkindness should make us appreciate God’s kindness even more, and a quotation of John MacArthur about what God’s kingdom is about.  A few times, the book referred to aspects of Greco-Roman society that overlapped with or differed from the virtues of biblical religion, and that was interesting, or at least it can stimulate further research.

Often, the book was presenting a standard that appeared idealistic or unrealistic.  Yet, Henderson occasionally told stories about his own shortcomings, and he encouraged struggling Christians to persevere amidst spiritual failure.  Henderson also said that he has experienced God enabling him and others to be merciful, when they lacked the power within themselves to be so. Such testimony gave more credence to what he was saying.

The book presented a lot of thoughts that have been presented before, in other places, but there is nothing wrong with being reminded of these insights.  (This is not to suggest that Henderson is plagiarizing, but he does relay a lot of the common sense that is out there in Christian culture, and even secular culture: common sense about treating people with respect and being kind rather than winning arguments.)

In terms of negatives, the book would have been better had it addressed difficult questions.  Does gentleness mean that we have to be passive doormats and can never stand up for ourselves?  Does being impartial mean that we cannot love some people more than others?  Does avoiding hypocrisy mean being completely transparent to people about how we are feeling?  Really?

There was an occasion when Henderson raised an excellent question, but his answer was slightly disappointing.  He asked whether Jesus’ apparent preference for Peter, James, and John contradicted God’s standard for Christians to be impartial.  Henderson’s answer is that we cannot fully understand why God does what God does.  Maybe there is something to that answer, but I was hoping for a little more wrestling.

Another negative in the book, in my opinion, was a lack of pathos.  Henderson tried to convey some pathos.  He referred to a time when he pastored a church that was recovering from the previous pastor’s moral failure.  But Henderson only went so deep when it came to pathos, or to the grittiness and struggles of life.  Overall, the book conveyed a Zen-like, Pollyannish, and perhaps even a detached tone.

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

 

 

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Remember the forgotten, and keep friendships in repair.

Enough Light

I recently received a note in the mail that was simultaneously encouraging and discouraging. It was a heartfelt note of thanks from someone for always remembering their elderly relatives (a married couple) each Christmas with a card and handwritten letter. After one passed away, I carried on with sending a card to the surviving one. The person expressed special thanks that I kept on even after the spouse died. Because…

I was the only person who did.

The only one.

As said, I was very encouraged by this note of thanks. However, I also felt sad. I was the only one? A large number of people besides me had the same connection to this elderly couple, and I was the only one who dropped a note? How sad to be forgotten about, especially after a spouse dies, and when old.

I once wrote a post entitled: Learning something besides doctrine…

View original post 1,156 more words

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Current Events Write-Up: Castro, Trump’s Cabinet, Etc.

I have some links for my current events write-up this week!  I cannot guarantee that I will post a current events write-up every week, but, when I come across something that I think is worth sharing, I will share it.

Fidel Castro’s Death

Adam Dick of the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity briefly weighed in on Fidel Castro: “Yes, review Castro and his government’s rights abuses. Still, I find a comment offered by journalist Glenn Greenwald upon Castro’s death provides important perspective. Greenwald wrote, ‘The amount of attention and concern a foreign leader’s abuses receive in US discourse is solely determined by how much they ‘defy’ the US.’”  Got that right!  Is Castro that much worse than the dictators the U.S. has supported?

Martha Raddatz on ABC This Week confronted Bernie Sanders with comments that he made about Castro decades ago.  Be sure to watch the video because the article itself does not quote Sanders’ comments.  Bernie said back then that, just because Ronald Reagan does not like a leader of a country, that doesn’t mean the leader is unpopular with the country’s people.

On the same program, Ted Cruz offered another perspective about Castro.  Cruz, of course, is anti-Castro, but Cruz noted that his father was tortured by the person Castro overthrew, Batista.  That reminds me of how some of the “contras” in Nicaragua in the 1980’s were former Sandinistas.

Jacobin Magazine is left-wing, and its article on Castro expresses ambivalence.  On the one hand, the article sees Castro as a reformer who inspired other countries victimized by Western imperialism.  On the other hand, it recognizes the repression by the Castro regime, against homosexuals and others.

Arminian theologian Roger Olson reflects on Castro.  Olson talks about how the Cuban revolution intersected with his own life when he was growing up.  He also refers to an American Christian leader who met with Castro, and Castro denied being anti-Christian: Castro said he simply wanted missionaries to stick to religion rather than promoting capitalism.  Olson makes the boo-boo of saying that Joe McCarthy headed HUAC: McCarthy was a SENATOR, and HUAC was in the House of Representatives!  Still, this is a good post.

The Trump Cabinet

President-elect Trump is considering Democrat Harold Ford for Transportation Secretary.  The same article says that Trump is also considering Tulsi Gabbard “for a foreign policy/national security position.”  Gabbard has a Hindu background and is an Iraq War veteran.  She made headlines when she resigned her position as vice-chairman of the Democratic National Committee and endorsed Bernie Sanders.  If the wikipedia article about her is correct about her positions, then I think she would make a fine choice.  She can counter-balance the neo-cons in the Trump cabinet.

UPDATE: In fairness, I think I should link to this anti-Tulsi Gabbard piece, which is on the progressive site Alternet.

Breitbart had some surprises.  Joel Pollack was giving pros and cons of Trump’s selection of Nikki Haley as UN Ambassador.  Pollack lists diversity and her taking down of the Confederate flag as advantages.  Dr. Susan Berry says that Betsy Devos supports Common Core (which Devos herself disputes), and commenters criticize Trump’s new pick for Education Secretary.

So far, in my reading experience, Breitbart does not look as horrible as the media say.  It even featured an article by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach!  And it has spoken against white supremacists (see here and here).  At the same time, I have come across some thoughtful articles that deny that Steve Bannon is personally racist, while still saying that he blows racist dog-whistles, or gives a platform to racists.  They include a National Review article, a Mother Jones article, an interview with Ben Shapiro, and a blog post by Lydia McGrew.

Domestic Policy/Issues

I read some articles on infrastructure.  Trump and Bannon have both said that infrastructure will play a huge role in the Trump Administration.  Bannon even said that “The conservatives are going to go crazy” in response to that!  Steve Chapman presents a conventional conservative critique of the government spending more money on infrastructure to create jobs.  Jonah Goldberg (my source for that Bannon quote) offers more of a “yes, but” stance on infrastructure, as he offers criticisms of Trump’s plan and more progressive approaches.  And progressive economist Paul Krugman lambastes Trump’s proposal as a “privatization scam,” supporting instead a progressive approach in which the government funds the projects directly.  Should we trust the government or the private sector?  Tough choice!

Bring back manufacturing jobs?  The Crooked Timber had an interesting post on that, entitled Trade After Trump.  Here is a quote: “The idea of manufacturing jobs as ‘good’ jobs is historically specific particularly to the US, and reflects the fact that the dominance of manufacturing coincided with the New Deal and the unionisation of the labour force. It’s unions, not manufacturing that we need to bring back.”

Many Democrats now agree that Democrats should start, or get back to, caring about the white working class.  Unfortunately, some of their rhetoric can be pretty condescending towards that class, especially when it suggests that people from that class are stupid or voting against their own interests by voting Republican.  Arlie Russell Hochschild’s “I Spent 5 Years with Trump’s Biggest Fans. Here’s What They Won’t Tell You” was rather refreshing.  It’s a Mother Jones article, and Mother Jones, of course, is left-wing.  But it talks about the suspicions that white working-class people have about the government.  I’m all for social programs, but those who think that simply offering the white working class social programs will make the Democrats more electable should seriously assess the pros and cons of such an approach, rather than just assuming its viability.

New York Times: Bloomberg Says Cities Will Fight Climate Change, With or Without Trump

I’ve maxed out the number of free NYT articles I can read this month, so I could not read this article.  I loved this title, though!

John Stossell and Reason Magazine are libertarian.  For Thanksgiving, Stossel repeated the usual right-wing talking point about how the Pilgrims saved themselves from starvation by converting from collectivism to private property: never mind that everyone got private property under the Pilgrims, which differs from the vast disparities of wealth that exist under the current capitalistic system!  Stossel goes on, though, to argue against the lack of private property rights in the U.S. for Native Americans.  Stossel’s article would have been better had it gone into more detail, but I do appreciate his concern for Native Americans, especially in light of the current Standing Rock protests.

Foreign Policy

The Ron Paul Institute had some good articles.  The first is What Would an America-First Foreign Policy Look Like?  This article concisely explains Russia’s concerns about the missile shield in Eastern Europe: Russia feels outgunned by NATO and fears invasion.

You hear a lot from public officials against “fake news.”  Well, check out this Ron Paul Institute article: When It Comes to Fake News, the U.S. Government Is the Biggest Culprit.  Especially when it wants to promote war!

Historical Interest

November 22 marked the anniversary of the Kennedy assassination.  I have long had an amateur interest in the topic.  Unfortunately, there are books that I have not read about it, but I sat through hours of the “Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald,” twice, and I loved the Oliver Stone movie!  In any case, this LA Times article addresses a question: What if Kennedy wasn’t even Oswald’s target, but Connally was?

Posted in Current Events, Economics, History, Political Philosophy, Politics