"It is good for us to have trials and troubles at times, for they often remind us that we are on probation and ought not to hope in any worldly thing."

- Thomas a Kempis
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From Brandywine Books
‘Laurus,’ by Eugene Vodolazkin

Angels do not tire, said the Angel, because they do not scrimp on their strength. If you are not thinking about the finiteness of your strength, you will not tire, either. Know, O Arseny, that only he who does not fear drowning is capable of walking on water.

My friend Dale Nelson recently recommended this newly translated Russian novel to me. It sounded intriguing, so I read it. The book was Laurus, by Eugene Vodolazkin, a novel unlike any other I’ve read – and I expect you’ll feel the same.

On the surface, Laurus is a simple modern version of a traditional hagiography, a saint’s life. Arseny is an orphan born in 15th Century Russia. He is raised by his grandfather, an herbalist healer. Arseny becomes an herbalist too, and eventually surpasses his teacher. He gradually realizes that the herbs he uses are almost irrelevant; God has placed healing power in his hands.

But Arseny commits a great sin, which fills him with guilt. His whole life, and the course of his story, are afterward dominated by his passion to somehow do penance and gain salvation, if not for himself, at least for the ones he hurt. From being a renowned and revered healer he descends into amnesia, wandering in poverty as a “holy fool.” Then he becomes a pilgrim, on the road to Jerusalem. On that journey he meets an Italian friend, Ambroggio. Ambroggio is devoted to studying the problem of the nature of time – this is dramatized by the fact that he wholly believes that the world will end in 1492, but at the same time often has visions of events centuries beyond his time. He sees no contradiction in this.

After his pilgrimage, Arseny returns to Russia and becomes a monk, and then retires to the life of a solitary hermit (that’s where he is given the name “Laurus,” the last of several names he bears in his life). He dies very near the place he was born, reliving, in a higher key, the crisis of his early life.

Laurus is an eccentric book which operates on a number of levels. As in a medieval book, dialogue is not indicated by quotation marks. You have to figure out where characters’ speeches start. You might call the book Christian fantasy, but there are also elements of science fiction – speculation on the nature of time is central to the whole thing. Arseny doesn’t experience his life quite in sequence, and there are anachronisms – like plastic water bottles lying as litter in a medieval forest – that have been put there for a reason.

Theologically, Protestants like me aren’t going to be entirely satisfied with the story. The doctrine here seems to be that grace is not free – at least for great sins, one must first show penitence through costly sacrifices, and then – if God is convinced of one’s repentance – forgiveness may be granted. Arseny suffers greatly to serve others, denies himself about as much as is physically possible, works miracles, and yet is never sure of his salvation.

But that’s probably (I don’t know for sure) true to Orthodox theology, and so makes the book historically authentic. It’s certainly a moving story, though it can also be quite funny. The translation by Lisa C. Hayden is highly readable.

There’s some disturbing material, but nothing that should offend the average Christian reader. I recommend Laurus. It would reward repeated readings.

From Brandywine Books
Why Some of Us Don’t Observe Advent

Even among the congregants of churches that do observe the advent season, which began last Sunday, many believers allow the time to slip by unobserved. Timothy Paul Jones, a Southern Baptist, asks why.

Perhaps it’s because, for believers no less than nonbelievers, our calendars are dominated not by the venerable rhythms of redemption but by the swifter currents of consumerism and efficiency. The microwave saves us from waiting for soup to simmer on the stove, credit cards redeem us from waiting on a paycheck to make purchases, and this backward extension of the Christmas season liberates us from having to deal with the awkward lull of Advent.

. . .

Why this Advent-free leap from All Hallow’s Eve to Christmas Eve?

Perhaps because Christmas is about celebration, and celebrations can be leveraged to move products off shelves. Advent is about waiting, and waiting contributes little to the gross domestic product.

On a related note, Tony Reinke tweeted this today.

From Brandywine Books
Editors Spill It on Fatal Flaws in Fiction

Save the would-be author in your family a few headaches with this book from The Writer’s Toolbox Series, 5 Editors Tackle the 12 Fatal Flaws of Fiction Writing. Editors C. S. Lakin, Linda S. Clare, Christy Distler, Robin Patchen, and Rachel Starr Thomson collaborate on how to handle twelve problems in fiction writing.  Each editor writes on one or more aspects of each of the twelve problems, giving readers what amounts to a panel discussion on the problem areas.

With five editors writing on the same problem, do they repeat each other much? Maybe in the introductory comments, but they work together bring up different angles on the topic. Sentences can fail to communicate in many different ways. Dialogue flaws are multitudinous. A developing writer will likely find many spots to polish when applying this advice to their own writing.

“Once you learn to detach emotionally from the words you write,” Lakin explains, “the battle is half won.”

The editors also give five examples of bad writing on each problem as well as a summary example at the end of each chapter, making this book something of a writing workshop if you’re willing to rewrite each example and then compare your work to the suggestion provided.

The twelve flaws they tackle:

  1. Overwriting
  2. Describing nothing that moves the story
  3. Weak construction
  4. Too much backstory
  5. Point of view violations
  6. Telling instead of showing
  7. Lack of pacing, tension
  8. Flawed dialogue construction
  9. Underwriting
  10. Description deficiencies and excesses
  11. Pesky Adverbs and Weasel Words
  12. Flawed Writing Mechanics

Each chapter concludes with a handy review page listing all of the advice for that problem and a practice example to work on. A book like this should save would-be writers plenty of emotional (and literal) cash when approaching an editor with their manuscript.

Lakin is also the author of The 12 Key Pillars of Novel Construction and other titles in The Writer’s Toolbox Series. She gave me a PDF of the new book in exchange for this review.

From Semicolon
Christmas in California, Sacramento River Valley, 1862

From the short story, How Santa Claus Came to Simpson’s Bar by Bret Hart:

It had been raining in the valley of the Sacramento. The North Fork had overflowed its banks and Rattlesnake Creek was impassable. The few boulders that had marked the summer ford at Simpson’s Crossing were obliterated by a vast sheet of water stretching to the foothills. The up stage was stopped at Grangers; the last mail had been abandoned in the tules, the rider swimming for his life. “An area,” remarked the Sierra Avalanche, with pensive local pride, “as large as the State of Massachusetts is now under water.”

Nor was the weather any better in the foothills. The mud lay deep on the mountain road; wagons that neither physical force nor moral objurgation could move from the evil ways into which they had fallen, encumbered the track, and the way to Simpson’s Bar was indicated by broken-down teams and hard swearing. And farther on, cut off an inaccessible, rained upon and bedraggled, smitten by high winds and threatened by high water, Simpson’s Bar, on the eve of Christmas Day, 1862, clung like a swallow’s nest to the rocky entablature and splintered capitals of Table Mountain, and shook in the blast.

A rainy Christmas, but neither rain nor snow can stop Santa, right?

Read the rest of the story, How Santa Claus Came to Simpson’s Bar.

Listen to the story here on this Librivox recording:

From Semicolon
The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope

This take-off on the story of Tam Lin and the Fair Folk is an oldie-but-goodie that deserves to be revived. Since fairy tale and folk tale retellings are so popular these days, young adult fans of authors Donna Jo Napoli, Jessica Day George, Robin McKinley, and Shannon Hale should check out this combination of folklore and historical fiction. Ms. Pope’s excellent novel won a Newbery Honor in 1975, an honor it richly deserved.

The story takes place at the end of the reign of Queen Mary I, aka “Bloody Mary.” Kate and her impulsive, lovable sister Alicia are ladies-in-waiting to the Princess Elizabeth, in exile from court at the drafty manor of Hatfield. When Alicia sends a letter of complaint to the Queen, Kate gets the blame, and she is banished to a manor house called The Perilous Gard in Derbyshire to live out her days in disgrace and under close guard. There, Kate meets the master of the castle/manor, Sir Geoffrey Heron and his strange, silent younger brother, Christopher. She also meets a strange lady dressed in green and hears many odd stories about the Elvenwood that surrounds Perilous Gard as well as the nearby Holy Well that draws pilgrims from near and far in search of healing and comfort.

I was especially intrigued by the hints and uses of Christian truth in this fantasy novel. (It does turn into a fantasy novel, as Kate encounters the reality of the Fairies who are behind all the stories she hears about strange, pagan rituals and kidnappings that have characterized Elvenwood.) The central conflict in the novel is between Paganism and the Fair Folk’s thirst for magical power and the Christian ideals of love and service and simple living. There is also a conflict within Kate herself as she sees herself as clumsy, unlovely and unlovable, but learns to see herself in a new light, giving herself in selfless service to another. The book is not overtly Christian or preachy, but in one conversation between Kate and the Lady in Green (queen of the Fair Folk), Kate actually puts into words some of the truths of the gospel in a rather compelling and interesting way:

Lady in Green: “I will not deny that your Lord paid the teind (ransom), nor that it would be good to have had some part in it, for He was a strong man, and born of a race of kings, and His tend must have been a very great one. But that was long ago, long ago in his own time and place. It’s strength is spent now. The power has gone out of it.

Kate: “It has never gone out of it. All power comes from life, as you said yourself, but the life that was in Him came from the God who is above all the gods; and that is a life that knows nothing of places and times. I–I mean, that with us there is time past and time present and time future, and with your gods perhaps there is time forever; but God in Himself has the whole of it, all times at once. It would be true to say that He came into our world and died here, in a time and a place; but it would also be true to say that in His eternity it is always That Place and That Time–here–and at this moment–and the power He had then, He can give to us now, as much as He did to those who saw and touched Him when He was alive on earth.

Granted, the Fairy Lady doesn’t really understand Kate’s gospel presentation, but I thought it was quite well put, and it fits in well with the imagery and the tension between paganism and Christianity that threads through the novel. I loved this story, and I think fairy tale fans would love it, too. A touch of romance, a bit of danger, and a coming of age motif combine to make The Perilous Gard a great read for older teens and adults both. I’d say it’s PG-12 or 13, only because it has some pretty intense descriptions of pagan sacrifice and Halloween evil, nothing nasty or sexual or graphically violent, though.

From Brandywine Books
Netflix review: ‘River’


I meant to review a book tonight, but then I’d need to link to Amazon. And Amazon appears to be a victim of its own success, crushed under the weight of Cyber Monday business. So I’ll talk about a Netflix series I watched.

River is a British series which mixes English police procedural with Scandinavian depression porn, along with a strong dose of the metaphysical. Over the years we’ve seen neurotic detectives, addicted detectives, disabled detectives, etc., etc. Now we have a delusional detective.

John River (Stellan Skarsgård) is a London police detective, a Swedish immigrant (which is odd, because River isn’t a Swedish name). He is tormented, not only by his persistent delusion that he sees and converses with dead people (he knows it’s a delusion because he doesn’t believe in life after death) but by the recent death of his partner, “Stevie” Stevenson (Nicola Walker). She was killed by a drive-by shooter, right in front of him.

River, because of his delusions, often asks in bizarre ways. This makes his colleagues wary of him and makes him insecure. He’s supposed to be seeing a counselor, but resists opening up to her. He is constantly in conflict with his superiors and skates on the edge of losing his job.

The series wasn’t bad, but in spite of its unusual qualities I found it kind of predictable. I asked myself, “Who would you guess, of all these characters, the writers hate most?” I selected one, and figured that person would be the killer, and I was essentially right.

An interesting series. Pretty grim. It provides the unusual spectacle (for television) of a romance between two characters who aren’t particularly attractive. I neither loved nor hated it.

From Brandywine Books
Where Did You Go, Short Story?

The dullest short stories I read from the last fifteen years were winners of competitions,” writes Hensher, who sieved through journals, old and new, to source the material for these collections. He characterises the winning stories of contemporary competitions as “present-tense solitary reflections”, their protagonists “lying on their beds affectlessly pondering; major historical events were considered gravely; social media were dutifully brought in to indicate an eye on the contemporary”. It is a mistake to believe that competitions, rather than a system of commissions, payments, circulation and readers, will generate literary quality.

Philip Hensher has compiled two volumes for Penguin’s Book of British Short Stories. (via Prufrock)

From Overcoming Our Genes
Willing To Die For Jesus

Above is a 10-minute interview of Myriam, a ten-year-old Iraqi Christian.  She survived an invasion of ISIS.  She thanks God and teaches the world a lesson on forgiveness. Watch Myriam as she shares her story of being displaced from Qaraqouish, Iraq by ISIS and forgives them.

From Semicolon
Saturday Review of Books: November 28, 2015

“There are many sorts of books; but good ones are the sort for the young to read. Remember that. They are a great, an inestimable, and unspeakable means of improvement. Therefore be careful in your selection, my young friends; be very careful; confine yourselves exclusively to Robertson’s Sermons, Baxter’s Saint’s Rest, The Innocents Abroad, and works of that kind.” ~Mark Twain


Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read.

You can go to this post for over 100 links to book lists for the end of 2014/beginning of 2015. The Saturday Review List of (Book) Lists will be posted for Saturday, January 2, 2016. You can then post a link to any end of the year or beginning of the year book lists you have to share.

If you enjoy the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon, please invite your friends to stop by and check out the review links here each Saturday.

From Brandywine Books
What Book Does Tim Keller Read Every Month?

“The other Scriptures speak to us,” observed Athanasius (AD 296–373), “but the Psalms speak for us.” For 3,000 years the Psalter has been the prayer book and songbook of God’s people. It was also the prayer book and songbook of God’s Son. Our Savior quoted from the Psalms more than any other biblical book—even while breathing his last (Matt. 27:46; Luke 23:46).

Matt Smethurst asks Pastor Tim Keller about reading the Psalms and his new devotional based on them.

From Brandywine Books
The road to Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving at the home of Earle Landis, Neffsville, PA, 1942. Photo by Marjorie Collins. This was just eight years before my birth. I am that old.

My heart has greatly desired this Thanksgiving. Not because of my fitting gratefulness; heaven knows I’m as ungrateful as the next man, and a lot more ungrateful than that other guy next to him. No, this holiday season has been a benchmark for me ever since I started graduate school. By Christmas I’ll be done with classes (assuming I don’t flunk one unexpectedly), and even now the pace is slowing down. Neither of my instructors seems all that interested in cramming work into the last couple weeks. I’m essentially done with my labors for one class, and the other doesn’t have a lot left except the final test. That will be annoying, but there’s nothing I can do through anxious care to make its span a cubit less.

So here I am, on the verge of being done with the bulk of it (the question of a Capstone Project remains up in the air), breathing afar off the balmy zephyrs of liberty. For more than two years I’ve been squeezing my life into whatever spaces the academic template overlooked. Soon I’ll have evenings free again. I’ll be able to relax (a bit) on weekends. And – praise to the Almighty – I’ll be able to work on my novels again. I even sat down the other night and wrote a scene that had impressed itself on my mind. It’s an important scene, one that reveals the heart of a major character, and should guide my portrayal.

So I’m thankful. Frankly, thinking back, there were long bleak stretches when I didn’t see how I could get this far. Either I’d fail or the stress would kill me, I figured. As with so many things in life, the Lord’s iron purpose was to make me walk through it, get stronger, and learn what I was capable of. Wasn’t it Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof who asked the Lord to please not bless him so much?

Have a blessed Thanksgiving. I expect I’ll be hanging around here a bit more from now on.

From Overcoming Our Genes

From Semicolon
The House That George Built by Suzanne Slade

The House That George Built is a beautiful nonfiction picture book about the building of the White House, the U.S. president’s home in Washington, D.C. Although George Washington was instrumental in planning and building the White House (which wasn’t officially called the White House until 1901 when President Theodore Roosevelt renamed it), Washington never lived in the house he helped build. John and Abigail Adams moved into the President’s House at the tail end of Adams’ presidency and lived there for about four months.

This book tells about the planning, the building, and the first occupants of George’s house with prose on one page and verse on the adjoining or following page.

This is the design,
that would stand for all time,

that was drawn for the lot,
that grand, scenic spot
for the President’s House that George built.

The illustrations, by Rebecca Bond, spread across both facing pages, and give a sense of the expansive growth of the new house along with the new nation. The verse, of course based on The House that Jack Built, grows, too, and at the end a full poem complements a nearly finished grand house. (The staircase wasn’t quite finished, and the roof leaked.)

I have a couple of more prosaic, factual books about the building of Washington, D.C. and the building of the White House, but this books is so much more fun and “living”, while still providing children with information about the House that George Built. There are even more factoids, interesting tidbits about the history of the White House in the back of the book on a page called The Changing President’s House and on the facing page entitled simply Author’s Note.

I’m quite pleased to add this relatively new book, published in 2012, to my library.

From Brandywine Books
‘Trent’s Last Case,’ by E. C. Bentley

I’ll bellyache about my developing self-exile from all popular culture in another post. Suffice it to say, just now, that I’m thinking about trying to find good mystery stories from the past to read. In that spirit, I bought E. C. Bentley’s Trent’s Last Case, one of the groundbreaking novels in the genre.

Edmund Clerihew Bentley has the distinction, not only of being the author of some seminal mysteries, but of inventing a form of light verse, a sort of short-cut limerick called the Clerihew. Here’s one of the more successful ones:

“The mustache on Hitler
Could hardly be littler,”
Was the thought that kept recurring
To Field Marshall Goehring.

On top of that he was a childhood schoolfellow and lifelong friend of G. K. Chesterton. So he comes highly recommended.

His novel, Trent’s Last Case, published in 1913, stars Philip Trent, a young artist who doubles as a crime reporter for a London newspaper. He is sent to a country estate in the wake of the murder of its owner, a predatory American financier. Faced with a confusing scenario – why was the victim dressed in mismatched clothes, and missing his false teeth? – he finally comes to a conclusion about whodunnit – which he suppresses for private reasons. But that’s only half the book. The second part involves a series of further revelations that confound all his conclusions.

It’s a clever book, in the English tradition (later established in the “Golden Age of Detective Fiction”) of the “cozy” puzzle mystery. But honestly, it’s all a little too clever for me. In order to fool the reader, the author (it seems to me) pushes and crosses the bounds of plausibility. He works hard to make it all seem consistent with real human nature, but he does not entirely succeed – in my view.

Also, the prose style somewhat irritated me. Granted the author lived before Hemingway, but when he gives us a short biography of each major character on their first appearance in the story, rather than showing us what they’re like through their words and actions, it seems like lazy writing to me. I mean, Conan Doyle was considerably older than Bentley, but he knew how to reveal a character.

I can’t condemn Trent’s Last Case – it’s an acknowledged classic. But for me it didn’t work very well. Your mileage will likely vary.

On the bright side, no content cautions at all are necessary.

From Brandywine Books
Satisfy Us in the Morning, O Lord

“So teach us to number our days
  that we may get a heart of wisdom.
Return, O Lord! How long?
  Have pity on your servants!
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
  that we may rejoice and be glad all our days” (Psalm 90:12–14, ESV)

Morning at Millabedda, Hopton, Badulla.

On verse fourteen, the great Charles Spurgeon writes:

The prayer is like others which came from the meek lawgiver when he boldly pleaded with God for the nation; it is Moses like. He here speaks with the Lord as a man speaketh with his friend.

O satisfy us early with thy mercy. Since they must die, and die so soon, the psalmist pleads for speedy mercy upon himself and his brethren. Good men know how to turn the darkest trials into arguments at the throne of grace. He who has but the heart to pray need never be without pleas in prayer. The only satisfying food for the Lord’s people is the favour of God; this Moses earnestly seeks for, and as the manna fell in the morning he beseeches the Lord to send at once his satisfying favour, that all through the little day of life they might be filled therewith. Are we so soon to die? Then, Lord, do not starve us while we live. Satisfy us at once, we pray thee. Our day is short and the night hastens on, O give us in the early morning of our days to be satisfied with thy favour, that all through our little day we may be happy. That we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Being filled with divine love, their brief life on earth would become a joyful festival, and would continue so as long as it lasted. When the Lord refreshes us with his presence, our joy is such that no man can take it from us. Apprehensions of speedy death are not able to distress those who enjoy the present favour of God; though they know that the night cometh they see nothing to fear in it, but continue to live while they live, triumphing in the present favour of God and leaving the future in his loving hands. Since the whole generation which came out of Egypt had been doomed to die in the wilderness, they would naturally feel despondent, and therefore their great leader seeks for them that blessing which, beyond all others, consoles the heart, namely, the presence and favour of the Lord.

From Brandywine Books
Wangerin Describes His Life

Paul Pastor reviews Walter Wangerin’s memoir, Everlasting in the Past.

The contemporary Christian memoir has behind it a richly populated tradition of self-reflection: Augustine’s Confessions, Julian of Norwich’s Showings, Therese of Lisieux’s Story of a Soul, C. S. Lewis’s Surprised by Joy, Madeleine L’Engle’s A Circle of Quiet, and countless other narratives that use personal experience and devotion to point to a larger Christian path.

. ..

[Wangerin’s] prose is miniaturized, fitted like clock parts, each sentence turning the next. Just when you think you are witnessing an over-written sentence, he expertly surprises you. The book is paradoxically both spare and extravagant, and it will not be to everyone’s taste. It’s high craft, but he avoids pretense, and it works, as Dun Cow did. It’s distilled, dense. Delicate. I love it.

(via Prufrock)

From Semicolon
Lad, a Dog by Albert Payson Terhune

What books do you recommend to fans of James Herriot’s wonderful animal stories about a veterinarian in Yorkshire? I’m not much of an animal lover or an animal story reader, although I do like the Herriot books, so I had only a very short list in my head of books that might appeal to animal-loving readers. Now, I can add Lad, a Dog to that short list.

The stories in Lad, and they are, like those in the Herriot books, separate stories tied together by continuing characters, are about a collie dog owned by a gentleman farmer in New Jersey. Lad, a sort of composite of all of the collies owned by Terhune over the years, lives on The Place and follows The Law of obedience and loyalty to The Master and Mistress. When he’s not being brave and clever, Lad likes to chase squirrels and lord it over the other collies on The Place. The stories in the book are sometimes a little repetitious, about the evils of dog shows and the intelligence and doggy excellence of Lad the collie, but each story showcases a little bit of a different aspect of Lad’s character and of the joys of owning a superlative dog like Lad.

Mr. Terhune wrote in the early part of the twentieth century. Lad was first published in 1919, and it’s set during World War I. But the stories are timeless, appealing to dog lovers and even to animal-averse people like me. (I like my pets safely penned inside books where they can’t poop or pee in my house. Unfortunately, my children have foisted upon me two cats and a dog who all reside in my domicile.)

My favorite animal stories (other than James Herriot’s books, which are the best ever) are:
The Incredible Journey by Sheila Branford. (two dogs and a cat)
Born Free by Joy Adamson. (a lioness)
Old Yeller by Fred Gipson. (dog story)
Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand. (horse racing)
Rascal by Sterling North. (a raccoon)
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. (horse)
Cracker: The Best Dog in Vietnam by Cynthia Kadohata.
My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. (falcon and other woodland creatures)
Rain Reign by Ann Martin. (dog)
That’s nine, plus one I think I want to read: H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald.
No talking animals or fantasy animals included, and I prefer books in which the dog doesn’t die, although some of the above break that rule.

What true or true-to-life dog stories or animal stories would you recommend for children or adults?

From Semicolon
Symphony for the City of the Dead by M.T. Anderson

Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M.T. Anderson.

“There is no way to write a biography of Shostakovich without relying on hearsay and relaying the memories of people who have many private reasons to fabricate, mislead and revise.” (p.141)

So, this biography of Shostakovich, the Russian composer who immortalized the siege of Leningrad during World War II in his Seventh Symphony, is sprinkled throughout with “perhaps” and “supposedly” and “it is not clear whether” and many, many questions. I was at first a little frustrated by all the “weasel words” with which author M.T. Anderson hedges his sentences and declarations and with all of the open-ended questions with which he ends many of his paragraphs and chapters, but I began to see these uncertainties and essays at truth as (perhaps) metaphorical. After all, Anderson is writing about the events of a composer’s life, many of which are shrouded in Communist propaganda and lies or in the half-truths of people who were trying to live under Communist oppression. But he’s also writing about Shostakovich’s music, which is also vague and uncertain and shrouded, as various experts disagree about the music’s message and meaning. So there are questions, and Anderson asks the right ones while also laying out the facts when those are available in a readable narrative form.

I don’t exactly see why this book is being marketed as a young adult book, unless it’s maybe because the author has written many fiction books for children and young adults. While it’s not a scholarly, academic biography, it is certainly well researched and documented and perfectly suited for adult readers. In fact, unless a person, young or old, is particularly interested in the Soviet Union during World War II or in Shostakovich’s music or twentieth century classical music in general, I doubt this book is going to hold much appeal. Conversely, if any of those interests are there, young and old will find it fascinating. So why is it a Young Adult book? I have no idea.

The details about the siege of Leningrad, taken partly from NKVD archives and records, are harrowing and disturbing (starvation, cannibalism, frozen and unburied bodies, etc.), so it’s not a book for children. The main text of the book is 379 pages and written in a literary, almost lyrical style, so I doubt anyone younger than fifteen or sixteen is going to attempt it anyway. I thought I knew a lot about World War II, but it turns out that I knew very little, aside from the bare facts, about the siege of Leningrad, and I had never heard of Shostakovich’s Leningrad (Seventh) Symphony, not being a music aficionado or a student of classical Russian music.

I was inspired by the book to listen to the Leningrad Symphony, a undertaking in itself since the symphony in four movements is almost an hour and half long. I’ll embed the youtube version that I listened to, but I’m sure that I got more out of it after having read all the historical background in Mr. Anderson’s book. I suggest, for those of you who, like me, are not musically educated, that you read the book first and then listen to the symphony.

Good book, but disturbing. Good music, but also disturbing, especially the relentless march in the first movement.

From such small hands
I Need a Little Christmas, Right This Very Minute

Psalm 100 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into His presence with singing! Know that the Lord, He is God! It is He who made us, and we are His;...

From Semicolon
Saturday Review of Books: November 21, 2015

“The little girls to whose houses she went visiting . . . always hid away their story-books when she was expected to tea. If they didn’t do this, she was sure to pick one up and plunge in, and then it was no use to call her, or tug at her dress, for she neither saw nor heard anything more, till it was time to go home.” ~Susan Coolidge, What Katy Did


Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read.

You can go to this post for over 100 links to book lists for the end of 2014/beginning of 2015. Feel free to add a link to your own list.

If you enjoy the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon, please invite your friends to stop by and check out the review links here each Saturday.

From Overcoming Our Genes
Come Up Here

  The whole world seems to be in an uproar right now—anarchy reigns on some college campuses and in some cities—terrorist attacks take place daily someplace in the world—hate rules.  What would God have His people do?  Pray, pray, and pray some more. 

In Paris a pastor wondered what he could do for the people after the terrorist attack last week.  He felt led to go door to door to pray with the people.  See the video here

What should happen to the refuges streaming out of the Middle East?  See the chart above showing that Christians who are currently being wiped out in the Middle East have not been permitted into the United States in any number.  This is a definite prayer request that this situation will be remedied.

I’m studying Revelation with Bible Study Fellowship this year.  In chapter 4 verse 1 God calls to John with a voice like a trumpet –“Come up here!”  In the Spirit John was transported to the throne room of God.  We, as believers, can be in the throne room of God, in prayer, because of what Jesus did on the cross. 

Prayer makes a difference.  Remember the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life?”  When George was missing, prayers went up for him all over the city.  God sent Clarence the angel to help.  We need God’s help now.  Here are some additional suggestions for what God’s people can pray:

Proverbs 22:3 says, “The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty.”  Pray that the leaders of the United States would be prudent.

·      I Timothy 2:1 I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.

·       Numbers 22:31 That the eyes of The Church will be opened to see the truth about the social sins and false teachings in our churches.

·      Pray for our military, police, and fire fighters for protection and wisdom as they do their jobs.

·      Pray for honest judges and officials.

·      Pray for the media to produce family friendly entertainment. For movie stars to receive Jesus as Lord and Savior. Reporters to report the facts without bias.

·      Business leaders to be honest and for dishonest people to be removed.

·      Our schools, teachers, and administrators to teach the “Golden Rule.”  For safety, and choice of schools for students.

·      Unity and love in our families.

What prayer requests would you suggest?  God will hear and answer.  We must not give up!

From Semicolon
Hidden Gold by Ella Burakowski

I find Holocaust memoirs to be somewhat variable in quality and readability. Maybe the memoirist’s memories are not that detailed or reliable. Sometimes the person who has undertaken the task of writing the stories down is just not a great writer. Sometimes the reader may be the problem: I’m not immune to the chilling effect of a jadedness produced by too many horrific World War II stories, too many atrocities, too much suffering and starvation for a person to read and assimilate.

Hidden Gold is an excellent example of a Holocaust memoir that is sharp, well-written, detailed, and narrative. I was absorbed by the story of young David Gold and his family and their survival in hiding in Poland, written by Mr. Gold’s niece and based on Mr. Gold’s memories of 1942-1944 when he was twelve to fourteen years old. “David Gold’s memories of his formative years during World War II are as vivid and compelling under his niece’s pen as if they happened yesterday.” (from the blurb on the back cover of the book)

The Gold family–David, his two older sisters, and his mother–survived in hiding on a Polish farm because they were rich, because they were smart and initially healthy, and because they were lucky, or perhaps preserved by a miracle form God. Even though the memoir is woven from David Gold’s memories, David’s older sister Shoshanna, who later became the mother of the author, emerges as the heroine of the tale. Shoshanna is the one who negotiates with outsiders on behalf of the entire family because she has blue eyes and speaks Polish without a Yiddish accent. Shoshanna is the one who encourages the family not to commit suicide when it seems that choice is the only one left to them. Unfortunately, Shoshanna Gold Barakowski died at a relatively young age in 1972, while the author was still in her teens, and the other sister, Esther, also died (of cancer) in 1984, long before Ms. Burakowski began to write this book.

I did wonder how much the author embellished or assumed as she told of the thoughts and motivations of her family members, most of whom were not available to vet the text or give their own take on events. Still, most memoirs are a mix of fact and fill in the blank, and I give the author credit for filling in, if she did, in a way that reads as authentic, coherent, and literary. I read and believed, and I was reminded that hatred and prejudice and bravery and human endurance are all a part of our shared human history as well as evident in the present day “holocausts” that continue to be perpetrated on the innocent and the unprotected.

[T]he memoir as unfiltered actuality is a myth. Fickle and unreliable memories must be reconstructed and made coherent; a story’s assembly, style, and characterization will inevitably compromise any strict retelling. Emphatically, this does not mean the work is less autobiographically or historically valid—–only that it is never pure autobiography or history, and has to be understood and embraced thus. Truth isn’t synonymous with historicity, and infidelity to the latter isn’t necessarily betrayal of the former. ~”The Holocaust’s Uneasy Relationship with Literature” by Menachem Kaiser, The Atlantic, December 2010

From Semicolon
Noah Webster: Man of Many Words by Catherine Reef

One of my pet peeves about contemporary nonfiction books for teens and tweens is that the authors seem compelled to share all the interesting tidbits and rabbit trails from their research in sidebar boxed text or sometimes even entire pages of boxed text asides. These text boxes break up the flow of the narrative, and they annoy the heck out of me when I’m reading. I can’t resist reading them to see what I might be missing, and I’m almost always sorry that I did because I lose track the story at hand.

Catherine Reef’s biography of Noah Webster avoids the text box pitfall, and she includes all the extra material she researched on the American Revolution and the writing of the Constitution and early American life and politics in the narrative itself. I could read about the ratification of the U.S. Constitution as I read about Noah Webster’s opinions about the Constitution. And no text boxes were inserted to aggravate and sidetrack my reading. So, score one for this biography.

The narrative itself was well-written and interesting, and the illustrations were well-placed in old-fashioned frames which complemented and didn’t interrupt the story. Unfortunately, the size of the book itself, about 8″ x 10″, was awkward and made it somewhat difficult to read in bed or even in a comfortable chair. This size seems to be popular these days for nonfiction tomes, but I’m not a fan.

This biography for young adult and middle school readers is 171 pages long and gives a full picture of Noah Webster and his times and his influence on the American language, education, and government. The author mentions Webster’s conversion, as an adult, to a renewed, or perhaps new, faith in the God of his forefathers, but she does seem rather perplexed and detached about the meaning of all that religious talk on Webster’s part.

“Noah blocked himself off from the din of life by packing the walls of his study with sand. Yet there was one voice he found impossible to keep out: the one he believed belonging to God.
One morning in April 1808 , he was alone in his study. ‘A sudden impulse upon my mind arrested me,’ he said. ‘I instantly fell on my knees, confessed my sins to God, implored him pardon, and made my vows to him that . . . I would live in entire obedience to his service.’ The next day he called his family together and led them in prayer, as he would do three times a day for the rest of his life.”

One can almost hear in the background the biographer’s thoughts of “how quaint and colonial–believing that one can hear the voice of God!” I would have liked to know more about how Noah Webster’s April awakening and commitment to obey the voice of God impacted his life and changed his actions, other than prayer three times a day. The book does tell us that his new found faith caused a rift in his friendship with one Joel Barlow, an old crony who was also an atheist and a poet. Webster reneged on his promise to review Mr. Barlow’s latest poem because the poem was not in keeping with Noah Webster’s newfound Christian convictions. And late in his life, Noah Webster attempted a revision of the King James Version of the Bible, but the Webster version was not a commercial success. That’s about all we learn from this biography about Mr. Webster’s faith and his practice of that faith. Maybe that’s all there is to know.

At any rate, I find that juvenile biographies are a wonderful introduction to people and events of the past. I am inspired to read more about Noah Webster and perhaps get answers to the questions I have left after reading this biography. Ms. Reef’s bibliography lists other biographies of Mr. Webster:

The Forgotten Founding Father: Noah Webster’s Obsession and Creation of an American Culture by Joshua Kendall.
Noah Webster and the American Dictionary by David Micklethwait.
Noah Webster by John S. Morgan.
The Life and Times of Noah Webster, an American Patriot byy Harlow Giles Unger.
Noah Webster, Schoolmaster in America by Harry R. Warfel.

I am intrigued enough that I might want to try one of these five biographies. Any suggestions as to which one?

From Semicolon
Called for Life by Kent and Amber Brantly

Called for Life: How Loving Our Neighbor Led Us into the Heart of the Ebola Epidemic by Kent and Amber Brantly, with David Thomas.

I’ll start out by telling what I missed in this story by Ebola survivor Kent Brantly and his wife, Amber. There’s nothing in the book about how Mr. and Mrs. Brantly came to know the Lord, nothing about their childhood, or their growth as Christ-followers, except in relation to their missionary commitment. I would have liked to have read more about each one of the couple’s initial salvation experience as a sort of a background to their experiences in Liberia. However, this book is not the book for that.

What this book does do well is tell the story of how Kent and Amber Brantly ended up in Liberia on the frontline of the fight against the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014. And it tells in detail how Kent Brantly contracted Ebola himself and how he survived the virus that killed so many people in Liberia and in other West African countries. In the book, Brantly also gives God the credit for saving his life, while acknowledging that many people and circumstances came together to make it possible for him to receive expert medical care and treatment.

I was intrigued learn of the many factors that converged to make Mr. Brantley’s survival and healing possible and of the heroic actions of many missionary doctors and nurses and Liberian national doctors and healthcare workers in their team effort to combat the Ebola outbreak. It’s a good, inspiring story, and it made a good antidote to the darkness of the news story of death and destruction in Paris that dominated this past weekend’s newsfeed. I admire Kent Brantly and his fellow Ebola survivor, Nancy Writebol, even more than I did before reading this account of their faith in God and their tenacious fight against Ebola.

I recommend Called for Life. I needed some contemporary heroes to restore my hope, and I imagine you do, too.

From The Boar's Head Tavern

I should congratulate JS Bangs on moving to Romania. Everywhere has its own special kind of insanity, but it seems that eastern Europeans are not possessed of the unique madness that they and their civilization have no right to exist.

From Jared C. Wilson
The Definition of Insanity

charles-simeonPastor, every Sunday, over and over again, without fail, stubborn and convicted, you take to that pulpit and pin all your hopes on the gospel in your preached text. You aren’t trusting your rhetoric, your well-turned phrases, your homespun stories, your hokey jokes. You aren’t trusting your emotional appeals, your special pleadings, your creative context, your fog and lasers or your eighteen verses of “Just As I Am.” You leave all the good news out on the field, praying the seed will find purchase in softer soil than the week before.

You look up from your closing prayer and see, yet again, blank faces, arms crossed, pursed lips, feet itching to beat the Catholics out to the all-you-can-eat buffet at the local people-trough. You sigh.

Then you get studied up and prayed up all week and do it again. And again. And again.

Sometimes response comes in trickles, sometimes not at all. You start feeling quite hamsterian, and the preaching calendar is one giant wheel.

Pray, study, pray, preach.
Pray, study, pray, preach.
Pray, study, pray, preach.
Wash, rinse, repeat.

Somebody comes along at some point and suggests “This gospel stuff is nice” — this is a true story, by the way — “and you do it very well” — flattery will get you nowhere, or everywhere, depending on how my day is going — “but sometimes we need to hear other things.”

You want to say “Get behind me, Satan,” but you just smile and nod and inside your heart collapses like those outdated hotel-casinos they blow up in Las Vegas, with a great plume of dust that makes the sky look dirty. You feel old. It does feel like it’s getting old.

But you keep going. It’s giving you wrinkles, headaches, heartburn. You push on, press on, preach on.

Pray, study, pray, preach.
Gospel all day, erryday.

“If you think you need to hear other things,” you telepathically say to the valley of dry bones scattered across the pews, “it’s proof you need a double helping of the gospel.”

So you keep going. Doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.
What’s the definition of insanity again?

If we are “out of our mind,” as some say, it is for God . . . – 2 Corinthians 5:13

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. - Galatians 6:9

From Jared C. Wilson
How Should Church Members Relate to Their Pastors?

9marksFrom Jonathan Leeman’s excellent little book, Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus:

Every church member will stand before God’s throne and give an account for how he or she worked to protect the gospel in the lives of his or her fellow members (see Galatians 1). That said, the Holy Spirit has made pastors and elders the overseers of the church (Acts 20:28; Titus 1:7; 1 Pet. 5:2). That means pastors or elders represent the church’s work of oversight in the day-to-day life of the congregation. Submitting to the church often means submitting to them. Broadly speaking, how should members relate to pastors?

1. Members should formally affirm their pastors.

Different traditions disagree on this, but I believe that since Christians are ultimately responsible before God for what they are taught (see Galatians 1), church members are responsible for choosing their leaders. Congregations should let elders lead in this process, but the final affirmations is the church’s. (it may also be the case that the church’s authority to affirm its leaders is an apostolic authority, which it inherits through the apostolic keys. See Acts 14:23; see also the congregation’s role in Acts 1 an Acts 6).

2. Members should honor their pastors.

Our culture’s ability to understand honoring seems to be diminishing continually. But just as the Bible calls children to honor their parents, so Christians should honor their pastors. The Bible even says to give them “double honor” (1 Tim. 5:17). And this includes paying them (5:18).

3. Members should submit to their pastors.

These two verses in Hebrews need to be incorporated into our understanding of Christian life: “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith” (Heb. 13:7). “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you” (Heb. 13:17).

4. Members should pray for their pastors.

These men are the ones whose lives and teaching help to sustain the church. Will it not benefit us to pray for them?

5. Members should bring charges against disqualified pastors.

Since they are out front, Paul protects leaders by requiring two or three witnesses to level a charge against them (1 Tim. 5: 19). That said, the congregation should not allow an elder who has disqualified himself to continue serving.

6. Members should fire gospel-denying pastors.

When false teachers entered the Galatian church, Paul did not correct the elders. He corrected the church. When pastors begin to deny the gospel or teach other heresies, God calls church members to fire them.

(pp. 104-106)

From Overcoming Our Genes
I Can't Believe It Isn't Even Thanksgiving

Aeon Store Okazaka, Japan-- photo by Toby Oxborrow

If you haven’t heard, there have been some complaints that the Starbucks cup being used this season doesn’t have any decorations depicting Christmas on it. I think that the guy who started the hubbub about the red cup just wanted more people to read his blog! The cup doesn't bother me, as I usually don't buy Starbucks coffee!

But what should a Christian do? Christians are supposed to be in the world but not of theworld. One Christmas, when I was visiting my son in Japan, I noticed that in Japan at Christmas thereare many Christmas decorations. Of course it is all about shopping and not Jesus. Now it is becoming the same here. It is all in God's plan, I believe. He is urging His people to seek Him. God wants usto spend time with Him in prayer. We have nowhere else to go.When the school Christmas concert is all about snowflakes we can start a prayer group to pray for the school and especially the music. They are losing out on some beautifulmusic by not using the traditional songs. We can try to identify the Christianteachers and give them Christmas cards with the emphasis on freedom of religion. We can pray forsalvation for those in power. God holds their hearts in His hand and He canchange them as well as our hearts. We need to be filled with God's love for those whoare lost. God is working in their lives as well as ours. It's all about perseverance!  And yes, it is about spreading the gospel and making disciples.  Does a protest about a cup do that?  I don't think so.

Here are two blogs I read about the protest: Click here and here.

From Overcoming Our Genes
The Stone

 Let me tell you why I think that the end of the world as we know it is imminent—according to the Bible.  Ezekiel 38-39 tells about Gog leading all the nations against Israel.    Zachariah 12 relates how God will destroy Israel’s enemies. Currently Russia is allying with Iran, Syria, and others. A One World Government is politically possible. A One World Religion is looking possible as the Pope reaches out to Muslims among others.  Everything is in place. With more and more violence against Israel the time is ripe for God to save His people. See the video below:

 Also, Israel has lost another major ally.  Canada is no longer a friend of Israel because of the election of Justin Trudeau in October. The following video tells the truth about Justin Trudeau and the liberals!! 

In Acts 4 we are told that salvation is found in no one else except Jesus.  11 Jesus is
“‘The stone you builders rejected, which
 has become the cornerstone.’[A]
12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” 

So, in what looks to be the last days, with the Apocalypse probably coming upon us very soon, it is time for everyone to make their peace with God—and that is only done by confessing our sins to God and accepting forgiveness through what Jesus did on the cross.

We live in exciting times.  God’s people have no fear, as we know that God is working everything out for our good.  He will come in and dwell with all who will accept His free gift.

From Overcoming Our Genes
Another One Gone; Another One Bites The Dust

I have decided that there are two more TV shows that I will no longer watch because the characters are sexually immoral. The story line tolerates this behavior as perfectly acceptable.  A jingle from a weight watcher commercial keeps going through my head--Another one gone; another one bites the dust!  Those shows have bitten the dust for me.   I felt a little disappointment at first -- then my resolve set in. Good-bye TV shows and no regrets!

In the past I continued to watch TV shows where some characters were jumping into bed with each other even though they were not married.  But I drew the line at approval of homosexuality.  Now I’m beginning to draw the line at unmarried people sleeping with each other. It’s just wrong! Saving yourself for marriage is the way to go.

I thought Glenn Beck had a good point on the Kelly File the other night.  See the above video. He said the problem with our country is that we are immoral.  I agree.  We no longer use the Bible as the plum line to direct our laws and lives.  Everyone does what he thinks is right in his own eyes.
I will continue to self censor and pray that my non-watching of certain shows will make a difference in my life and maybe other lives as well.  Maybe if every Christian stopped watching these types of TV shows they would go off of the air. At least our children won’t have to see these things on TV. But now even some commercials are no longer family friendly. I wonder how parents will explain such things to their kids?!

What do you think?

From Jared C. Wilson
40 Thoughts For My 40th Birthday

jwToday’s my 40th birthday. As a way of reflecting on my long, unbroken track record of unsurpassed mediocrity, here is a list of things I’ve learned, discovered, and experienced, and that I now think — one for each year of living.


1. Being married might be the most sanctifying thing in your life, if you’re doing it right. It definitely is the most sanctifying thing in your life if you’re doing it wrong.

2. Luther’s first thesis was “All of life is repentance.” So is all of marriage.

3. It’s good to have standards and expectations. It’s better to have grace.

4. The key to having grace is remembering that you fall much shorter from God’s standard than your spouse does yours, but God is laying out fresh mercies for you every morning anyway. We act more strictly than God when we presume to be in his position.

5. It is much harder to love your spouse when you’re constantly focused on how they are not as you-centered as you are.

6. It gets worse before it gets better. Don’t give up.

7. Having someone who knows just how messed up you are, how dumb and foolish, how forgetful and stubborn, just how versatile your stupidity is, who sees how awful you look naked, who hears your chewing and snoring and burping and your bathroom sounds, who sees your waxy Q-tips and your dirty underwear and yet still says, “I love you,” is amazing for your soul.

8. My wife’s laugh is my favorite sound in the world.


9. A close second is my girls’ laughter.

10. Just some good general rhythms: dinner together every night, church every Sunday, bedtime routines when they’re little, taking them to school and picking them up. These little things add up to be greater than the sum of their parts in your kids’ hearts, I think.

11. I think we tend to always mess up the first one a little bit.

12. I only lose my temper with my kids when they’re not acting like I’m the center of the universe.

13. It goes by really fast. It’s a cliché because it’s true.

14. I’m convinced the best way to make your kids feel secure is to be passionately in love with your spouse.

15. I don’t think I should say any more. My kids are still under revision. I don’t think I will ever write a parenting book, but if I do, it won’t be until after my kids are grown and I can see how much (or how little?) I screwed them up.


16. If you’re doing it right, you will probably be hyper-aware of almost everything you’re doing wrong.

17. You will lose a lot of sleep.

18. If you’re actively engaged with your flock, ministry will often feel incredibly Sisyphean.

19. I spent way too much time as if ministry was one big employee performance review. It made me timid, paranoid, and ineffective.

20. There will be people in your church who just straight-up don’t like you. For no real apparent reason. And many of them will not be content to simply sit on these feelings. It’s the strangest thing, but if you read the pastoral epistles you will see it’s not new.

21. The greatest joys are usually found with new believers growing in the faith.

22. The least invested and least encouraging tend to take up most of your time. This is one of ministry’s greatest tragedies.

23. I wish I had spent much more time with all the low-maintenance church folks.

24. Problems ignored don’t go away. (Apply directly to the forehead.) Nearly all of my regrets in almost 20 years of ministry are related to my passivity and fear of conflict.

25. It is a precious thing to hold the hand of a dying saint.

26. I always thought pastoral ministry was about helping people live. Turns out it’s more about helping people die.


27. Most people who say “I’ve always wanted to write” really just want to have written. If you have always wanted to write, you would already have been writing.

28. It took me ten years trying to write for publication before I landed an agent and a few years after that before I actually got published. It takes some people much longer. If it happens for you quickly, God bless ya. But you should be prepared to put some time in.

29. Everybody wants to know about the routine. The deadline drives the routine. Other than that, it just comes out in a million different ways: in sermons, in tweets, in little jottings in the notebook, in mental etchings in the imagination. A routine doesn’t produce the urge to write; it only channels it.

30. “I want to write a book, but I don’t know how.” I hear this a fair amount, and I confess it confuses me. You’ve seen books, right? You know what they look like. Write one that looks like that.

31. The best thing you can do for your writing is read. A lot.

The Little Things

32. The best and deepest thoughts happen while sitting outside.

33. That moment at the end of Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility, when Emma Thompson finds out Hugh Grant isn’t married? Gets me every time. (Also the scene in Casablanca when they drown out the Nazis with “La Marsellaise.”)

34. Boiled crawfish (rightly seasoned) is the greatest food on God’s dirty earth. (Tex-Mex is a very close second.) And that he would pack something so delicious into something so ugly is just like him. A picture of the gospel. “The glory of the mudbug is foolishness” and all that.

35. There are two kinds of people in the world: those who appreciate Al Green and those who are wrong.

36. Tom Brady, y’all. Hashtag GOAT

Dealing With Being Me

37. 40 years of living and I’m basically still that same little kid who wants to know he’s okay. Except now fat.

38. There is always a new battle to face. I do not struggle with lust as badly as I did when I was a younger man—praise God!—but this gluttony thing wins more days than I do.

39. I grew up under a heavy cloud of felt disapproval and general fear. I was a pretty neurotic kid and I masked this by trying to look spiritual, which only compounded the problem. Since my moment of gospel wakefulness (see below), I have a come a long way into the security of union with Christ, but that cloud is never far from me.

40. About ten years ago, I was depressed and suicidal and wallowing in the ruins of my life and myself, and the Lord reached into the little guest bedroom where I was spending my nights and woke me up to his glorious gospel. It did not change my circumstances, but it changed me. By his grace, I have not lost this sense of wonder and the conviction that came out of it – that the gospel is the secret of the universe. When the fad’s long over, I plan to keep beating that drum, even if it’s just for me and Jesus.

From Overcoming Our Genes
Random thoughts by guest blogger Chris Brown

Chris Brown


I now think the 1948 establishment of the country of Israel got it all wrong. Rather than set the country right in the mid-East, they should have given Israel the SW USA states -- lower half of California, Arizona, and New Mexico (maybe also San Francisco as that city is a total disaster and disgrace to the rest of the country). Think about it. The climate is about the same. The Israelis know how to build walls and fences so there'd be fewer places for illegals to cross the border. The Israel army is really tough and it isn't governed by a bunch of political hacks and cowards -- no PC in that country. So, Israel could also deal with Mexico. The USA would still have access through Texas for trade. And the Israelis are smart enough to solve the water problem!!!

Boys In The Boat
By Daniel James Brown

(My cousin Rinda recommended that Chris read the book.)

 I am worn out. Reading this great book did me in just thinking about what these guys went through.

But, thank you so much for mentioning it to me. Living in this area, and having attended some grad classes at UW, gives me a good perspective of the setting for the book. Even the area in Sequim where I've spent a little time and, in particular, the areas in E. Washington and N. Idaho. I spent a considerable time in the outdoors in both those areas as I was growing up.

When the Kiniksu Forest was mentioned, boy did that bring back a flood memories. In my first two years in college I worked in the forests. One year actually fighting fires in the Kiniksu -- that was one of the defining times of my life because of the stress and the danger. And the following year, I lived at the ranger station in the St. Joe Forest close to the Kiniksu (well during the fire season). When we weren't fighting fires (there were few) we were out doing reforestation work and building trails or rebuilding roads (if you want to call those narrow, rutty, often muddy cuts through the woods roads -- we needed them for fire and other access, so they were quite important). So I can fully appreciate what was written and it is an excellent depiction of the area and the people living there (they are about the same today I would suppose). 

And the details about Seattle and the University were most interesting. Some things I knew, others I didn't. 

I am glad I knew the outcome of the book before I started it. That is probably why I don't read mysteries as I find the journey more important than the destination (if I know the outcome, then the journey to reach the outcome is more interesting for me).

So thank you so much for your recommendation. Now I have to take a few weeks off and find a warm beach I can lie on to recover!!!

From Jared C. Wilson
The Perfect Storm for Gospel-Driven Sanctification

stormsDoing flows from being.

This side of heaven, there is still sin in me. I am a wretched sinner.

Born again, I am a new creation and the Spirit of Christ resides in me. I am a saint.

As Cornelius Plantinga writes in Beyond Doubt:

“As a result, all Christians need to say two things. We admit that we are redeemed sinners. But we also say boldly and joyously that we are redeemed sinners” (89).

Here in this tension is the perfect storm for the mortification of sin by the power of grace. If I hold only that I am a wretched sinner, I trudge against sin, pursue holiness as one through quicksand, motivated perhaps only by self-pity. And if I hold only that I am a saint, I shield my eyes to my pride and egotism, become passive about sin, claiming victories under my own legalistic power that don’t exist.

But if I put the vinegar of the acknowledgment of my indwelling sinfulness together with the sodium bicarbonate of my eternal standing in God by the grace of Jesus Christ and his righteousness credited to me through faith — look out! Only in the grasping of this double-reality can I fight against my flesh with the holiness God commands through the power of the holiness he has already imputed to me.

From The Spyglass
Re-boot, re-launch, and re-move

After a hiatus of nearly five years, only rarely interrupted, I'm starting to blog again.  However, I'm not doing it here.  I'll be leaving this blog up, but I will be posting at my new site, Wholly Living.  I hope to see you there.

From Overcoming Our Genes
Honors For Holly

Holly with her boyfriend
High School Homecoming season has come and gone for 2015.  We learned from the news about one Homecoming Queen, the sister of another student, who had Down Syndrome.  (October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month. Click here for more details). This made me think of my cousin Holly Marie.  (I always called her by both names because my Uncle Hollis, her grandfather, was also called Hollie.) She was adopted as an infant by my cousin Richard and his wife Mary Anne.  She was born with Down Syndrome and several other medical problems.

We were sad to lose Holly six years ago.  She was too young. The child is supposed to outlive the parent.  Here are a few stories about her as I remember her, and those her mom, Mary Anne related at Holly’s memorial service.

I was able to spend a few hours with Holly here and there as she grew up.  Richard’s mother, my Aunt Jeanne, made sure that the relatives could get together a few times a year. (She was Mrs. Hospitality.  I learned much from my Aunt Jeanne.)  One time Aunt Jeanne was babysitting Holly and she invited me and my daughter Heather to meet them at Comstock Park in Spokane, WA where we were living at the time. We had a lovely afternoon and even got ice cream from the ice-cream truck.  I appreciated Aunt Jeanne’s efforts, as I had never been around anyone with Downs.  Holly was an easy toddler and stayed on the blanket we had put down on the grass.  (My daughter on the other hand was off and running!)

Then as an adult her parents were hosting a party at their home in Portland, OR.  I was able to fly from Seattle, where we were living then, to Portland for the day.  I was telling everyone how Holly’s Aunt Janet wanted so much to be there and had even thought about flying down for the day.  Holly was so excited.  She was extremely appreciative that Janet had wanted to be there!

Now here are Mary Anne’s notes from Holly’s memorial:

Honors for Holly

Mary Anne Stowell

One way to know Holly, her sense of herself, her confidence in
her own strength and her clear and simple faith, was through her own

When Holly was 18 she was watching me pack for a trip and
asked where I was going. I was going somewhere for work, but the
destination sounded exotic to her, and she said, "You lucky dog." I
joked back that I was the luckiest person on earth. She considered
this for a few seconds. Then with great confidence said, "No, I am."

When my daughter-in-law and son were expecting their first
baby there was a brief period when a misinterpreted piece of medical
information suggested that their baby might have Down's Syndrome.
Overhearing some bits of concerned conversation, Holly asked what
was happening. I told her we were concerned because the baby
might have Down's Syndrome. If you know Holly, you know she was
a master of many looks. The look she gave me was somewhere
between disgust and disdain, and she said, "So?""Well," I said, "you
know friends that have Down's like Penny and Dave and Andrew."
"I know what it is, but so what. They can handle it."
"Well," I said, "people with Down's Syndrome sometimes have
heart problems, like Penny."
Holly came right back with, "Well, she can handle it. Just like
me with my muscle problems. I can handle it."
There was nothing more for me to say.

About 3 years ago Dr. Kottingham, the pulmonologist who
cared for Holly called and suggested that Richard and I begin to
consider end of life questions for Holly. He also suggested that we
get legal guardianship of her so that the decisions, should we have to
make them, would be easier from a legal point of view. On our next
visit to the doctor, he brought this up with Holly and we talked of
many things. She was adamant that she did not want to be on a
respirator and expressed herself quite clearly. After the visit we were in the elevator going down to the parking garage. Holly had a way of raising difficult or private issues at inopportune times. And in the middle of the elevator she said, "I just wish you and the doctor wouldn't talk over me."
I said that I thought the doctor had tried to include her. Luckily,
the elevator door opened and we stepped out. But Holly wasn't done.
"I just have one question. Am I going to die?"
"Yes," I said. "You are going to die. Not right now, but that was
what we were talking about."
We continued across the parking lot and after a minute Holly
said, "Well, they are all waiting for me." She began her own litany of
the saints. Grandma Jeanne and Grandpa Hollis, Grandpa
Baldhead, Uncle Dean, Cathy (her birth mother), Orly, OJ, Auntie
Pork and Auntie John, Joanne and Fred (her beloved foster parents)
and all the way down to cousin Tommy, a second cousin of her
Grandma Jeanne who she met once when she was 7. "They are
waiting and when I get there they will have a party for me. They can't
wait to see me." I didn't have to say anything more.

When Holly was 6, my Auntie Pork died. Pork was a family
nickname for my Aunt Ida, a very proper unmarried schoolteacher.
Pork and Holly loved each other and thoroughly enjoyed their time
together. After Pork died, I was talking with Holly about Pork's death,
and she asked what God would say when Auntie Pork entered
heaven. I said I didn't know but asked her what she thought God
would say when God saw her in heaven. Holly didn't hesitate and
said, "Halleluia."
Halleluia, Holly, halleluia.

Now I don’t have to say anything more and you probably don’t have to either!

From The Living Room
20 things: October

  1. It’s been raining since about 10 this morning. I am going a little nuts.
  2. Currently thinking about: The Hamilton cast recording (if you don’t know about this, please Google it and get back to me later); the tornado watch the city of Houston is currently under; my friends’ wedding in a couple of weeks(!), Reformed theology that isn’t soteriology (thanks, James K.A. Smith), how I should have paid more attention in my philosophy classes in college; how much I want to bake something from scratch for no real reason; what’s a suitable timeline for going back to school.
  3. A few years ago I said I was going to go to seminary and that’s still part of the plan, but I’ve been under a wee bit of financial strain and so I’m putting myself on a budget so I can save more money so I can go back to school. I’m going to have to do fewer things like, I don’t know, buy books I don’t need (I work for a public library, for Pete’s sake, and my to-read shelf is jam-packed) or eat food I get from a drive-through (which would be a better option anyway). But I still want to go. I still feel like I’m supposed to go.
  4. A week or so ago I went on this whole Twitter ramble about how I don’t know what I want to do with my future, even though I currently have an okay job and anyone would look at my life on paper and say, okay, what’s the problem. But I’m kind of restless and wondering what’s next for me, so I guess what I’m saying is, if you pray, I could use some wisdom here.
  5. And that’s the weird thing, too–I ask for prayer, I go to church (heck, I work for a church), I go to my community group, and yet my prayer and devotional life has been really kind of dead lately, the deadest I think it’s been in a really long time. I keep getting distracted by stupid stuff like YouTube and Twitter instead of opening up my Bible or even the Bible app on my phone. It’s kind of gross, really.
  6. And truth be told, I have been anxious and stressed for the past couple of weeks. I’m pretty sure that #5 is at least partially related to this. It’s not as bad as it has been in the past, but it’s not altogether pleasant, either.
  7. So I am a hot mess, is what I’m saying.
  8. But really, we all are, so.
  9. I think part of me, too, when things get weird or stressful, has the reaction to just want to run away and quit everything and start over entirely. Which is kind of crazy, really, but there’s always that something in the back of my brain.
  10. But I am understanding that sometimes maturity consists of keeping it together and not just reacting to life, to taking a few deep breaths and trying to endure whatever the thing is, because even in the difficult things God is doing something and teaching me something. And sometimes it means shutting up and listening to what He’s saying.
  11. OKAY need to lighten this mess up: Have a skateboarding dog.
  12. Things I love, to remind myself to put myself in contact with this kind of thing more often: Knitting, hanging out with other people (even when I am feeling particularly anxious), reading actual physical books, the color grey, lying on the floor listening to music, naps, cups of tea, hugs.
  13. I have decided that what I want in a man is someone with whom I can discuss theology and how we’re going to apply it to our everyday lives, like how being an image bearer of God affects how we treat our kids, for example.
  14. I’ve also realized recently that I’m attracted to men that are slightly odd-looking–not weird-looking, just kind of odd and not for everyone. Benedict Cumberbatch, for example.
  15. Recently I’ve also discovered people on Twitter who will sort everyone possible into Hogwarts houses–e.g., the Founding Fathers, the characters in Little Women. (Prof. Bhaer is a Ravenclaw, for the record.) (I am also a Ravenclaw and have had a crush on both the character Prof. Bhaer and Gabriel Byrne since I was 9. Coincidence?)
  16. I also kind of want to start reading Harry Potter again. (When do I not?)
  17. Also considering how I need to stop eating stuff I know I’m allergic to, even though it’s delicious, because it’s making me break out in hives and is probably also contributing to my anxiety. (But…pizza, y’all.)
  18. But we are bodies–we don’t just have bodies, we are bodies, and souls, and minds. And our bodies are important, and how I treat my body is important, and how I worship with my body is important, too.
  19. I’ve been listening to this series of teaching from a church in Nashville about Jesus’ incarnation and what that means for us as Christians, and it’s really good. I recommend it. (It’s all the ones labeled “Word/Flesh.”)
  20. I love y’all. Good night.

From Jared C. Wilson
Love Like A Dam Break

damMan is eager for vengeance and God is eager for forgiveness.
– John MacArthur

There is only one against whom we have all sinned and we keep sinning, and yet he is the only one whose posture of forgiveness is more eager than eager. He has grace like riches (Eph. 1:7, 2:7). He doesn’t have to watch his spending. He forgives like it’s going out of style.

A fellow sinner may forgive but it takes some working up to do. In some cases, he may even be eager to forgive but this eagerness does not come naturally. In many cases, though, there is not eagerness but dutiful obligation. We bring our sorrow, our repentance, our request for pardon, and we receive questions, probing, testing, measuring. We deserve this, there’s no question about it. And really repentant persons will accept the difficulty of an offended party’s forgiveness as part of that repentance. So we slink, tail between our legs, chastened and stung. It has to be this way because of the nature of human hurt and the antisocial nature of sin.

But, genuinely sorrowed over our offense, aren’t we deep down hoping, craving, desperate for the offended not to stand off, arms crossed, waiting for us to drag ourselves into a posture of penitence, but smiling, ready to accept us again? And so our God runs to us. And he tells us to approach his throne with confidence (Heb. 4:16) to receive grace in our time of need.

The cross of Christ both proves and founds God’s eagerness to forgive. Because of Christ’s propitiating sacrifice, planned in love from eternity past and effectual to eternity future, we have no hoops to jump through, no qualifications to meet, no penitent mantras to intone, and no cowering to do. The act of God’s forgiveness is not a muted, somber affair, but a “time of refreshing” (Acts 3:19-20).

His lovingkindness endures forever. He is not just quick to forgive, but eager and aggressive. Forgiveness is flowing out of him. Your heavenly Father is not a miser with grace. He is a fountain of forgiveness.

“Forgiveness is mainly that the love of the offended shall flow to the offender, notwithstanding the offense. It is love rising above the dam which we have flung across its course, and pouring into our hearts. Our own parental forgiveness is in some feeble way analogous to God’s, and shows us that the essence of it is not the suspension of penalty, which may or may not be the case, but the unchecked and unembittered gift of God’s love to the sinner.”

– Alexander McLaren, “Christ’s Claim to Forgive, and Its Attestation” [emphasis added]

God’s forgiveness is like love rising over the dam, yes, a brimming overflow, but it’s also like love rushing mightily through a dam break, flooding freely.

From Jared C. Wilson
He Who Resigns is Nothing

churchI planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.
– 1 Corinthians 3:6-7

One year ago this month — October 3, to be specific — I took to the pulpit of Middletown Springs Community Church and announced my resignation. Over the last 12 months, have shared some reflections on that time, primarily in a well-received post I titled The Gospel for Ministry Quitters, which resonated with folks far more than I anticipated, but I’ve never shared my actual resignation letter. I know there are readers who are interested in such things — I’d be one of them, honestly — so I thought I’d share it with you. Below is the announcement I read — or, rather, sobbed through — before preaching a long-beforehand-scheduled sermon on 1 Corinthians 3:1-9. The Lord has a very remarkable sense of humor.

Sharing this information with you is one of the most difficult things I have ever done. I ask that you will listen carefully and seek to hear my heart despite what I am sure will be shocking and disappointing to perhaps a great number of you.

For over a little more than a year, I have felt a great discontentment in my role as pastor. It has taken me a very long time to discern what the cause is. I have felt overwhelmed and exhausted for a while now, and early on I simply assumed that it was due to the difficult season we have been walking through as a church. Most of you who have been here for at least a year know that we have undergone more than our fair share of suffering. When I first began to feel over-burdened and dissatisfied with my ministry here, I assumed it was just that I was tired, that this was simply a hard season, and I ought to just wait it out.

The longer I wrestled with this uneasiness, however, and the more our church has grown, I have come to realize that my problems are not really about the difficulty in this season or ministry, but more about my own deficiencies as a leader. I hope you will understand that this was a very hard thing to realize and even harder to admit. I have always dealt with a sense of inadequacy but I have also always idolized approval, so it has been my operating mode most of my life to put up a good front and try not to disappoint people.

Additionally, I did not come here looking beyond Middletown but planning to dig in and put down roots and to be here until you got sick of me or I died. I really meant that; I really believed that. Having made that commitment publicly numerous times, here and elsewhere, I have been dealing a lot over the last few weeks with fear of what others might say about me.

I don’t think I realized how much my identity has been wrapped up in being the “rural church guy” or the “New England guy.” There is a good pride to take in that, but also a bad kind. My identity needs to be in Christ alone, so I need to find my approval and validation there. I am sorry if you have felt misled or even lied to. This turn of events has surprised me as well. I never wanted to go anywhere else.

But it has occurred to me that both trying to fake what I don’t have the gifts to do and not rocking the boat because of fear of man isn’t only spiritually unhealthy for me, it is spiritually unhealthy for the church.

I know this will be very confusing to some of you, especially to those who may only see me on Sundays when I am operating in my primary area of giftedness and strength. I love preaching. I love Jesus and I love the gospel and I love this church, so I have loved every week plunging the depths of God’s word with you and showing you Jesus and helping you enjoy his grace in new, fresh, and deep ways. I have also been privileged to help some of our precious saints suffer well, and die well. That has been the profoundest part of my time as your shepherd. But these are not the only functions of a good pastor – especially a solo pastor, who must be more versatile in his giftedness and stronger in areas of leadership when a church grows in numbers and mission at the quick rate ours has.

It is also confusing, I know, for me to express discouragement in the ministry here, since we have seen such growth. We have almost tripled in numbers in the last five years, but more importantly we have seen such beautifully wrought spiritual fruit. People have come to Christ. We have baptized and discipled new believers, we have welcomed new members, we have begun the planting of a missional church in downtown Rutland. By all exterior marks, the ministry at Middletown Springs Church has been a great success.

I just want it to continue being a great success. I do not believe I am a leader with the capacity to lead us into it.

When I came to the dawning realization that I don’t think I have the right gifts to continue leading the church into the right kind of growth for our future, into the next season, I wasn’t sure what to do with that realization. I prayed about it and chewed on it. Becky and I prayed and talked. About two months ago the two of us went to the elders to simply tell them I was struggling and needed help. They were very encouraging and helpful and began putting in place different boundaries and strategies for me that might help shore up some of my deficiencies. I left that meeting feeling deeply loved and very much supported.

But my new conviction about my uncertain future here returned. I began to feel more unsure and more disoriented and overwhelmed about all the needs we face as a church, about the kind of leadership we need from a pastor, and about the high capacity the next season would require.

I asked God to help me. I asked God to show me what I ought to do. I was not looking to leave. I was just looking for an answer. About a month ago, I received a call from Midwestern Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri. They offered me a position on the communications team there as the Director of Content Strategy. I have received numerous job inquiries over the last five years and turned them all down flatly. But this one was different. It felt extremely providential. The more I talked with the team there, the more Becky and I prayed and discussed this opportunity, the more we believed it was the call of God for our family.

Prayerfully and carefully, I have decided to accept that call, and so I am announcing my resignation to you today and will be moving to Kansas City the first week of March 2015.

When I first visited Vermont in view of the call to pastor the church, you hosted a Q&A after the service where I was asked a lot of questions. Afterwards, I was asked if I had any questions for you. I considered all that I had witnessed, all I had learned. You had then the mature, hardworking, godly core of believers that you have now. Pastor Roland had been retired for almost a year by then, but you had capable teachers and spiritual officers. You were in community with each other and you served each other gladly and humbly. So it seemed natural for me to ask: “Why do you want a pastor?” I was told, “We like who we are and where we are, but we feel like we need someone to take us to the next level.”

By God’s grace, over the last five years, I believe I have led you to that next level. We have reached it together. You have done an eternity’s worth of kindnesses to me and my family. You have been the church family we didn’t know existed – sweet, loving, gracious, full of spirit and truth. Leaving you will be like leaving home, not going home.

But it has been my prayer for several years now that God would hijack our agenda – hijack MY agenda – and replace it with his own. You have heard me pray this numerous times. It was not just me blowing smoke. I have come too far with the Lord and trusted him with too much and found him way too faithful to deny his call now. Ten years ago when I was depressed and suicidal and had nothing I could trust in or cling to, he woke me from my spiritual coma and showed me that his grace is delicious. I was willing then to have lost everything in order to have him. And though I am a great sinner, I am willing now to give up whatever he asks.

But it is extremely hard. This is not easy for me to say or do. The church is growing and multiplying. You love Jesus and you love me and you love my family. There is no great conflict that I’m running from. There is no great sin disqualifying me. I know a few of you may think there is much more to this story, and while I could say a thousand things more about it, this is the truth. I love you with all my heart. But I love my God more, and I would not be a good pastor to you in this moment if I did not go where I believed he was leading – if I did not make way for the man whom he has appointed to lead you into the next season.

You are great. I cannot overstate it. When I read Paul saying to the church at Thessalonica, “For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you?” – I know what he means. He is not saying this in a prideful or arrogant or Christless way. He’s just saying “I’m so proud of you. You are the proof my ministry is true. You are proof that the gospel I have preached is real and powerful.”

Who is my crown of boasting before the Lord at his coming? It is you. You are, as Paul calls the Thessalonians in chapter 2, verse 20, “my joy and my glory.”

And you have become so by enjoying and glorying in Christ with me.
I know you have many questions to ask me and many thoughts and I would even assume corrections too share with me, and there will be plenty of time for them, beginning today. You will have some after church and I can talk as I’m able. The church planting team will have some tonight, and we will spend our time together at 6 pm having our family meeting. Men’s discipleship group is tomorrow night, and I would be glad to answer questions then too. The time until March is short but it will be long enough to sort some things out and begin moving forward.

And over the next five months, beginning this morning, I want to continue doing what I have always sought to do for you and with you – point you to Jesus Christ and then get out of the way. I hope you will partner with me in this work, as we just keep savoring God’s glory, week after week, day after day.

We are all very sad right now but the joy of the Lord will be our strength, so I ask that you would please turn in your Bibles to 1 Corinthians, chapter 3 . . .

From Overcoming Our Genes
Understanding the Times

This year I'm studying the book of Revelation with Bible Study Fellowship https://www.bsfinternational.org/ .   How does Revelation relate to todays' turmoil in the Middle East?  Amir Tsarfati, at the Understanding the Times Conference, helps make sense of all that is happening.  

Amir joined the Israeli army in 1990 and underwent basic training during the first Gulf War. He served almost a year in the IDF Armored (Tank) Corps, and after graduating from the officer's academy in 1992, he was stationed in Jeri¬cho. Shortly afterward, the peace process began and Jericho was the first city transferred to the Palestinian Authority. Amir, then 21, was appointed as active Deputy Governor of Jericho and the Jordan Valley, also becoming one of Israel's military negotiators with the Palestinians. He served approximately six more months after the city changed authority before returning to civilian life. Since 2004, Amir has been consultant to various law enforcement agencies and seminars on homeland-security issues. In 2008 he was invited by the Rochester (NY) Police to lecture at a seminar on terrorism, as the keynote speaker at the Hostage Negotiators Conference. He also held a HLS seminar at the Philippine Military Academy.

Here is a radio program where he explains the prophecies about Israel.

Click on the link to listen:http://www.olivetreeviews.org/radio/complete-archives/981-israel-standing-alone

From The Living Room
Thursday 13.

13 things you wish you knew more about.

1. Physics.
2. Classical music.
3. History.
4. Music theory.
5. Art. I don’t know anything about the visual arts except what I think looks cool.
6. Islam. I speed-read the Koran in college for a class, but that obviously barely qualifies as any real knowledge.
7. The eastern religions.
8. Eastern Orthodoxy.
9. Philosophy. Yes, even though I have 2/3 of a minor in it.
10. Music from the ’70s and ’80s.
11. Classical literature (as in what classics majors study–the ancient Greek and Roman stuff).
12. Programming–Javascript and Perl and all that. I know just enough PHP to laugh at XKCD and that’s it.
13. Chemistry (if I could just get my brain to understand it).

From Overcoming Our Genes
Digital Kids

Granddaughter wearing brown hat in a play

In the olden days, like in the 1950’s, parents didn’t concern themselves too much with what books their children were reading.  They didn't worry about what TV shows they were watching, or what movies they were attending.   At least, in my family, our parents trusted us to make good choices.  But, in the 1950’s, there was the scandal about comic books.  Some believed that if children were permitted to read comic books this would lead to juvenile delinquency.   (My older brother loved comics. He didn’t become a delinquent until he was an adult!)

For links with more details on comic book banning click here for one article and here for information from Wikipedia.

Although, I believe, times are worse now.  Here’s why.  Up to ½ of the population in the United States do not attend church or they attend liberal churches where the Bible is not studied and discussed.  Bibles had been used as textbooks for schools in the past.  School opened with prayer and the pledge of allegiance. Discipline was maintained to the “tune of the hickory stick.”  But now schools and parents are afraid of lowering a child’s self esteem or offending someone’s belief system.  Anything goes.  We don’t want any boundaries.  Therefore parents must check books, movies, and TV shows before their children see them.  Here is a link to "Plugged In" where books, movies, and TV shows are reviewed.  Here is another site that may be helpful. Here are some book recommendations for middle school children.

The most important thing that a parent can do is pray.  God will guide us if we trust in Him. Or, one could always write or tell their own stories.  My granddaughters like to put on puppet shows, plays, and write their own stories to use their creativity.

From The Boar's Head Tavern
On Prayer

So John and I have both already posted this on both FB and Twitter, but just in case it’s gone unnoticed, I wanted to draw the tavern’s attention to this piece by Nicole Cliffe, co-editor of the feminist website The Toast.

A Christian for only the past three months, she outlines her nightly practice of prayer, and how she finds it so meaningful.

Next, and finally, comes my hands-down favourite part of prayer, and the part that I think is great REGARDLESS of your beliefs or lack thereof: praying for other people. I say this because it teaches you who you love, and who’s important to you. What problems facing others have you taken on as your own? Does this change how you deal with them in real life? Can YOU help answer these prayers with money or time or by listening, etc.? I pray for my family, and I pray for my friends, and I pray for Toasties who have said things in Open Threads that I think they could use some help with, and I pray for the people I make this site with, and I pray for people who are sick, or who have sick boyfriends, and I pray for bigger world stuff, and by the time I’m done, I’ve realized that I love all these people I’ve prayed for (you can throw up now), and that’s very meaningful to me.

As someone who counts my time knowing the Lord in decades instead of months, this was a beautiful reminder of the realness and goodness of salvation and God’s work in our lives, and how amazing a thing prayer is when (if) we practice it.

From The Boar's Head Tavern
26 years

Matthew: I know who Merlin Mann is, but I have no clue what you’re referencing there. Something about small sample sizes, I suppose.

Obviously, you know your own conference well. But for the sake of perpetuating an argument in a place that used to have lots, I’ve been going to this church for 26 years. I think I’ve attended with somewhere between 8 and 10 pastors during that time. None of them seem post-evangelical to me. Granted summer isn’t a great time for the church calendar. But all have been fairly typical evangelicals. I’ve always felt like they could switch to an Orange County mega-church and fit in just fine.

On a related note, I don’t know why that specific congregation can’t seem to find and and keep a strong pastor. The congregation is steady in numbers and kind and sincere in spirit. And the U.P. is beautiful. UMC has great pensions? That’s such a win-win. Live in one of the most beautiful places in America with a decent salary and a great pension and have all the outdoors and beauty you could ever ask for.

From Overcoming Our Genes
Seven gun control myths that need to be put to rest and other topics

This was on Fox and Friends this morning.  What do you think?

Ben Carson responds to GQ article: We should pray for them.

Below is a link to a Fox and Friends video.  Click on the link to see the video explaining how the VA spent millions on art over health care.

From The Boar's Head Tavern

Of all the odd news to read, Thomas Merton’s personal belongings have been held for 50-ish years by a former nun.

From Overcoming Our Genes
Is Putting The Bible Into The Hands Of The Ordinary Person Worth Dying For?

One of the greatest things we can do is to read and study the Bible and encourage others to do so also.  Here is the story of William Tyndale who died in the cause of getting scripture into the hands of the ordinary person. Click here to read the story from Persecution Blog.  

From The Boar's Head Tavern

Not to go all Merlin Mann on you, but here’s the thing…

My experience (which, admittedly, isn’t authoritative) tells me that’s the exception that proves the rule. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess the pastor you mention probably came to us from a different denomination. We get a lot of former Baptists, Nazarenes, and what not. Sometimes because our guaranteed appointment rule means we’ll always have a job. Sometimes because our pension is better than other denominations. Sometimes, though, it’s because they’ve become convinced that our beliefs line up with their own better than their former denomination. Who knows? Sometimes they bring a special brand of un-awesome opinions with them and there’s not a lot I can do about that because I’m not currently on any ordination committee. Blame Andy all you want though: he’s in Michigan and on a board.

All that to say, almost to a t, the born and bred UM evangelicals hit almost every point on your list (probably not the communion one, but I’d guess most of us would like weekly communion). I went to the New Room conference in Nashville a couple of weeks ago and I bet almost all of the pastors who attended would affirm at least 90% of your list and I bet that the churches we pastor would come close, too. So, I’m sorry about your experience in the UP, but that’s not nearly representative of most UM evangelicals.

From The Boar's Head Tavern

Matthew: I think we’ve talked about this before, but I attend a UMC church in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan every summer. There is very little on that list that I find in that UMC parish. Their most recent pastor went on quite the cultural warrior rampage this summer, including a general admonition to stop shopping at any store that has “Happy Holidays!” signs.

So I guess I remain pretty confused at what mainline evangelical churches have to offer. Except the ones that have gone super liberal. I know exactly where they’re at. And it ain’t evangelical.

From The Boar's Head Tavern

Jaredd, you can add to your list the vacillation between grudging respect and indignant eye-rolling at the statements of:

Ligon Duncan
Albert Mohler
John Piper
Mark Dever
John Macarthur
Franklin Graham
DA Carson
Wayne Grudem

From The Boar's Head Tavern

I’d like to point out that you’ve described mainline evangelicalism.