Saturday, February 26, 2011

Top 12 Movies of All Time?

IMBd has listed the Top 250 Movies as Voted by our users. Their top 12 are as follows:

  1. The Shawshank Redemption
  2. The Godfather
  3. The Godfather: Part II
  4. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
  5. Pulp Fiction
  6. Schindler's List
  7. 12 Angry Men
  8. Inception
  9. One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest
  10. The Dark Knight
  11. Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back
  12. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

What do you think should be in the top 12?

HT: Abraham Piper

Friday, February 25, 2011

If you saw the Darth Vader VW commercial, you might appreciate this behind the scenes look.

This Could Be My Theme Song

Then again ...

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The 9 Best Toys of All Time

I came across one blogger's opinion of the 5 best toys of all time. Though one might quibble with his rankings, I think he's probably right.

1. Stick

2. Box

3. String

4. Cardboard tube

5. Dirt

To satisfy my penchant for 9, I add 4 more.

6. Blanket

7. Ball

8. Grown-up clothes

9. What the other kid is currently playing with

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Loving My Kindle

Sara and I each received Kindles at Christmas time. Now I'm somewhat of a purist. I have been resistant for a long time to the idea of reading books on my computer. I don't enjoy reading long passages on the computer.

(Hint: If you want me to read your emails and blog posts, keep them relatively short.)

(Confession: This will probably be a long post.)

So when the Kindle came out, and when the Nook came out, I honestly didn't pay much attention. But then I was given one. And I really enjoy it. Does that mean I will never buy another book again? Hardly. But the Kindle is fun.

So let me just run through the pros and cons in a rambling fashion.

To put books on your Kindle, you have to shop the Kindle store (at You do that right on your Kindle, hooked up wirelessly to the Internet in your house (or McDonald's).

How much are books? Cheaper than hard copies. Many new books are $9.99, though the prices are edging up. But there are also many books that are cheaper, such as $.99 - $2.99, and there are also a variety of free books (usually very old books, like classics).

Sara right away put the NIV Bible on hers ($9.99) and Francis Chan's Crazy Love ($5). When she told me that, I went looking for free Bibles, and I found I could put my favorite translation, the ESV, onto my Kindle for free. Also the HCSB. Super!

Sara and I discovered the comical writings of P. G. Wodehouse a couple years back. Guess what? His books are ... free!

In addition to the Kindles we each received $40 in gift certificates to So I've had some fun spending that as well: The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History ($9.99) and In the Neighborhood: The Search for Community on an American Street, One Sleepover at a Time ($10.99), both books I've been interested in for a while. I'm enjoying both.

My free books on my Kindle include:

  • The Lives of the Twelve Caesars (Suetonius),

  • The Civilization of China (Herbert A. Giles),

  • Across China on Foot (Edwin J. Dingle),

  • The Road (Jack London),

  • and The Biography of Robert Murray M'Cheyne (Andrew Bonar),
all old books.

There is no back light on the Kindle, so there is no glare, which is very nice and part of the reason I don't enjoy reading off the computer so much.

Turning the pages in a Kindle is quick and easy. You can size the print on the screen to your liking, choosing from 8 different sizes. I have mine set rather large. Why strain my eyes?
When you close a book to look at another, the Kindle remembers where you were at, so that when you re-open that book later, you go right to the spot where you left off. You can also bookmark various pages for later reference.

The Kindle allows you to highlight whatever you wish, and it keeps track of all your highlighted portions separate from the book. You don't have to page through a book to find all your highlights.

It further allows you to type in notes wherever you like in the book, which I have done both in my Bibles as well as in some of the books.

One disadvantage is that the actual page numbers are not displayed on the Kindle (though I understand that's coming--whether it will come to my Kindle or not, I don't know).

Another disadvantage is that it's not easy to flip to a different place in your book from where you're at. It can be done, but it takes a few steps. This is especially annoying in the Bibles, when I most often want to check out other passages.
However, these disadvantages are slight compared to the fun of using a Kindle.

Monday, February 21, 2011

"Would You Like an Earring?" and Other Experiences at Good Shepherd U. M.

Since I was on vacation yesterday, I decided to attend Good Shepherd United Methodist church, the 9:45 service. I was alone, for Caty wanted to go to our church, and Sara was home with two sick kids and a third recovering.

At the door I was greeted by a smiling older couple. The lady began to peel a sticker of a sheet and greeted me with, "Would you like an earring?" Not responding quickly, she added, "for ..." I expected the next words to be "your wife." But she said, "your ear." Thoroughly surprised and confused, I politely declined. The woman smiled and said something like, "Well, you just made his day (gesturing toward her companion). He's not wearing one, either."

Shaking off the strangest greeting I've ever received at a church, I hung up my coat and entered the beautiful, fan-style sanctuary, noticing that some men were indeed sporting stickers on their ears. I did not get close enough to see the picture on the stickers. Behind the large organ was Shirley P., my music teacher in the earliest grades and my organ teacher during my teen years. Her prelude, Partito on Foundation (a variation of "How Firm a Foundation") was wonderful. The choir was full and worshipful. The emcee pastor was borderline comedic.

I knew from their website that today their new pastor, Craig D., would be preaching his first sermon. The emcee introduced Craig and his wife in such glowing terms ("Craig is a wonderful pastor and a wonderful preacher," etc.) that I thought he might have put a lot on them to live up to.

I thought it would be interesting to see what a new pastor preached his first Sunday. He preached on Jonah 2, the theme having to do with fear and reaching out to God in the midst of your fears. No notes, no Bible, no lectern, and no stumbling. Just walked about the platform. (He did preach on the text though it wasn't in front of him.) Pretty good. The one thing I missed was any significant reference to Christ. (Do I sometimes preach messages that don't ever talk about Christ? I hope not.)

Service closed with intercessory prayer, some singing, some announcements. When it was over, I looked at my watch. 10:43. My first thought: "Wow! They pack a lot into an hour."

I never did find out what the earrings were for, not in the service, not in the bulletin.

Good service overall.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Samuel's First Encounter with God Not Warm & Fuzzy (Bible Notes: 1 Sam 3)

There are certain accounts in the Bible that are popular for publishers to include in their Bible storybooks for children. The account of God calling Samuel as a young lad is one of them: “Samuel, Samuel.” “Speak, for your servant hears.”

So when we long-time Christians come to 1 Samuel 3, we may feel a soft glow as we commence reading.

But have you ever realized that the message of the Lord at that time was one of judgment? “Speak, for your servant hears” was followed by an earful. Samuel's first encounter with the Lord God is with God in his holiness and righteous wrath against sin.

“Israel’s going to sit up and take notice at what I’m about to do to Eli & Sons. They are going down, because his sons blasphemed me, and Eli knew about it. No sacrifice or offering will atone for their sins.” (“Forever” is used twice in this judgment word from the Lord, emphasizing the solemnity and the irreversibility of the impending judgment.)

That’s a heavy first word for the young man to digest, let alone deliver. To his credit, Samuel delivered it, and delivered it faithfully. “Samuel told [Eli] everything and hid nothing from him.”

Maybe that’s why in the next verses we read of the Lord establishing Samuel as a prophet.

I wonder what this event did to Samuel psychologically. The man who has trained him to love and serve the Lord now is condemned by the Lord. Does this serve to help separate Samuel from the real father figure in his life, Eli, and cleave whole-heartedly to the Lord?

At any rate, Samuel shows himself faithful and obedient to the Lord, even when the message and the task are tough. May it be so of me.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Calvin and Hobbes Best Comic Strip Ever

No question about it, Calvin and Hobbes is my favorite comic strip. So I was happy to get It’s a Magical World from my son for Christmas. The strip’s creator, Bill Watterson, is a genius. If you haven’t read Calvin and Hobbes, you should get a Calvin and Hobbes book and read it. I guarantee you will laugh out loud more than once as you read of the antics of 6-year-old Calvin and his stuffed tiger, Hobbes.

Calvin has a wild imagination. When school gets boring (and it always gets boring), Calvin imagines his teacher a wild alien, or when caught daydreaming, he claims his eyes were on screen saver mode. He imagines himself a triceratops, or he imagines that his dad’s neatly-raked pile of leaves is trying to devour him. Of course, he believes Hobbes is a live tiger who can talk and who often thinks like he does.

Calvin hates structure and revels in pointlessness and wasting time. Thus his loathing of school and his love of Saturdays and summer.

In one strip he wants to learn more about snakes, but when Hobbes suggests a book, he poo-poos the idea because it would be learning, which he doesn’t want to do if he can avoid it.

One of Watterson's subtle themes is the elevation of nature over technology. Nature is beautiful and real and full of adventure, while technology is artificial and stifling. At times Calvin loves being outside as when he and Hobbes find “a trickle of water running through some dirt.” With a huge smile on his face, Calvin says, “I’d say our afternoon just got booked solid.”

On the other hand, there’s no question Calvin likes the comforts of modern conveniences, but his love of these things is not always portrayed in a positive light.

Continually interesting is his relationship with the people in his life. His teacher Mrs. Wormwood represents the institutions that kill his soul. His rivalry with and antagonism of his classmate Susie Derkins is hilarious. His parents are painted in a positive light, though Calvin himself feels like they drain his life of fun and are part of the old guard of virtues and propriety. But Calvin doesn’t make life for his parents easy, either. The reader isn’t surprised that Calvin doesn’t have any siblings.

Calvin’s best friend is Hobbes, but Hobbes is not always a “yes” man (or … tiger). He often argues the opposing view and sometimes shows Calvin that he himself practices some of the things that he claims to despise. In some ways, I guess, Hobbes acts as a conscience, though at other times, he is clearly in cahoots with Calvin’s antics.

There's much more to Calvin and Hobbes than what I've related here.

My rating (out of 5): 5

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

No More Slogans on Church Signs

If I had the power to enact one law that all American churches had to abide by, I might consider, "No church signs shall exhibit slogans of any kind."

Some are clever. Some are cute. Some are even biblical. But for the most part, I think the slogans lower the esteem of the church in the eyes of the world. The church isn't a clever organization or a cute one. It is the body of Jesus Christ. It is the people of God who have been redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to them from their forefathers. It is the guardian of truth and the propagator spiritual, life-and-death realities.

So when I drive by a church and see, "Call 911. This church is on fire," I cringe. That's like junior high boys boasting about their game or their machismo.

And I surely don't get a Lutheran church sign that said something like, "St. Valentine died for your marriage." Huh?

There are a lot of great slogans out there, too. For example, "Kmart isn't the only saving place." I get it (though it's a little dated now; but so am I). But I don't think that slogan belongs on a church sign.

Just google "church signs," click on Images, and answer this question: Do these signs advance the kingdom, or hinder it?

What do you think?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Reagan Not Fond of His First Name

President Reagan was one of my favorites. Yesterday was his 100th birthday. Ten years ago I bought and read his memoirs, An American Life, an enjoyable read. Here's what he said about his birth:

"I was born February 6, 1911, in a flat above the local bank in Tampico, Illinois. According to family legend, when my father ran up the stairs and looked at his newborn son, he quipped: 'He looks like a fat little Dutchman. But who knows, he might grow up to be president some day.'

"During my mother's pregnancy, my parents had decided to call me Donald. But after one of her sisters beat her to it and named her son Donald, I became Ronald.

"I never though 'Ronald' was rugged enough for a young red-blooded American boy and as soon as I could, I asked people to call me 'Dutch.' That was a nickname that grew out of my father's calling me 'the Dutchman' whenever he referred to me."

Friday, February 4, 2011

Bible Notes: Judges 16

Samson was to be a Nazirite from the womb (13:5). “Nazirite” means “one separated/consecrated.” When a person took on the vow of the Nazirite, they were setting themselves apart to the Lord for a period of time. It was not typically lifelong, though the Bible shows us at least two lifelong Nazirites, Samson and Samuel. Numbers 6 lays out the stipulations of the Nazirite vow:
--no alcohol--drinking or eating the fruit of the vine, no wine or strong drink or vinegar (1-4);
--no haircuts (5);
--no corpses--proximity to dead bodies (6-12).
Instructions to Samson’s parents included the prohibitions of wine or strong drink and haircuts (13:4-5,7,13-14). Also prohibited was the eating of anything unclean (13:4,7,14).

Samson is not the man of God we expect him to be. Such promise surrounds him in ch. 13. But he begins to play the part of a carnal, earthy man in ch. 14.

This carnality is seen in the neglect of his Nazirite vow. He kills a lion early on (14:5-6), and some days later he scoops honey out of its corpse … and eats it (14:8-9)! There goes the “no corpse” stipulation … and the “no unclean food” stipulation (honey normally clean, but taken from the corpse of a lion? Yeah, it’s unclean).

And what was Samson doing in a vineyard (14:5)? While it’s never specified, one suspects that Samson violated the “no alcohol” stipulation of his Nazirite vow, given his profligate lifestyle and the facts that he 1) could occasionally be found near a vineyard and 2) would throw the occasional 7-day feast (14:10-18).

What’s that leave of his Nazirite vows? The haircut. We know what happened there. The big surprise for me this time as I read through Samson’s story had to do with his hair.

From age 5 or so on up I’ve always known that Samson’s strength was connected with his hair. What I didn’t realize until now is that the reader isn’t told that until near the end of the Samson story when he divulges that to Delilah. Did you know that?

Let me re-frame the story a bit.

Up until this time (the Delilah incident), we (properly) attribute Samson's feats of strength to the Lord (14:6,19;15:14), for we know nothing of the hair connection. In fact, in our minds we might forget about the flowing hair. After all, the Bible isn’t a picture book, and apart from the mention of “no razor shall touch his head” at his birth announcement, there’s no mention of Samson’s long flowing hair.

Now we come to Delilah. Money being more tempting than having Mr. Israel as a boyfriend, Delilah wheedles Samson for the secret of his strength. “Seven fresh bowstrings.” Then, “new ropes that have not been used.” These are proven to be lies.

Is the first-time reader worried at this point? No. We know his strength has nothing to do with him; rather, it’s the Spirit of the Lord upon him.

The third answer Samson gives is weaving his hair in to a loom. Again, a lie. The reader is still not worried, but what we don’t realize with this third answer is that Samson’s defenses are weakening. While he has not divulged the secret, he’s ceded some ground to the enemy by associating his strength with his hair.

Then comes the continual wheedling and nagging (16:15-16). Samson finally gives her another answer: shave my head, and I’ll be as other men.

At this point, the first-time reader gets a little nervous and wonders, “Is this right? Surely not, for it is the Lord who has given him his strength. But the text here says, ‘he told her all his heart,’ and it says that Delilah saw that ‘he had told her all his heart.’ Is this right? Does his hair have something to do with his strength?”

You know the rest of the story. His head was shaved, he lost his strength, and he became prisoner and jester to the Philistines.

So we don’t know until the end that the strength lay in the hair. Better: we don’t know until the end that the Lord had decided to connect the strength with his hair. It wasn’t magic hair. It was still the Lord’s strength, for we come to understand that when his head was shaved, the Lord (and the Lord’s power) left Samson (16:20).

Lesson #1: While God’s patience is long in many directions, there is an end to it.

Lesson #2: The further you get from God, the closer you get to insanity. Why in the world would Samson divulge the secret of his strength to a woman who had three times recently awakened him with “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!”

Lesson #3 (for young men): No matter how strong you are, a nagging woman will wear you down. So choose a wife wisely.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


I don't like car commercials as a rule, but I like this one.

Here's a satellite picture of our recent snowstorm condensed into 20 seconds or so.

And here's an invisible video game that costs $600.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

All Religions Are Not the Same

For many years now, it has been commonly asserted that many religions, if not all, are different paths to the same divine being. One metaphor is that of blind men touching different parts of an elephant and coming up with different descriptions of the one elephant. Another is that of several different paths leading up the same mountain. In other words, Jehovah = Allah = Brahman.

Boston University professor Stephen Prothero takes issue with this in God Is Not One. We’re not taking different paths up the same mountain; in truth we’re not even on the same mountain. His premise is that the various religions of the world not only appear different, they are different; in fact, they are not even seeking the same thing.

Many Christians have espoused, says Prothero, that while all religions seeks salvation, only Christianity can satisfy that search. But the truth is, according to the book, only Christianity seeks salvation. Other religions seek other things. This belief is reflected in the chapter titles, such as, “Islam: The Way of Submission,” “Christianity: The Way of Salvation,” “Confucianism: The Way of Propriety,” “Hinduism: The Way of Devotion,” and so on.

Does Prothero find any common ground? He believes that each of the religions is concerned about helping people become fully human. “Of course, we are in a sense born human beings, but only in the most trivial sense of genus and phylum and DNA.” Each religion helps us to become fully human, for, as Irenaeus said, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive” (331).

Why did Prothero write this book? Two reasons are more easily discerned. One reason is to point the way to a more honest position on world religions by debunking the myth that under their dressing they’re all pretty much the same.

Second, the author wishes to point a way toward a more peaceful world. Religions matter, because religions, while a source of much good in our world, also create a great deal of conflict between people who are passionate about the metaphysical beliefs they cling to. Ironing out the religions, pretending they are at the foundations all similar, does nothing to foster peaceful relationships. Dealing with what is is better than pretending what is not. Since the religions are different, let’s acknowledge the differences, empathize with one another, and possibly even embrace the differences.

I think the book’s premise, that religions are not different paths to the same end, is a breath of fresh air--a truth that has been contradicted for some time. However, it’s na├»ve to think all religionists, once they recognize their differences, will empathize with one another and leave one another alone. That would require some religion's adherents, especially those who proselytize in one form or another, to deny themselves.

God Is Not One is an interesting read. The body of the book is given to describing in readable detail the thrust and characteristics of each of what Prothero believes to be the eight greatest religions--Islam, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Yoruba (tribal religions), Judaism, and Daoism (or Taoism). It serves as a good introduction to these religions.

The author attaches an interesting brief on atheism, referring to it as “The Way of Reason.” This provocative title, however, does not show the author’s preference. He considers atheism a religion and its current proponents--Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, etc.--to be religious about their anti-god beliefs.

One of the dangers of studying comparative religions, whether sitting in a class or reading a book, is that simply by comparison Christianity is flattened out to the level of the other religions. It becomes one among many. We talk about Muhammad, Moses, Buddha, and Jesus as founders, lumping them together. And we discuss the developments of Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam, lumping them all together, and one begins to have questions as to why Christianity is superior. That can be a good thing, if it forces the Christian back to his Bible and his theology to identify the distinctives and truth of Christianity. But it can also be a danger if it leads him away from the faith (something of the like which appears to have happened to Prothero).

In one sense Christianity is one religion among many, but in many ways it stands head and shoulders above all other religions because it is truth, truth that is demonstrated in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. One day all religious and irreligious people--everyone who has ever lived--will stand before, not the god of their choice, but Jesus Christ. And all will be judged, not on the basis of their particular religion’s standard, but on the basis of what they did with Jesus. All men are religious in one sense or another because we are all made in God’s image, and we are religious by nature; we are partly spiritual beings. Several religions (but not all) claim to be revealed or divinely inspired, but they are all the doctrine of demons or the makings of man. Only two religions are revealed by the Creator of all, Judaism and Christianity, and the former was truncated when it denied the Messiah to whom it pointed.

For its premise and an introduction to other religions, read God Is Not One. It’s quite readable. But read it remembering that while Christianity is chapter 2 in the book, in truth it towers over the others.

My rating (out of 5): 4