Monday, December 24, 2012

Looking for the divine in the routine

The Alphabet of GraceThe Alphabet of Grace by Frederick Buechner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book has a poetic, meandering quality that doesn't really appeal to me, though at points it felt good. Buechner has a way with words that is wonderful at some points and distracting at others (acknowledging, of course, that his way with words, even at his worst, will probably always trump my way with words).

Essentially, Buechner walks through one particular day of his life (the date is not specified), and draws lessons from it and points out grace in it. Is one's life charged with meaning? Though the unglamorous routine of it would indicate no, the author, looking under the surface, comes to a positive conclusion. "'The dry clack-clack of the world's tongue at the approach of the approach of splendor.' And just this is the substance of what I want to talk about: the clack-clack of my life. The occasional, obscure glimmering through of grace. The muffled presence of the holy. The images, always broken, partial, ambiguous, of Christ" (7-8).

I enjoyed the following excerpts:

I am a part-time novelist who happens also be a part-time Christian because part of the time seems to be the most I can manage to live out my faith: Christian part of the time when certain things seem real and important to me and the rest of the time not Christian in any sense that I can believe matters much to Christ or anybody else. Any Christian who is not a hero, Leon Bloy wrote, is a pig, which is a harder way of saying the same thing. (vii)

Introspection in the long run doesn’t get you very far because every time you draw back to look at yourself, you are seeing everything except for the part that drew back, and when you draw back to look at the part that drew back to look at yourself, you see again everything except for what you are really looking for. And so on. Since the possibilities for drawing back seem to be infinite, you are, in your quest to see yourself whole, doomed always to see infinitely less than what there will always remain to see. Thus, when you wake up in the morning, called by God to be a self again, if you want to know who you are, watch your feet. Because where your feet take you, that is who you are. (24-25, the last sentence a reference to Oblonsky in Anna Karenin)

When Mark Twain’s second child, Susy, died, he said that her death was like a man’s house burning down—it would take years and years to discover all that he had lost in the fire. (63)

I hear you are entering the ministry … Was it your own idea or were you poorly advised? (109)

I pick the children up at the bottom of the mountain where the orange bus lets them off in the wind.... Not for keeps, to be sure, but at least for the time being, the world has given them back again, and whatever the world chooses to do later on, it can never so much as lay a hand on the having-beenness of this time. The past is inviolate. We are none of us safe, but everything that has happened is safe. (110)

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Sunday, December 23, 2012

You should read J. B. Phillips' New Testament

The New Testament in Modern EnglishThe New Testament in Modern English by J.B. Phillips
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A couple quotes can sum up this book. The book is about the mission and work of the Son of God

("Christ Jesus entered the world to rescue sinners." [1 Timothy 1:15])

and the resultant transformation of the people of God

("But you are God's 'chosen generation,' his 'royal priesthood,' his 'holy nation,' his 'peculiar people' ... In the past you were not 'a people' at all: now you are the people of God. In the past you had no experience of his mercy, but now it is intimately yours.'" [1 Peter 2:9-10]).

This translation is delightful to read as it is homey and thought-provoking, even on familiar passages.

Beyond that, some of the wording was just plain fun, like:

"What is this cock sparrow trying to say?" (Acts 17:18)

Meanwhile some were shouting one thing and some another, and the whole assembly was at sixes and sevens, for most of them had no idea why they had come together at all. (Acts 19:32)

They din it into my ears that he ought not to live any longer ... (Acts 25:24)

I cannot believe that any of these matters has escaped his notice, for it has been no hole-and-corner business. (Acts 26:26)

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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Character more valuable than talent

Chapter 9 of Warren Wiersbe's On Being a Servant of God is on the importance of character and holiness.  It's a great chapter.  Below are some of the thoughts that stuck out to me.

Wiersbe starts out with an excerpt from Robert Murray M'Cheyne's letter to a friend going to Germany for missionary service: I know you will apply hard to German, but do not forget the culture of the inner man—I mean of the heart. How diligently the cavalry officer keeps his saber clean and sharp; every stain he rubs off with the greatest care. Remember you are God’s sword, His instrument—I trust, a chosen vessel unto Him to bear His name. In great measure, according to the purity and perfections of the instrument, will be the success. It is not great talents God blesses so much as likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God.
M'Cheyne again, preaching at an ordination service: But oh, study universal holiness of life!  Your whole usefulness depends on this.  Your ... sermon lasts but an hour or two--your life preaches all the week.

Life is built on character, but character is built on decisions.

Too many Christians think they can "get by" in spiritual ministry because they have charisma and can attract and hold an audience.  But it takes more than a winning personality to influence people for Christ; it takes godly character.

Somebody asked the wealthy banker J. P. Morgan what the best collateral was for a loan, and Morgan replied, "Character."

Holiness is to the inner person what health is to the body.

A holy life isn't the automatic consequence of reading the right books, listening to the right tapes, or attending the right meetings.  It's the result of a living, loving union with Jesus Christ and a life marked by godly discipline.  It means setting the alarm clock so we can begin the day with God and pray and meditate on the Word.

Friday, December 21, 2012

I like Conrad's "lesser" works better

Heart of DarknessHeart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I struggled to understand the point, and that's because, as I discovered later, I missed some key insights along the way. This novel was too subtle for me.  A second reading would probably yield richer insights, but the story wasn't interesting enough to give it a second read.

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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Root problem of gun violence is character

The way in which gun talk has dominated the news in recent days is incredible.  The Newtown tragedy that provoked the national discussion is horrible.

The debate is nothing less than a clash of worldviews.  I'm not necessarily opposed to some forms of gun control.  It seems we have a fair measure of gun control as it is.  The reality is that we will never get rid of all the guns.

The root problem, however, (and this is my worldview talking) is not guns.  The root problem is character, or lack thereof. 

I have a few friends who legally carry guns.  Am I concerned for my safety or the safety of my children when we're with them?  Not at all.  They are men of character.  Now if I were with a scoundrel who had a gun, I might be looking for a way to exit his presence soon. 

Notice the difference in those two scenarios.  It's not the gun that makes the difference, it's the person who holds the gun. 

Now the point could be made that if the scoundrel didn't have a gun, I wouldn't be as concerned.  And that's a fair point.  But don't make it so that honest people who obey the laws cannot obtain guns, but scoundrels who ignore guns can still obtain guns illegally.  It makes no sense to unbalance the equation further by making guns among the honest scarcer while the number of gun-possessing scoundrels remains the same.

Re-reading a favorite from my kid years

The Black Stallion (Black Stallion Series, Book 1)The Black Stallion by Walter Farley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Read this along with my 12-year-old, Anna. I loved it when I read it as a youngster. It's a great book for tweens.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Silent night

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie.
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by.
One of the aspects of the Christmas season I enjoy is the occasional silence.  The quiet.  Moments like now, 10:41 p.m., when I’m sitting by the Christmas tree, the tree lights lit, the house lights dark. 
Two years ago at this time, the house would be dead quiet, everyone except me asleep.  But my kids are older.  Andrew often doesn’t get to bed until he’s given the new day a firm handshake.  But still, the house is relatively quiet.
I need the stillness, the occasional quiet, to connect with the Savior. 
Christmas is meaningless if you don’t at all connect with the Savior, person to person.  Imagine going to a birthday party for a friend and never once greeting your friend, not even with eye contact.  I love most of the trappings of Christmas.  But what a waste if I engage all the trappings, yet never once worship the Lord.

Monday, December 17, 2012

A time for enjoying your daughter

I had a wonderful day with my daughter yesterday because we sat together a lot. 

The first time was in the worship service.  I finished playing the keyboard.  Callie was sitting with her Grandpa; all other relatives were elsewhere, including her mom, who was home with a fever.  As I headed for the pews, Callie caught my eye and beckoned me to her.  She snuggled up to me until it was time for her to leave the sanctuary for Children’s Church.

We attended our neighbor’s wedding in the afternoon, just Callie and I.  We sat around tables in the refurbished Baker Street Train Station for the wedding and reception.  She pressed in close to me because she didn’t know anyone else.  Even after she connected with her friend (the bride’s daughter) and became more comfortable with other girls, she still kept coming back to me to sit on my lap a bit.

This evening the ladies of the family were splayed in front of the TV, watching a PBS cooking show.  Callie invited me to sit with her on the floor.  Initially declining, I changed my mind and sat down.  She curled right up to me. 

After a bit, I knew she was getting tired.  So I carried her to her room and helped her with her PJs.  Then I carried her upstairs to brush her teeth.  Then I read a story to her.  Then I carried her back down and set her back with her sister and mom, where she fell asleep.  Then I carried her to bed.

I am working to savor these times.  It’s been a long time since Caty’s sat on my lap; it won’t happen again.  When Anna was 6, I used to joke that when she turned 7 I wouldn’t be able to carry her because she’d be too big.  She’s 12 now and quite independent.

The sands of time slip quickly through the fingers.  It’s hard to hold on to.

Lord, give me a heart of wisdom, and teach me to number my days aright.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Promoting traditional marriage good for the state

In a case in Nevada whereby the US Circuit Court upheld traditional marriage, District Judge Robert Jones wrote,

“Although the distinction the State has drawn (between one-man–-one-woman marriages on the one hand, and any other gender- or number-configuration of spouses on the other hand) largely burdens homosexuals, the distinction is not by its own terms drawn according to sexual orientation. Homosexual persons may marry in Nevada, but like heterosexual persons, they may not marry members of the same sex. That is, a homosexual man may marry anyone a heterosexual man may marry, and a homosexual woman may marry anyone a heterosexual woman may marry. In this sense, the State of Nevada has drawn no distinction at all. Under this conception of the (lack of) distinction drawn by the State, the laws at issue would receive no scrutiny at all under the Equal Protection Clause.”


“As Justice O’Connor noted in concurrence in Lawrence, there are additional reasons to promote the traditional institution of marriage apart from mere moral disapproval of homosexual behavior, and these reasons provide a rational basis for distinguishing between opposite-sex and same-sex couples in the context of civil marriage.

Human beings are created through the conjugation of one man and one woman. The percentage of human beings conceived through non-traditional methods is minuscule, and adoption, the form of child-rearing in which same-sex couples may typically participate together, is not an alternative means of creating children, but rather a social backstop for when traditional biological families fail. The perpetuation of the human race depends upon traditional procreation between men and women. The institution developed in our society, its predecessor societies, and by nearly all societies on Earth throughout history to solidify, standardize, and legalize the relationship between a man, a woman, and their offspring, is civil marriage between one man and one woman.

( “It is an institution, in the maintenance of which in its purity the public is deeply interested, for it is the foundation of the family and of society, without which there would be neither civilization nor progress.” - See
Maynard v. Hill, 125 U.S. 190,211 (1888) )

“Should that institution be expanded to include same-sex couples with the state’s imprimatur, it is conceivable that a meaningful percentage of heterosexual persons would cease to value the civil institution as highly as they previously had and hence enter into it less frequently, opting for purely private ceremonies, if any, whether religious or secular, but in any case without civil sanction, because they no longer wish to be associated with the civil institution as redefined, leading to an increased percentage of out-of-wedlock children, single-parent families, difficulties in property disputes after the dissolution of what amount to common law marriages in a state where such marriages are not recognized, or other unforeseen consequences.

Because the family is the basic societal unit, the State could have validly reasoned that the consequences of altering the traditional definition of civil marriage could be severe. It is not beyond rational speculation to conclude that fundamentally altering the definition of marriage to include same-sex unions might result in undermining the societal understanding of the link between marriage, procreation, and family structure.”

HT: email from Micah Clark, AFAIN

Friday, December 7, 2012

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Jesus is Lord of all because he is the source of all

I like the way the J. B. Phillips translation words some things.

Life from nothing began through him, and life from the dead began through him, and he is, therefore, justly called the Lord of all.  (Colossians 1:18)

Commenting on the cross:
And then having drawn the sting of all the powers ranged against us, he exposed them, shattered, empty and defeated, in his final glorious triumphant act!  (Colossians 2:15)

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Apologetics isn't always required

Simply telling about your faith is often persuasive
Don’t feel like you have to explain everything. Don’t feel like you have to have all the answers.

When it comes to telling others about anything Christian, don’t feel like you have to explain everything.
It’s easy to think that unless you explain everything carefully and thoroughly, your friend or co-worker or the guy at Wal Mart isn’t going to be persuaded by the truth of Christianity. And if that’s the way you think, then the thought that follows is, “Why bother?”
Now there’s a place for apologetics. There’s a place for a careful, reasoned, evidence-filled presentation of the Christian faith.
But let me tell you something else. The devil may be the biggest promoter of Christian apologetics there is. Why? Because he knows most of us aren’t experts in Christian apologetics. So if he can get us to believe that apologetics is absolutely essential to the conversion of anyone, then he’s cowed us into not talking to others about our faith.
Here’s the point: There is power in simply telling, so don’t be afraid to simply tell. I did not say “simply telling and defending;” just, “simply telling.”
People tell us stuff all the time that we believe as true without them going into reasons why. People don’t always require explanations in the real world. Sometimes they do, but not always.
Further, we as believers have added power in our witness; he’s the Holy Spirit. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses…” (Acts 1:8).

Many times all you have to do is tell the truth, not defend it. Even those who clamor for proof may not be able to shake the persuasive power of the truth you share and the Holy Spirit’s heavy hand of conviction. So even on those occasions when people ask you for reasons and evidence and you can’t seem to satisfy them, don’t automatically think the truth has dropped from their minds. What they wave away may in fact be eating away at the lies and deception that cocoon their hearts and minds.

Don’t feel like you have to explain everything. Don’t be afraid to simply tell.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Wells's The War of the Worlds: shoe's on the other foot

I finished reading The War of the Worlds, by H. G. Wells, on Saturday.  The initial excitement at reading the book waned as the Book One progressed.  But as I got into Book Two, that changed.  Especially with the entrapment of the narrator and the curate, the terror of their situation became a bit more real.

Wells’s evolutionary assumptions manifest themselves in his occasional comparison of human beings to animals.  With the domination of England’s populace by the Martians, human beings are compared more than once to rabbits and to ants.  “It never was a war, anymore than there’s war between man and ants” (Bk 2, Ch 7).  Now human beings can empathize with the animals they’ve dominated for so long.  “For that moment I touched an emotion beyond the common range of men, yet one that the poor brutes we dominate know only too well. I felt as a rabbit might feel returning to his burrow and suddenly confronted by the work of a dozen busy navvies digging the foundations of a house. I felt the first inkling of a thing that presently grew quite clear in my mind, that oppressed me for many days, a sense of dethronement, a persuasion that I was no longer a master, but an animal among the animals, under the Martian heel. With us it would be as with them, to lurk and watch, to run and hide; the fear and empire of man had passed away” (Bk 2, Ch 6).  Wells seems to be making two points with this.  First, he may be signifying that we need to ease up on our domination of the animals kingdom.    “Surely, if we have learned nothing else, this war has taught us pity—pity for those witless souls that suffer our dominion” ( Bk 2, Ch 6).  Second, we need to recognize that we are like the animals, and one day, a higher order may dominate us in the same way.  Humanity is nothing more than animals, albeit a higher order of ones.  Both the introduction (Karl Kroeber) and the afterword (Isaac Asimov) highlighted the fact that Wells may have been writing against the colonizing practice of his country, The War of the Worlds being a means of putting the shoe on the other foot.  What Britain gets from the Martians is what she was dishing out to the Africans, for instance.  Now that is an interesting thought!

Is this a jab at Christian theology?  It’s interesting that a curate figures prominently for a while.  He is not an admirable character.  His belief system can’t seem to handle the new situation.  He struggles with insanity, and in the end dies for want of reason and clear-headedness.  The narrator himself comes to pray at one point, but his prayers to God are given such a context as to make them seem foolish.  “… now I prayed indeed, pleading steadfastly and sanely, face to face with the darkness of God. Strange night! Strangest in this, that so soon as dawn had come, I, who had talked with God, crept out of the house like a rat leaving its hiding place--a creature scarcely larger, an inferior animal, a thing that for any passing whim of our masters might be hunted and killed. Perhaps they also prayed confidently to God” (Bk 2, Ch 6).

The ending was unexpected and interesting.  Who was really the more advanced?

Monday, December 3, 2012

Graphic Scripture

After witnessing the queen of Israel, Jezebel, being thrown out of a window and killed, Jehu, the man who called for her hasty demise, enjoyed a good meal.  Feeling better, apparently, he also felt some mercy.  He ordered her body to be collected and buried, "for she is a king's daughter."

But apparently while Jehu had been eating, so had the wild dogs.  All they recovered of Jezebel were her skull, feet, and palms.  (Some of the dogs apparently enjoyed finger food.)

When he heard of this, Jehu graphically described Jezebel's commitment to the earth: "This is the word of the LORD, which he spoke by his servant Elijah the Tishbite, 'In the territory of Jezreel the dogs shall eat the flesh of Jezebel; the corpse of Jezebel shall be like dung on the field ...'" (2 Kings 9:36-37 NRSV).

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Long before there were cars, there were bad drivers

Bad drivers aren't a contemporary development.  Bad drivers precede automobiles by a few thousand years.

Consider the renegade king of Israel, Jehu, who apparently had a reputation in this regard:

The lookout reported, “He has reached them, but he isn’t coming back either. The driving is like that of Jehu son of Nimshi—he drives like a maniac.”  (2 Kings 9:20 NIV)

I enjoy some of the other translations:

The troop’s leader is driving like a lunatic, like Jehu, grandson of Nimshi.  (GWT)

The driving is like the driving of Jehu son of Nimshi—crazy! (Message)

he drives like a madman (HCSB)

with madness he driveth (YLT)

it is headlong speed with him (Knox)

That one man is a reckless chariot driver—it must be Jehu! (CEV)