2012.01.30 Worth Visiting

Ted Video: How To Make Choosing Easier - 4 Strategies for dealing with choice overload

The Three Little Pigs - Hilarious video!

Abortion is as American as Apple Pie - frightening. appalling. terrifying. Not much more to say. 

Privacy and Piracy - Good questions about internet privacy and information control. 

Minding the Iotas - Theology matters! 

A Fighter Abroad - Brilliantly told story, well worth reading. Brian Phillips is quite the writer. 

Why Publishers Should Give Away Ebooks - I'm all for this idea!


"Creed or Chaos?" by Dorothy Sayers

"...it seems to me quite disastrous that the idea should have got about that Christianity is an otherworldly, unreal, idealistic kind of religion that suggests that if we are good we shall be happy - or if not, it will all be made up to us in the next existence. On the contrary, it is fiercely and even harshly realistic, insisting that the kingdom of heaven can never be attained in this world except by unceasing toil and struggle and vigilance: that, in fact, we cannot be good and cannot be happy, but that there are certain eternal achievements that make even happiness look like trash. It has been said, I think by Berdyaev, that nothing can prevent the human soul from preferring creativeness to happiness. In this lies man's substantial likeness to the Divine Christ, who in this world suffers and creates continually, being incarnate..."
- Dorothy Sayers, Letters to a Diminished Church. "Creed or Chaos?"

I strongly agree with all of this bar one point. Perhaps something can, and is, being done to prevent the soul from preferring creativeness to happiness. It seems to me that, at the very least, we live in an age which is trying very hard to make just such a shift. Or, maybe we are not being taught to prefer happiness - we are being taught that creativeness is out of reach for most of us and we ought to settle for the participation ribbon of happiness. Meanwhile, woe to those who are not even allowed to play the game. 


"Every Body Matters" by Gary Thomas

Gary Thomas. Every Body Matters: Strengthening Your Body to Strengthen Your Soul. Zondervan, 2011. 256 pgs. 

In Every Body Matters Gary Thomas explores some of the interactions between our bodies and our soul. More specifically, he argues that treating our body well is an important part of spiritual discipline and living well. He urges us to "stop treating our bodies like ornaments... and start treating our bodies like instruments, vessels set apart to serve the God who fashioned them. Throughout the book Thomas also explores topics from the discipline of exercise, to spiritual problems like sloth and greed.

As I started this book, I wasn't so sure what I was getting into. I have read, and appreciated, books by Gary Thomas before. That is, after all, why I decided to risk this book. However, any book about exercise and the Christian life starts out a few paces behind as it has many hurdles to avoid on the way. Hurdles like implying, or explicitly stating, that our current fashion in body-taste (what we, in our culture and our time, find attractive and appealing) is the absolute, God-honoring, standard and that anyone who does less is failing or, worse, sinning. Hurdles like dealing with health problems, real life scheduling difficulties for people with less money, time, and energy for exercising, and the fact that we are (I think) one of the few cultures who view physical exercise as a privilege and a relaxing activity, rather than one of the daily necessities and hardships of life. 

Thankfully, Thomas does a good job of leaping over these hurdles. He is very careful not to apply current cultural standards as if they were eternal. He also does an excellent job of looking at some of the deeper issues involved when it comes to physical fitness. Deeper issues such as those I mentioned above, sloth and greed. To be hones, the parts of this book which were about taking care of my body were nothing special. They weren't bad, but they weren't great. Where I found Every Body Matters to be interesting, thought provoking, and helpful was precisely when Thomas wrote about spiritual matters and, as he enters the later chapters of his book, when he writes about what it would be like to be 'the last christian in the world.' 

Conclusion: 3.5 Stars. Conditionally Recommended. I don't know how you feel about physical fitness. If you are unmotivated, or have never had any struggles taking care of yourself. Personally, it is enough to remember that all I am is a gift from God and I am called to steward that gift well. But if you need more than that, Thomas is the place to go. 

Thanks to Zondervan for providing this book, free of charge, for review purposes. 


2012.01.22 Worth Visiting

Links in no particular order. 

Unique life form is half plant, half animal - Half plant, half animal, all cool!

The Science Behind a Bad Mood (and what you can do about it) - Common sense stuff, but if you find your moods have more control over you than you have over them, you should read on.

TED Video: Be Suspicious - Indeed, be suspicious. Watch carefully any device which easily slips behind your critical apparatus; well-told stories are perfect examples. What do you think about the rest of what he had to say?

Life of a Scientist - Great post on the life of a scientist and what it means to pastor and minister to those in the field of science.

"It's A Girl" - The three most dangerous words in our world. Visit the site, read about it, and when you get the chance, watch the video.

It Doesn't Take Cupertino to Make Textbooks Interactive - A good word about tablets in classrooms, interactivity, and learning. Also a brilliant critique of Apple's latest move in publishing :)

CT's 2012 Book Awards - CT's 12 best books from the past year.

SpareOne - A $50 cellphone which holds a charge for 15 years and gives 10 hours of talk-time on a single AA? I'll be getting one for emergencies for sure! 


"Simply God" by Rick Richards

Rick Richards. Simply God. Westbow Press, 2011. 192 pgs. 

The description of this book promises to discuss the difference between convincing people and equipping people. It is supposed to be about seeing and knowing God, making these things our priorities. That is, what we need is simply God. These are, in themselves, excellent points. We do need God more than anything, and we ought to be equipped, not just convinced, to live well. You will not find that here. Unfortunately, Simply God is actually a long, unedited, unorganized, mostly unhelpful, self published book that needed, but clearly did not get, a lot of help. 

Something in the very preface of this book made me uncomfortable. As I finished reading it I had to stop and consider what it might be. I wasn't sure, so I reread it more carefully. There it was, clear as day, in the first lines. Richards claims that this book "was inspired by our Father so that all his children would know how much he loves them and wants to encourage them. My part was listening and collecting his thoughts. As for me, I am just a messenger." Don't misunderstand. I believe God does indeed reveal Himself, and it is certainly possible for us to receive a message from Him. But this claim, at the outset of any book, is huge. The last person who made such a claim was Jesus Christ. He was sent to reveal how much God loves us, and he didn't write a book to accomplish this, he died for our sins. As for the model of inspiration and revelation implied in these sentences... well, it gets worse. Phrases like: "while spending time with my Father, I can blot out my perceptions and let him roam and control my thoughts as I write" are not uncommon. In fact, after about chapter 10 they are all too frequent. 

In chapter 14, we have New King James scripture reorganized and quoted (yes, the entire chapter, the longest one in the book, is just this) and Richards claims God is the one who lined them up. Implicit in this idea is the fact that we understand scripture if we just read it open to the Holy Spirit, no matter the context, or original meaning and setting. This is ridiculous... If God had wanted us to have a book like that, I suppose he could have given it to us. Instead he gave us a bible which provides us with an entirely different horizon of understanding by virtue of it being from a different time, place, and culture than our own. It takes effort and the proper tools, still under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to read the bible well. Perhaps this is what was wrong with the whole book... Maybe Richards prayed and read and then, in all sincerity, wrote. If so, that would certainly explain his more egregious mistakes (such as claiming that Paul was a Roman soldier who killed Christians for the government, or that there are no differences in God's creation, or that reinterpreting Genesis for other than 24 hour days would be to strip the word of God of its power). Whether this is what Richards did or not, this is a terrible book. 

Conclusion: 0 Stars. Not Recommended. How can I say more? Terrible. 

Book provided through Booksneeze for review. 


2012.01.16 Worth Visiting

Here is the first post of other links you should check out. Normally I would wait until this list was longer, but 2 of these are time sensitive - by next week you may not remember the video they refer to :)

1. Matthew 24, Genesis 1, and the Eternal Reign of King Jesus - ever wonder about end times predictions in the bible? Or how to interpret Matthew 24? Wonder no more.

2. 35 MacGyver Tips - Sometimes people ask how I know so much weird stuff. This ought to help answer that question.

3. Does Jesus Hate Religion? Kinda, Sorta, Not Really - Excellent response to the "Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus" slam poetry video that 'went viral' last week.
- Follow Up - A follow up to the last link, which includes some of the response from Jefferson Bethke, the poet from the video. 

4. Sonaar Luthra: Meet the Water Canary - Interesting presentation on better ways to test water. 


What's Next?

A new year seems to demand new resolutions, if only by weight of expectation and pressure of resurrection. We must envision what lies before us, mold it and craft it into a shape pleasing to our desires, and so seize the future before it seizes us. We must stand, heads held high, and bravely wrest from the unknown something of worth. We must PLAN!

Well, I don't know about all of that. Frankly, I have always liked the fact that the un-aimed arrow never misses. As for shaping my future... I'll leave that God. He's better at it anyway. 

But for all that, I do have some ideas about what is will change, or what is next, for me and blogging. Three things in fact. (the rest will stay the same)

First of all, I will be taking on very few book reviews this year. At least, very few free books that come with the requirement of review. Don't worry, I will still review books. 

Looking back on the past year I realized a few things. First of all, I read far too many bad books. They were all books I signed up to review. Secondly, my harsh reviews are where I have spent the most time. I think this is because when it comes to recommending books, I feel the need to fully explain why you shouldn't read a book while I am comfortable just telling you when you should read a book because I know the book will speak for itself. Thirdly, I have been reading far too many books published in the last 10 years. 

What, then, is the solution to this problem? 

These guys:

Don't know who they are? That's OK, I don't either. At least, I don't know specifically who is in this picture. As a group, they are the Doctors of the Church. 

Over the next year, I will slowly work my way through some of the writings of these eigh great men of the early church: Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome, Gregory the Great, John Chrysostom, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Athanasius of Alexandria. 

Obviously I will not be reviewing these in same way as usual. They are clearly worth reading. Instead, I will talk about what they are teaching me, and which books may be specifically worth your time, a kind of best of the best I suppose. Of course, I have to finish off my other commitments first. I have one more book to write a review about, and a second to read and review. 

Secondly, I will be posting more of the material I develop for our church. I regularly preach, write and teach Sunday School curriculum, write and lead bible studies, and do topical presentations for various fellowships. I might as well see what you all think and make the material available to other pastors. 

Thirdly, I am going to start randomly putting up link posts. That is, I will collect articles and posts I think are particularly good and, whenever that list reaches critical mass, I will post them so that you can enjoy them too. 

I don't know about you, but I am looking forward to 2012!



Subversion: Science Fiction & Fantasy tales…

Ed. Bart R. Leib. Subversion: Science Fiction & Fantasy tales of challenging the norm. Crossed Genres Publishing, 2011. 172 pgs. 

Traitor or Revolutionary? Hero or Villain? Don't these titles mean the same thing, just from a different side? History, as they say, is written by the victors, but what would it be like to get a look before those histories were written? Here, you will find stories which explore these themes and more. Subversion is a collection of short stories around the theme of, you guessed it, subversion. Each author has his or her own take, and each story holds forth a different facet of dealing with change. 

As a book of short stories, I can't tell you everything about this book. It was a very enjoyable collection, with stories ranging from 3 to 5 stars. Some of the authors were indeed very creative in dealing with the idea of subversion, others merely wrote a good yarn. Of course, that isn't really an easy thing to do, and so merely is relative here. I would say at least three quarters of the stories were quite good. Anyone who has read collections like this before knows that such a ratio represents success. 

Conclusion: 4 Stars. Conditionally Recommended. If you enjoy sci-fi and fantasy short stories, this is worth a read. Enjoy. 

Thanks to the Librarything early readers program for giving me this book to review. 


A Pastor of 2.5 Years

I have been a pastor for 2.5 years now. Such a short time. In so many ways I know that I have barely begun. Yet, there is still more to reflect upon than I am able to process. 

No place, and no person, is perfect, but this place, and these people (in other words: this church) are pretty awesome!

I am both blessed and privileged to work where I do. Our church has a great community, the other pastors are excellent people who both support and teach me, and I couldn't be more proud of the youth, young adults, and volunteers I get to work with. It seems they amaze me anew every couple of weeks. You would think I would get used to it, but somehow I never learn. 

As for me, well, being a pastor is right where I should be. When God called me into ministry I did not want to go, and I thought I had good reason. Speaking technically, I had a fear of public speaking, a disdain for history, and an utter lack of writing and English skills. Spiritually speaking, I was not what you would call 'pastor material' and upon hearing God call me into ministry I pulled a Jonah (RUN AWAY!).

Fear Demotivator

Praise the Lord, He has brought me through my idiocy and provided through my weakness. Now, you would think that with that as background I would have learned to depend on God and obey His wisdom. But if I am being honest, those are the two most important lessons I am still learning in these first 2+ years of ministry. To keep depending on God and obeying His wisdom. I am starting to think that I will never stop... Ok, I am convinced I will never stop learning those lessons. I suppose that is why the call to persevere rings out so loudly and frequently in scripture. 

Perseverance Demotivator

What else do I have to say for myself after so short a time? I suppose it depends on who I am talking to. 

Pastors, no matter what is happening during your 3rd year of ministry, you are only just beginning. Whether those are words of encouragement or despair depends on how you take it. I am only just beginning in that I have so much more to learn and so many areas to grow. I am only just beginning in that the relationships in this community have only just begun to deepen, and real fruit may be years away. These things I find encouraging. I am also only just beginning in that I will make far worse mistakes than I have made so far, face far worse trials and temptations, and go through much more difficult periods of struggle. This too I find encouraging, because I know from experience that it is these hard times which push me most towards God. 

People of BAC, thank you for bearing and being with me over the past 2.5 years. Your grace, encouragement, and fellowship have not gone unnoticed. I hope that you will continue to offer these things to me far into the future. For you, keep chasing God. We, as a community, have also only just begun. Last year we celebrated our 30th anniversary, but the same things I said about me apply to us. Our relationship with our community(ies) have only just begun, and we too will face more in the future. Allow it all to push you into God. 

Other readers, are you part of a good church? Not necessarily a flashy, or polished, or 'just right' kind of place, but a place of real fellowship, encouragement, challenge, and growth? Such a place will be messy, awkward, and uncomfortable at times. It will take love for you to stay. But you need such a place. If you don't have one, find one. There is nothing better. 


I Hear Babies Cry...

I hear babies cry... I watch them grow. 
They'll learn much more...Than we'll know
And I think to myself... What a wonderful world. 

I don't know what I can add to that song, other than you should listen to this version of it (A medley with 'Somewhere Over The Rainbow' by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole). 

I am blessed in the family God has given to me. My dreams are already coming true, and have come true. I take great joy in Kristina and Hannah and Ethan. They teach me new things all the time, they make me smile, they make me worry and warm my heart. Yes, I am still tired all the time. It is worth it though. 

I had planned to write some kind of reflection on family life in 2011, but I am finding it difficult. I could fill pages and pages with accounts of the past year, and yet none of it seems to communicate what I want to say. 

I think what I want to say is that I thank God for these three people. They are precious and amazing. 


Best Books in 2011

Do you ever get tired of creeping people on facebook? Does the sound of chirping birds just gets to be too much to follow? If so, you can always get that little social media stalking fix by glancing down the sidebar of my blog. The observant reader will find there a librarything widget labeled "Currently Reading." Indeed, this is precisely what the widget contains; a list of books I am currently reading, complete with cover image. I do my best to keep my library thing account up to date, so while it may not be up to the minute, you can still know something about me that you can't find anywhere else.

You may also find out, if you pay attention for long, that I read a lot. I do not say this to brag; it is just the way I am. I have read fiction as a fun hobby for as long as I can remember. I started reading non-fiction which was not part of a textbook in high-school, and I began to take joy in it by university. I have never looked back. Not only is it just the way I am, the fact that anyone reads a lot is far less important than whether or not that person reads well. Much debate can go on about precisely what that means, but suffice it to say that if you attentively attend to a few good books then you have lost nothing against the person who can read twice, or thrice, as much as you do.

This year I started something new. I was inspired by a friend to keep track of my reading, and it has provided some interesting statistics. For instance, did you know that the average size of the books I read this year was 300 pages? I bet you didn't. I bet you still don't really care though, either. That's ok. This is my blog, so I'll write what I want to!

Now, on to something of more substance. Of all the books I read in 2011, and there were a lot (I averaged 15 a month), which were the best? Well, let me tell you (organized roughly according to the categories I read the most):

Best Christian Sociology: To Change the World by James Davison Hunter. Excellent book on church and culture. Follow that link and read my review if you want to know more.

Best Christian Theology (Tied): An Unsettling God by Walter Brueggemann. Wonderful Old Testament Theology. Follow the link and read my review to find out more.

Best Christian Theology (Tied):The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible's Grand Narrative by Christopher Wright. Amazing book about the story of God found within the bible.

Best Short Story Collection: Machine of Death: A Collection of Stories About People Who Know How They Will Die. I didn't review this book, but the title kind of says it all, doesn't it?

Best Fiction: Many Dimensions by Charles Williams. This was my first taste of Williams, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Thank you Jeremy for not only recommending it to me, but lending it to me as well.
Honorary Mention for Best Fiction: The Storyteller of Marrakesh by Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya.

Best book of Sermons: Unspoken Sermons Series I., II., and II.by George MacDonald. I am not finished yet, but they are excellent.

Best Christian Living: The Divine Commodity: Discovering a Faith Beyond Consumer Christianity by Skye Jethani. A needed challenge to the faith of many.

Best Non-Fiction: The Power of Persuasion: How We're Bought and Sold by Robert Levine. Books like this are both fascinating and disturbing, but well worth reading. 

Best Book for Pastors: Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness by Eugene Peterson. Every pastor should read this.

So there you have it, the best of the best from the last year. Thanks for dropping by. If you happen to pick up any of these books on my recommendation then it would be great if you drop by and leave a comment telling me what you think.

God Bless, and may 2012 be filled with many a good book for you, and for me too!