Friday, December 31, 2010

Recollections of My 2010 Reading (Part 1)

Italo Calvino's The Baron in the Trees tells the story of a boy who went up a tree and never came down again--he moved about from tree to tree living and loving there. A lot of people like Calvino, so maybe I'll have to try another of his books. This one disappointed.

My best read of the year was Paul E. Miller's A Praying Life. It very nearly revolutionized my perspective and approach to prayer. Three things Miller did for me: 1) he made prayer more accessible for me; 2) he helped me understand the truth of "whatever you pray will be answered" passages (eg., 1 Jn 5:14-15); and 3) he helped me see prayer's proper place in parenting. I've written more on this book elsewhere.

Sara and I read Skid, by Rene Gutteridge, together. The third book follows a third Hazard family sibling, Hank, as he is employed by an airline to test the customer service of their flight attendants. His Christian faith carries him--and the rest of the crazy passengers--through a hilarious set of circumstances on his first flight. Not a book I'd pick up myself, but an entertaining one to read aloud to your spouse. We equally enjoyed the first two books, Scoop and Snitch.

Malcolm Muggeridge's Jesus: The Man Who Lives was written by a journalist who loved Jesus, and who came to love him as an adult. The book is, in a sense, a gospel, albeit not a divinely inspired one. It is also a commentary on the gospels, one that provides new perspectives throughout. A good read.

Anna and I read the first three Narnia books together. For the most part, I do not tire of reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian, or The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

Charles Williams, member of the Inklings and thus a friend of both Lewis and Tolkien, wrote some bizarre novels that drop the partition between our world and the supernatural. The Place of the Lion--I'm not sure what to say. I think I understood All Hallow's Eve a little better when I read that a few years back.

I'm always interested in what other people like to read, especially when it's a person I greatly respect, like Eugene Peterson. Take and Read swelled the list of books on my wish list.

I read Kevin DeYoung's short Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God's Will as teaching prep. Helpful and liberating, though I'm not sure his case is completely air tight.

One of the books Peterson recommended was Walter M. Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz. The story takes place after a nuclear holocaust sends civilization back to the dark ages. Through the centuries, the Church helps and hinders the rebuilding of society. Some interesting themes. Read my review.

I loved Dashiell Hammet's Red Harvest. A good detective story with a lot of great lines. Read my review.

Speaking of detective fiction, that's exactly what P. D. James does in Talking about Detective Fiction. It was fun to read her opinion of some of the great mystery writers, like Doyle, Christie, Chesterton, and Sayers. Among other things, she corrected my misperceptions of Sherlock Holmes.

I re-read Tozer's The Knowledge of the Holy during my devotions this year. There's a reason this book is a classic. Read previous comments.

Herman Wouk's A Hole in Texas was disappointing. There's a reason it was only a dollar at the dollar store. (I'm surprised it wasn't on sale.) Read my review.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Response to Four Recommended Articles

My senior pastor sends articles my way, as do other friends. Usually I read them.

Today I quickly read 4, and I thought I'd respond to them.

"Deeds Done in Darkness" reports the recent imprisonment and torture in Afghanistan of Afghan Sayed Mossa (or Said Musa). Imprisoned in May for conversion to Christianity, no amount of international pressure of any kind has brought about any change in his situation, until Sayed got a letter out. Now he's in a "safer" prison, at least. Our brother in Christ, 45, needs our prayers, as do his wife and 6 kids. He is not alone; the Lord is with him.

Brilliant author, mathematician, and agnostic Jew, David Berlinski responds to questions in "My Life, So Far," an article in Outreach Magazine that I can't seem to locate online. While most of his statements are cogent and logical, I fail to see why "Even if I was persuaded of the truth of [God as Creator and Jesus as His Son], I couldn't break that historical tradition [of being committed to the suffering body of Jewish people]." I though reason was his guiding mechanism, but apparently tradition occasionally slips into that role.

In "Sam Harris Believes in God," Sam Harris, one of the "new atheists," apparently believes in some kind of religious experience and self-consciousness. But he does not believe in the Christian God, whatever the title may mislead one to believe. For all this article's excitement about its find, Harris's beliefs seem little more than Eastern mysticism, which isn't too surprising since he spent much time in India and Nepal to study with Hindu and Buddhist teachers.

Finally, John Ortberg ("Tis the Season to Be Attentive") thinks Dallas Willard is on to something when he suggests that much of what pastors do is actually counter-productive to what their goal is, the spiritual formation of their congregations. Maybe, Ortberg suggests, if we would put less time and effort into services and planning, and more time and effort into hanging out with people, that would do the trick. Perhaps. But I grow increasingly wary of calls to chuck corporate worship, or to chuck anything that might have the smell of tradition on it, in favor of something new and innovative. There's probably a middle ground here.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Memorizing Scripture

Memorizing Scripture is a good way to hide it in your heart (Ps 119:11) and to meditate on it day and night (Josh 1:8; Ps 1:2). It's also an effective weapon in combatting temptation (cf. Mt 4:1-11). And what if one day, as in other countries, the Bible is taken from us? Memorized Scripture will become a rich treasure.

If you are looking for a Scripture memory plan, I offer you mine as an example.

I use 3x5 note cards. On one side I write the verse to be memorized. On the other side I write the Scripture reference in the upper left-hand corner.

Three to four times a week (during my prayer time at the church), I pick up the stack of cards, reference side up, and work through a few of the cards. I read the reference, quote aloud the verse from memory, and flip the card and read the verse as it's written. Then I place it on the bottom of the stack, reference side down.

When I get through the stack--and I know that when I come to a card that is reference side down instead of reference side up--I shuffle the cards for the next run-through.

At the top of the stack every day are the new verses I'm learning and the verses I misquoted when I last had the stack in my hands.

Each time I finish working through the stack, I add 2-3 new verse cards. They always stay on top of the stack, as well as the 2-3 verse cards I added last time. Just under these cards are the verses I misquoted last time.

So here's the "order of events" when I work through my cards:

  • Quote new cards (usually 5-6) and set them to the side
  • Quote misquoted old cards from last time (hopefully none; sometimes as many as 5)
  • Quote several old cards (cards quoted correctly go on the bottom of the stack; cards misquoted are set aside)
  • Quote misquoted cards from this go-around and place them on top of the stack
  • Quote new cards again and place them on top of the stack

What Verses to Select
The fun is in picking out verses to memorize. I have selected verses for a whole host of reasons.

--Select verses to help you combat particular temptations. (I memorized Mt 6:25-34 to help combat anxiety and Prov 14:29 to combat anger.)

--Select verses that you think you should know. (Recent examples for me include 2 Cor 5:21 and Acts 4:12.)

--Memorize whole chapters, 3 verses at a time. (For me Ps 33, Ps 103, and Heb 11)

--Memorize verses that strike you during a sermon or your devotional time. (This is how I've selected many of them, like my newest 3: Dt 8:2; Jn 21:18-19; Rom 14:17.)

--Memorize verses that are formative to your thinking about some aspect of theology. (For me, Eph 5:18 and Jn 7:37-39 for my thinking on the filling of the Holy Spirit, and Rom 6:8-13 for my understanding of our relationship to sin as Christians)

--Memorize verses that encourage you. (Lam 3:21-23 has ministered to me countless times.)

--Select passages that you find beautiful. (2 Sam 1:17-27, to me, is a beautiful lament and eulogy to Saul and Jonathan.)

--Memorize passages that help aim your life in the way it should be aimed. (Ps 27:4)

--Select passages that give you perspective when times get tough. (Mt 5:11-12; Rev 2:10; Acts 5:41)

--Memorize Scriptures that are just fun to know. (1 Kings 20:11; Jud 14:18)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

2 Christmas Videos

The digital story of the nativity is fun to watch. (My friend Phil put me on to that one.)

The Hallelujah Chorus at a Philadelphia Macy's store is awesome to watch. It sends shivers down my spine.

Monday, December 20, 2010

5 Christmas Traditions

Tradition is scorned in some circles. Tradition in the church is scorned. “The only reason they do it that way is because that’s the way they’ve always done it.”

But Christmas traditions are stilled viewed in a positive light. They are anticipated with fondness, at least at our house.

I credit Sara with establishing many of our traditions. What follows are some of our Christmas traditions. I wonder what some of yours are. Please feel free to hit the “comment” link at the bottom of this post and type in one or more of your Christmas traditions that you cherish.

Decorations. Of course we put up the tree and put out many of the other decorations. I typically put up the tree with the help of some of the kids. Sara then puts on the lights and beads. Then everyone hangs the ornaments. Other features of this special day include special snack food, like cheese and crackers and salami, or Panera bagels and cream cheese, maybe some cookies, maybe some special drink. We also play Christmas music, and invariably one of the Veggie Tales Christmas CDs is in the mix. The kids sometimes wear their Santa hats, and usually White Christmas is put in the VCR at some point later in the day.

Carols. Each evening (with a few exceptions) between Thanksgiving and Christmas we gather as a family in the living room with only the Christmas tree lights on. Each person selects a Christmas carol, and we sing one verse of each carol together. We conclude with prayer. A simple tradition, but we all love it.

Lights. A few days before Christmas we load up the van after supper and head out to look at Christmas lights. Sara supplies us with popcorn and insulated cups of hot chocolate. Our route usually includes the house in Emerald Lakes with 80,000+ lights and the owner dressed as Santa in his driveway. The past couple years we’ve made our way down to Zanesville to the United Methodist Church with the light display synced to the music on an AM station. We always end with the giant Santa and reindeer and the giant wreath downtown. Another simple tradition that we all look forward to.

Christmas Eve Service. 6pm every Dec. 24th finds us at Northside for a simple service. The first half of the service consists of 5 Advent readings, written by Pastor Ryan, punctuated with Christmas carols. The second half of the service includes a video meditation on Christmas, a lighting of candles, and the congregation singing "Silent Night" to the accompaniment of a single guitar, which concludes the service.

Pancakes. Every Christmas morning, Pastor Ryan and his family make pancakes and other breakfast items for whoever comes to the church between 9:00 and 11:00. My kids wouldn’t dream of missing it.

Friday, December 17, 2010

9 Ways to Worship Christ This Christmas Season

1. Send a Christmas card to someone you know is lonely.

2. Sing some Christmas songs to the Lord.

3. Attend an extra Christmas service, on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning.

4. Give a check or gift certificate to someone you know is struggling financially.

5. At your family gathering or staff party, single out someone you tend to ignore, and engage them in sincere conversation.

6. Visit someone in the hospital or nursing home to wish them a Merry Christmas.

7. Invite a neighbor to church.

8. Write a thank you letter to the Lord.

9. Meditate on John 1:1-18, and pray your response.

Answers to Christmas Numbers Quiz

See the quiz here.

1. 10

2. 2

3. 3

4. 6

5. 34th

6. 8

7. 3

8. 7

9. 6

10. 24

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Christmas Numbers Quiz

1. How many lords a’leaping did my true love give to me?

2. How many sizes too small was the Grinch’s heart?

3. How many of Santa’s reindeer have names that begin with “D”?

4. How many sides does a snowflake have?

5. On what street did a Santa Claus miracle take place?

6. How many thousands of dollars did Uncle Billy lose in It’s a Wonderful Life?

7. Besides Jacob Marley, how many ghosts visit Ebenezer Scrooge?

8. How many swans a’swimming did my true love give to me?

9. On which day of January is Epiphany celebrated?

10. How many days are on an Advent calendar?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What were you doing 2 weeks ago?

Pastor Johnson was beaten by 20 men. Here's the report from Voice of the Martyrs:

On Dec. 2, more than 20 Hindu extremists from the Bajrang Dal group attacked Pastor Johnson in Udayanagar, near Bangalore, India, accusing him of trying to convert people to Christianity. Pastor Johnson was leaving a prayer meeting at a believer's home when the extremists surrounded him and asked him why he was trying to convert people. "They simply started to beat him up," VOM contacts said. "The pastor's plea that he had just come on an invitation for a prayer ... simply fell on deaf ears." VOM contacts said the extremists then dragged Pastor Johnson to the Mahadevapura Police Station, continuing to punch him along the way. The extremists also reportedly beat him right in front of the police station, and police officers watched without saying a word or doing anything to stop the assault. At last report, the pastor was still in custody. Pray that God will heal this pastor's physical wounds and minister to him during this challenging time.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Where's the Line to See Jesus?

A St. Louis local artist, Becky Kelley, has released a Christmas song, entitled "Where's the Line to See Jesus?" that has become an Internet hit.

It may be destined to become one of those overplayed over-sentimental songs, like "Jesus, Take the Wheel" and "Watch the Lamb," but when you hear it the first few times, it's kind of cool.

While the song is good, the video is slightly creepy, but see what you think.

Bible Notes: Num 14; 20

Because of the Israelites’ refusal to enter the Promised Land, the Lord told them that they wander in the desert for 40 years, and that no one over the age of 20 would enter the Promised Land when that 40 years came to an end--no one except Caleb and Joshua, that is.

But when the Lord makes this judgment in Numbers 14, aren’t there 3 other exceptions--Moses, Aaron, and Miriam? Or does the Lord mean they won't enter, either?

As it turns out, none of the 3 of them did enter the Promised Land. Miriam dies at the beginning of Num 20, and Aaron dies at the end of it. In Num 20, Moses also seals his own doom when he strikes the rock God told him to speak to. So the formal reason Moses and Aaron don’t enter the Promised Land is the matter of the rock.

Did the Lord have Moses and Aaron (and Miriam) in mind, too, when he said in Num 14 that no one would enter the Promised Land?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Sports Radio Evidences a Righteous God

I recently discovered sports radio. I am not an avid sports fan, but when political radio depresses me, and when music radio seems banal and dry, from time-to-time sports radio provides a spark of interest.

When I first started listening, one thing I noticed right away was how consuming and important sports seems to be on sports radio. Why? Because that’s all they talk about. Even the news is sports-related news. It’s like nothing else in the world matters. When a particular show can talk about Monday night’s game for a solid hour, and then each show after that, with it’s own particular sports commentator, does the same thing, it (over-)emphasizes the importance of the game.

I heard one expert a couple days ago talking about how critically important 3 recent NFL games were to the post-season setup. “Critically important!” Yet in a few months, this season with its Super Bowl winner will take a back seat to the anticipation and talk and prophecies of the coming season.

Sports radio over-inflates--excessively--the importance of sports. That was my first discovery.

More recently I’ve been struck by the unique morality of the sports world. There’s a right and wrong in sports, but it’s unique to sports. It’s not the same as right and wrong in the political world or the right and wrong of the Bible (though there is some overlap). Let me give you some examples.

ESPN Radio's Scott Van Pelt hesitated to accuse an NFL team of being “the Q word,” which he indicated was “blasphemous.” The Q word, I presume, is “quitters.” And note that the word Van Pelt used was “blasphemous,” a word with religious connotations. Quitting generally doesn’t rank as blasphemous in the everyday world, but it does in sports.

Another sports show host recently "preached" about how the quarterback on any given team must take up the mantle of leadership, and he must lead by his example. This "sermon" came because of the recent escapades of a few quarterbacks which fell far short of the moral standard that this show’s host perceived to be in place.

Friday night I listened to another host analyze statements by Cam Newton, the Auburn quarterback who was awarded the Heisman trophy Saturday night. Cam and his father are under investigation for allegedly soliciting money from Mississippi and possibly other colleges in exchange for Cam playing for them--a decided legal no-no. Friday night’s host took apart some statements Newton made in an interview, analyzing each statement, holding each one up to the light of credibility, to see whether the guy was believable or not. It was what many preachers do with the word of God from the pulpit. They examine, exegete, and exposit it, word by word, line by line.

The Cam Newton flap has been interesting in terms of sports morality. The religious leaders, excuse me, the sports show hosts, range across a spectrum of opinions. "Nothing’s been proven, so love the guy and laud him," some say. Others lament the cloud and fear the possible shame thrown on the Heisman award if allegations against Newton prove true.

On the one hand, Newton is as righteous as anybody in the sports world--he excels at his sport and wins games. But violating NCAA rules? That’s almost as wicked as winning is righteous.

What do I take away from all this? You cannot get away from morality, from ethics, from a sense of right and wrong. Even in the supposedly amoral world of sports, there is in fact morality. There is right, and there is wrong.

Why? Because it’s in the warp and woof of humanity. We are a moral people; that is, we all hold to some form of morality, no matter how perverted it is. And we carry that sense of right and wrong into whatever fantasy world we create for ourselves. And in that world, our sense of right and wrong finds expression. To an athlete, it is a sin to quit. To an environmentalist, it is sin not to recycle. To an American liberal, it is a sin to speak ill of homosexuality. The moral code may be different from world to world, but there is a moral code.

This ultimately points to a Creator, and a righteous one at that. We have a sense of right and wrong because we were endowed with it at our origin, at our genesis.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

"In the First Light" Great Christmas Lyrics

Lyrics by Bob Kauflin

In the first light of a new day
No one knew He had arrived
Things continued as they had been
While a new born softly cried.
But the heavens wrapped in wonder
Knew the meaning of His birth
In the weakness of a baby
They knew God had come to earth.
As His mother held him closely,
It was hard to understand
That her baby not yet speaking
Was the Word of God to man.
He would tell them of His kingdom,
But their hearts would not believe
They would hate Him and in anger
They would nail Him to a tree.
But the sadness would be broken
As the song of life arose
And the First born of creation
Would ascend and take his throne.
He had left it to redeem us,
But before His life began
He knew He´d come back not as a baby
But as The Lord of ev´ry man.
Hear the angels as they´re singing
On the morning of His birth
But how much greater will our song be
When He comes again to Earth,
When He comes to rule the Earth!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Some Favorite Christmas Renditions

This is a repost from last year (with a new addition at the end).

Here are some of my favorite new Christmas tunes this year. (At least they're new to me.)

Warning: All these links take you to youtube to hear the songs.

Mandisa's rendition of "Children, Go Where I Send Thee." I've not really heard her before; she's powerful, and this arrangement is fantastic.

Casting Crowns' new arrangement of "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." Wow! How this new tune and chords improve this familiar song!

The lyrics of Downhere's "How Many Kings" are fantastic. Lyrics like:

Cause how many kings, stepped down from their thrones?
How many lords have abandoned their homes?
How many greats have become the least for me?
How many Gods have poured out their hearts
To romance a world that has torn all apart?
How many fathers gave up their sons for me?

Another good one is Sarah McLachlan's haunting "O Little Town of Bethlehem."

And here's a fun one that's not new to me, but it may be to you: "I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas," by Yogi Yorgesson.

Another by Sarah McLachlan: "What Child Is This? (Greensleeves)"

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Philippians 1:4

always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, (ESV)

Going back to 1:3 to get a running start into 1:4, note the inclusive words: “I thank my God in ALL my remembrance of you, ALWAYS in EVERY prayer of mine for you ALL making my prayer with joy.” The believers in Philippi bring a smile to Paul’s face and a lift to his heart. He always prays for them “with joy.”

People are a pain to put up with sometimes. I’ve heard pastors joke that ministry would be great if it weren’t for the people. Then there’s the rhyme,

To live above
With the saints we love
O that will be glory!
But to dwell below
With the saints we know
Well that’s a different story.

But there are people who are a great joy as well. Sara and I were recently talking about various people at our church who are an encouragement to us in a variety of ways, a lot of them because of their joyful partnership in the ministry of the church.

Imagine you’re at the grocery store, and clear at the other end of the aisle you see someone you know enter. Some people you know, the moment you see them at the end of the aisle, they will bring a lift to your spirits. They are a delight and have a heavenly effect on you.

Then there are others you know who drag you down emotionally. They are complainers, always focused on their problems. If they haven’t yet seen you at the other end of the aisle, you are so tempted to hurriedly scoot to another aisle to avoid detection and depression.

Thank the Lord there are people like the former in our lives.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Celebrities in WWII

On this 69th anniversary of the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor, I picked up A Patriot’s History of the United States, by Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen, and read some of their account of WWII.

To see pictures of that grim day, click here and here.

Interesting to me as I read was the number of actors who were quick to enlist:

Major Cecil B. DeMille, director of The Ten Commandments and The Greatest Show on Earth, signed up for the reserves.

Van Heflin, Academy Award winner, joined the army as an artilleryman.

James Arness, Marshal Matt Dillon in TV’s Gunsmoke, served in the army, was wounded at Anzio, and was awarded a Bronze Star.

Eddie Albert, Academy Award winner, was wounded at Tarawa and also earned a Bronze Star for rescuing wounded and stranded marines from the beach.

Don Adams, alias Maxwell Smart (Get Smart), served in the Marines and contracted malaria at Guadalcanal.

Charlton Heston, actor (The Ten Commandments, Planet of the Apes, Ben-Hur), was a radio operator on B-25 bombers.

Art Carney, alias Ed Norton on The Honeymooners, incurred a shrapnel wound at Saint-Lo.

Ernest Borgnine, star of McHale’s Navy, had already served in the navy 12 years before WWII and was discharged in 1941. He reenlisted that same year when America entered WWII and served another 4 years.

Desi Arnaz, husband of Lucille Ball, alias Ricky Ricardo on I Love Lucy, was offered a commission in the Cuban navy, where he could safely patrol the Caribbean. He refused and chose to enlist in the U.S. Navy instead, but was rejected because he wasn’t a citizen. But he could be drafted, and he was. He failed the physical but still ended up in the infantry, where he injured his knees. He finished the war entertaining troops.

Lee Marvin, Academy Award winner and star of The Dirty Dozen, assaulted more than 20 beaches in the Pacific with his marine unit, and after one battle, only Marvin and 5 others out of 247 had survived.

Walter Matthau, actor, earned an impressive six Silver Stars as an air force gunner.

Jimmy Stewart was the first major American movie star to wear a uniform in WWII. He flew more than 20 combat missions and eventually rose to the rank of Brigadier General in the United State Air Force Reserve.

--Most of this information was culled from A Patriot's History, 597-598, and supplemented by Wikipedia.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Bible Notes: Num 16:12-14

Talk about spinning a story! Dathan and Abiram accuse Moses with … Well, just read it straight, and I’ll explain it.

“Is it a small thing that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, that you must also make yourself a prince over us? Moreover, you have not brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey …”

These lines reek with untruths:
  • They look with fondness back on Egypt? They were in slavery, and a miserable slavery at that! (See Exodus 1-14.)
  • Moses was there to kill them? Moses, by means of his intervention with the Lord on a few occasions, was the instrument of their continued survival!
  • Moses wanted to make himself prince? Moses preferred not to be the sole leader! (See Num 11:11-15,29; 12:3.)
  • Moses hadn’t delivered on the promise of a land flowing with milk and honey? Well, that was true, but that wasn’t his fault. That was the people’s fault! They were the ones who refused to go into the Promised Land when the spies brought back an unfavorable report.

Friday, December 3, 2010

How many "had"s can you get in one sentence?

"Sherman had had what would now be called a nervous breakdown and had had to give up his command in Kentucky."

--Bruce Catton, Grant Moves South 90

Bible Notes: Num 16

The amazing story of Numbers 16 in a nutshell …

Korah (a Levite) and his friends Dathan and Abiram, along with 250 thugs accused Moses, “You’re making yourself a king. In God’s eyes , no one’s more special than anyone else.”

Moses answered, “I didn’t put myself in charge; God did. And he’ll show you in the morning. And what are you complaining about? Hasn’t he exalted you, Korah, and your fellow Levites when he called you to minister at the temple and to be a bridge between him and the people? Tomorrow, every one of you bring a censer with fire in it to present to the Lord. Aaron will, too. Then God will show us whom he chooses.”

Moses sent invitations to Dathan and Abiram, who were not Levites. They wouldn’t come, but they did send a message: “You’re a bad man. We had it good in Egypt, but you’ve led us into poverty.”

Then Moses was angry. So was the Lord. He told Moses and Aaron. “Leave! I’m going to destroy this whole nation, and I don’t want you to get hurt.”

But Moses and Aaron begged him not to. God backed off a bit, but he was still determined to deal with the instigators. So, since Dathan and Abiram wouldn’t come to him, Moses--and everybody else--went to them. But they didn’t get too close.

Dathan and Abiram and Korah and their families came outside and stood on their porches in defiance. Moses announced to the crowd, "If God himself hasn’t chosen me, then these men will die a natural death, but if the earth swallows them up, then you’ll know that these guys are messing not with me, but with God himself.”

The earth complied. It opened, swallowed the trouble-makers, their wives, their children, their homes and possessions, and then closed up again. The crowd was terrified and quickly scattered.

What of the 250 thugs? While they were presenting their fiery censers, God presented his fire in the opposite direction, and all that was left were 250 censers.

Did Israel finally get it? Ha ha! That’s a good one! The next day they accused Moses and Aaron of killing some good people. The Lord responded by renewing his threat to decimate the nation, and he started a plague on the camp’s outskirts that quickly began claiming lives.

At Moses’ direction, Aaron grabbed his burning censer, and ran quickly to the spreading plague where he placed himself between the living and the dead, “and the plague was stopped.”

Total casualties: 14,700

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Bible Notes: Num 12

This chapter of only 16 verses is chock-full of interesting tidbits.

#1 Miriam and Aaron complain about Moses! As if he hasn’t got enough trouble with the few million Israelites and their complaints.

#2 Two complaints are specified. The first is about his wife. They don't like her because she's a Cushite. This complaint isn’t addressed by the Lord. I’m guessing that we are to view this first complaint negatively, since the other complaint is rebuked and judged.

Here’s a question to follow up on, though? What of this marriage to Zipporah? (I assume that’s who’s meant.) Does this violate God's law, or at least reveal poor judgment, when God was concerned about the Israelites marrying the peoples around them?

Lev 21:7 gives instructions for priests who marry, and Lev 21:13-15 instructions for whom the high priest may and may not marry.

But this whole law in Lev 21 is for the priests, the "sons of Aaron." This brings us to a point of chronology: Moses was the brother of Aaron, and he was given this law in Lev 21 after he married Zipporah.

#3 The second complaint is more serious. They attack his special position as the leader of God’s people: “Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?”

This is the sin Aaron and Miriam get rebuked for. Their complaint is: “Moses isn’t any more special than us.” God’s rejoinder may be surprising: “Yes he is!” And the reasons God gives (detailed in 6-8) set Moses apart from just about everyone else in the human race besides Christ.

This ambition strikes me as akin to the devil’s. Aaron and Miriam are part of the leadership team of this nation. God had spoken through them. But it wasn’t enough. Being in the top 5 of a few million wasn’t enough. They wanted to be number 1.

Being “the signet of perfection” and “an anointed guardian cherub” wasn’t enough for the devil either (Ezek 28:11ff.). He wanted to ascend higher than God and be like him (Isa 14:12-14).

There’s a story of a holy man whom the demons were struggling unsuccessfully to tempt into sin. None of the traditional temptations worked. Finally in disgust the devil took over. “Watch and learn, boys.” He whispered into the old saint’s ear, “Your brother has just been made bishop.” And a spark of jealousy ignited in the old man’s heart.

#4 Moses was the meekest man on all the earth. That’s what verse 3 says. In other words, of the some 2-3 million Israelites, the one person over the age of 20 who didn’t want the job of leading the nation was the one person who had the job.

Moses wrote Numbers, didn’t he? How is it he wrote this verse? You would think the meekest man in all the earth would have the meekness not to record that point, and in truth, because of his meekness, not believe that he was the meekest man in the first place. Humble men see their own pride far more easily than do proud men. At this point, I think this verse may have been inserted--by inspiration of the Holy Spirit--by someone else later. Perhaps Joshua.

#5 Miriam is judged. When God is done rebuking Aaron and Miriam, he leaves, and Miriam is leprous.
  • Interesting that Aaron isn’t judged, too.
  • Interesting that Aaron begs Moses for help, and not the Lord directly. I thought the Lord spoke through him as well as Moses.
  • Moses does pray to for Miriam with all sincerity, and she is healed, but she has to remain outside the camp for 7 days.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Bible Notes: Num 11

Here we get an idea of God’s reaction to complaining.

The people complain about their misfortunes. The LORD burns down part of their camp until Moses intervenes. (1-3)

Some of the Israelites then complain about the LORD’s menu (“this manna“), remembering Egypt’s as much better. (4-9)

The people are weeping, God is angry, and Moses is upset. (10) Sounds like a Sunday morning at my house.

Moses complains to the LORD 1) about the burden of leading the people, and 2) about how he has no idea where to get meat for the people. (11-15)

God answers both complaints: 1) He will add 70 men to the leadership team, and 2) he will provide meat until they’re nauseated by the sight of it (“until it comes out at your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you”--what a vivid description!). (16-20)

Moses points out the flaws in God’s latter point: There are 600,000 men alone (not to mention how women and children swell that number). Slaughter the herds and flocks, and gather all the fish from the sea, and it still won't feed all the Israelites for a month. The Lord responds with a “don’t doubt my ability, and don’t doubt my word.” (21-23)

God delivers on the first promise: his Spirit comes to rest on 70 men. (24-30)

God delivers on the second promise, and big: he blows in a whole bunch of quail that drop to the ground all around the camp. (25-30)
  • The extent of the quail is a day’s journey in any direction, and it’s depth is 3 feet!!! The people spend 2 days gathering and distributing the meat. The minimum amount gathered by any person is 6 bushels of quail!
  • And while they are eating, God’s anger is kindled, and he strikes many of them down as they eat it. And there they are buried.

The chapter is framed by two judgments, and each judgment makes its mark with both death and a geographical name. The first place was called Taberah, which mean “burning” (3), and the second place was called Kibroth-hattaavah, which means “graves of craving” (34).

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Message Re-titles the Priests

While I enjoy and appreciate the perspective The Message gives me, one decision Eugene Peterson made puzzles me. He reversed the titles of the chief priests and the high priest.

Thus in Mark 14:53-54: “They led Jesus to the Chief Priest, where the high priests, religious leaders, and scholars had gathered together. Peter followed at a safe distance until they got to the Chief Priest’s courtyard …”

The half dozen or so other translations I consulted all maintain the reverse: one high priest and several chief priests.

It’s not a big deal; I’m just curious as to why he made the change.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

"The Lost Choice" Not My Choice

Sara and I just finished reading The Lost Choice, by Andy Andrews, and we are split on our opinions. Sara liked the book. I didn't so much.

I was turned off once I realized the book is a motivational story written by a motivational speaker (and writer). The subtitle turned me off as well: "A Legend of Personal Discovery."

I don't read novels to be preached to (at least preached to directly--stories, of course, do influence and persuade, but in subtle ways).

The story is moderately interesting. A relic is found that is discovered to have connections to many powerful people of the past, and as Mark and Dorry and Dylan and Abby work to uncover the significance of the relic, they are increasingly stunned by what they find. The story flashes back and tells other stories, historical stories, along the way. Thus the reader encounters George Washington Carver, Alfred Vanderbilt, and others along the way.

The narrative of the present-day story is lackluster, and it's a bit unreal, probably because the reader knows the author is trying to get you to do something. So extra details seem unnecessary. "Don't tell me that humor flashed in her eyes, or that Dorry got the coffee ready while Dylan prepared the table" the reader thinks. "Get to the point. What's the lesson I'm supposed to learn?"

I hasten to add that a lot of people apparently do like this book, given the endorsements all over the jacket.

First line: Kasimir shielded his eyes with both hands as he peered intently into the sun's last rays.

Last line: And just like the other three pieces of the cup, it is hiding in plain sight.

My rating (out of 5): 2

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Those Life-Changing Moments That Seem So Routine

Today the Discover the Word team at Radio Bible Class discussed those routine moments that hindsight reveals to be significant.

The discussion prompted me to consider which routine moments in my life turned out to be propitious.

1) A day at Waynedale Park as a kid brought me into the Missionary Church.

Attending a small church with where my brother and I made up 50-67% of the Sunday School's elementary dept., my parents were considering getting us involved in another church on non-Sunday mornings. Somehow--and here's where the details are foggy--we connected with Avalon Missionary and their AWANA program at Waynedale Park. We got involved in AWANA, which met at Avalon. Later, I entered the youth group, my family started attending Sunday night services, etc., etc.

Now I am a pastor in the Missionary Church. My home church being an independent church, the Missionary Church is the only denomination I've ever belonged to.

2) At the beginning of a required speech course in college, I, the off-campus student, was shyly passive while students I didn't know partnered up for introduction speeches. At some point a confident freshman recognized my dilemma, took pity on me, and offered to be my partner. Names being fundamental to the whole introduction thing, I heard hers for the first time: Sara Inniger.

Two years later I asked her to be my partner for life.

3) A "chance" encounter at a big box store in Fort Wayne first brought the possibility of Northside Missionary Church into my path. My mom ran into Dr. Dave Biberstine there, one of my former college professors. When asked how I was doing, Mom reported I was looking for a place to do my internship. Dr. Biberstine told her Harvester and Northside were looking. She told me, and I told Sara's dad, who saw Pat (Northside) at monthly lunches. Pat was interested. On Easter Sunday 1995, I got a resume and cover letter together.

4) A weird interview and a slow response kept me aimed at Northside.

Three possibilities were before me: an internship at Village Church of Gurnee, where we were attending; an internship and position at Northside; and an internship and position at Trinity Missionary in Petoskey, MI. Of the 3, my pick was Trinity.

On May 9, 1995, we met with Trinity's pastor, and we came away feeling the interview didn't go well. Two days later, Todd at Village Church told me Village would only take me on as a part-time intern.

The next day, May 12, we met with Pat and Ginny Ryan (and Pat's mom) on the south side of Chicago for 3 hours. Pat practically offered me the position. Five days later, I called him and told him I was definitely interested. Two days after that, May 19, we met with the Board, received an offer, and accepted it.

Not long after that, I received a letter from Trinity's pastor declaring their desire to pursue further the possibility of my service at Trinity. Had that letter come earlier, would I have so eagerly pursued Northside?

Monday, November 22, 2010

God's Justice and Mercy Irreconcilable?

How do we reconcile God's justice and God's mercy?

Psalm 103:10 says, "He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities."

But Psalm 33:5 says, "The LORD loves righteousness and justice."

How can God be just and not punish us for our sins?

The New Testament gives us the answer to this conundrum.
  • He doesn’t temper his wrath and justice against our sins.
  • He just tempers his wrath and justice against us.
  • How does that make sense? It makes sense because our sins are transferred to Christ.
  • All sins are dealt with to the full. Those who don’t know Christ will pay for their own sins in the judgment to come. But Christ has paid for the sins of those who belong to him, and he has paid for them in full.

He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities because he treated Jesus in that manner on our behalf. And Jesus willingly took that cross upon himself.

At the cross a great exchange took place: Jesus got our sins, and we got his righteousness. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 1 Corinthians 5:21 (NIV)

Praise the Lord that, in you are a Christian, instead of wrath and justice you get mercy instead. Praise the Lord who went to the cross to propitiate God, to atone for your sins, to divert the heat of God’s wrath from you to himself.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Look Back at the 3rd Wed. of Nov.

I've been teaching at Northside for the last 15 1/2 years. This is totally random, but I thought I'd look back at the topics I've focused on the third week of November. The years not included are those when I didn't teach, either because someone else was teaching, or we were involved in our annual Service of Thanks.

Adult Bible Study
2010 (Tonight): "The House of Herod"; series: Luke
2009: "The Theology of a Schedule Change"; series: 2 Corinthians
2008: "Bewitched" (1 Sam 28:3-25); series: Saul & David

Youth Group
2006: "Creative Thanksgiving" (Psalm 103:1-5)
2005: [no title] (Lk 17:11-19)
2003: "Demonic Methods"
2002: "Jesus and 10 Lepers" (Lk 17:11-17)
2000: "Jesus is 100% Man and 100% God"; series: Who Is Jesus?
1998: discussion of using our strengths and talents to glorify God
1997: "Stamp out Putdowns"
1996: "Develop Integrity"; series: Life Survival Skills
1995: "Learning How to Pray from Jesus" (Mt 6:9-13)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Highlights from President Bush's Memoirs

What follow are points of interest for me as I've read the book thus far.

--President Bush [I'll refer to him as "PB" from here on out] explains that he is a lot like his mother: the same sense of humor, the same quick temper, the same bluntness. “When I ran for governor of Texas, I told people that I had my daddy’s eyes and my mother’s mouth” (7). I have enjoyed reading the wit of President Lincoln from time to time. Reading Barbara Bush’s wit as it pops up in Decision Points is just about as fun.
  • PB ran a marathon in January 1993, 4 days after his dad left the White House. At mile 19 he ran past his parents. His dad shouted, “That’s my boy!” His mom: “Keep moving, George! There are some fat people ahead of you!” (50)
  • Shortly after he announced his candidacy for president in the summer of 1999, a large group of photographers gathered in Maine to capture on film the new candidate, his wife, and his parents. Barbara looked at the photographers and asked, “Where were you in ’92?” (referring to the year her husband lost his reelection bid) (63).
--“Yale was a place where I felt free to discover and follow my passions” PB writes. He took an eclectic collection of classes, including “Astronomy, City Planning, Prehistoric Archaeology, Masterpieces of Spanish Literature, and, still one of my favorites, Japanese Haiku.” He jokes about getting a 70 in Mass Communication, “which might explain my shaky relations with the media over the years.” But history was his passion and his major. (14)

--He starts off the book with his drinking problem, and if he doesn’t tell all, he certainly tells enough to make the reader realize that he’s not trying to justify or excuse his intemperance. He tells a few embarrassing stories, including the one about his DUI in 1976 (age 30). He gave up drinking for good at the age of 40 in 1986.

--He met Laura in July of 1977, proposed in late September, and they were married Nov 5, less than four months after they met. They grew up near each other but had never met. PB thinks he knows why: “While I couldn’t pinpoint it at the time, I believe there is a reason Laura and I never met all those years before. God brought her into my life at just the right time, when I was ready to settle down and was open to having a partner at my side. Thankfully, I had the good sense to recognize it.” In a book entitled Decision Points, the former president remarks, “It was the best decision of my life.” (27)

--He discusses his growing faith in the mid-80s, a faith which was aided by a conversation with Billy Graham, his involvement in a weekly Bible study, and his daily reading of Scripture. He confesses that religion had always been a part of his life, but he “really wasn’t a believer” (30). His understanding of the Christian faith is expressed well in such statements as the following:
  • “[S]elf-improvement is not really the point of the Bible. The center of Christianity is not the self. It is Christ” (31).
  • “Ultimately, faith is a walk—a journey toward greater understanding. It is not possible to prove God’s existence, but that cannot be the standard for belief. After all, it is equally impossible to prove that He doesn’t exist. In the end, whether you believe or don’t believe, your position is based on faith. That realization freed me to recognize signs of God’s presence…. I moved ahead more confidently on my walk. Prayer was the nourishment that sustained me. As I deepened my understanding of Christ, I came closer to my original goal of being a better person—not because I was racking up points …, but because I was moved by God’s love” (32-33).

In addition to his wife, he credits his faith with helping him to give up drinking.

--PB worked on his dad’s presidential campaigns. He himself first ran for office when he ran for Congress in 1977-1978, representing Midland’s sprawling district in Texas. He won the primary in the spring of ’78, but he lost the election to Democrat Kent Hance. It was the only race he ever lost. He ran for governor in Texas against the popular incumbent, Ann Richards. When his mother heard he was in the race, she said, “George, you can’t win” (53). But he did, and he easily won reelection in 1998, even being endorsed by the Democratic lieutenant governor (Texas lieutenant governors are elected separately from its governors).

--The chapter, “Personnel,” is fascinating. PB discusses how he chose his team from the Vice President on down: his cabinet, his Supreme Court appointees, etc. Here are some interesting tidbits:
  • “For the most part, the national security team [Powell, Rice, Rumsfeld, Tenet] functioned smoothly in the early years of the administration. The economic team did not.” The latter statement refers primarily to Paul O’Neill, PB's first Treasury Secretary.
  • Vice President Cheney himself told PB in 2003 that he would have no hard feelings if he decided to make a change in the VP office for the 2004 reelection bid. Bush’s comments are telling of both men. “His offer impressed me. It was so atypical in power-hungry Washington. It confirmed the reasons I’d picked Dick in the first place. I did consider his offer…. [H]e had become a lightning rod for criticism from the media and the left…. The more I thought about it, the more strongly I felt Dick should stay. I hadn’t picked him to be a political asset; I had chosen him to help me do the job. That was exactly what he had done” (86-87).
  • Bush’s dad’s Supreme Court appointments: “I knew how proud Dad was to have appointed Clarence Thomas, a wise, principled, humane man. I also knew he was disappointed that his other nominee, David Souter, had evolved into a different kind of judge than he expected” (96).

Monday, November 15, 2010

President George W. Bush's Memoirs Engrossing

Towards the end of President Bush's 2nd term, I started telling Sara and others that I wanted to read his memoirs. I wanted to know the behind-the-scenes of so many events as well as his thinking on many issues.

Well, I saw the book the other day at Family Christian Stores, saw it was on sale, realized I had a gift card, and I bought it.

It is an engrossing read. President Bush's writing is simple (not simplistic), straight-forward, and down-to-earth. The book is not chronological; it's structured rather around decisions he considers key, most of the them during his presidency. Hence the title, Decision Points.

At 170 pages in, I have noted certain striking themes:
  • the tremendous respect and love President Bush has for his father
  • his competitive nature
  • his love for the United States
  • his knowledge of world history in general and of US history in particular
  • his charity toward most, even his political enemies
  • his command of the White House (contrary to rumors that the VP Cheney was actually running the administration).

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Not Ready to Make Judgment on New NIV

Monday I fired up the Bible Gateway site to look up Prov 2:7 in some other versions. I knew what the NIV said, but what about the NASB, the ESV, etc.? To my surprise the NIV that came up didn't say what I thought it said.

I had wandered into the NIV update zone. Last updated in 1984, the new NIV kicked into gear on Monday, Nov 1. My understanding is that the physical Bible won't come out until next year.

And there appear to be changes. In the course of my study the last couple days, 4 of the 5 verses I needed to look up had been changed. Two examples include the following:

Prov 2:7a (Old NIV)
He holds victory in store for the upright,

(New NIV)
He holds success in store for the upright,

Acts 4:12 (Old NIV)
Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.

(New NIV)
Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.

One change that really threw me off today was Heb 11:11:

Heb 11:11 (Old NIV)
By faith Abraham, even though he was past age--and Sarah herself was barren--was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise.

(New NIV)
And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise.

Is this verse about Abraham or Sarah? All other translations I checked (KJV, NASB, ESV, NLT) agree with the new NIV. Two of my (favorite) commentaries (William Lane and F. F. Bruce), note the difficulty of translating this verse, and both agree with the Old NIV for a variety of reasons I won't go into here.

What other changes have been made? I'm going to check some verses right now, live as I write this blog. (Exciting, huh!?)

Let's start with the grand-daddy verse of them all, John 3:16. ... OK, no change.

How about 1 Peter 2:24? ... One change. "Tree" is changed to "cross."

What else? Let me saunter over to 1 Corinthians 1:30. ... No change.

How about Psalm 16:11? No change.

Matthew 6:25-27? Only slight changes in 27 from Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? to Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

Well, it remains to be seen what other changes have been made. Maybe grist for another post.

The 2010 NIV does present a frustration and a dilemma to me. The frustration is the fact I have memorized many verses from the 1984 NIV. The dilemma is whether to buy a new 1984 NIV as mine is beginning to wear out, or do I wait for the 2010 NIV next year. I don't see the church replacing our NIV pew Bibles any time soon. Hmmm.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween Tip

See my milestones blog for explanation.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Here's News: Gambling Doesn't Pay

TIME's article on Atlantic City and its struggle to revitalize its failing "gaming industry" (read: "state-sponsored exploitation") is interesting.

Like this tidbit, for instance:

"... its population plunged from 66,000 in the 1930s to fewer than 40,000 today, about 25% of whom live in poverty. For long stretches, residents of the fourth biggest tourist destination in the U.S. have lacked access to basic staples like a supermarket and a movie theater."

Read the whole article here.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Baseball gods against Texas

Texas couldn't seem to catch a break in game 2 of the World Series tonight. Especially in the 8th inning.

As we headed into the bottom of the 8th, I said to Andrew, "They're down 2, but they could easily make that up in the 9th. They scored a few runs in the 9th last night."

Then the Giants scored 7 runs in the bottom of the 8th. I don't know how many pitchers Texas went through in that half inning, but they sure had troubles. They could not catch a break. And of course, they put up little resistance in their last at bat.

Andrew predicts the Giants will sweep the Rangers or at least beat them 4 games to 1. I'm more optimistic the Rangers will do well in Texas over the next 3 games. My prediction is Texas will win 2 of the next 3, and the Giants will clinch the series in game 6 back in San Francisco.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

18 Runs in Game 1

World Series time. Yeah!

What a game!

Unless you like pitching duels. Although this game technically had quite a few. A total of 12 pitchers saw action on the mound tonight. And most of the action they saw involved the ball zipping past them in the opposite direction.

Giants won 11-7. I'm rooting for the Rangers, I think.

The Problem with Purgatory

John Calvin sums up the essence of the doctrine of purgatory:

"For what means this purgatory of theirs but that satisfaction for sins is paid by the souls of the dead after their death?"

Then he sums up the primary problem with purgatory:

"But if it is perfectly clear ... that the blood of Christ is the sole satisfaction for the sins of believers, the sole expiation, the sole purgation, what remains but to say that purgatory is simply a dreadful blasphemy against Christ?"

--Institutes of the Christian Religion (3.5.6)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Importance of "the Final Serial Comma"

Was Merle Haggard married to Kris Kristofferson and Robert Duvall or not? See this brief blog which explains.

Monday, October 25, 2010

FOUNDING BROTHERS Paints a Full Picture

Founding Brothers, by Joseph J. Ellis, tells the story of the Revolutionary generation in America in a curious way. Six chapters each focus on one episode in the late 1700s or early 1800s, and from each episode, the narrative of each chapter fans out to the political climate of the time and the prevailing--and often opposing--opinions of the day.

“The Duel” tells the story of the conflict between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr that ended in Hamilton’s surprising demise (July 11, 1804). “The Dinner” relates the story, as well as the background, of the impromptu dinner (June 20, 1790) Madison and Hamilton had at Jefferson’s home where a deal was struck: Hamilton would throw his influence behind the national capitol being located along the Potomac, and Madison would throw his weight behind Hamilton’s plan for the national government to assume all states’ debts.

“The Silence” explains the diametric opinions and reasons behind the mutual assent to leave the hot potato of slavery alone for at least 20 years. “The Farewell” dissects and gives background to Washington’s notice in the American newspapers shortly before the election of 1796 that he would not run for a third term.

“The Collaborators” focuses primarily on the presidency of John Adams (1797-1801) and the debacle that it proved to be because of some of Adams’s own policies, because of his vice president’s (Jefferson) betrayal, and because of Hamilton’s own radical designs within Adams’s own party (though Adams claimed to be independent of his Federalist brethren). Finally, “The Friendship” tells the story of the friendship of Adams and Jefferson that was rekindled in both men’s retirement by means of a written correspondence (1812-1826), a correspondence that reveals much of their differing understandings of the American Revolution’s meaning.

In what follows, I am striving for brevity.

Things I learned on this, my second time through the book:

--The men of the Revolutionary generation, men like Madison, Hamilton, Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, and Adams, did not have a road map as to how to go about revolution and the subsequent establishment of a republican form of government. They were often making it up as they went along. Many of them did, however, sense that what they were doing was significant and would be enduring.

--In the establishing of the new government, I think I have underestimated Madison and overestimated Jefferson (though this is not to say that Jefferson didn’t have a significant contribution).

--If there was one indispensable man of the revolution, it was Washington. The second man of the revolution, who would have been considered so by the Revolutionary generation, was Benjamin Franklin.

--Abigail Adams is also a primary subject of Founding Brothers because of the influential role she played throughout John Adams’s life, especially during his presidency. She functioned as his one-person cabinet.

--A lot of these “founding brothers” did not get along with one another. Of course, Hamilton and Burr is the famous example. But consider also that Adams and Jefferson for a time, during their respective presidencies, had nothing good to say about the each other, and nothing to say to each other. Adams and Benjamin Franklin despised one another; Franklin thought Adams too tedious, and Adams thought Franklin an intellectual lightweight and a frivolous flirt. Adams loathed Hamilton (of his own party!) more than anyone else. After a letter of Jefferson’s was published that criticized Washington’s 2nd-term foreign policy and intimated that his intellectual prowess might be waning, all letters from Mount Vernon to Monticello ceased. And finally, Madison, Jefferson’s protégé, had little regard for Adams.

--All these men battled hubris. Because of this, and because of the aforementioned personal animosities that went in several directions, it seems even more incredible that these men pulled off a revolution, a constitutional convention, and a new form of government as successfully as they did. Then again, maybe it was because of these things that they were so successful.

Thoughts on the author’s style:

--I like Ellis’s approach, using episodes to paint the picture of the revolutionary era. One gets the impression that the picture thus painted is a very full one.

-- But this episodic approach at moments becomes a bit tedious. An episode is narrated, then explained, then the prevailing influences that led to the event are detailed, and the effects of the episode are explained, and then … layer upon layer is added. At moments it feels like a particular chapter has become an inverted pyramid, one episode bearing too much weight, and in an unsteady manner.

--Put another way, Ellis’s style feels like--to borrow from the trade of a pastor--historical exegesis. His conclusions are solid because they are based on a careful and systematic investigation of the data before him. But, like the preacher who preaches an entire series from one verse, at moments it wearies the audience. At those moments I got the same feeling listening to Ellis’s book--I listened to it this time around--as I have on occasion when I read a Jonathan Edwards sermon. (But keep in mind, I really like Edwards’ preaching, and I really like Ellis’s writing.)

Bottom line: I love this book. The fact that I re-read it indicates that. It’s a full education on the Revolutionary generation, and in an engaging manner.

My rating (out of 5): 4½

©2000 Albert A. Knopf. 248 pages.

First line: No event in American history which was so improbable at the time has seemed so inevitable in retrospect as the American Revolution.

Last line: Whatever the version, he was wrong for the moment but right for the ages.

My favorite story in this book is its concluding one. Before Adams and Jefferson reconciled, Adams’s friend Benjamin Rush, who was working on both ends of the rift to repair it, writing letters to both Adams and Jefferson, reported a dream of his to Adams. In the dream, Adams sent a short note to Jefferson, “congratulating him on his recent retirement from public life.” Jefferson responded graciously, and a healing and rich correspondence ensued for some years until the two “sunk into the grave nearly at the same time, full of years and rich in the gratitude and praises of their country … and to their numerous merits and honors posterity has added that they were rival friends” (220).

It was an amazing dream given its fulfillment. Adams did send a brief letter to Jefferson three years later (1812), a reconciling correspondence did ensue, and they died within six hours of each other in 1826. One evening, Jefferson lapsed into a coma and died the following day around noon. At almost the same time Jefferson died, Adams collapsed in his favorite reading chair, awakened for a moment around 5:30 p.m. to say, “Thomas Jefferson survives,” and died. And to cap it off, the day they both died was July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of Independence Day.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Philippians 1:3

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, (ESV)

One of God’s greatest gifts to us is others. Even as an introvert--one who’s batteries are recharged away from people as opposed to being recharged by people--I am grateful to the Lord for the people whom he has placed in my life. Some have been close to me for years, some for a season only, and even some for a mere moment.

  • I thank God for Howard Matson, whose office I left fuming, but whose counsel led me to some needed changes.
  • I thank the Lord for Gary Aupperle, Wes Gerig, Roger Ringenberg, Ron Scharfe, and others, who led me to fall in love with the Bible.
  • I thank the Lord for Mike Bullmore who led me to appreciate good literature.
  • I am grateful for Mary Alice Fetter, Joann Weddle, Lois Mannix, and Mary Ellen Jacobs, who patiently taught me the things of God in Sunday School, even at times when I paid little attention.
  • I thank God for Forest Weddle, my dad, Jerry Cramer, Denny Leinbach, Todd Habegger, and Pat Ryan, the senior pastors under whose ministry I have sat.
  • I am grateful for Joyce Tarr and Glenna Hirschy, as well as Mary Alice Fetter and Joann Weddle, who have bolstered my faith with their confidence in God even in the midst of their suffering.
  • God has given me a great gift in my brother; to me his life is an apologetic of the existence and power of God.
  • The Lord has not only given me a good mother, but one who has taught me more than most how to pray.
  • In my dad, the Lord has given me an example of bold witness as well as an example of “Christ’s love constrains us” (2 Cor 5:14).
  • The Ryans and the Dillers have taught me by their example what generosity is.
  • The Lindstroms were a pair of Barnabases to us in IL.
  • I thank the Lord for the friendship and encouragement of Ted Wilson, who introduced me to a few nuts and bolts of ministry.
  • I am grateful for Mr. Broderick, who yelled at me for throwing stones in his yard.
I could very easily go on. I have left out some very obvious ones in order to hunt the halls of memory for some of the more obscure ones.

What about you? Whom do you thank God for?

Monday, October 11, 2010

At the Zoo

At the zoo today a man was wearing pink Crocs. Looked like a perfectly normal dad in every other respect: shorts a little too high above the knee, ball cap, T-shirt, shades, popcorn to munch, a normal looking wife, two normal looking kids, and … pink Crocs. The guy's long, thin, sun-starved legs and large feet highlighted his unique choice in footwear. What a shame.

My paper sported pink comics today. The NFL players donned pink armbands, and some wore pink cleats. Wal-Mart devoted end cap space to pink items, like envelopes, for instance. Friends on Facebook put all their correspondence in a pink hue. All for breast cancer awareness. I’m all for breast cancer research in the hope of finding a cure, but the pink thing is going too far in my book. Especially a guy wearing pink Crocs.

When I told my son about it later, he pointed out that maybe the guy's choice of pink Crocs had nothing to do with breast cancer awareness. So I guess at this point, I hope it was a breast cancer awareness thing.


At the zoo today the orangutans were unusually active. That is to say, their eyes were open, and they were moving. The signage indicated these large orange animals nurture their young longer than any other animal (human beings excepted), some 13 years. (How’d you like to turn your kids out on their 13th birthday? Wouldn’t work well, though, since, if other parents are correct, puberty actually makes people dumber for 5 to 15 years.)

The zoo also provided a receptacle for donations to aid distressed Indonesian orangutans, distressed being defined as “orphaned” and “homeless.” The zoo provides many of these kinds of receptacles, apparently aware that after we have paid half a mortgage payment to enter the zoo, plopped down a car payment to rent a wagon, and bought water bottles for the same amount we pay the city each month for their water, our wallets still weight us down with useless cash. Isn’t there somewhere we can lighten our load? “Why yes!” says the zoo. “Help poor suffering animals around the world.” “Wonderful!” we exclaim.

Now maybe I’m just ignorant (undoubtedly), but a homeless orangutan? In Indonesia? How does that happen? One just stumbles into Jakarta one day, sleeps on park benches at night, does acrobats on the streets during the day for pocket change and then blows it on Bintang Beer? And his story is he can’t return to the jungle—excuse me—rain forest, because he lost his job, and his tree was foreclosed on?
How is an orangutan homeless? If he stumbles out of the jungle, throw him back into it. How much does that cost? If he keeps coming out, then disorient him (no pun intended); get him drunk on Bintang, blindfold him, spin him around several times, and take him back into the jungle. He'll get the blindfold off once he's sobered up.


At the zoo today Callie and I rode the Sky Safari, a ride that takes you up over the African portion of the zoo so you can see the animals down below. Only the animals aren’t down below, and they won’t be unless they somehow manage to escape the pens far to the north of the ride. Now I know why they don’t take you over the lions, hyenas, pelicans, and zebras; they want to protect the animals from stupid humans dropping stuff that could hurt them in one way or another.
Another reason: what if a person fell out of the ride into one of the animal pens? They don’t want their lions choking on bad food.
Another (lesser) reason that may have surfaced briefly in a Sky Safari planning meeting: it wouldn’t look good if one of the animals hurt someone who fell into one of the pens.

So Callie and I rode the Sky Safari. We observed the mowed grass beneath us, the trees, Parks Automotive to our south, where we get the van repaired, Wells Street to our east. And to the north? A couple pelicans and the back end of a hyena … we think.

Philippians 1:2

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (ESV)

"Grace to you."

Donald Grey Barnhouse writes, "Love that goes upward is worship; love that goes outward is affection; love that stoops is grace."

John Owen talks about the Father’s special gift to us, his primary way of relating to us, as fatherly love. The Spirit’s special gift to us is comfort, which takes many forms, and the Son’s special gift to us is grace. J. I. Packer explains Owen, writing that the Son’s “special gift to us is grace--communicated free favour, and all the spiritual benefits which flow from it. All grace is found in him, and is received by receiving him.”

Owen himself writes:

“There is no man whatever that hath any want in reference unto the things of God, but Christ will be unto him that which he wants…. Is he dead? Christ is life. Is he weak? Christ is the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Hath he the sense of guilt upon him? Christ is complete righteousness…. Many poor creatures are sensible of their wants, but know not where their remedy lies. Indeed, whether it be life or light, power or joy, all is wrapped up in him.”

We sing to the Lord Jesus, “you are my all in all.” Surely Christ is my sufficiency. Surely I can never go wrong in clinging to him, and I risk much when I don’t.

(Barnhouse quotation from Charles R. Swindoll, The Grace Awakening 8. Packer quotation and Owen quotation both from J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life 205.)

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Philippians 1:1

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,
To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: (ESV)

The Greek word translated "servants" in the ESV is douloi, meaning "slaves."

Slaves of Christ Jesus. His slaves. Some people think that the Bible doesn’t do enough to speak out against slavery. Some people think that the Bible sanctions slavery. In one sense it absolutely promotes slavery, the slavery of men and women to Jesus Christ.

Happy are those who are slaves to Christ. Blessed are the slaves of Christ. There is no one else more happy or blessed than those who obey Jesus Christ fully.

Were it truly inscribed on my tombstone the simple statement, “He was a slave of Christ Jesus,” the passerby could know at least two things: that Christ’s Spirit had thoroughly claimed me, and that I had achieved true happiness, a whatever-my-earthly-circumstances joy.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Phones; Squirrels

At a restaurant recently, I observed what I think was a mom and teenage son enter a booth, and then each proceeded to review their phones without ever speaking to one another! I never saw them speak to one another. I presume at some point they may have done so while they were eating, but I was gone by then. It's amazing how phones are actually curbing communication these days. (Perhaps, though, they were texting one another.)


I was part of a synchronized tree-climbing stunt today. On my walk to work, as I passed a tree, a squirrel quickly ascended it. The same happened at the 2nd and 3rd trees I passed. Quite impressive. Especially for squirrels, creation's idiots.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Motivational Speech: "Here's Your Chance to Be Killed"

At the Battle of Fort Donelson in 1862, things were not going as well for the Union army as Gen. U. S. Grant had hoped in taking the Confederate fort.

At one point he told 55-year-old Gen. C. F. Smith, “General Smith, all has failed on our right—you must take Fort Donelson.”

Smith replied, “I will do it.”

As he led his volunteers to the fort he saw some of his men hesitating. He swung around and said

“Damn you, gentlemen, I see skulkers. I’ll have none here. Come on, you volunteers, come on. This is your chance. You volunteered to be killed for love of your country and now you can be. You are only damned volunteers. I am only a soldier and I don’t want to be killed, but you came to be killed and now you can be.”

He then led them up the wooded slope straight for the Confederate trenches. Men said he was the first man in the works. One of his soldiers wrote that “by his presence and heroic conduct he led the green men to do things that no other man could have done.”

(Source: Bruce Catton, Grant Moves South 169-170)

Thursday, September 30, 2010

"Inkheart" Kept Me Driving

Inkheart, by Cornelia Funke, tells the story of a man, Mo, who has an unusual talent. When he reads books, sometimes objects or characters materialize in our world, and in their place something or someone from our world disappears into the world of the story. The problem is, he has no control over what comes out and what goes in. Nine years ago, he read out three men, two quite evil, and his own wife disappeared. Now, the bad guys are catching up with Mo and his daughter Meggie, and Meggie, 12, doesn’t know the truth about her mother or about her father’s talent.

The setting is confusing at first. It sound Old World for a bit, especially in the names of some of the characters, like Silvertongue (what Mo is sometimes called), Capricorn, Dustfinger, and Basta, not to mention the presence of fictional characters, like fairies and a horned martin. But then there are references to the modern world, like cars and cell phones. The setting only begins to make sense as you learn about Mo’s gift and the tragedy that occurred almost a decade previous.

The characters are colorful and interesting. The story is imaginative and suspenseful, and there are plenty of twists and turns.

A couple of quibbles: First, I was amazed at how often Mo doesn’t tell his daughter the truth or doesn’t keep his promises to her/others. It appears he is motivated by love for Meggie, but 1) his deceptions aren't always for Meggie's sake, and 2) one looks for a bit more honesty/faithfulness in a “good guy.” Second, the solution that the “good guys” develop and count on isn’t realistic by the rules of the Inkheart’s world itself. But these two items detract little from the story.

Is Inkheart good? I only listen to books on tape (Yes, “tape”) in my van. Inkheart, 10 cassette tapes long, tempted me to take longer routes to my destinations. It successfully tempted me to drive to work rather than walk the mile each way.

First line: Rain fell that night, a fine, whispering rain.

Last line: As Mo had said: writing stories is a kind of magic, too.

Book Publication: ©2003 in German. Translated into English by Anthea Bell. 534 pages.

My rating (on a 5-point scale): 4

The movie, starring Brendan Fraser as Mo, doesn’t do the book justice (though I think Fraser does a good job). The story is collapsed significantly; thus the tension doesn’t have time to build. Further, the characters are not nearly as colorful. Basta seems more foolish than evil. The book’s Capricorn leaves you shuddering; the movie’s Capricorn does not.

Monday, September 27, 2010

If All Salesmen Were As Good As This Guy, I'd Be Broke

A knock at the door brought me up from the basement Sunday afternoon, inwardly grumbling about the possibility of a salesman disturbing me on a Sunday.

It was a salesman, but he was good. I agreed to give him $12 in November when he brought me a bag of caramel corn, and only 11 oz. of caramel corn at that. I don’t even like caramel corn!

(It’d be nice to say how much I despise caramel corn here--how it has caused me no end of heartache, how it led to my braces and to my merciless ridicule in middle school and my extreme emotional trauma, etc. It's be nice to say all that here because that denunciation would heighten your interest in this amazing salesman. But I never wore braces, and there are a couple brands of caramel corn I do like.)

This guy was probably a little shorter than Anna, was probably born shortly after the Twin Towers went down, and he had a round innocent face.

His pitch started off--no joke--“Hi, Mister … (to himself) No … (looking up at me again) My name is Ezekiel.” It’s like Dad had gone over his presentation with him before he started out, but he just hadn’t quite nailed it down yet.

He was with the Scouts selling popcorn. He had on his Scout cap, his navy Scout shirt--troop 3092, his Scout neckerchief, and black athletic shorts. (The black shorts made me think it was Dad out in the minivan at a discreet distance and not Mom.)

CUTE! That’s what I’m trying to say in all this. CUTE! Ezekiel was adorable. I did not want to buy popcorn. I did not want to spend any money, but I wanted to do something for this cute, innocent Scout, and so I looked over the order form. He may not have had his pitch down yet, but clearly other neighbors were moved by this little cherubic salesman in the same way I was. Six or seven had already purchased popcorn, and my $12 was the cheapest order placed yet.

As I was filling out the order form, Ezekiel was whispering to himself, and it sounded like he was excited that someone else was buying, like he just couldn’t keep it in. He was softly exclaiming something like, "Yes! All right!"

“Do you like Scouts?” I asked.

“Oh yeah! If you have any kids you should let them do Scouts because it’s a whole lot of fun!” A pause. "I like your piano."

"Thanks. Do you play piano?"

"No, I have some drums."

"Oh, you're a drummer!"

"Yeah. I'm kind of more into rock music."

Priceless. I love this kid.

He left. I watched him go to the next house, the minivan slowly following him. I continued smiling. He reminded me of Andrew when Andrew was his age, full of boyish exuberance, and for a few moments I missed my 8-year-old son.

Don't get me wrong; I love 15-year-old Andrew. He's a delight.

Twelve dollars. Too much for caramel corn, but I think it was worth the exchange with Ezekiel and the reminder to enjoy my children at every age.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Jungle Sunrise a Good Read

Jungle Sunrise, by Jonathan Williams, is better than I expected. Overall, I’m not impressed with today’s Christian fiction. There are several exceptions, of course, one being Jungle Sunrise.

The best thing about Jungle Sunrise is simply its story. It’s riveting because of its twists, turns, and frequent surprises. The novel actually starts as two stories that eventually merge into one—the story of a young missionary couple, Memphis and Abigail, and the story of a young writer, Jonah, who is down on his luck. The narrative is vivid, and the pace is perfect. There are no lulls. The author tells the story with a good balance of economy and detail.

Further, it’s an action/adventure story. It's more than that, but it’s at least that. One of the endorsements on the back cover warns, “Do not start reading until you have some time because you won’t put it down.” That was very near true for me. It took me about a week to read, but only because I was short on time. It certainly ranks as a page-turner.

The cast of characters is not large, but most of them are interesting and endearing, though character development is somewhat lacking. The story reminds the reader of both the sacrifices and the rewards of missionary life, as well as the dangers that many missionaries face. It also challenges the reader—at least it challenged me—regarding his devotion to Christ and Christ’s kingdom. Conversion is depicted, but not in depth. I don’t know that this is necessarily a weakness. In a way it serves as a subtle reminder that conversion and regeneration is ultimately hidden from our eyes, an invisible work of the Spirit as mysterious as the wind (cf. John 3:8).

My 13-year-old daughter asked to read Jungle Sunrise when I was done. I think she’s going to enjoy it, be spiritually nourished by it, and want to discuss it.

My rating (on a 5-point scale): 4

Further Details:
©2010 Nordskog Publishing, Inc., 211 pages.

First line: Memphis gripped his four-foot-long wooden bow in his left hand as he knelt on one knee behind the thick brush.

Last lines: “Today, I will live,” he declared. “Tomorrow, I will write.”