"God is the Lord of angels and of men -- and of elves."

- J.R.R. Tolkien
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From Brandywine Books
For your Spectation

I have a piece in The American Spectator Online today:

The liberals’ moral GPS tells them that their present location is right outside the gates of Eden. They’re still wearing their fig leaf aprons (they believe) and just a couple steps back in the right direction will return them to Paradise. How could anyone be against that?

In their view, the problem is simple, like a crossword puzzle. Fill in all the spaces correctly, and Paradise is regained. The fact that the goal is never achieved in practice, that more and more spaces keep appearing, needing new laws written to fill them, does not trouble them. Next time it will be different. We’re almost there. We can see Eden from our front porches.

Read it all here.

From Semicolon
Elementary and Middle Grade Nonfiction: Cybils Suggestons

Do you need a suggestion for a book to nominate for the Cybils in the category of Elementary and Middle Grade Nonfiction? Nominations are open through October 15th, and anyone can nominate a book, as long as the book was published between October 15, 2014 and October 15, 2015. And here’s a link to the nomination form.

The following books are a few titles that haven’t been nominated yet that I’ve either read or heard good things about. I would like very much to get my hands on the ones I haven’t read.

Mahalia Jackson: Walking with Kings and Queens by Nina Nolan. Amistad, January 2015.

The Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden by Kevin DeYoung. Crossway, August 2015.

Fur, Fins, and Feathers: Abraham Dee Bartlett and the Invention of the Modern Zoo by Cassandra Maxwell. Eerdmans, August 2015.

Fire Birds: Valuing Natural Wildfires and Burned Forests by Sneed B. Collard III. Bucking Horse Books, December 2014.

Whale Trails, Before and Now by Lesa Cline-Ransome. Henry Holt, January 2015.

Ira’s Shakespeare Dream by Glenda Armand. Lee & Low, August 2105.

The House That Jane Built: A Story About Jane Addams by Tanya Lee Stone. Henry Holt, June 2015.

The Boy Who Fell Off the Mayflower, or John Howland’s Good Fortune by P.J. Lynch. Candlewick, September 2015.

Marie Durand by Simonetta Carr. Reformation Heritage Books, June 2015.

Abe Lincoln: His Wit and Wisdom from A-Z by Alan Schroeder. Holiday House, January 2015.

Draw What You See: The Life and Art of Benny Andrews by Kathleen Benson. Clarion, January 2015.

Aaron and Alexander: The Most Famous Duel in American History by Don Brown. Roaring Brook Press, October 13, 2015.

The Fantastic Ferris Wheel: The Story of Inventor George Ferris by Betsy Harvey Kraft. Henry Holt, October 13, 2015.

Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine by Laurie Hallmark. Preston Books, October 13, 2015.

High Tide for Horseshoe Crabs by Lisa Schnell. Charlesbridge, April 2015.

The Great Monkey Rescue: Saving the Golden Lion Tamarins by Sandra Markle. Hillbrook, October 1, 2015.

The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch by Chris Barton. Eerdmans, April 2015.

Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America by Carole Boston Weatherford. Albert Whitman, February 2015.

My Name Is Truth: The Life of Sojourner Truth by Ann Turner. HarperCollins, January 2015.

From Semicolon
Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom by Linda Blackmon Lowery

Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March by Linda Blackmon Lowery, as told to Elspeth Leacock and Susan Buckley.

Young Linda Blackmon was jailed nine times before her fifteenth birthday. She was beaten and tear gassed on Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965, as she participated in a civil rights demonstration in Selma, Alabama. Then, she became the youngest person to join the historic 1965 voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, and she celebrated her fifteenth birthday while on that march.

Her story is presented in this book in brief, stark, simple prose spread out over 120 pages. Multiple photographs and color illustrations, interspersed throughout, enhance the text and make the events seem real and immediate. Linda Blackmon Lowery is honest about her fears and about her determination to overcome those fears. She says:

“I couldn’t let George Wallace or my fear from having been beaten take control of me. If I did that, I would never become the person I wanted to be. And the person I wanted to be was a person who would stand up against what was wrong. I wanted not only to protect myself, but to protect others; not only to fight for myself, but to be out there fighting for others.”

I was quite impressed with Ms. Blackmon’s courage and honesty, and I think teens would be, too. Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom would be a great read, not only for those studying the history of the civil rights movement, but also for teens who are looking for heroes to emulate. This book will make my list of books to recommend to my fourteen year old for her American history studies later this year. I especially liked the simple, direct style of the writing, and I know that Z-baby would, too.

If you’re interested in learning more about the book or about Linda Blackmon Lowery, here’s a link to an interview with her at NPR.

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 Brandywine Books
Learning from Black Scholars

Dr. Jarvis Williams of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary talks about his life as a black man in a mostly white world and offers many practical suggestions for helping “some evangelicals see race and intelligent racial dialogue matters.”

For example, he writes, “white evangelicals must understand there are many black and brown intellectuals. There are many great black and brown preachers. Most white evangelicals I have interacted with never even read one book written by a person of color. Or they’ve never even heard of some of the great black and brown expositors. Ignorance will only reinforce one’s racial biases.”

From Brandywine Books
Piñon Coffee, the Taste of Albuquerque

The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta 2014

When Folgers declined to sponsor Albuquerque’s 2015 Balloon Fiesta, a family-owned roaster stepped up. Albuquerque’s own Piñon Coffee brought an estimated 200,000 cups of coffee to the hot-air balloon event that started last weekend and continues through the week. It is the fiesta’s first local company to be coffee sponsor.

“A lot of handcrafting goes into every part of our coffee from the coffee all the way up to the bags to the fill the bags to the roll down of bags,” Piñon Coffee President Allen Bassett told KRGE News 13.

Bassett has been working on several strategies for building his brand and competing with national companies. He has recommended local coffee shops collaborating in order to hold their own against national franchisees.

(Photo of The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta 2014 by Duncan Rawlinson)

From Semicolon
I Don’t Know How the Story Ends by J.B. Cheney

Setting: Hollywood, 1918, the silent motion picture era of Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, the Keystone Cops, and director D.W. Griffith, all of whom make at least a cameo appearance in this rollicking tale of movie-making and adventure.

Characters: 12 year old Isobel Ransom of Seattle, whose surgeon father, Robert Ransom, is faraway in Europe at war and whose mother, Matilda Ransom, decides to take the remainder of the family to Los Angeles to soak up some summer sunshine.
6 year old Sylvie Ransom, Isobel’s little sister and mischievous menace.
Aunt Buzzy Bell, Mother’s sister, who married Mr. Titus Bell when she came to tutor his son from his first marriage, 13 year old Ranger Bell. Ranger’s beautiful Indian mother is dead, and Ranger himself is a what my mama would call a ring-tailed tooter: movie lot lizard and would-be film director.
Samuel Patrick Service, Ranger’s secret and secretive partner in the movie-making business, seemingly a partner because he mysteriously has access to a camera and other film-making equipment and know-how.

Plot: Well, a plot summary, or scenario as it’s called in the movie world, might divulge
“how the story ends”, and we wouldn’t want to do that, now would we?

Suffice it to say, that it was the setting and the characters and their madcap adventures that drew me into this cinematic narrative, and wouldn’t let me go until, well, I found out how the story would end.

Will Ranger and Sam make their movie? Will director D.W. Griffith see the completed film and give Ranger his big break in the movie business?

Will Isobel get the ending she wants—in her life and in the movie?

Will Isobel’s and Sylvie’s father come home safely from the battlefields of World War I? Will he be the same jovial and kind dad who left them to volunteer in a war that he didn’t have to fight?

Will Sylvie survive Hollywood, movie-making, and her own penchant for accidental near-death experiences?

Will Mother agree to appear in one of the romantic Charlie Chaplin’s movies?

Will Ranger be forced to return to the school he hates before he finishes his movie?

All will be revealed in I Don’t Know How the Story Ends by J.B. Cheney, available today, October 6, 2015, from your favorite book retailer.

I found the book to be fun and thoughtful at the same time, a combination which suits me just fine. Isobel is a proper, early twentieth century young lady, and at the same time she is intelligent and quite able to articulate her thoughts and desires. Ranger is a pill. And Sylvie is another. Sam is the strong, silent type, a young John Wayne or Gary Cooper. And because it’s set in 1918 Hollywood, the kids are able to run around all over the small town of Hollywood without the author having to get rid of the parents completely. In fact, the two sets of parents in the story have integral roles in the plot and the denouement, as Isobel in particular gets a glimpse of her parents as people with their own problems to solve and growing to do.

I’d recommend the book to anyone interested in early silent films, the history of Hollywood and the movies, the World War I era, or even just adventures and happy endings.

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.


From The Boar's Head Tavern

It continues to strike me that many of us are really no longer evangelicals. We just aren’t. We’ve discarded too many of the ideas and practices that really makes an evangelical tick (although we may still be chafing under them in our current church, ChrisH :-). But to call us evangelicals is just not right. I call myself and others like me post-evangelicals.

And hey, you can bicker with my terminology if you want. But most of you here are math and/or tech-heads, so you know that you can define your terms if you want to. As long as you’re consistent. So with no further ado, and mostly just for fun, here is my proposed list of characteristics of a post-evangelical. [edit. adding to my list]

  • You prefer to take communion every week.
  • You want a time of confession at the beginning of worship.
  • You don’t think Mother’s Day is on the church calendar.
  • You REALLY don’t think Memorial Day and Veteran’s days are on the church calendar.
  • You know there’s a difference between Christmas and Advent.
  • You don’t mind if a store clerk greets you with “Happy Holidays!”
  • You laugh at the notion that Xmas is x-ing the Christ out of Christmas.
  • You don’t like Fox News and you don’t want to be a cultural warrior.
  • You’ve ever said “Fuller isn’t that liberal.”
  • You prefer “Surprised by Hope” over “Left Behind”.
  • You read @biblestdntssay and laugh.
  • You would rather be at a small church than a big one.
  • You are uncomfortable when people talk about taking the Bible literally.
  • You’re old earth, not young.
  • You’ve commented that they effectively have a Trinity of God, Jesus and the Bible.
  • You actually enjoy sermons that talk about the work of the Holy Spirit and even pray to be filled by the Spirit from time to time.

Want to add to my list?

From Semicolon
Remembering Inez, edited by Robert P.J. Cooney, Jr.

Remembering Inez: The Last Campaign of Inez Mulholland, Suffrage Martyr, Selections from The Suffragist, 1916 by Robert P.J. Cooney, Jr., editor.

This is an odd little book. Edited by the author of a comprehensive and adult-focused tome about the women’s suffrage movement, Winning the Vote: The Triumph of the American Woman Suffrage Movement, this 90-page gem is billed as a “brief tribute” which “pays homage to this fallen leader and her last campaign.” The introduction has a brief biographical about Ms. Mulholland, but the first part of the book is made up of the text of her famous speech, “Appeal to the Women Voters of the West”, in which she asked the women in western states where women’s suffrage was already in place to vote against Democrat candidates for national office because those Democrats had promised women the vote but had not done anything to make that happen. In particular Inez Mullholland railed against presidential candidate Woodrow Wilson, who said that, although he supported woman suffrage, he could not do anything about votes for women until the women themselves convinced the majority of Democrats to back their right to vote.

The rest of the book is a series of articles and obituaries from The Suffragist, a weekly publication of the National Woman’s Party. Inez Mulholland died in 1916 at the age of thirty. She died of pernicious anemia, a “martyr” in the eyes of her fellow suffragists. I doubt that she and I would have seen eye to eye on many issues.

However, I was reminded of the current political and social controversies as I read of the dehumanization of women that Mulholland and others preached so forcefully against.

“There are people who honestly believe—honestly believe!—and they are not only Democrats—that there are more important issues before the country than abortion suffrage, and that (it) would be very becoming on our part to say nothing more of the matter, to retire at this time and take the crumbs from the table—if there are any. Now I do not know what you feel about such a point of view, whether it finds sympathy among you,—but it makes me mad!
Have infants women no part in the world’s issues? Have they we no brains? Have they we no heart? Have they we no capacity for suffering? Have they we no needs? Have we hopes? To believe that they we have no right to breathe part in the determining of national events is to believe that babies in the womb women are not human beings.
Now there are people that do not believe that babies women are human beings . . . But I believe, and every woman of spirit and independence believes, that babies women are human beings, with a definite part to play in the shaping of human events.”

The parallels should have been obvious even without my strikeout substitutions. We dehumanize and deny basic rights to others at our own peril. Inez Mulholland is remembered partly for her poignant question which was taken up as a banner slogan by the woman suffrage movement, “Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?” I would ask, “Mr. President and citizens of this country, how long must babies wait for the basic right to live?”

The author has a website where you can find out more about Inez Mulholland.
Read more here about the dehumanization of persons, propaganda to that end, and the will not to believe.

From The Boar's Head Tavern

It originates with atheist, Marxist intellectuals in universities.

Whatever your view on various issues (women in ministry, lgbt issues, liturgical dance, clown communion, whatever), as culture goes, this is true. Among the college educated, what is taught as the enlightened progressive attitude is defined by sociologists and antropologists whose ideas and classifications are rooted in Marxist thought. With the possible exception of PhD candidates, I would argue many of them have no idea.

What I find frustrating in churches really has nothing to do with the parenthetical issues above as much as this: Buying into culture or wilfully separating from culture plays into Marxism’s necessity to separate people into groups and set them at odds with each other. Whichever group happens to have the majority of perceived or actual power is defined as the demon against which every other group is a victim. Today, the perceived power is straight white males of European descent and a Judeo-Christain heritage. It’s easy enough to pick at the flaws of one group and excuse that of another. But what isn’t understood (or worse, is understood and no one cares) is that as soon as the current dominant group has been knocked off the mountain, another will assert itself in that place until it becomes the next demon to slay.

In that, Fundamentalism isn’t so much a real “come out and be ye separate” or “in the world but not of the world” position as it is a stunted perversion of victimhood as played by other groups. In the end it’s all one of Uncle Screwtapes schemes.

Now if we start talking about reconciliation, grace, and forgiveness from God to all who would have it, and put it under Christ the King’s authority, then that which is Christianity might have something useful to say to the rest of the world. As it is, as long as we keep playing by Marxism’s rules, we’re wasting our time.

From Brandywine Books
‘The Shadow Lamp’ and ‘The Fatal Tree,’ by Stephen Lawhead

I must admit that Stephen Lawhead almost lost me at one point, but I carried on with the last two books of the Bright Empires pentalogy, and came out a fan again.

If you’ve followed my reviews of the previous books, The Skin Map, The Bone House, and The Spirit Well (or if you’ve read the books; some people prefer to do it that way), you know the series involves a group of people who have learned the secrets of “ley travel,” using particular geographical formations in the earth at sunrise or sunset to travel to other times, places, and dimensions. The earlier books involve a sort of race between the good guys and the villainous Lord Burleigh to locate the “Skin Map,” the tanned skin of the discoverer of the ley lines, who had their locations tattooed on his body.

My temporary problems with the story occurred in the fourth book, The Shadow Lamp. I feared, for a while, that author Lawhead had succumbed to “Game of Thrones Disease” – not in terms of perversion, I hasten to add, but just in the sense of producing a story so complex and sprawling that he loses control of it. The characters seemed to be running around chasing each other through time and space, without advancing the story line much. But in the second half of the book things sharpen up. The focus shifts when the characters become aware that thoughtless ley traveling has caused a disruption in the very fabric of the cosmos. The quest becomes one to return to timeless Spirit Well and undo a thoughtless act. That quest continues in the final book, The Fatal Tree. By the time I got into that one I was back with the story all the way, and I found the resolution entirely satisfactory, nay, moving.

Lawhead (as I read him) has been endeavoring for some time to figure out a way to write epic fantasy without big battles. The Bright Empires series is his most successful effort so far.

Highly recommended.

From Brandywine Books
Recapture that Blood Moon Moment

Last week, perhaps you were caught up in the thrills of seeing the moon turn to blood as a harbinger of the end of the world. Too bad it didn’t, right? That just means you can experience the fun all over again, and a group of short story writers may have you covered in this book about an apocalypse that wasn’t.

You can read the premise of the fauxpocalypse and more from the eleven contributing writers on their website. Briefly stated, a scientist predicted the path of an enormous comet would hit the earth on July 15 of this year, and it really looked as if it would hit us. But no. What do you do when almost everyone in the world believe this time it really isn’t a test? Dip into the book here.

I like the idea of the book, but perhaps gathering stories around the theme of something big that didn’t happen will only get you middling results, especially when the story begins with the anticlimax. As one story says it, “Either way, the world had not ended, so it was time for chores.”

I heard of this book through a writer friend, Dave Higgins. He contributes two stories, and you may find that his contributions are worth the price of the whole, though I also liked Alexandrina Brant’s exploration of faith in her story of a college student who attends what could be Oxford’s last chapel service.

From Semicolon
Young Adult Nonfiction: Cybils Suggestions

Do you need a suggestion for a book to nominate for the Cybils in the category of Young Adult Nonfiction (my judging category)? Nominations are open through October 15th, and anyone can nominate a book, as long as the book was published between October 15, 2014 and October 15, 2015. And here’s link to the nomination form.

The following books are a few titles that haven’t been nominated yet that I’ve read or heard good things about:

Cyber Attack by Martin Gitlin and Margaret J. Goldstein. Semicolon review here.

Place Hacking: Venturing Off Limits by Michael J. Rosen. Semicolon review here.

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Student Edition) by Eric Metaxas. Thomas Nelson, May 2015. Bonhoeffer’s own writings and Eric Metaxas’ biography are quite inspiring. Someone should write a teen version of The Cost of Discipleship, or teens should just step it up and read the original.

Stories of My Life by Katherine Paterson. Dial, October 16, 2014.

Hidden Gold: A True Story of the Holocaust by Ellen Burakowski. Second Story Press, October 1, 2015.

The Boys in the Boat (Young Readers Adaptation): The True Story of an American Team’s Epic Journey to Win Gold at the 1936 Olympics by Daniel James Brown. Viking, September 2015. I read the adult version last year, and it was great. NOMINATED

Unbroken (The Young Adult Adaptation): An Olympian’s Journey from Airman to Castaway to Captive by Laura Hillenbrand. Delacourte, November 2014. If ever a book cried out for a wide audience, this one does. NOMINATED.

Give Me Wings: How a Choir of Former Slaves Took on the World by Kathy Lowinger. Annick Press, August 2015.

Springs of Hope: The Story of Johann Sebastian Bach by Joyce McPherson. CreateSpace, May 2015. I have a wonderful biography of John Calvin by this author in my library, and I would very much like to read this biography of Bach.

Make It Messy: My Perfectly Imperfect Life by Marcus Samuelsson and Veronica Chambers. (Teen edition of autobiography Yes Chef) Delacourte, June 2015.

The Making of a Navy SEAL: My Story of Surviving the Toughest Challenge and Training the Best by Brandon Webb. St. Martin’s Griffin, August 2015.

The Case for Grace (Student Edition) by Lee Strobel. Zondervan, February 2015.

Noah Webster: Man of Many Words by Catherine Reef. Clarion, August 2105. I read her book on the Bronte sisters and really enjoyed it.

The Courage to Compete: Living with Cerebral Palsy and Following My Dreams by Abbey Curran and Elizabeth Kaye. HarperCollins, September 2015.

Real Justice: Branded a Baby Killer: The Story of Tammy Marquardt by Jasmine D’Costa. Lorimer, September 2015.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (Young Readers Edition) by William Kamkwambe and Bryan Mealer. Dial, February 2015. I read the adult version and found it to be quite an inspiring story.

Fatal Fever: Tracking Down Typhoid Mary by Gail Jarrow. Calkins Creek, March 2015.

Legends: The Best Players, Teams and Games in Baseball by Howard Bryant. Philomel, March 2015.

Remembering Inez: The Last Campaign of Inez Milholland, Suffrage Martyr by Robert P. J., Jr. Cooney. American Graphic Press, March 2015. Semicolon review here.

Rhythm Ride: A Road Trip Through the Motown Sound by Andrea Davis Pinkney. Roaring Brook Press, September 2015. NOMINATED

Smart and Spineless: Exploring Invertebrate Intelligence by Ann Downer. 21st Century Books, August 2105.

Unlikely Warrior: A Jewish Soldier in Hitler’s Army by Greg Rauch. BYR, February 2015. NOMINATED

The Prisoners of Breendonk: Personal Histories from a World War II Concentration Camp by James M. Deem. HMH Books for Young Readers, August 2015. NOMINATED

Somewhere There Is Still a Sun: A Memoir of the Holocaust by Michael Gruenbaum and Todd Hasak-Lowy. Aladdin, August 2015.

Speak a Word for Freedom: Women against Slavery by Janet Willen and Marjorie Gann. Tundra Books, September 2015.

This Strange Wilderness: The Life and Art of John James Audubon by Nancy Plain. University of Nebraska Press, March 2015.

Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom by Linda Lowery, with Elspeth Leacock and Susan Buckley. Dial, January 2015.

The Many Faces of Josephine Baker: Dancer, Singer, Activist, Spy by Peggy Caravantes. Chicago Review Press, February 2015.

What have you read in the category of Young Adult nonfiction this year? What book(s) can you recommend? What will you nominate for a Cybil award?

From Semicolon
Saturday Review of Books: October 3, 2015

“Read as you taste fruit, or savor wine, or enjoy friendship, love, or life.” ~George Herbert


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 home is behind, the world ahead
God's Will

I had a realization today. And not necessarily something that translates for everyone everywhere. Not a profound truth. But, a truth for me right where I'm at. And, it just kinda came out of my mouth. I didn't understand the importance of what I had just said till I really listened to what I said.

I was having a conversation with a loved one and mentor about God's will for my life, a #typical conversations for Christians. I've stopped pretending like I really know what "God's will for my life" even means. I've stopped thinking that I have to seek out some plan. But, I noted that there seems to be two camps: the people who believe God's will for your life is a specific path, place, person, and profession, and then there are the people who believe that God's will for your life is to love him with all your heart, soul, and mind, love people, and do whatever you want along the way. I kinda hope it's the latter, especially since one of my biggest passions is a road that most people think the devil himself laid out.

I was asking her which camp she was in; secretly hoping she'd also say the latter because her opinion holds a lot of weight in my life, even if I can and do think for myself. She didn't have a straight answer, but she was saying that what's most important is staying in the "plumb line": the line that connects us with God.

And that's where my revelation began to take form. I blurted out that I can't say for sure that if I went into "the industry" I would honor God through my job because I don't know if I'm strong enough. But, if I became and accountant or a teacher I also don't know if I would honor God through my job. The job itself has nothing to do with honoring God. It is how you bring your "worship to your work place". It is what you do from 9-5. It is the conversations you have. It is working to please God and not man. And whether you are a TV writer, CIA spy, teacher, minister, or evil insurance worker you can either honor God or not honor God. And I feel like we put down certain jobs so much and we put down the people who go into those jobs. But, why give up the thing that gives me the most life and joy and peace because it doesn't look like I could honor God in it to go to a job I don't like and is not the thing I was "made for" because it doesn't look as evil or dirty?

God's will for my life is to love him, and worship him with everything I do. It is to be an ambassador for Christ. It is to look to him and not to man. To please him and not man. If I can do that as a writer or actor or janitor at the NBC studios because that was what I felt like I wanted to pursue, then I think I have accomplished the will of God. But, if I go and use the gifts I feel like I've been given and never speak of God, never worship him, never pray for my co-workers, and give in to the way of the world, then I would not be honoring God and that would not be his will or best for my life.

Where I'm at right now, that makes the most sense to me. God isn't going to write me a letter with where I am supposed to go with what job, but he has called me to bring him into every job I have and to show the world his light.

I can't justify abandoning certain careers to appear clean. And it's not even about bringing the "light to dark places". I wanna do what lights a fire in my heart and there are people there who need to know the love of Christ. And life may lead me somewhere different. God may slam doors in my face. But, I don't think it's cause God is like "you didn't choose the right career path". Life is fluid. There are rules that were set up by God and they play out. I may never make it where I think I want to go. But, that journey could be a part of God's will. At the end of our life, his main concern was whether we knew him and whether he knew us, not whether we had the right job.

From Semicolon
Chocolate by Kay Frydenborg

Chocolate: Sweet Science & Dark Secrets of the World’s Favorite Treat by Kay Frydenborg

This book, marketed to a young adult audience, is a quite exhaustive (272 pages) history of chocolate, cocoa, cacao, and the growing and marketing thereof. Ms. Frydenborg covers the origins of chocolate and cacao beans, the uses of chocolate as medicine, food, and candy, the growing of various species of cacao, the history of slavery in connection with the chocolate industry, and recent efforts to map the genomes of and preserve various types of cacao plants. And I love the cover. It’s delectable.

I wanted to recommend this book to a friend of mine who is working on developing mixed-use and sustainable farming in a mountainous part of the world that is suited for growing coffee, not chocolate. I think he would find quite a few parallels between the kind of farming he is trying to promote and the type of cacao farming that the scientists in the book are helping farmers to implement.

The book has great information and adequate writing and organization. There is some repetitious material that could have been left out or edited down. But the main problem is horrible copyediting. I did NOT read an ARC of this book; it was a final published copy that I borrowed from the library. I found multiple typographical and syntax errors. Dozens of them. Do publishers hire copyeditors nowadays? Or do they just depend on a computer program to copyedit the book? If it’s the former, someone should have gotten a better copyeditor, and if it’s the latter, shame on them.

I can’t recommend this book to anyone because of the shoddy copyediting. And that’s too bad because it would have been a nice addition to the library of anyone interested in the history of chocolate or in modern agricultural practices and innovations in relation to cash crops such as cacao and coffee.

From The Boar's Head Tavern

Have I mentioned that I moved back to Romania? Anyway, I moved back to Romania.

I also agree with everything Fearsome Pirate says, though I don’t have much time to elaborate on it. The major cultural difference between Evangelicals and Fundamentalists is simply that Evangelicals wanted to be within the culture, while Fundamentalists thought they should separate from it. It turns out that the fundies were right.

I’m really curious to know what Michael would have said about all of this.

From Semicolon
Place Hacking by Michael J. Rosen

Place Hacking: Venturing Off Limits by Michael J. Rosen.

“Place hacking” is not a term found in my New Oxford American Dictionary. One definition of “hack” is to gain unauthorized access. And that’s about what place hacking is: gaining unauthorized access to a place, like a bell tower or an abandoned mine or the sewers of Paris or even a state dinner at the White House. The author defines place hacking as “recreational activities that explore an adventure in off-limits spaces.” Yes, place hacking often involves breaking the law, and it can be dangerous.

Leaping from the Eiffel Tower in a wingsuit. Scaling Shanghai Tower, one of the world’s tallest buildings. Camping on the roof of Philadelphia’s abandoned Eastern State Penitentiary. These scenarios are real examples of explorations, adventures, and infiltrations of the built environment. Thousands of people around the globe engage in the recreational activity of place hacking: climbing, wading, jumping, or even ironing their way into prohibited or obscure spaces.

There’s a whole list of warnings and disclaimers near the beginning of this attractively designed, 72-page book about people who do crazy things. I wouldn’t give this book to a teenager who’s already inclined to break the rules and indulge in dangerous, exploratory behavior, but for the teen who wants (needs?) to experience some vicarious adventure, it might be just the right fit. Of course, the one who’s already place hacking and venturing off limits probably wouldn’t slow down long enough to read even a 72 page book.

Anyway, I thought the book was interesting, although I would have liked to know more about what makes the “place hackers” tick. Their answer to the “why” question was some variation on George Mallory’s famous reason for climbing Mt. Everest: “Because it’s there.” I would have liked a little more probing into why people might want to iron (clothes) on the side of a cliff or explore an abandoned subway tunnel. But maybe the target readers won’t care about the why, but rather just be fascinated by the how and where.


From The Boar's Head Tavern
The Coming LBGTQOMGWTF Revolution In Evangelicalism

Jason is right, of course. The majority of evangelical churches will eventually accept that a man can cruise parks and go to pool parties and still be a Christian. This is of course not because some well-known evangelical scholar will finally unlock the puzzle, discover that we were reading the Greek all wrong, and corroborate this with archaeology to discover that the first Christians did indeed embrace sexual behavior that even the Greeks found degenerate. He’ll be doing it for the same reason liberals came up with their laughably bad justifications for women’s ordination the first time around: they want to be respectable.

And most evangelicals will go along with it. We already live in a world where if you own a business, your livelihood will be destroyed by court order if you refuse to show up for the consecration of a bear and his twink when ordered to do so, where a man can lose control of the company he founded because it was discovered that he voted the wrong way on whether the state should extend benefits to a couple of women who want to LARP as a married couple. It will, over the course of the 21st century, become increasingly hard to keep your job if you disavow homosexuality in any way, much like it is already impossible to keep your job if you disavow diversity. We can take for granted that any church continuing to call it a sin when a man uses his digestive tract to simulate a sex organ will lose tax exempt status soon. As social and legal pressures to accept the sexual revolution continue to increase, evangelicals will gravitate toward those who allow them to maintain social respectability and still be Christian.

Look, the majority of people just go along to get along. They want to go to work, get their paychecks, and go home to raise their children play with their toys. If Christianity won’t allow them to do that, they’ll just leave.

Of course, they’ll drift away anyway. Like liberal mainliners before them, they’ll go to church, but their 1.2 kids won’t. The reason is pretty simple. Like I said, the coming acceptance of sexual degeneracy doesn’t originate from Christianity. It originates with atheist, Marxist intellectuals in universities. Once evangelicalism has crossed that bridge and elevated Andrea Dworkin to Doctor of the Church, none of its intellectual class “leads” in any meaningful sense. They’re simply taking their cues from Harvard’s Women, Gender and Sexuality department on a 10-year lag. While people want to be respectable, neither do they find a weak-sauce, watered-down, laggard version of secular institutions terribly attractive. Why go to church when you get the real thing at public schools and the New York Times?

And make no mistake, the norm will keep moving. Marxists have a continual need to revolutionize culture; it’s their raison d’etre. Gay marriage and women’s equality are already passe in the circles of the avant garde. The hot new things are “genderfluidity” and “polyamory.” So sure, evangelicals might be ready to warm up to women’s ordination and consecrating sodomy, but are they ready to clap for Bruce Jenner? Are they ready to give puberty-blocking hormones to 14-year-olds? And once we reach the point where you can be fired for failing to congratulate a woman for moving in with three lovers, will evangelicals accept the next revolution?

Well, of course they will. They’ll need to.

From home is behind, the world ahead
So Long Angst

You know how people sometimes start their stories by saying, "So I was in the shower..."? And then go on to tell some grand idea or revelation about life that they had whilst showering. Well, I had a pre-shower moment. (because I'm cool and hipster). I was in the bathroom about to take a shower after a less-than-victorious run and I was reflecting on the feelier things in life. I wanted to write it all out and post it but then I hesistated because I thought that it was too angsty and I am tired of being angsty. I mean, sometimes it's fun because I make fun of myself for it and my friends find it endearing. But, no matter how much I convince myself I'm just writing about my fears or things I'm learning or going through it always comes out so dramatic and heavy? I justify it by saying I'm just being truthful and honest and vulnerable. But, no one else takes it that way or appreciates it. But, then I realized something that stopped me in my tracks. And I unlocked the secret key to the meaning of life! (JK). But, I think I've gotten closer to shedding off my angsty-ness and becoming a more mature, spiritually normal (I won't say healthy just yet) person. I have found the difference between angst and a lesson worth sharing: distance.

I can feel things pretty quickly. And usually the second I feel something my mind goes into inner-monologue mode. Which translates to me immediately wanting to whip out my journal or computer and write something out. Which then leads me to want to share what I wrote because why write something if you can't share it? But, the problem with that, and why it turns out so heavy and dramatic, is because I'm right in the middle of it. The emotions are all around me. I don't have the right perspective. I'm probably feeding myself lies. I can't really write something that speaks to lessons learned that others can glean something from because I haven't actually taken the time to learn the lesson.

When I step back, process what I'm feeling privately and with prayer, and then live I might actually learn the lessons that I was meant to learn and not the lessons I think I need to learn. I need to live through it, get past it, and then maybe sit down and write out what I gained from it. Then, I can write about the heavier, more open and honest and vulnerable things in life without sounding like a junior high kid who discovered the color black for the first time.

So, I will try to live this way. I will try to not give life to my feelings, thoughts, and facts of my life before they are ready to be birthed. I will try to live life before I comment on it. I will try to let God and life and others show me what lessons I need to learn. And I will try to be less angsty as a result.

Or, I should just become a song writer. They can be as angsty as they want and people pay them to do it.

From The Boar's Head Tavern

it’s starting to seem like people only talk about peer pressure being bad when the pressure to conform is for something that’s considered bad. Otherwise, in the era of microaggressions and checking privilege public shaming is actually the first resort.

Depending on which former pastors we’re talking about, some conservative Protestant types have declared that sodomy is awesome as long as you’re married and straight.  I’m starting to feel like whether it’s defending race-based slavery two centuries ago or abortion within the last century Americans historically don’t really want a Christianity that resembles a historic and global Christian faith so much as the red state or blue state Protestant Jesus that lets them do what they’re already doing.


Seeing how neo-cons and conservatives went from backing the war on terror a decade ago to abruptly realizing just how much power that granted the state after a Democrat took office … I find it impossible to take the two parties seriously at this point.  For the popular image of the Republicans as being hawks, if you look at the last century Democratic executives were in place for the biggest global conflicts we participated in. Sure, Republicans are more likely to resort to military police actions that bypass Congress but for official wars, Democrats are tops. I would have thought that if Obama were going to scale back the military thing there shouldn’t even be an F-35 project right now.

I’ve been reading Mark Noll’s America’s God this year so maybe that’s part of why I’m feeling this way lately.


From such small hands
Still Hooked

I haven’t written anything about my crochet projects since April 2014. Rereading that post, I realize that I have tackled more than a few of the items I had wanted to try: A couple of afghans — as an apartment-warming...

From Semicolon
Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

Some people are not going to be happy with this book because the children (seventh grade, so about twelve years old) are dealing with rather teenage issues: boyfriends, girlfriends, body changes, peer pressure, divorce, feminism, bullying, gossip, sexting, etc. My thought is that these issues are going to confront children at a younger and younger age in our wired and sex-crazed society, and I’d much rather they read about such things and tried to grapple with them that way than be surprised and not know what to think or do later. And the book keeps things in the seventh/eighth grade realm, nothing too heavy or tragic, but still taking these kids seriously as thinking, growing, decision-making (good and bad) people. It’s a middle grade book for middle grade readers who find themselves changing into adults in surprising ways and at surprising times.

Newbery award winning author Rebecca Stead pulls the multiple narrative strands of this novel together quite skillfully, and I enjoyed the suspense of not knowing and trying to guess whom the chapters written in second person were about. I’m not sure why they were written in second person (you), and I found it disconcerting at first. But I got used to the device and tried to ignore it as the story pulled me in. Maybe the author was trying to say, “This could easily be you. You might find yourself in similar situation?” Or she just wanted to heighten the suspense and mystery?

Anyway, I recommend Goodbye Stranger to older middle grade readers and high school readers who don’t mind some mature themes (nothing graphic) and a bit of tension in not knowing what’s going on or to whom the things are happening at first. Trust the author, and all will be revealed.

Oh, I thought the little epilogue at the end could have been omitted. Too much information.

From home is behind, the world ahead
The Narrow Road

I'm scared for my life. I'm scared I won't work hard enough. Because, I see this life in the distance that I think I want. And I am beginning to see the different roads I hate to travel to get there. And it all seems so good. But, that doesn't mean I'm tempted to want to take the easy way. But, the road is narrow that leads to life. And I know that is talking about Jesus and about Heaven, but I think it fits in other instances too (God can do that). The road is wide that leads to death. Or failure. And a life that is less than. But so many people go down that road or are at least tempted too.

If you really want your dreams, you have to take the narrow road. I am starting to realize you have to live life a little differently. Too often I live by the rule "she's doing it, so it must be okay for me." I have wasted so much time on that excuse. To have life, to do the things that bring me the most peace and joy, I have to work. I have to know that I don't know anything and seek to understand. I have to practice every day. I have to ask for help. I have to read. I have to write. I have to watch those who have gone before me and try to find their footsteps.

But, what if what I think I want is actually not what I want? I'm scared for that too. I think that's why we put off the hard work. Or dread it. We like to keep our dreams in our heads. Sometimes, we don't want our dreams to turn into reality. Because it's so much funner and easier to live that fantasy life in my head. I could spend hours and hours imagining my life. And that brings me a slight satisfaction. But, if I do it enough, I believe it can be enough. Because if I bring this dream to the light and strive for it, I may never get it and it may go away. And that is scary.

Somedays I don't know why I have these dreams. Somedays I am jealous of people who's number one dream is to be a teacher. Or an accountant. I want dreams like that. I don't want to dream to be a writer and actor. I don't want to dream to live in LA. It's too hard. It's too scary. And I'll probably fail. I know that. But it is the "what if" that wakes me up. The "what if" that has gotten me this far. And it is the life lived in between. Who I will be on the other side, no matter the outcome, makes everything worth it. The things I'll learn and the people I'll meet will surely enrich my life in some way.

So, I'll try to take the narrow road. I'll try to fight the temptation to stay on the wide road. To only work half as hard as I should. To not work at all. I'll try to always be a reader and a learner. I'll strive to practice every day. And to sleep more. And to enjoy the life lived in between.

From Semicolon
Cyber Attack by Martin Gitlin and Margaret J. Goldstein

Well, I certainly know a lot more about cyber crime and computer security and hacking than I did before I read this young adult nonfiction treatment of the history and current state of cyber attacks on the information we keep in our computer networks, thumb drives, hard drives, cell phones and and other internet connected devices. I also don’t feel nearly as safe as I did before I read about worms and viruses and bots and phishing and ransomware and Blackshades and lots of other nasty cyber-stuff.

Cyber Attack provides students and computer innocents (like me) with a basic introduction to the state of the internet, security-wise. Anyone with an interest in the subjects of cyber crime and cyber warfare is going to want to go deeper, and a bibliography in the back of the book provides readers with several avenues for exploration. I was freaked out enough by the information in the 72 pages of this little book to want to go off-grid for the duration.

Did you know that the computer software called Blackshades, which can take over the camera in your personal computer and take pictures of you in your own home, is a reality, not a myth? According to the author, “one Dutch teenager used his copy of Blackshades to take secret pictures of women and girls on about two thousand computers.”

Did you know that the U.S. has been involved in a secretive cyber war with Iran, trying to shut down or damage their nuclear facilities and capabilities, since 2008? And it’s probably still going on.

Did you know that the Russian and Chinese governments are actively engaged in cyber spying and attacks on U.S. companies and government computer networks, trying to get information about our economic secrets as well as military and other governmental information? And they’ve been quite successful in stealing quite a bit of information that has been of use in business negotiations and could be useful in the future if we ever do have a military confrontation with either country.

Did you know that the entire nation of Estonia–government services, banks, media outlets and other computer networks—came under cyber attack in 2007 from hackers located inside Russia? And even when the hackers were identified, Russia refused to arrest them or do anything to restrain or punish them.

Maybe you knew a lot of this stuff and more that’s in the book, but I didn’t. Again, Mr. Gitlin’s little book is a good introduction to the subject of cyber attacks. And how can a simple little old woman keep her herself and her information secure? Well, says the book, “You could cancel your Internet service, ditch your cell phone, close your bank account, throw away your debit card, and turn off your electricity. You could quit school and never take a job, vote in an election, get a driver’s license, or fly on an airplane. Of course, such a solution is completely unrealistic.”

Of course, the information in this book, published in 2015, is already incomplete and out-dated, to some extent. There’s a publisher’s note in the front of the book:

“This book is as current as possible at the time of publication. However events change rapidly and hacks, big and small, occur on a daily basis. To stay abreast of the latest developments related to hacking, check the New York Times and other major national newspapers for current, up-to-date information.”

Here are a couple of hacking-related news items that were not included in the book because they just happened in 2015:

Hillary Clinton, our Secretary of State, kept her emails on a privateserver located in some part of her house. (Hackers’ goldmine!) She says her information was secure, but no one really knows. “Was her server hacked? We don’t know. Private servers are considered more difficult to protect, in general, than the ones big e-mail hosts like Google use.” (Everything we know about the Hillary Clinton emails, September 15, 2015)

A hackers’ group calling themselves The Impact Team stole and published the private information for millions of users of the website Ashley Madison, a portal for people (mostly men) who wanted to commit adultery. Reporters and cyber security insiders keep saying that if it could happen to Ashley Madison, it could happen to any company on the web. So just know that your financial and personal information is not really safe anywhere on the web.

And the cyber attacks go on.

From Jared C. Wilson
Advice on Hosting and/or Accepting Speaking Engagements

psI’m not a long-time veteran of traveling ministry or a guy who sells out conferences, so there are plenty more people more qualified than me to speak to these things, but I’ve noticed that very few do. I’m not sure why. But when I first started receiving invitations to speak at churches and events, I would’ve loved to have a post like this for some guidance. If you’re interested in hosting a conference or otherwise hosting a speaking engagement, or if your ministry platform is allowing you to begin pursuing God’s call into that option, I hope this advice (from the perspective of a frequent speaker, if not a big one) will serve you well in considering how to honor God and your neighbors.


1. Clarity is really important. Make sure you clearly and consistently communicate with your speaker or with his designated point person on itineraries and expectations. If you are new to event hosting, it makes sense that you may not have everything logistically figured out, but here are some key bits of info to get to your guest speaker as soon as you are able:

a. Is someone picking him or her up from the airport? What is their phone number? Is someone hosting them, driving them, escorting them? Ditto.

b. Where is your guest speaker staying? What is the address of this place? If hotel, confirmation number for reservation?

c. Do you expect your guest to be at meals or other meetings during the event? When, where, and what for?

d. Can your guest submit receipts for travel reimbursement? Who do they send them to?

2. Be sensitive to a speaker’s temperament/personality. Your guest may be an extrovert who loves spending all the margin at the event hanging out and talking. Or he may be an introvert who needs to recharge between teaching sessions. Likely, he or she is somewhere in between. This is another place where clarity is important. Ask your guest about their preference — when and how often would they like some privacy? Do they mind spending some time at meals or meeting people in the foyer, etc.? Don’t assume that every guest speaker is like your gregarious, glad-handing pastor or like last year’s painfully shy conference speaker.

3. Try not to throw any curve balls. Sometimes things come up that require rearrangements of schedule or content. That’s understandable. To the best you’re able, however, don’t improvise. Changing things on the fly may frustrate what your speaker has prepared for. Also: If you’ve communicated to your speaker that you’d like a set number of speaking sessions, don’t start adding new obligations at the last minute or — even worse — during the event. “Since we’ve got you here, do you mind…?”

4. Pay promptly. This is the awkward one, I know. Acknowledging that there are people who travel to speak who don’t need the money or who are overpaid or whatever, most folks traveling to speak have included their speaking engagement income in their family budget planning. It may seem like “extra” to you, but it is not often “extra” to them. If you cannot provide their speaking payment until weeks after the event, please let them know. (Again, clarity is important.) Interestingly enough, this is the piece of the speaking engagement organization that most often falls through the cracks — “Oh, I thought so-and-so gave it to you…” — which puts your speaker in a very weird and awkward position, especially if he’s sensitive to the money issue. When I first began accepting speaking invitations, I lost money on a few engagements because I didn’t get paid — and in a couple of cases, was surprised to learn I needed to pay for my own accommodations and travel — and I was too afraid of looking like a money-grubber for asking about it. Looking back, I realize this isn’t money-grubbing. It’s just wanting to be paid for your work, just like you would want if payday at your job came and your employer “forgot” to give you your paycheck. So let’s avoid all the weirdness and just pay our guests what we’ve previously and clearly agreed to pay them.


1. You are not a big deal. Don’t act like one. This is the most important piece of advice. In the last 6 years, I’ve had the opportunity to speak at a few places where the reputation of the previous year’s speaker still hung around like the b.o. in that “Seinfeld” valet parking episode. I’ve got some stories, let me tell you. Brothers and sisters, if you travel to speak, you may be long gone from each engagement, but your reputation will hang around. Some of you are setting the bar really low for those of us who follow you. Don’t be a jerk. Don’t be a diva.

2. Honor the event hosts/organizers or church pastor(s). Make note of them in your talks, thanking them for the invite, commending their ministry, or otherwise reflecting on some time you’ve spent with them. It’s a little gesture that can mean a lot.

3. Fraternize as much as possible. I’m one of those weird introverts who enjoys being with people. Also, one of my favorite parts of traveling to speak is meeting brothers and sisters all over the place, learning what God is doing in their lives and in their churches, and hearing about the different missional contexts they minister in. So I try to spend as much time out of the hotel rooms and green rooms as I can. But because I’m an introvert, I often need some recharging after meeting people, especially if meeting them involves a lot of personal storytelling and ministry. And because I’m not a very dispassionate speaker, I often need a little recovery time after I speak. (I’m much more personable before I speak, which I’m beginning to learn is somewhat uncommon.) I say all that to say that I totally understand the speaker’s desire to retreat. It’s not sinful to do that; it’s often the best thing for someone who wants to give their teaching sessions their best. But if you are spending quite a bit of time at an event or church, spend a good amount of it hanging out, not hiding out. Ask questions. Get to know people. It won’t hurt you. And it will often communicate as well as any sermon you give. It will even make your sermons more listenable.

4. Look out for the little guys. Many speakers try to make their speaking ministry more “efficient” by minimizing the number of small events they participate in. I think this often misses the biggest blessings. No, smaller events cannot pay as much. No, smaller events cannot offer you the same level of accommodations or boost your profile or help you sell as many books or whatever. But there are faithful brothers and sisters laboring in obscure places who would be incredibly blessed by your ministry if you could spare them some time. And I think if you go into these smaller venues with heart open, you will see you are often blessed much more than they. Don’t get too big. (See, again, #1.) If you’re just starting out speaking, smaller venues will probably be your only option. But if your platform starts to grow, you will be tempted to leave your roots behind. Don’t do that.

Well, that’s what I’ve got. Your mileage may vary.
If anyone has questions about these or related matters, I will do my best to answer them in the comments.

From The Living Room
20 things: September.

  1. The other day (the 10th) was World Suicide Prevention Day. I’ve said it in multiple media, but if you’ve ever considered harming yourself, please, please talk to someone you trust. You can talk to me. I understand, I promise. I’ve been there.
  2. That being said, if you know someone who’s depressed, the best thing you can do is listen to them and be there for them. No advice, unless they ask for it. Be Jesus to them and let them know that they’re loved and wanted and cared for. They may not believe you; keep telling them and showing them anyway.
  3. I say all this because, as I’ve alluded to, I’ve been having a pretty hard time this year, and a bunch of people have made sure to look after me, and a couple of weeks ago I got hit by a wave of gratitude so hard that it made me ugly-cry. So spread kindness. You might be saving someone’s life. I hope I can be that kind of person.
  4. That being said, I’ve also been learning this year that I’m not as empathetic of a person as I’d like to be, and that kind of sucks. I mean, it *is* kind of hard to be empathetic when you’re in the middle of a depressive cycle. But I’m like that when I’m healthy, too, unfortunately, because I am by nature someone who lives inside of my own head a lot, and unless I really work at it, it’s easy for me to be really self-righteous and judgy and to look at people and be like, “Come on, get it together” when they really, sincerely cannot get it together for whatever reason. And quite honestly, that is a terrible, unkind way to relate to people, and I want to be more like Jesus in this regard.
  5. But like I keep thinking about this year, virtue is like anything: It has to be worked at and practiced. Godliness has to be put on like you put your clothes on every day. And eventually it becomes really familiar and second-nature, and you don’t have to really think about it, you just do it, but it takes practice.
  6. There’s a song we’ve been singing at church called “That I May Please You.” It’s really simple melodically and lyrically, based on part of Hebrews 10: “I deserve much worse than this/I have trampled underfoot/And regarded as unclean Your Spirit and Your blood.” It goes on like this, a confession and a prayer to be made clean and whole, and why? “That I may please You and exalt You/In my body and my mind.” The phrase “in my body and my mind” has really stuck with me, especially as in this year I feel like I’m really starting to get that God actually cares about what I do with my body and how I feel about it–that He wants me to eat well and exercise and be chaste because my body belongs to Him, not me. Same goes for how I think and what I think about. So. This has been a good prayer for me.
  7. But it’s also a cry of praise, because I do sin in my body and my mind. I deserve much worse than what I receive. But God has washed me clean and is making me whole. Hallelujah.
  8. Doctor Who is back (yay).
  9. Current reads: Desiring the Kingdom (on how Christian worship forms Christian education, especially as that worship is enacted in physical space–against the belief that we’re all just idea buckets and that the body doesn’t matter); Onward (from the head of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Council, on loving our neighbors well while being people of conviction); thinking about starting up Harry Potter again
  10. Actually, here’s a quote from Desiring the Kingdom:“Being a disciple of Jesus is not primarily a matter of getting the right ideas and doctrines and beliefs into your head in order to guarantee proper behavior; rather, it’s a matter of being the kind of person who *loves* rightly–who loves God and neighbor and is oriented to the world by the primacy of that love. We are made to be such people by our immersion in the material practices of Christian worship–through affective impact, over time, of sights and smell in water and wine” (p.32-33).
  11. Back to the body and worship: What we do with our bodies affects our souls, and vice versa, which is something I’ve believed for years, but I think I’m just now coming around to understanding. For example, what does the way my church sets up in the YMCA gym teach me about worship? What does kneeling during prayer do, as opposed to standing or sitting or lying down? What difference does it make if I cross myself or not? What do physical rituals teach my soul? These are still things I’m kind of working out.
  12. I do know one thing: Physical ritual grounds me more firmly in the real world, which, as someone who lives inside my own head a lot and has occasionally had trouble dealing with my own thoughts, has been really, really helpful for me in healing. Just saying.
  13. Oh, and also, how does this affect how I think about eating and exercise? Or how should it, I guess.
  14. I say this right after I’ve discovered this website called Joy the Baker and she posted a recipe today for PB&J sandwich DONUTS, which I shouldn’t eat because a) although likely extremely delicious, they are probably also terrible for you (probably?!), and b) I’m one of those people who shouldn’t eat gluten because it does all kinds of bad things to my body (although, to be completely honest I still eat it sometimes anyway [and usually feel like crap afterwards]). But knowing that, I still kind of am curious about them, so what does a good theology of the body tell me about this now?
  15. If you’re reading this the week it was published, for the love of everything good, go listen to the cast recording for Hamilton at NPR’s website here. If you don’t know anything about the show, read this. And then be astonished at the music.
  16. There’s a lyric from a song on that album that I can’t get out of my head: “Love doesn’t discriminate / Between the sinners and the saints / It takes and it takes and it takes / But we keep loving anyway.” My musings on this may turn into a whole separate post, stay tuned.
  17. Ummmm what else.
  18. Still working, still doing the stuff. November and December are probably going to be 20 kinds of busy, so I’m trying to get ready for that. My friends’ wedding, maybe going to a conference, then the holidays and all that that entails–plenty to keep me out of trouble (or get me into it :p).
  19. Oh, yes. Today’s the equinox. We’re finally tipping over into fall, or whatever approximation we have of it in Houston. The light is a little more golden. The sun rises later and sets earlier. It’s kind of cooler, and I’m wearing more plaid shirts again. This is the best time of year for me–if I could keep the station tuned to autumn all year, I think I would. But there is a season for everything, including seasons, and heaven has its purposes even for Texas summers.
  20. That’s all, friends. I love you. Thanks for being here.

From home is behind, the world ahead
Hipsters, Instagram, and Being Okay with Me

If you know me even a little bit, you probably know a couple things about me: I want not much more in life than to be a hipster and I care way too much about instagram. I try very hard to dress like, talk like, listen to the same music as, and take as good and artsy pictures as hipsters. I want my instagram account to appear in magazines for it's beauty and creativity.

But, I have come to realize that that's not me. In some ways, I am hipster-ish and I am artsy-ish, but I am not what I think I want to become. I have come to find a style that's my own, a personality that's my own, and a feed to reflect my uniqueness. And I'm becoming more and more okay with that.

I like my instagram account. I like it for what it's not. I like it for what it is. I like that I try to only post 4X3 pictures (because horizontal is the best) but every once in a while there is a picture worth posting that is not 4X3. I like that my instagram is mostly big group selfies mixed in with some "self portraits" that are usually as awkward looking as I am. I like that I still try to capture the beauty of every day things just because. I like that instagram is a highlight reel of my life. I am reminded enough about how mundane, boring, hard, and sad life can be. I don't need instagram for that. I need to be reminded more of the good parts that meant something enough to document. I like that I'm slowly accepting that sunsets will always be prettier in person but that it's still nice to take the picture.

I like that it's not a hipster account but it's also not a junior high boys account. (I'm still salty that they will, without a doubt, get more likes than me). I like that I don't have pictures of objects placed on my bed in a certain way to show my "study hour" even though we all know you weren't actually using all those items. I like that I don't feel the need to take pictures of my food. Or my coffee. I like that my account doesn't look like every other single account on instagram. I like that it has multiple colors and is not the same picture over and over.

If that's you, I like that. But, I also think we're more unique than we show through our instagram pictures. I like that I'm becoming more okay with not becoming what I've always wanted to become. And I like that every year I feel like I'm finding more and more who I am.

If this is angsty, sorry.

From such small hands
My Garden: A Season of Neglect

I’ve written about my gardening successes and failures in this space before, but I've never been this discouraged. I’ve never ignored the garden as much as I have this summer. There are good reasons, at least in my mind. We...

From home is behind, the world ahead
Empty Promises and Never Really Canceling

One of my biggest pet peeves, that I have admittedly done plenty of times but am trying to stop, is when people don't ever really deny you. They deny you under a lot of maybe's and false hopes. When people respond to an invite with "I don't know if I can come." Or "I'll try to come!" or "If I get done with my homework in time!" or "If my only other option is to hang myself, sure, I'll come!" Across the board, people have learned to accept this as a "no", but technically it's not a no. It's a very cowardly way of saying "I don't want to come." I have done that so many times even when I know without a doubt that I can't come. "I don't know if I'll be able to make it because I will be working." I'm so afraid to say no. To hurt their feelings. But, I do have work.

While that is a pet peeve, I think a deeper frustration is how easy it is to flake out on people these days. Back before cell phones, if you had a plan to meet up with someone- if you didn't show you were standing them up. And they might think you're dead. Now, all you have to do is send a quick text "I'm going to have to cancel!" So people follow through less and less and become increasingly flaky. Or, maybe the better way to say it is we make a lot of empty promises. I have done this countless times, but I have also been on the receiving end of it. And I realize how crappy it makes you feel. Especially when you know they're empty promises. You can read it through every text they send promising they will come soon. And they keep pushing back the time. Keep adding on the excuses. Now, sometimes the excuses are real. Like, your friend is throwing up everything inside of them at the moment. And I've had to cancel for health relating reasons in the past too.

I think we just need to be better at meaning what we say. And we need to learn how to say "no". We can't be afraid of that word. But we can't say "yes" in the moment, knowing later we'll find some reason to say "no". If you say "yes"-- do everything in your power to do it. Be there. Follow through. Don't say "yes" unless you know you can and you want to. I know I would be less offended if people outright denied my invitation. I'd still be offended, but it wouldn't sting as bad. At least there is no room for false hope.

From such small hands
Upper Peninsula Explorations

For five of the last six years, my husband and I have spent several of our vacation days in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Our “base of operations” is Munising, at the Holiday Inn Express, which commands a sweeping view of Grand...

From Jared C. Wilson
The Truth and Shepherding

I had the great privilege of preaching at the For The Church Conference held at Midwestern Seminary earlier this week. Here is video of my plenary session on Isaiah 40:9-11, titled “The Truth and Shepherding.” If you are a pastor who is tired, hurting, or fresh out of (or currently in) the thick of a difficult ministry, I especially hope it blesses you.

All conference video can be accessed at the For The Church website here.

From such small hands
Abiding in the Word

Like most Christians who love the Bible, I have often struggled with having a daily “quiet time,” several minutes a day set aside for Bible reading, study and prayer. Our fathers and mothers in the faith tell us that early...

From Jared C. Wilson
The Marriage Vows Exist for Sin

wedding_rings“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
— Ephesians 5:31-32

Among the many riches and depths of Paul’s words on marriage in Ephesians 5 are these two:
1) Marriage is meant to make us holy more than happy (all apologies to Gary Thomas),
2) Happiness and romance are byproducts of a healthy marriage, but the ultimate purpose of marriage is the magnification of Christ.

Therefore, if we want a gospeled marriage, we will take to heart what God is saying here about husbands and wives and one-fleshedness and sacrifice and submission and respect and cherishing. Because God knows what he’s talking about. He designed the thing. And it’s not like he didn’t anticipate all the reasons we’d come up with to explain why these admonitions don’t exactly apply to our situations. Like, we all know we’re married to sinners, but couldn’t have God given us a, you know, less sinny sinner to be married to?

But this is exactly what marriage is for. This is what the marriage vows are for. You don’t really even need that “for better” stuff in there, that “in richness” and “in health” stuff. Nobody in their right mind is bailing during the good times. No, the vows are for the other stuff. The vows are for the “for worse.” “In poverty.” “In sickness.” The vows exist because sin is real. Sure, we may not know what sins will become real in our relationships, putting stress on the covenant, but the vows exist because sin does.

The vow of the gospel exists because sin does.

See, the story of Christ and his bride is very messy. Very difficult. It is a sordid history, to be sure. One of the most vivid illustrations we get is that of the prophet Hosea who was commanded by God to take a prostitute for a wife. And she keeps cheating on him and prostituting herself, Hosea stays faithful through all the pain, the heartache, the dishonor, the confusion. He stays faithful. Why? Because God had joined them together. And because God in his astounding wisdom and artistry was showing Hosea – and us – what it is like for Christ to love his church.

When we stand at the altars making our vows, we really don’t think the bad will be that bad. We expect sin but not that kind. But our holy bridegroom Jesus Christ makes his vow knowing full well what he’s forgiving. He knows us inside and out. He knows what we’re guilty of and what we will be guilty of. He knows just how awful it’s going to get.

Every day, you and I reject the holiness of Jesus in a million different ways, only a fraction of which are we conscious of. If Jesus were keeping a list of our wrongs, none of us would stand a chance. At any second of any day, even on our best days, Jesus could have the legal grounds to say, “Enough of this. I can’t do it any more. You’ve violated my love for the last time. This is unfixable.” The truth is, you’ve never met a wronged spouse like Jesus. You’ve never met a disrespected spouse like Jesus. You’ve never met a spouse who more than carried their weight like Jesus. He’s carrying the entire relationship on his back. This thing is totally one-sided.

And yet: He loves. And he gives. And he serves. And he approves. And he washes. And he delights. And he romances. And he doesn’t just tolerate us; he lavishes his affection on us. He justifies and sanctifies and glorifies.

I don’t know what you come away from Ephesians 5:22-33 thinking. Maybe you read it and think, “Sacrifice? Submit? No way. I can’t do this.”
Husbands are thinking, “I cannot sacrifice for her.”
Wives are thinking, “I cannot submit to him.”
And we can’t — at least, not the way God wants us to.

God knows this. He knows we are terrible obeyers. He knows we are self-interested sacrificers and stubborn submitters. And he gave up his life for us anyway. He died to forgive all our sins and rose again that we might never have them held against us.

Be still our beating hearts. Here’s a groom worth swooning over.

And because his gospel is true, you can never, ever, ever give up.

“I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the Lord, that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth again because of your shame, when I atone for you for all that you have done, declares the Lord God.”
— Ezekiel 16:62-63

From internetmonk.com
A word from our sponsor, and Michael’s thoughts on “gear”


First today, a word from one of our friends and sponsors, Alan Creech . . .

11128620_10152771540730474_5266719116451218187_nGreetings Internet Monk-ites!

It’s been a while since I’ve made an appearance in the actual blog copy of this estimable site. Many thanks to Chaplain Mike for the opportunity to beg for sales. And, from of old, thanks to the original Internet Monk, Michael Spencer, who was my blogging colleague, who became my friend, and who was also, my internet rosary “pimp.” Pray for us, Michael.

Some of you have bought prayer beads from me before — thanks for that. In addition to the 1-decade “Catholic” style rosaries (you don’t have to be a Catholic to use them –seriously), I now also make quite a few 1-Week Anglican Rosaries.

Don’t be afraid, it’s just a prayer tool, folks. I have several of each made and ready to go out the door – for you or a friend. You can take a look at what I have ready on my alancreech rosaries FaceBook page– or take a look at my website for more options. I’ll be very happy to make another for you. Just let me know what you’d like and I’ll get that to you as quickly as I can.

Thanks for letting me invade this sacred space. Peace to all in this house.


• • •

Note from CM: Seriously, folks, Alan makes beautiful prayer beads, which I have used personally and given as gifts over the years. You can access his site at any time by clicking on the link on the right side of our Internet Monk site.

Perhaps you have never used a tool like this for prayer and meditation. If not, I recommend it. We are embodied people, and we must take our physicality into consideration when praying and engaging in “spiritual” activities. This is one way we can “keep our bodies under control and make them our slaves” (1Cor 9:27, CEV) as we practice our faith.

In my evangelical/fundamentalist background, we resisted the use of what Michael Spencer called his “gear.” Here’s a post from 2009 in which he addresses those who have problems with it.

19557_306557776776_817076_nThoughts on “Gear”
by Michael Spencer

Evangelicals have no serious arguments to make against the use of “gear.” We’re up to our ears in our own versions of the stuff. We can point out the differences in what we believe is going on, but we’re no innocents. God using matter and the senses works just fine for evangelicals, so get that smirk off your face.

Have you seen how Bibles are marketed in evangelicalism? The covers? The “Favorite preacher” editions? The things we say will happen if you buy the right one?

Have you seen people buying relics from Spurgeon? (Not bones, but publications, pictures, letters.) Have you seen the picture I posted from the Lifeway at Southern Seminary selling Calvin bobbleheads and busts of Spurgeon? If they were actually selling “hair from Spurgeon” how do you think that product would move?

Do you have any idea how many evangelicals buy things like WWJD bracelets, Prayer of Jabez trinkets, infinite numbers of t-shirts, pictures of angels, pictures of Jesus, various versions of the cross, manger scenes, all kinds of Biblical art and statuary?

But seriously, when I was a young Christian, I was given Hook’s famous painting of the laughing Jesus. My wall in my classroom has a full print of Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal Son.

Someone bought all those “Footprints” gear. And the picture of Jesus carrying the man with the hammer and the nails in his hands? Who bought that?

In my family, old Bibles and relics of Godly ancestors are treasured. My uncle was a revered pastor. I have a Bible, sermon notebooks and a ring he always wore. I have family Bibles from both parents.

Ok, we don’t bow down to these things. Oh wait, what were they doing at the last Promise Keepers meeting I was at? Going down on the floor and bowing in front of a cross.

OK, we don’t interact with images of….Oh wait. Who has all those Passion plays? And who went to see Passion of the Christ 12 times, right there with their Roman Catholic friends.

Ok, we don’t use these things….Oh wait, who came up with prayer cloths and the whole bit about things and people being “anointed?” Who first said “put your hands on the radio/television?”

Well, we don’t go as far…..Oh wait, who has FAN PAGES for their favorite preachers? Who goes across the country just to hear Brother so and so in person? Who can write an ad for a person claiming that God’s Spirit hangs around them like cologne?

We don’t have anything going with the dead…..Oh wait, what are we singing about in all those Gospel songs? Who prints “Daddy’s First Christmas in Heaven” letters in the local paper? Who buys all those books from people claiming to have seen heaven/hell in some near-death experience? And do you have time for some church cemetery stories?

We don’t have pilgrimages….Are we really going to have this conversation? Do you have any water from the Jordan in your desk? Know anyone in Israel now buying stuff?

Can we talk about Judgment House sometime? Can we talk about what goes on at Christian concerts?

Some of Michael Spencer's gear

Some of Michael Spencer’s gear

Humans are religious. In their religious practices, they endow objects, associations, places, persons and certain sense experiences with meaning. They use these objects, etc. to focus upon God’s presence in the world. All that Catholics/Orthodox do is come out and tell you they believe God mediates his presence through matter. We believe the exact same thing, and can outdo our brothers and sisters in the gear department most days. (I haven’t seen Catholic amusement parks and their bookstores are not quite as numerous as Family Bookstores, Lifeway, etc.)

I’m a new covenant Christian. NONE of this stuff is necessary. It can get out of hand, both in practice and in the money spent on them. But I believe that the New Covenant isn’t the enemy of bread, wine, water, art or a hundred other ways the Spirit uses matter and sense experiences to commune with us.

If you want to point at a string of beads and a cross, see Marian worship and pagan roots, that’s fine. Don’t look too closely into the origins of your Christmas tree or the date for Easter, but that’s fine. I don’t want to pray to Mary or worship her either. I’ve heard and read 30 hours of arguments for the place of Mary in the RCC, I’m not as ignorant as I once was, but the whole supposed post-Gospels career of Mary misses me completely.

But I understand what’s going on with icons, beads, statues and medals. It’s very much what’s going on with your ESV Study Bible, your picture of Calvin, your feelings about your favorite Praise and Worship music and your church’s insistence on an “Altar Call.”

It’s OK with me. Let’s just be honest about it all. The differences matter and we should air them. But evangelicals need to get on the bus to rehab with everyone else.

From internetmonk.com
Wisdom and the Insufficiency of “God-Talk”


There is something about the biblical God which enables a “secular” account of human life to be given.

• Colin E. Gunton
Quoted in Fretheim,
God and World in the OT

• • •

I absolutely love the quote above. When describing the wisdom literature of the Hebrew Bible, von Rad made a similar statement when he observed the language such literature uses: “experiences of community life are understood in a predominantly ‘secular’ way or, to be more precise . . . as a secular entity governed by Yahweh.”

In other words, the Bible’s wisdom literature gives the lie to the notion that religious people must fill their mouths with religious language all the time. “God-talk” is not the only way there is to speak about matters that are ultimately divine. It is also overly restrictive and insufficient to describe the actual world God made and the life humans experience in this world.

In God and World in the OT, Fretheim observes how scriptural wisdom teaching is universal. Israel’s wisdom teachers borrowed liberally from their Ancient Near Eastern neighbors and also phrased most of their own instructions in terms that evoke creation at large and not the specific redemptive covenant history of Israel. Wisdom herself speaks of God’s worldwide perspective in Proverbs 8:30-31 —

 I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight,
    rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
    and delighting in the human race.

Furthermore, wisdom is presented, as the quote from von Rad above indicates, in secular terms. Fretheim comments:

God allows the creation to be itself, which includes both being and becoming. That is, creatures are able to be what they were created to be; at the same time, because the creation is not a fixed reality, creatures are in the process of becoming. In this complex and ongoing process, God honors the createdness of the creatures, while not removing the divine self from their lives.

All of life is sacred, but that does not mean we must talk about all of life in sacred, special language. We can talk about mathematics in mathematical terms, the sciences in scientific terms, history in terms of people and events in the context of natural human and societal processes, human relationships in terms of the actual physical, emotional, down to earth things we experience in life.

As people of faith, we are certainly free to talk about how we think God is involved in any matter — that is a legitimate topic of inquiry. And it is always appropriate to be thankful to God and cognizant of God’s presence. But we don’t have to automatically bring God-language into every conversation or consciously try to speak of God’s participation in every matter we discuss.

In fact, to do so is to act in a way that is contrary to the way God made the world. He has hidden himself, by and large, and left it to humans to discover this world and this life and give our own language to our experiences.

God gave us the Bible, you say. Isn’t that what it’s for? Well, despite what people claim about the Bible, it most certainly is not a textbook for understanding everything in creation and in our life experiences. And in those parts of the Bible where we are given such instruction (the wisdom literature), the language is predominantly universal and secular!

But just in case you don’t feel right about not fitting in with those who are truly “radical” in their faith, “on fire” for God, and “sold out” for Jesus, here’s a video that will load you up with proper spiritual language so you won’t feel so left out. I’m truly not sure what world this kind of speech was made for, but it’s not the one in which I live.

From Jared C. Wilson
The All-Surpassing Preciousness of Jesus

unnamed-womanWhat is the one thing you cannot live without?

I think there are two stark realities shown in the passage of the woman who anointed Jesus’ head — a deadly devaluing and a saving adoration. See if you don’t agree:

And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”
— Mark 14:3-9

The logic of those scolding is understandable, clear. What the woman has done is wasteful.

And what Jesus says in reply is provocative. He is not denying the importance of caring for the poor. Indeed, how could he, since he has taught so much on caring for the poor and needy already! But he is suggesting that there is something more important.

There is something more important than helping the poor. What could that be?

It is Jesus himself.

To devalue Jesus as the indignant have done is eternally deadly. To devalue the nard as the woman has done is eternally saving.

A few gospel notes on the text:

1. Crushing is the way to blessing.

“Whomever God uses greatly he must wound deeply,” Oswald Chambers has said. The breaking open of the nard is a beautiful picture of that. It complements Paul’s illustration about we ourselves carrying treasures in jars of clay in 2 Corinthians 4.

Maybe Jesus’ friend Mary, whom John’s Gospel has identified as the woman in this scene, learned this precious lesson from the death and resurrection of her brother Lazarus. The way to the blessing is through brokenness. Perhaps Mary understands that now, perhaps she is showing Jesus in this act of tender care and extravagant worship that she “gets it.”

And God is not above keeping his own rules, for he committed to the crushing of his own son in order to cover his children with grace. Think of the lavishing of grace this is! (Some would call it a waste…)


2. God loves us so much, he will do whatever it takes to help his children be satisfied in Jesus alone.

Our Lord knows we need to be startled to see his beauty. He knows we struggle in our flesh to naturally see Christ as glorious and all-satisfying. We need to be shaken awake. We need the smelling salts of the gospel waved under our noses.

He knows that a life of comfort and ease is spiritually speaking very dangerous for us.

So: What needs to break in your life so you see the preciousness of Jesus? What needs to be taken away from you?

In his fantastic little book on Romans 8, Supernatural Living for Natural People, Ray Ortlund writes:

Paul discovered in Jesus a treasure so rich that he took all his hard-won lifetime achievement awards and junked them in order to have Jesus. And then he looked at that pile of earthly prizes there in the dumpster, threw his head back and laughed: “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:8, RSV). If you are a Christian, but bored, maybe you need to lose something. You cannot just add Jesus to an already crowded life. So what do you need to off-load, so that your heart can feel the surpassing worth of knowing Christ? And do not stop off-loading until that sense of privilege in Jesus really starts to percolate. When our hearts thrill to his surpassing worth, the world loses its appeal.

Speaking personally, I can say that it wasn’t until I lost everything that I found out I had everything in Christ.


3. Christ is most precious.

The breaking of the expensive gift, its pouring out all over the Teacher, was not a waste because he was more valuable than it. All gifts are wasted if they don’t adorn the Giver.

All precious gifts must adorn the most precious gift of the precious Giver himself or they cease to have value.

Here is Spurgeon, from a sermon on 1 Peter 2:7:

Go and see some of our sick and dying friends; go and talk to them about the Reform Bill, and they will look you in the face and say, “Oh, I am going from this time-state: it is a very small matter to me whether the Reform Bill will be carried or not.” You will not find them much interested in that matter. Well, then, sit down and talk to them about the weather, and how the crops are getting on—“Well, it is a good prospect for wheat this year.” They will say, “Ah, my harvest is ripening in glory.” Introduce the most interesting topic you can, and a believer, who is lying on the verge of eternity, will find nothing precious in it; but sit down by the bedside of this man, and he may be very near gone, almost unconscious, and begin to talk about Jesus—mention that precious soul-reviving, soul-strengthening name Jesus, and you will see his eye glisten, and the blanched cheek will be flushed once more—“Ah,” he will say, “Precious Jesus, that is the name which calms my fears, and bids my sorrows cease.” You will see that you have given the man a strong tonic, and that his whole frame is braced up for the moment. Even when he dies, the thought of Jesus Christ and the prospect of seeing him shall make him living in the midst of death, strong in the midst of weakness, and fearless in the midst of trembling. And this proves, by the experience of God’s people, that with those who believe in him, Christ is and ever must be a precious Christ.

If you have Christ, when you are breaking open in suffering or death, you will find you have a precious Christ!

His preciousness is total and complete:
Romans 10:12 says he has riches to bestow and Psalm 50:10 says the cattle on a thousand hills are his, so you know Jesus is unrivaled in his resources.
Proverbs 3:19 says “The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens” so you know Jesus is unparalleled in wisdom.
Ecclesiastes 8:4 says “For the word of the king is supreme,” so certainly King Jesus’ supremacy is undoubtable.
In Isaiah 6, the cherubim cry out, “”Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” so you know Jesus’ glory is boundless.
Ephesians 1:7-8 says “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight,” so you know the grace in Jesus is invaluable, incomparable, gratuitous, and infinitely precious.

Our Christ’s preciousness is more than deserving to be adorned with the drink offering of our very lives. And it is our willingness to adore him in and through our breaking open that shows we believe this.

From internetmonk.com
Daniel Jepsen: The Sin of the Orthodox

Job and his False Comforters from the Book of Hours of Étienne Chevalier

Job and his False Comforters from the Book of Hours of Étienne Chevalier

The Sin of the Orthodox
by Daniel Jepsen

Note: by “Orthodox” I am referring to those who are biblical and traditional in their theology; I am not referring to the Orthodox Church.

• • •

Each time I read the book of Job I find deeper meanings.  As I read it this week, one idea that kept coming to my mind was the sin of those who thought they had God all figured out. At the conclusion of the book, God responds to Job, and then responds to Eliphaz and his friends. The friends were, you will recall, the “miserable comforters” who debated with Job about the justice of God.

The substance of their great debate could be summarized this way:

  • The friends argue that since God is just, Job’s afflictions must be the punishment for some hidden sin.
  • Job argues in response (repeatedly): Look, I don’t have any “secret sin” that deserves this kind of punishment, so God is not being just to me.
  • The friends then accuse him of undermining the notion of God’s justice.
  • Job responds by repeating what he knows: I am innocent, yet enduring incredible suffering, and this suffering seems to come from God himself.
  • Again, Job implies, “God is not being just with me”.

Now, of course, we readers are let into a secret.  Chapters one and two describe the scene in heaven where God twice describes Job, “a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil”.  In fact, God says, “there is none like him on earth”.  So we know before the dialogue begins that the three friends are in the wrong.  Job’s afflictions are not punishments.  Job is blameless before God.

But imagine if we did not have this information.  Imagine we walked in to the story right where the dialogue starts.  On the one hand, we have three wise, older men who have an exalted view of God and are eager to defend his ways.  They are completely orthodox in their understanding, and their first priority is to protect God’s reputation.  On the other hand, you have Job, who seems to be not only suffering, but positively afflicted by God (the suddenness and completeness of his losses cannot be mere coincidence).  Job argues that he is blameless, therefore God is not being just, while the orthodox friends argue that God is just, therefore Job is not blameless.  Who is right?

Job on the Dung Heap (detail), Bourdichon - Getty Museum

Job on the Dung Heap (detail), Bourdichon – Getty Museum

Wait: before you answer, again try to strip your mind of what you know from chapters one and two.  And you may find yourself in the position of Elihu.  Elihu is a rather mysterious figure.  He shows up without introduction and his name is not mentioned again after his long speech (chapters 32-37).  His speech does not serve to advance the dialogue at all, and neither God nor Job nor the friends respond to it.

Here is what I think: Elihu is intended to function as a warning to the reader.  His viewpoint and speech (“Job, you are wrong; I know wisdom, and you are speaking folly”) are the natural conclusion we are tempted to draw simply by listening to the speeches (without the prologue).  In his speeches, he not only agrees with the orthodox friends, but is angry at them for not being able to withstand Job’s arguments.

It is right after his speech that God Himself arrives on the scene and, incredibly, joins in the argument.  God does two things.

First, he reproves Job (chapters 38-41) for failing to understand what Kierkegaard would later call “the infinite qualitative distinction” between God and man.  Job is wrong because He simply is not in a place to understand God’s ways, and therefore is recklessly hasty in saying that God is unjust to him.

The second thing God does, then, is surprising.  He approves Job, especially in contrast to his orthodox friends.  Twice he tells the orthodox, “you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has”.  In fact, God regards this not only as a mistake, but a sin, for which they need to offer a sacrifice and ask Job(!) to pray for them.  God seems less upset by Job yelling at Him than the friends yelling at Job on God’s behalf.

This, then, is the surprising conclusion to the dialogue: God and Elihu are contrasting figures, even though Elihu represents the orthodox views about God. Elihu listens and takes the side of the orthodox friends and rebukes Job, while God listens and ultimately takes the side of Job and rebukes the orthodox.

And this is the heart of the book of Job: God’s ways are, in the final analysis, not able to be fully understood by man, simply because we are never in the position that He is in.  Even the most godly (like Job) and the most orthodox and cerebral (like Job’s friends) can never understand God in the same way they understand the things of this world.  In fact, God describes the words of the orthodox friends, who felt they were speaking godly wisdom, as “folly”.

Now, here is where the rubber hits the road.  I have always taken pride in holding correct, orthodox views of God and theology.  And I still feel that the traditional, conservative, biblical viewpoint is the best way to understand the world in which we find ourselves in.  Yet, books like Job warn me to be very humble about this.  In the end, I have little doubt that my orthodox, evangelical theology will be like the fig leafs the first couple used to clothe themselves: wholly inadequate, and replaced by something else by God’s grace.

What does this mean practically?  It means that we should be careful that our study of theology should never outstrip our understanding of “the infinite qualitative distinction”.  It means our eagerness to defend God should never come at the expense of loving people.  It means we must learn to live out our worldview fully, all the while realizing that when we see Him all of our previous “knowledge” will be fig leaves of foolishness.

From The Living Room
bullet points

  • I could make all kinds of excuses for why I haven’t written here, but truth be told it’s just been a hard year on my heart and I haven’t really wanted to. But things are getting better. If it helps, I haven’t really been writing much this year at all, which is ironic, given that one of my new year’s resolutions was to write more, but so it goes. Like I said, though, things are getting better. I don’t know what that means for the future of this blog, but it means a lot for the future of my life, I guess.
  • Besides, Lin-Manuel Miranda favorited my reply to one of my tweets today, so naturally I have a big old grin on my face because of that.
  • Early U2 makes really interesting working background music.
  • I need someone to give me a crash course in Photoshop. Next best thing is a decent book on the subject. Suggestions?
  • I’m re-reading To Kill a Mockingbird since I have Go Set a Watchman on hold at the library, and there are so many gems in here I forgot about, like when Jem and Scout go to Calpurnia’s church. Also, I am just now realizing that this is actually Jem’s coming-of-age story, a little more than it is Scout’s.
  • I also just read Marilynne Robinson’s fine novel Lila, which closed that trilogy pretty nicely for me. One thing I noticed that I’m still pondering: She never calls John Ames by name directly, just “the old man” or “the preacher”. A distancing, a refusal to claim him as her own, connected to her constant thought of leaving. And she always calls her previous tribe by their names (except for Arthur’s boys, perhaps).
  • Much love to you all, anyone who’s still reading this. Hopefully something more will show up soon.

From Jared C. Wilson
Too Big Not To Fail

Marten_van_Valckenborch_Tower_of_babel-largeThen they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”
— Genesis 11:4

If we look at Babel as the prototype for the pursuit of fame and power, we see a few interesting things by way of diagnosis. First, the pursuit of renown is really a pursuit of significance. Why do I want you to notice me, to tell me how great I am? Not because I fundamentally trust or value your opinion, but because I fundamentally distrust any notion that I’m anything in anywise special. The proof in that is that one ounce of praise from a few isn’t enough; I want more from many. Secondly, the pursuit of renown is the result of fear. “Let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” We seek security in attention.

Like the Babelists, we build our towers, not knowing the great dangerous irony — that the stronger we get, the more vulnerable we become. The fall is prefaced by pride. The split second before the great collapse is the proudest we’ve ever been.

The lesson appears plain: if you really want to fall, get big.

Mary sings, “he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts” (Luke 1:51). By building our towers, making our name for ourselves, we are stone by stone actually contributing to the very thing we are trying to avoid: getting “scattered,” being “dispersed.”

King Uzziah is a cautionary tale. He was “marvelously helped, til he was strong” (2 Chronicles 26:15). When he was strong, he got proud (v.26). He got big. We think bigness is the way. We think bigness solves lots of problems. We think bigness is safety. We think we can get too big to fail. But it’s the other way around. We see over and over — outside of ourselves, of course — that it’s possible to get too big not to fail.

Which is why the greatest man ever to live (Matthew 11:11), aside from Jesus himself, knew the real secret to success, the real work of significance, the real strength of safety:

He must increase, but I must decrease.
— John 3:30

From such small hands
New Things: A Housework Plan

I’m one of those women who love the benefits of a clean home, but hate to clean. I believe that King Solomon was inspired by the sight of his servants endlessly dusting the palace treasures when he wrote, “I have...

From home is behind, the world ahead
Renovation of the Heart Week 12 Recap

Kingdom of God and Grace

This week was slightly different than most because we had a guest speaker: (and a boy! Uh!) Russell Minick! Although, this week was not without tears. He came to speak on the Kingdom of God and Grace and help us define what they are.

He used slides and many of them came from Dallas Willard himself (who Russell knew! AND who graduated from Baylor. Sic 'em.) The lesson was more intellectual than emotional, and I will try to help you understand it. Bear with me because both Russell and Willard are incredibly smart people.

The Bible commands us to walk as Jesus walked (1 John 2:6). And, contrary to popular belief maybe, that is possible. Russell says that we make Jesus to be other from us because we blame everything on his deity, but in reality he did everything through his humanity. Chew on that cookie.

Russell said his goal for this week was to clarify the Kingdom and Grace. Here is what he said about these things (and a couple other things).

The Kingdom of God is, most simply, the range of God's effective will, where what God wants done is done. For God, that is probably literally the whole earth. But, it's less about a place and more about a jurisdiction. And the Kingdom of Heaven is interchangeable. Jesus is first and foremost Lord and King (not Savior as we often think).

"The Gospel of the Kingdom is the gospel". Jesus heard and was baptized not to show us but He did it for him. Ithought that was so cool. It was not something I had thought of before. The gospel announces the King of Kings and asks us to change our thinking to align with him.

Kingdom of Heaven
is a different sphere, not a different place. It is all around us, we just are not in sync. But, there are specific moments in time when the Kingdom of Heaven and Earth overlap (Jacob's ladder, the tabernacle, Jesus, etc). The "end times", or what you will, will be a reconciliation of Heaven and Earth. It is a going back to our original purposes.

Our original purposes
are to Love God, Love others and represent him on this earth. And that's where Grace comes in. We are saved to love well. If we don't love well, we do not understand the gospel. So Church should be about relationships.

We don't contain grace. It is always working around us. It is not a passive thing. It is working in us and through us. It is changing us. It is important for us to not nullify grace so we must work out our salvation. God is not freaked out by our bad habits. But, he empowers our progress with grace.

That's where the Spiritual Disciplines come in. And, according to Russell, memorizing scripture is the most important discipline. So, again, like we've been learning this whole summer, reading the Bible is important.

If you get anything out of this summer, I hope it is a longing to read the Word. Or even just a sense that you should. The longing will come later. Just do it.

Kinda like Russell said about Willard, the truths are actually very simple and what we've known since we began getting to know God. It's just another way to look at it to slightly understand the mystery of God better.

From Jared C. Wilson
The Felicity of Christ

Pride-and-Prejudice-Jane-AustenJohn Flavel writes:

Christ [is] the very essence of all delights and pleasures, the very soul and substance of them. As all the rivers are gathered into the ocean, which is the congregation or meeting-place of all the waters in the world: so Christ is that ocean in which all true delights and pleasures meet… . His excellencies are pure and unmixed; he is a sea of sweetness without one drop of gall.

The two eldest Bennet sisters in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice are best friends, but their personalities are like night and day. Elizabeth is cynical, contemplative. Jane is ever-optimistic, perhaps even naive. She can think of nothing bad to say about anyone. If anyone ever wrongs her, she instinctively forgives (if she can even see the wrong to begin with). In one scene, Jane and Elizabeth are celebrating Jane’s engagement to be married. This exchange grabs me:

“I am certainly the most fortunate creature that ever existed!” cried Jane. “Oh! Lizzy, why am I thus singled from my family, and blessed above them all! If I could but see you as happy! If there were but such another man for you!”

[Elizabeth replied:] “If you were to give me forty such men, I never could be so happy as you. Till I have your disposition, your goodness, I never can have your happiness.”

There is Spiritual truth here! Had we forty shiny idols to buoy our affections, still these affections could not be mustered to enduring happiness. Had we forty ways into religious devotion to God, if none of those forty were Christlikeness through gospel power, we “never could be so happy.”

“Have this mind among yourselves,” Paul tells us in Philippians 2:5, speaking of Christ’s attitude. Weymouth renders the verse, “Let the same disposition be in you which was in Christ Jesus.”

There is good news. Romans 8:29 tells us that Christians are predestined to be conformed to the image of Jesus. We will have his disposition.

The felicity of Christ is conferred to his bride. Through the power of his Spirit, we receive the mind of Christ and the Spirit’s fruit, which may be another way to say Christ’s disposition. Even the persecuted church has cause for great joy, for unbounded happiness of soul. Because they know Christ in his suffering, they know Christ in the joy set before him. They know Christ in his gospel, which is the antidote for universal despair.

Until we have his disposition, his goodness, we can never have his happiness.

Adapted from Gospel Deeps: Reveling in the Excellencies of Jesus (91-92)

From Jared C. Wilson
The Divisive Person Is The One Who Departs From The Truth

parting_of_the_ways_by_kapanaga-d4fssmvDo two walk together,
unless they have agreed to meet?

— Amos 3:3

Christians who affirm the normative, traditional, historical, orthodox view of the Bible’s teaching on various sins are always accused of being divisive when in sticking to their affirmations they must disassociate with those who don’t.

It’s a disingenuous claim, however, since unity could have been preserved so long as the agreement did. But when one changes a mind on such matters the division has begun with them (1 Corinthians 1:10), not the one who says, “Ah, you’ve changed the rules; you’ve changed the agreement.” It would be like the adulterer crying out after his wife as she’s walking out the door in anger and shame that she’s being divisive.

The person who objects is often told they are “singling out” this particular sin as over-important, as more important than unity! But it is not those who protest who are singling out particular sins. It is those bringing the revision, the ones asking, “Did God really say…?”, the ones who suggest it should now be normal what we previously agreed was objectionable who are singling it out, elevating it above the agreement. They are the ones making it the sticking point.

We think of the historical development of credal truth. Many of the historic creeds that so many professing Christians affirm as litmus tests for doctrinal orthodoxy began as responses to introduced heresies. As unbiblical ideas took seed in church communities, those who affirmed orthodoxy thought it best to formulate and codify what had been previously assumed. But it wasn’t the drafters of the creeds who were being divisive. It was the heterodox.

And it isn’t those who believe the Bible when it says sin is sin that are being divisive; it is those who are introducing the idea that some sins aren’t. If you push a decision on something that innovates on the Bible’s testimony, you’re creating the division. Division begins with that first departure. The first step away from the agreement is the original divide. It is simply necessary, then, for Christians to walk away from a divisive person (Titus 3:10). Perhaps they may even say, “Farewell.”

They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit.
— Jude 18-19

From such small hands
The Wedding of the Century

Did you know that we had a little wedding this summer? Could there be a mother alive who doesn’t think that her own daughter’s wedding was the most beautiful, magical and romantic event in the history of weddings? My daughter...

From home is behind, the world ahead
Renovation of the Heart Week 11 Recap

Transforming the Soul, or Gingers Have Souls Too

Hey guys. I'm back from the land of the rich and famous (LA).

So, I went to Sphlashtown yesterday. The kids I was with and I spent a long time at that water treehouse thingy-- you know, the one that has the huge bucket above the playground that is constantly being filled with water until it dumps over and everyone gets soaked. Well, there we are with a huge group of strangers all waiting under the spot where the water would rush down. No one knows when it's gonna rain down, you just have to wait. And then all of the sudden it comes and it is the most water you've ever had poured on top of you. And I was thinking about how silly it is that we would wait for liquid to get poured on us. But, as I was being rained on, I couldn't help but feel like this was one of the best feelings in the world. WHY?! I have no idea. But, for some reason God put it inside all of us to not only need water to live, but to love being in it and having it wash over us. I think he did that so that people for millions of years would have good analogies when talking about God's living water for us. But, it is a good picture of God's living water that he pours into our souls. Our souls cry out to God, waiting for his love to rain down on us. It is our refreshment, our life, our peace, and our joy.

I really enjoyed this lesson. I think partly because Willard kinda takes a break on slamming you down with deep conviction. Instead, this week literally felt like taking a drink of water (my use of water analogies might run dry in this blog........ pun intended..........). I also liked it because it shifted the way I thought about myself and God and the connection between us. Here is the outline of the lesson and what stood out to me:

The soul is a mystery to us all and that is what makes it beautiful. This lesson was not about pinning the soul down, but to give us enough insight into how the Lord uses the soul and to keep us marveling at it.

We have all used the term "soul" about a thousand times. But, I was surprised that I didn't fully know what it was. We all know instinctively it is the deepest part of us. I usually "feel" my soul in my gut. I like the definition I think Stephanie (or maybe Willard) gave us that it is the fundamental, foundational part of who we are. It is your "sim card". The other interesting, important point is that it is not accessible to us. We don't have the same relationship with the soul as we do our emotions, our thoughts, our will, our body, or our social aspect. But, it influences every part of us.

When we think of our soul (the deepest part of us) it would make sense that the soul would be the most central ring in the circle of our life. But Willard actually says that it is the outer ring. Because it is the access point for God. He first comes to contact to us through the soul.

The soul is the access point, and it is also our source for food and drink. One of the analogies for the soul comes from Psalm 1:1-3. We are a tree planted by a stream, and our soul is the roots that go deep under. The roots drink from the water (see, water) and then provide nourishment for the rest of the body. Stephanie shared the analogy of a company as well (the soul is the computer system that allows all the other parts of the company to be able to do work).

Okay so I want to share with you what I understand the soul to be after this lesson. I can't guarantee that I'm right, but here is how I see the soul:

When God created us, He breathed his image and likeness and life into us.* So, every one of us -- whether we believe or not -- has a soul and has a piece of God inside of us. The deepest part of us is the likeness of God. We can't access it, only God can. I think that maybe the soul is the only part of us that was not affected by the fall. It is the only thing in us that can't be evil. It is solely a door way for God to access our spirit and it is a bucket to hold the living water inside of us. We can choose to neglect it and keep the door shut, so that God has no way to pour refreshment and life into us, letting our emotions and will drive us or we can choose to keep ourselves open to the rushing flow of the Lord to take us over. That is why there is a tension inside of us. Our soul and our flesh are literally waging a civil war inside of us.** Our soul is thirsty*** and I think it deeply longs for God, but our mind only feels the longing (which is why we can fill our souls with things other than God). Our soul knows that we need nothing more but a huge bucket of God's peace and love and nourishment to rush over us. To overcome us. Our soul knows it even when our mind and heart do not. Our soul longs for the word like it is a nice bucket of Texas Roadhouse rolls. What we can do is feed it with the word and open up the door into our soul to allow God to come in and keep our soul from shriveling up inside us. When our soul overflows, it will clean out our bodies. And when our soul is healthy, so is everything else in us because we will be submitted to God.

*Genesis 2:7
"And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul" (KJV).

**1 Peter 2:11
"Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul" (ESV).

***Psalm 63:1
"My soul thirsts for you" (ESV).