29 December 2010

Best of 2010?

Oh, so many 'best of 2010' topics available to write about, and I'm just not up to it yet.  A couple years ago, my wife and I sent out 'Valentines Letters' instead of Christmas letters...I think I may take that approach on this blog this year...I'll do the best of 2010 sometime in the first quarter of 2011.

In the mean time, I'm getting ready to take my 15-year-old twin boys deer hunting this weekend.  Everything is looking good so far, minus the fact that they have mandatory basketball practice Friday morning (the tags allow us to hunt Friday through Sunday, but I'll be in church Sunday, so that day is out).  That gives us Friday afternoon to travel, scout, and make a plan.  Saturday is hunting day. Hope the deer are anxious to get shot, or we might end up with an empty freezer this year.

I'm not mentioning the possible blizzard that might hit...so far, things are still looking good (for it to pass to our north), but things change in a hurry around here.  We'll see.

27 December 2010

Blogcation Almost Over

Well, I still have a week to go on my vacation, but I think the blogcation needs to be over...maybe tomorrow.

I'm supposed to take my two 15-year-old sons deer hunting this weekend.  We drew two (hard to get) youth tags for the Gene Howe Wildlife Management area over near Canadian, TX, for New Year's weekend.  There's a big storm over the west coast now...the track it takes will determine if we hunt in nice 50-degree weather, windy, cold 20-degree weather, or if we get snowed out in a big blizzard.  Right now, it appears to be tracking north, which will mean cold and windy, but at least we'll get in the field.  Hopefully.

20 December 2010

Plagiarism in the Church: How Big a Problem is it Really?

This post started out as a reply to a Collin Hansen post on this subject.  I found out about Collin's post by reading Justin Taylor's blog post.  I located Taylor's post by using Google Reader, where I follow him, among others.  (There, now I can't be accused of doing what I'm writing about!)

Some time ago, a few years after I wrote my doctoral dissertation, I was interested in trying to find out if anyone had used my work in any further work.  I entered a few phrases in Google, and was surprised how many hits I got from people who had used my words, but clearly hadn't seen my dissertation.  I know they hadn't seen it, because their work was published before mine was.  I know I didn't use their work, because in the process of writing a dissertation, one becomes pretty familiar with the research he or she is consulting (for those who have written one, you will appreciate the humor of the understatement, I hope).

So, do this little experiment yourself-

Take a phrase, sentence, or a few sentences from something YOU have written that you KNOW you did not plagiarize or borrow from another source…something original to you; and ideally, it should be something you have not published or made public.

Now, Google it.

Except for rare instances, you’ll be surprised at how many ‘hits’ you get. How? If you didn’t steal it, and it wasn’t published for others to steal from you, how did others use your original words?

I think there are several factors in play.

First, we are talking about a finite body of information (the gospel). Within the limitations of a language, there are only so many ways to say what the gospel is. There are bound to be repeats.  I'm talking here about unintentional, chance-based used of similar language.

Second, and this is probably the biggest factor, our memories are not like video tape…they are dynamic. We hear things, and then repeat those things, sometimes years in the future, without realizing where the thoughts came from.  We think these are original thoughts, but they are original only in the sense we have processed them in our minds and forgotten their genesis.  (It makes one wonder if there is truly any original thought...how are we to know that no one in history has ever thought what we are thinking?)

Third, in combination with the second factor above, the internet has made it possible to put almost any thought in writing in a public venue. In the past, we had a lot of unoriginal thoughts (though we didn’t realize it) and they passed through our minds, or were even spoken in public, and nobody noticed. Now, when we repackage an idea we think is original but is in fact something we heard in the past, we put it in a permanent, written format, and put it online where the net bots can quickly find it. This makes the (unintentional) problem more noticeable.

Finally, a rhetorical question: If we express what we understand to be the gospel, do we OWN that material? If not, how can the use of that verbiage be called theft if someone else uses our words?  If you believe that you DO own that material, what does that say about the gospel?  There was recently a series of posts over on the Resurgence blogs about copyright and Christian music intended for use in worship.  It was thought-provoking, though I don't know that it went far enough at times.  (Personally, I believe that if one writes worship music, markets it as worship music, and then profits from it above and  beyond ones costs, he or she is going to have a tough argument to convince me he or she has not robbed God by committing some form of usery against His people.  This isn't a fully-developed idea by me yet...I'm working on it.  I may be wrong. But it bugs me, deeply, to think that a gathering of believers, singing a song together to praise God, may be breaking the law by not paying a license fee to some organization.)  I wonder how much of that applies to sermons and Sunday School lessons?

There is certainly a large gap between intentional use of someone's thoughts and the mistaken regurgitation of an idea we heard long ago but don't really remember isn't original with us. But motives are hard to judge. I would urge caution before accusing someone else of plagiarizing your work, at least until you’ve tried the little experiment I mentioned above.

19 December 2010

Blog Vacation?

Being on Christmas vacation makes me want to take a blog vacation as well.  So if you don't see much posted here for the next couple weeks, that's why.

Trying to think of a good new word for  it...blacation?  Blogation?  Vlogcation?

Hmmm.

17 December 2010

Was Jesus Really Born in a Barn?

Of course, it is possible that Jesus was born in a barn, but I don't think he was.  At least, not the barn that you see in your imagination when you hear he was laid in a manger.

Why not?

The primary reason I don't think he was born in a barn is an obscure verse in the Old Testament, Micah 4:8.  Now, everybody knows Micah 5:2, the passage prophesying that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.  But Micah 4:8 is less well known.  It says,

And you, O tower of the flock,
        hill of the daughter of Zion,
    to you shall it come,
        the former dominion shall come,
        kingship for the daughter of Jerusalem.
 (Micah 4:8 ESV)

The phrase, 'tower of the flock' is migdol eder in Hebrew (I'm not a Hebrew expert, so I'm transliterating...you might find it under different transliterated spellings, such as migdal or edar, etc.).

It means, as the English text indicates, a watchtower for a flock of sheep.  It refers to an actual tower in an actual location just outside of Bethlehem.  It isn't so much the location as it is the purpose of the place that makes me think this was very possibly the birthplace of Christ.

The place was first mentioned in the bible in Genesis 35:21.  At this point in Genesis, Rachel dies giving birth to Benjamin.  She was buried very near the site of the tower.

Remember that at this time in history, the temple in Jerusalem, less than 5 miles away, was still standing, and sacrificial worship was in full practice.  The priests at the temple kept large flocks of sheep (and likely other sacrificial animals) for sale to those who needed them for temple worship.  These flocks were of course not kept at the temple (that would have been scandalous because of the odor and mess), but just outside Bethlehem.  It is these flocks to which I believe Luke refers in the nativity story (see Luke 2:8).  The flocks weren't simply allowed to roam around with no one keeping an eye on them.  The tower served as a place from which a few shepherds could keep an eye out for predatory animals, both four-legged and two-legged kinds.  It was supposedly about 20 to 25 feet tall, with an upper story and a lower story at ground level.  I've been told the foundation is still visible on a hillside just outside of Bethlehem today.

You may have heard it said that the nativity story is not believable because shepherds wouldn't have been out in the fields during the cold winter months that this time encompasses.  Private shepherds likely weren't.  However, the temple flocks were kept year-round, as sacrificial worship didn't take time off for cold seasons.  So these flocks were tended by shepherds on a year-round basis.

Since these animals were destined for sacrifice, they were specially cared for.  As you know from passages like Exodus 12:5, Leviticus 4:32, and Numbers 6:14 (there are many others), the sacrificial lamb was to be without blemish (a picture of the sinlessness of the Messiah; see 1 Peter 1:19).  One of the critical times for these animals was the first day or so of their lives.  They were prone to being damaged out in the fields as they stumbled about just after they were born, and any bumps and bruises at this tender age would likely show up as scars (blemishes) when they were old enough for temple worship.  In order to protect them, the shepherds brought the pregnant ewes into the ground floor of Migdol Eder where there was a special birthing room.  It was not like an ordinary stable, but was kept ceremonially clean by the temple priesthood.  When the ewes gave birth to the new lambs, the babies were wrapped in swaddling cloths, and laid in a manger (feed trough) for a few hours to protect them from any scarring accidents.

If you read Luke 2 carefully, you see there isn't any information there as to the location of the Messiah.  So how did the shepherds in the fields know where to go and find him?  Note the sign given to them by the angel in Luke 2:12:  "And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger."  What was so unusual about a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths?  Nothing.  How could it be a sign of anything then?  The key was, "...and lying in a manger."  These shepherds, employees (as it were) of the temple, would have known instantly and exactly what and where the angel meant for them to go to find the newborn king.

So why is this important?  It matters in this sense:  everything in the Old Testament points toward the Messiah, the Christ.  The entire Jewish sacrificial system was a type or shadow of the one sufficient sacrifice to come- the son of God.  The laying of the sacrificial lambs in mangers, wrapped in swaddling cloths, is just one more proof of the reality and authenticity of Jesus as the Messiah, the final lamb and sacrifice which would take away the sins of the world (John 1:29).

There is much more to say on this topic, but I'm trying to keep this at a readable length.  If you google 'migdol eder' (and variant spellings) you can find all sorts of variations on the idea, some more credible than others; many which include much more scriptural support than I have.

Migdol Eder as the birthplace of Christ is an idea worth considering.

Winter Wonder-Land (The TX Panhandle)

I write, 'Winter Wonder-Land' instead of the traditional, 'Winter Wonderland' on purpose...the weather around here in the winter makes you wonder what the heck is going on.

Wednesday this week we broke the all-time high temperature record (old record was 71 degrees) with a temp of 76 degrees.  Today it is snowing.  Sorta.

They've been talking for a couple days about this snowstorm, and yesterday I participated (because of my job as a college dean) in a conference call with local officials and the National Weather Service about this approaching snow storm.  They were very confident in their models, maps and all.  We were in the 2" - 4" range, with 6" - 10" just north of us.  It was supposed to start in the early a.m., with the heaviest snow starting around 6 a.m.  Right now (its 8:30 a.m.) there is no snow on the ground.  A few light flurries around, but nothing to brag about.  Looking at the radar, it doesn't look like we'll get much more than a dusting.

I wonder what happened to that storm?

16 December 2010

Things the Internet Has Killed (Part 3)

If you didn't see the first two posts in this series, they are here-

  Part 1
  Part 2

We are now to the next set, which includes vacations, privacy, and facts.

Vacations-  How in the world has the internet killed vacations?  Well, primarily by our own addiction to it.  It kills vacation by our staying in constant contact with it, whether that be email or just casual surfing, FB, or whatever.

I remember taking my laptop on vacation with me many times in the past.  I would spend quite a bit of time on it to the detriment of time spent with my family.  Then I started leaving it at home.  I got much more family time, but ended up with free time and nothing to do when the others were doing their own things (wife shopping, kids napping, etc.).  So I finally decided to go ahead and take the thing along, but to turn off the wi-fi connection.  It works.  Now, I can work on stuff (like my Sunday school lessons), read (I have Logos 4 installed, which includes a couple thousand books), or just organize my disorganized photos and files, if I have down time.  But since the wi-fi is not hooked up, I don't get bogged down in FB or with email.

Bottom line here is, it's really up to you, not the existence of the web, as to whether your vacation is ruined or not.

Privacy- This is the 'scary' one of the bunch, and one that we seem to have less control over than we'd like, or think.  The only real control we have is to not participate in the internet at all.  Even then, there will still be information about us on the web.  Have you ever typed your name into a Google (or other) search box and hit the enter key?  Try it...you'll be surprised at how much information is out there about you, and at how many people share your name (even if you have one of those 'unique' names, chances are its not unique).

The people that share your name are actually more of a problem than you might think.  How much of that information do you think gets associated with you by mistake?  And how hard is it to fix these false associations when you find them?  What if one of these people is a criminal?  In this culture, when everybody wants to be interconnected with all the information obtained by others (see the 9-11 Report if you need evidence), chances are pretty good that you have false information about you or connected to you floating around on the internet.

Now this, just in- a group of popular web sites has been harvesting your browser history to see if they can target  you with ads.  This 'history snooping' isn't new, but is just recently made the headlines.  Its just another example of how you have to not participate to save your privacy.

Facts-  This one cuts two directions.  First the good part:  facts are a lot easier to find with the ubiquity of the internet.  Even 20 years ago when I was a grad student, finding much information about much of anything required a trip to the library.  A couple hours in a card catalog, or searching on the terminals (after about 1990), yielded quite a few connections...all of which had to be physically found in the stacks, as they were called.  (I suppose they are still there, and still called, the stacks, but I bet its a lonely place these days.)  Now, if you need to know something, you type it into a Google box.  As one person (name forgotten) recently quipped, "In the past, if you needed to know something, you asked a smart person.  Now, the person you ask starts with G-O, and its not God."

But there's the rub...now, to find the information you need, and know it is legitimate information, you need to know more about the subject, or at least something about the sources, that you find.  And one problem I never had with a card catalog was getting two hundred thousand hits for a two-word title or phrase.  How are we to ever know if we are finding the right resources when we only skim through a few pages of the three thousand pages listed?

There's always the pages like Snopes.com, where we can check facts.  But who's checking the fact-checkers?  I remember one of those internet myth emails going around a couple years ago about Snopes being a liberal watch-dog site that was biased against conservatives.  I have no idea if it is or not, but you can bet that you won't find an entry at Snopes.com about it!  (Oh, come on...think about it...if it is true they are a liberal plant, they won't have an article confirming that they are a liberal plant...if they are not a liberal plant, they won't have an article confirming that they are a liberal plant).  I hear there are at least a dozen fact-checker sites now...but I'm not familiar with any of them.  And word is there are more starting up all the time.  But again, how do you know if the one or three fact-checker sites you consult are bias-free?


On with the show in a few days.

15 December 2010

Blog Experiments

Well, as you can see, the embedded YouTube video takes up more space than is allotted in the template.  I guess those things don't automatically scale down to the available space.

I'm still new at this thing (that's why my blog isn't nearly as pretty as some of the experience folks'!).

Speaking of experienced folks, one of the Pyromaniacs has taken over an old blog titled, The Calvinist Gadfly.  This looks like an experiment itself, but a promising one.  I'd recommend signing up because I have a feeling it will be an interesting and fun experience watching the thing morph into whatever it will become.



















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Holiness of God "Sermon Jam"

I found this video on YouTube and thought it was too good not to pass along.  Instead of a simple link, I thought I'd try embedding it here.  We'll see if it works.

This is a collection of sermon-segments from R. C. Sproul, C. J. Mahaney, and John Piper.

Things the Internet Has Killed (Part 2)

Today, I'll be taking up the next four things on the Newsweek list of Things the Internet Has Killed.  These are civility, the CD, the phone book, and letter writing.

If you missed it, the first post is here.

Civility- At first thought, this one is a no-brainer.  But upon reflection, I'm not so sure the internet is completely at fault for the loss of civility in our society.  I think the series of events and trends that started the process rolling go back as far as one can see, and certainly back to the 1960s.

Another major player in the loss of civility can certainly be laid at the feet of talk radio.  But if you look at the early pioneers of talk radio, such as Rush Limbaugh, you don't have to look hard to see that what he was doing back in the late 1980s and early 1990s was a response to a lack of civility in the media, particularly television 'news' programs; he didn't create the incivility himself.  Rush has certainly been on the cutting edge of the new style of radio entertainment, and has spawned entire industries of the same, both on the right and on the left (though the left has really struggled to pay the bills with their version of talk radio).

The early days of the internet, with its bulletin board discussion groups and the like, gave birth to the anonymous online personality.  It didn't take long, with the popularity of the early  ISPs such as CompuServe (CS) and AmericaOnline (AOL), for this idea to become common in the general public.  Just like how the anonymity of being in a vehicle increases the risk of actions like road rage, the even more anonymous anonymity of the online world made polite discourse nothing more than a nuisance to many.  Today, I can't even pull up a YouTube video to show my kids for fear of all the obscenity in the comments, right there on the page.  As G. K. Chesterton once said, total depravity is the one aspect of Scripture that is empirically verifiable.  He was right.  Look no further than the comments posted on most popular blogs.

The CD- If you are my age (46), the CD came along late enough in life, and lasted long enough, that is is a surprise to many that is is already becoming obsolete.  At least, the store-bought kind is becomming obsolete.  Now that I can download songs for 99 cents from Amazon.com, I don't bother buying albums any more.  Why pay ten or twelve bucks for an album with two or three good songs?  Now I can get the ones I want without all the fluff and filler.  But since I drive an older car, with no USB port, I have to burn these to a blank CD to listen to them when I'm on the road.  So that part of the CD market is still alive, at least until automobiles are all connected to the web (which is already happening) or have sound systems designed for the newer media, like Ipods and such (which is really already happening).

I do wonder, though, if the demise of all hard media will last.  After all, solid-state drives (things like USB thumb-drives and the memory inside your Ipod or MP3 player) haven't been around very long, and the durability over time of these types of storage is really not well known.  How many fifty-thousand-song MP3 collections have to disappear before everybody starts keeping hard-copy backups?  At the rate that online videos, music, and similar productions are growing, keeping up with all the backups will be a major industry unto itself.  Blank CDs will certainly be a part of this (I'm including DVDs under the label CD here.)

The Telephone Book- This is actually one of the few things that I'm glad to see die.  Just recently, I was contacted by AT&T Yellow Pages about renewing my ad with them.  (I run the typical ad for a college/university for my work.)  I gleefully told them I had bought my last YP ad and they need not bother contacting me again in the future.  They didn't seem surprised.  My ad cost me just under $2000 a year, and I'm not sure anyone ever saw it.  Back in the 'old days', when you opened the phone book when you needed to find any kind of business or institution, a phone book ad was essential.  These days, I don't know if anyone under my age ever picks one up.  I've read statistics in several recent reports showing that almost all phone number searching, as well as business address searching, is done online. 

I was recently at the Wayland Baptist main campus down in Plainview for a meeting.  In the area where student mailboxes are, they stacked close to a thousand copies of the yellow pages.  That was done several months ago, as I happened to be on campus when they were unloading them.  When I was back the other day, it was hard to tell that a single copy had been picked up by the students.  They just aren't interested in such a throwback to their grandparents' world.

Now, with smartphones, one does not even need to dial information (which costs money)...instead, one can browse the internet (for free) for the number.  The phone book is indeed dead.

Letter Writing-  Unlike the proverbial warning on your passenger mirror, this one is bigger than it appears.  As a college instructor for years, I often wondered why people couldn't write.  It wasn't long before I realized that folks couldn't write for two simple reasons:  they don't write, and they don't read.

I've believe for a long time that people write at their basic reading level.  That is, if you read comic books and pulp fiction, you write like those, and if you read Tolstoy and Shakespeare, or the Bible, you write at a level considerably higher than the comic book crowd.  Throw on top of the fact that most students don't read anymore (they watch TV or play video games instead), the secondary fact that the bulk of the writing done by most people of school age now is in the form of 140-characters-or-less text messages.  That certainly explains why essay questions on tests never go past two or three sentences...nobody can think that far out.  (I wonder what this has done to people's ability to play chess?)

One of the main reasons I started this blog was because I thought I was losing some of my ability to communicate effectively in writing.  Here's my first post, hinting at this reason.  Over the past year-and-a-half, my writing ability has certainly been helped by writing this blog, and I've been able to remember a lot of stuff I thought I'd forgotten about spelling, grammar, and all the other minutia of writing.

I would encourage everyone who cares about their ability to communicate or wants to keep their mind sharp to start a blog.  Maybe no one will ever read it (I don't think I have much of a following yet), but it will be beneficial to you to think, to put your thought into writing where others can challenge them, and then to defend (or change your mind about) the things you've written.


More in a few days.

14 December 2010

Things the Internet Has Killed (Part 1)

There was an interesting essay in Newsweek a couple weeks back.  It can be found in its entirety here.  (It is a photo-essay.)

The essay, in photo format, listed the following things as casualties of the internet.

1. The 9 to 5 Workday
2. The Video Store
3. Concentration
4. Civility
5. The CD
6. The Telephone Book
7. Letter Writing
8. Vacations
9. Privacy
10. Facts
11. Polaroids and other Film
12. Reference Books
13. Yearbooks
14. Peep Shows and Adult Bookstores

There's way too much here to tackle all at once, so I'll break this up into a couple (or three or four) posts.

9 to 5 Workday- This cuts both ways.  Newsweek's take is that we end up working all hours of the day, weekends, and holidays since 'the boss' can send us something via email or smartphone to which we need to respond regardless of the hour or day.  That can certainly be true, but it doesn't have to be.  Smartphones have an 'off' button, and email doesn't have to stay open on your desktop, nor do you have to carry your computer with you out to the driveway to play catch with your kids.  (If you've tried to call me on my cellphone on a Saturday or Sunday, you got to leave a message...empirical proof that smartphones don't have to stay on 24/7, in spite of what my wife thinks.

I certainly appreciate the availability of quick contact when needed.  As someone who is responsible for a facility (my college campus), a family (wife and kids), and a job (the VP and Provost who are my bosses), sometimes it is important that I be available.  On the other hand, as the boss(I'm a campus dean), I don't recall ever phoning my employees after hours unless we were going to close the campus due to weather; and I don't recall emailing anything to them after hours unless it was something for them to deal with the next day at work.  This can certainly be abused, but I try not to abuse it, and I can't say my bosses have ever abused it either.

There are also a good number of reasons why a 9 to 5 workday has become, in some ways, obsolete.  But try to convince the federal government of that fact.  (Recall George Bush's inauguration speech in January of 2005...one of the things he committed himself to do was to 'fix overtime for the private sector'.  It didn't happen.  The feds are just too big and too entrenched to fix, sometimes even if you are the president.  It's easy to make things worse (just ask Mr. Obama about that), but very hard to make them better.


The Video Store-  I'm sure you've all seen this happening.  In fact, I recall reading the prognosticators talking about how the internet would kill Blockbuster twelve or thirteen years ago, before there was much of any live streaming of movies.  Now the only thing new about this concept is trying to figure out what other related parts of our entertainment lives will be changed by the web.

I'll say more about this one when I discuss number 14 in another post.

Concentration- This one is sure to spark some debate among those who've thought about it much.  On the one hand, we have folks telling us how the internet, text messaging, Twitter, Facebook, etc. are all working together to damage our brains and make us unable to relate to other people, focus on a single task for more than a few seconds, or even to think about abstract things at any depth.  On the other hand, a different set of folks is telling us that all the interaction with multimedia is keeping our brains healthier (the use-it-or-lose-it phenomenon), especially among the 70+ crowd who have finally started adopting computers and the internet, even if they still can't program their VCR (see above for why this never-learned task suddenly became a moot point).

I don't know where this one is going, but I do have some idea that it didn't start with the internet or social media.  I've had a theory for years that much of what is now called ADD/ADHD in children is simply the results of conditioning by too much television consumption.  It isn't the programs that are the problem, its the commercials. 

The average time an image stays on screen during a TV commercial is about 0.8 seconds.  Pay attention next time you have the TV on, and try to do the 'thousand and one' or the 'one mississippi' count during commercials, and you'll see what I mean.  Now, throw in thousands of those commercials, and think of the affects that this exposure has on the brains of two- and three-year-olds.  They learn to not concentrate by rote.  Parents who regularly read (yes, from a book) to their children don't seem to have nearly the trouble with attention that their counterparts who don't read to their young children.  Think about that- reading involves a child engaging her mind on a single topic for a period of time...five, ten, or even thirty minutes or more.  The imagination is used instead of sensory input, and the focus mechanism is honed and conditioned for use. 

This one will be worth watching for the near future...it should be within the next five years or so that we see any marked changes in concentration ability in teens who've been sending twelve thousand text messages a month instead of focusing on what they are doing.  That is, we should have some good evidence whether these changes are developmental (can't be easily reversed) or simply sociological (can be easily reversed).


Enough for this post...I'll pick this up in a day or two.

13 December 2010

I Love the 1590s

Other than missing the date by about 70 years, this was pretty funny.  Probably even funnier if you are a Lutheran or a German (I'm neither).  But to anyone in the reformed tradition, it's worth a watch!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hJewiD6YaSk&feature=related

07 December 2010

Remember Pearl Harbor! (And St. Crispian's Day)

Today marks the 69th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. 

There are fewer and fewer veterans left who were there...I think the number is in the low hundreds now.  One of the indicators of the gravity of that event is, that even after all these years, many of the veterans of that event choose to be buried in the military cemetery that is comprised of the USS Arizona.  Some of them left good friends there, others just can't get past the events that changed their lives so much in a couple of hours on that December morning.

I honor those who served there, and everywhere else and every-when else, on this day.  Thank you for your service!

Many are aware of the excerpt from Shakespeare's Henry the Fifth St. Crispain's Day speech because of the TV series Band of Brothers.  I'd like to run a bit more of this in honor of those who served, because it truly captures some part of what it means to have been in combat together with your brothers-in-arms.

[The work of Shakespeare is in the public domain, but I borrowed this copy from this web site.  There is a short explanation of the historical events in which Shakespeare placed his fictional speech...interesting read.]



This day is call'd the feast of Crispian.

    He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,

    Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd,

    And rouse him at the name of Crispian.

    He that shall live this day, and see old age,

    Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,

    And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian.'

    Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,

    And say 'These wounds I had on Crispian's day.'

    
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,

    But he'll remember, with advantages,

    What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,

    Familiar in his mouth as household words-

    Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,

    Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-

    Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb'red.

    This story shall the good man teach his son;

    And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,

    From this day to the ending of the world,

    But we in it shall be remembered-

    We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;

    For he to-day that sheds his blood with me

    Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,

    This day shall gentle his condition;

    And gentlemen in England now-a-bed

    Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,

    And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks

    That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

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Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

I often hear this question, or some variation of it, from well-meaning folks.  But the question is really not a valid one.  A better question would be, "Why do good things happen to bad people?"

You see, there was only ever on truly good person in history, and bad things happened to him.  He was humiliated in public, turned over by a terrorist mob to an oppressive government, and tortured to death.  And all this was in my place (and yours).  I (and you) were guilty of all the charges the angry mob made, and more, but he was innocent, as the judge at one of his sham trials declared.  Nonetheless, that same judge handed him over to the military for torture and execution.

And we wonder why bad things happen to us?

R. C. Sproul, in his book The Holiness of God put it this way-

“If ever a person had room to complain of injustice it was Jesus. He was the only innocent man ever to be punished by God. If we stagger at the wrath of God, let us stagger at the cross. Here is where our astonishment should be focused. If we have cause for moral outrage, let it be directed at Golgotha.”

“The cross was at once the most horrible and the most beautiful example of God’s wrath. It was the most just and the most gracious act in history. God would have been more than unjust, He would have been diabolical to punish Jesus if Jesus had not first willingly taken upon Himself the sins of the world. Once Christ had done that, once He volunteered to be the Lamb of God, laden with our sin, then He became the most grotesque and vile thing on this planet. With the concentrated load of sin He carried, He became utterly repugnant to the Father. God poured out His wrath on this obscene thing. God made Christ accursed for the sin He bore. Herein was God’s holy justice perfectly manifest. Yet it was done for us. He took what justice demanded from us. This ‘for us’ aspect of the cross is what displays the majesty of its grace. At the same time justice and grace, wrath and mercy. It is too astonishing to fathom.” (Holiness of God, p. 121)

And all this happened to the most righteous "good" person who ever lived.

Understanding why bad things happened to a genuinely good man in history is the most crucial (pun intended) thing you or I will ever seek to know.  And the answer will change your future for all eternity.

06 December 2010

A Woman's Perspective on the TSA's Abridgement of the 4th Amendment

Amy Scott has written a two-part story about her experience and views on the illegal search methods employed by our government at airports.  This is a great read, especially for anyone who wants more than just a, just-the-facts-ma'am look at it.

Here's part 1.

Here's part 2.

Good read...don't skip it.

03 December 2010

Great Book Giveway (Includes ESV Bible)

Zach Neilsen is giving away a pack of books this week.  These are all definite must-haves...they include-

Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God by John Piper
Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe by Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears
Surprised by Grace: God's Relentless Pursuit of Rebels by Tullian Tchividjian
What Did You Expect?: Redeeming the Realities of Marriage by Paul Tripp
Rescuing Ambition by Dave Harvey
ESV Thinline Bible

Here is the link where you can read his blog and enter the drawing.

Why 'Xmas' Is Not, and Should Not, Be Offensive to Believers

R. C. Sproul gives a good concise explanation why the use of the term Xmas is not offensive nor an attempt to remove Christ from Christmas.

If you don't follow Ligonier's blog, you should...there are two or three useful little articles a day, just like this one.

Friday Follies- Help You Make it To Your Flight

Here's a good one from Buck Howdy over on YouTube.  It is to the tune of Help Me Make It Through The Night by Kris Kristofferson.

02 December 2010

The Last Vestige of Theology Around Christmas (Music!)

I've long been interested in hymns and their stories.  I have multiple iterations of those hymn-story books, and love reading about the origins and meanings of some of the hymns therein.  I especially enjoy reading about songs that are more than two hundred years old.

As Christmas season approaches, it isn't too hard to see that there is really little theology left in the holiday.  It has become secularized and commercialized (more of the latter, which results in the former, I think).  The last vestige of any theology outside church services is found in some of the Christmas music that has remained popular in spite of their lyrics.  Here's an example- I have XM/Sirius satellite radio in a couple of my vehicles, and I tune in to the couple of seasonal stations that they put up during the holidays.  One, called Holly, is really about as secular as it can get, and is new music, so I don't listen much.  The other, called Holiday Traditions, is more older stuff that we heard when I was a kid.  (But note, there is no Xmas hint in the station's title.)  The Holiday Traditions station plays a lot of secular seasonal music, but occasionally slips in a religious Christmas song, if it was performed by one of the greats (Crosby, Martin, Presley, etc.).  I heard Hark! The Herald Angels Sing yesterday.  Have you ever paid attention to the lyrics to that song?  The gospel is in there, and it can't be confused with any moralistic therapeutic deism, much less secular winter solstice worship.

Pete Scribner, over on his Sola Gratia blog (which I both follow and recommend), has just posted a couple of really neat posts about the song O Come, O Come Emmanuel

The first post of the pair is here, and the second is here

He talks about several aspects of this song, but also about how the real Christmas music works year-round, because it isn't oriented toward a holiday, but toward the gospel, at least the part of the gospel that is the incarnation of Christ.  I don't think the gospel orientation is why the songs have become traditions...if anything, the wording is offensive to secular culture and in many cases the lyrics get changed to fit the artist's taste (heard Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas lately?  It's not even a religious song, but the line, ...if the Lord allows has been changed to, ...if the fates allow.  And they say Calvinists are fatalists...).  I think R. C. Sproul got it right, in the video of the Q and A time at one of the Ligonier national conferences, when he points out that the high church music lasts because it is complex and strives to glorify God rather than be simple to perform; that's why the music has become a landmark.

But enough analysis.  Give these posts a read...they are worth the time taken as a devotional this time of year.

01 December 2010

She Will NOT Be Silenced

Dr. Laura's blog today needs to be passed on.  Even if you don't always agree with her, what she says is courageous and needs to be repeated.

Here's the blog.

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30 November 2010

The Tyranny of the Contemporary

A year or two back, Al Mohler gave a talk at one of the conferences he regularly speaks at which he titled, The Tyranny of the Contemporary.  He had many good points (as usual), but a couple were especially relevant to our culture today, and particularly to this part of the country.  One of these points was about how we are told that the gospel is offensive to folks today, and that this is a new problem.  Funny.  I think the New Testament writers made clear that this problem existed two thousand years ago, and Christian leaders since that time have continually reinforced the idea that the gospel was offensive to non-regenerate folks ever since.

Another point that Dr. Mohler made was in regard to the idea of full churches and empty preaching.  At least in the Southern Baptist denomination (in which I participate), this is true to some degree.  We measure pastoral success by baptisms, giving levels, and above all, attendance levels.  One will often hear pastors and laypersons alike asking each other at state or regional meetings how 'big' their church is.  "Whatcha runnin' these days?" is a common question.  I've never been asked how deep the church is.  Just how big.  Maybe it happens, but not when I've been listening.  And on top of that we keep reading about how we are losing our youth to secularism.  As Michael Horton puts it, we are not only not reaching the lost, we are losing the reached.  I won't say this is completely due to poor preaching and the abandonment of the gospel in preaching, but I'd be willing to bet some lunch money a good statistician could find a fairly strong correlation between these things.

Dr. Mohler also talks about the universality of these issues.  Citing John 6, he notes that 'seekers' never seek what ought to be sought and needs to be found.  He reminds us that after Jesus fed the five thousand, those in attendance looked not for spiritual truth from the source of this miracle, but rather they looked for more food.  Physical food.  Bread.  Not the bread of life.

And people say the offense of the gospel is a new problem?

So in response, we look to new ideas and programs to try and outfox the problems.  We look to contemporary technologies, contemporary worship styles, contemporary dress and mannerisms, contemporary programs, contemporary advertising campaigns, contemporary church names, and on and on it goes.  But where'd the gospel go?  I don't recall Paul saying anywhere that contemporary ideas were the power of God unto salvation, but we certainly tend to live like he did.

Every time we are tempted to buy into a new idea about anything, we ought to run it past Romans 1:16-17 four or seven times just to make sure we are keeping the main thing, the main thing.


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What Was Stevie Johnson Thinking? (Nothing to do with the dropped pass!)

Erik Raymond had a nice analysis of what Stevie Johnson said on his twitter account after dropping the pass against the Steelers Sunday.  Before we jump all over Johnson, we need to read the analysis carefully, because we will see some of ourselves in what Johnson said/did if we are honest.

Here's the link.

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29 November 2010

Doug Wilson GETS IT

Once again, Doug Wilson has posted on the TSA nonsense in a way that I simply can't match, so I'll send you directly there (pass Go, collect $200).

Wilson's Latest TSA Post

My family went to the Cowboys (er, Cowgirls?) vs Saints game in Dallas.  Guess what?  Wilson was right...we were separated into lines of males and females and were patted down upon entering the stadium.  But then, it shouldn't surprise anyone that if the TSA can be associated with noncompoopery, Jerry Jones can also.  That's a bit nicer than I'd like to put it, but this is a family blog.

Right now, I'd put a professional football game (if it happens to be in Dallas) as the biggest waste of money in America, right after the federal government, that is.   And on top of that, rather than a sporting event, it was more like a pagan worship service in a billion-dollar temple, complete with temple prostitutes (the pole dancers...yes, they have pole dancers at Cowboys games) and meat sacrificed to idols (what else can you call a ten-dollar hot dog?).

Billy Graham was right...if God doesn't judge the United States of American, he's going to owe Sodom and Gomorrah an apology.

23 November 2010

Krauthammer Gets It Right

Charles Krauthammer says it simply and about as well as it can be said- the latest TSA nonsense is, well, nonsense.

Read it here.

19 November 2010

TSA = Too Stupid (to be) Alive

When faced with the incredible stupidity of some people responsible for air security, I wonder how stupid the terrorists must be to not have killed off ten or twenty thousand air passengers by now. Read this if you don't believe me. TSA=Too Stupid (to be) Alive!

18 November 2010

Engaging the Culture

I recently read a very thought-provoking blog about engaging popular culture.  The post is by Ted Turnau, a professor at the Anglo-American College in Prague.  Here is a paragraph from his article, and by itself an absolute key for we who are raising children to understand the effects the culture around us has on those kids-

"Popular culture works not by blurting out a message, but through appealing to the imagination. A television show does not simply convey a message, such as ‘Life is meaningless, so have all the fun you can while you can’. Rather, it tells a story in which someone discovers the ‘truth’ of that message; it tells it in a style that underlines that message, and it invites us along for the journey. Popular culture works indirectly, suggestively, not like a slogan at a political rally, but like a poem or a song. It draws you in and gets under your skin. Therefore, you must be intentional in your approach to popular culture so that you understand its effects on the imagination (including the imaginations of your friends and neighbours)."

The whole article is here.  I encourage you to read and think about these things as you ponder how to effectively raise children, live as a family, and proclaim the gospel in a postmodern, secular culture.

Gate Rape

Here's some more fallout on the TSA adventure.  I'm beginning to think we might be able to get some things changed, especially if Drudge, et al., keep it up.

I picked up the term Gate Rape from a blog where it was so named by an airline captain.  I think it'll stick.

17 November 2010

TSA and Liberty

I'm joining a growing list of bloggers who are urging air travelers to resist the TSA's attempt to take naked pictures of them, or grope them as an alternative.

Here are a couple examples from Ed Stetzer and Doug Wilson.


I don't plan to let them see my wife and children naked, nor grope them like some kind of pervert.  We just won't fly for the forseeable future.  But what about people who fly for a living, either as airline employees or travel regularly for their jobs?

This kind of treatment by the government is immoral and wrong.  We (the people) must stand up and change it.

Gordon Lightfoot

Today in 1938 one of my all-time favorite songwriter/musicians was born in Orillia, Ontario.  My top-ten list of GL songs-

1. Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
2. Daylight Katy
3. Sundown
4. Carefree Highway
5. If You Could Read My Mind
6. Don Quixote
7. Me and Bobby McGee
8. Song for a Winter's Night
9. Summer Side of Life
10. Ghosts of Cape Horn
11. Minstrel of the Dawn
12. Cotton Jenny
13. Go-Go Round
14. Miguel
15. Rosanna
16. Songs the Minstrel Sang

OK, Gord's too good for just ten.  You can always download singles on Amazon.com for 99 cents each.  Here's Gord's page(s).   (No compensation for mentioning this.)

15 November 2010

Two Minutes? (Is there really hypocrisy in the gay-marriage debate?)

Every once in a while, a response comes along that is so good (or important) that it needs to be shared, even if the original document to which it is responding wasn't on the radar screen.  We have one here.

In this blog post by Frank Turk (on the Pyromaniacs blog, which I recommend you follow on a regular basis), he responds to an op-ed in the USA Today newspaper early last week.  The piece, by Kirsten Powers, is important only because so many people read USA Today.  (USA Today intentionally writes its stories at the 6th-grade to 7th-grade reading level...that should say something about its value, but that's another story.)

If you want to read the article first, it is right here.  The article is called, "Hypocrisy shrouds the gay marriage debate."  It is a great example of shallow thinking and how to use emotional manipulation and ad hominem attacks to deflect people away from actual thought.  (And people wonder why the print media has fallen on such hard times?)

If you've heard folks throwing around ideas about what's wrong with Christians who oppose gay marriage, and known the arguments were hollow, but you weren't sure how to answer them cogently, then read Powers' article followed by Turk's response.

It is amazing what a little clear thinking can produce, if we try it.

12 November 2010

Some Problems that Need Addressed

With apologies to Gary Gilley (because I heavily edited his list to make mine), here are some problems of the contemporary church that need serious attention these days-

  • Emergent Christianity is a sentimental religion
  • The view is that doctrines are unimportant and experience, not truth, is what matters
  • Tolerance is more important than truth
  • We should not seek to know God but to feel Him  
  • Sin is not a great problem 
  • The enjoyment of life is the primary purpose for Christianity
  • The Bible is not what it claims; authority rests in the individual and in pragmatism 
  • Jesus is simply an example for us, not a redeemer
  • The resurrection was not a historical fact
  • The Christian doctrine of salvation is to be criticized because it is narrow and exclusive
  • The doctrine of salvation presents a cold, cruel and unloving view of God
  • The betterment of the earth and the people and animals living in it is the church’s agenda

These are serious issues in need of a great thinker to evaluate them and give an answer from scripture, right?  Well, been-there-done-that, as they say.  All these issues come not first from the postmodern liberalism of the emergent church, but from classical liberalism of the 19th and early 20th centuries.  J. Gresham Machen addressed each of these (and more) in his classic book Christianity and Liberalism, written in 1923.

If you've never read that book, and the problems of contemporary church culture bother you, you need to read it.  If you don't know much about Machen, I can recommend a book that might be hard to find, but is worth the effort- Toward a Sure Faith: J. Gresham Machen and the Dilemma of Biblical Criticism, 1881-1915 by Terry Chrisope.  I used to work with Dr. Chrisope...he teaches history and religion at Missouri Baptist University in St. Louis.  The book came from his doctoral dissertation at Kansas State University.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.  And the more new problems we find, the more we realize there is really nothing new under the sun.  As Chesterton once said, "The wit of man is insufficient to invent a new heresy."


Friday Follies- Obamanation (Ed Montana)

This one's been around a couple years, but I don't think I've mentioned it here before.  This feller is a local cattle rancher who happens to be a pretty good singer and musician.  This song is his take on our culture today.

Ed Montana- Obamanation

Enjoy!

10 November 2010

Getting Your Theology From Rap Music?

I've been listening to rap music, most of the time involuntarily, since the mid 80s. Not all rap was distasteful to me...I actually bought Run DMC's King of Rock (the vinyl LP version) in about '86, and owned a few others (Kurtis Blow, Fat Boys, etc.) back then. The rise of gansta rap (Cop Killa, etc.) in the 90s turned me off to the genre as a whole, and I mostly ignored it for the past 20 years, with the notable exception of DC Talk. One thing I thought for sure...I'd never use rap music to get theology to my kids.

Boy, was I wrong!

The recent arrival a new set of folks on the Christian rap scene has changed everything. I've heard some of their stuff recently and found the theology in the music was better than probably 70% of what I've heard from pulpits in churches in the last 10 years. Wow.

Here is a blog post from CT's Collin Hansen on the new groups, along with some links to recent songs/videos on YouTube. Don't blow these off...take a listen, and pay attention to the lyrics. They are gospel-centered, gospel-focused, and gospel-saturated in a way that makes Top 40 Christian Pop almost a waste of time.

Yes, I'm buying the new LaCrae album when it comes out on CD. You should, too.

08 November 2010

New Style on Classic Hymns from Page CXVI

A few months back, I found a new musical group (band?) called Page CXVI.  They do a variety of things, but one of the best is their spin on old hymns.  It is a refreshing new style, without copying pop rock.  If I can make the embed code work, here's a player with one of the hymns off their newest album (coming out later this month).

If this thing doesn't work, here's the link to the song on their page.



02 Be Thou My Vision by PageCXVI

05 November 2010

Sending Kids off to Christian College (or, Be Prepared, and Know Your Stuff)

Because I have made a career out of being a college professor and administrator, I find myself feeling somewhat responsible for the mess many parents get in with their children when they send them off to college.  Not that I'm at fault for their choices, but because I don't think those of us who know what's going on sound the alarm loud enough or often enough to parents who don't know what's going on.

What's going on, you ask?  (There's no shame in not knowing...most of it has happened as quietly as possible...can't afford to offend donors and parents of future students.)

How about the complete secularization of many formerly Christian colleges, without any changes in the name, mission statement, or even the statements of belief (for those schools that still have them) to reflect the secular nature of the schools. 

R. C. Sproul offers this short essay from Tabletalk Magazine about this very issue.  If you are about to send your kids off to college, and want them to have an experience that is at the least friendly to the Christian worldview and orthodox Christianity, you need to read this article.  (Also, at the Tabletalk link, you'll find a whole series of articles on Christian colleges and Christian education.  I highly encourage you to subscribe to Tabletalk magazine...it is the real deal for serious believers.)

But more importantly, as you'll see in the article, you need to ask some direct questions of some faculty and administrators at those colleges you are considering.  Don't assume that because you had a good spiritual experience there a generation ago, that your child will have the same opportunity.  Things change, and usually not for the good.  (That's an unfortunate consequence of the reality of the doctrine of total depravity.)

(I've mentioned a few scary and eye-opening articles in the past...this one on college professors in particular relates to the topic at hand.)

03 November 2010

Why Do Athletes Sometimes Act Like They are God?

I'm on a blog-roll today.  But when I read this story on Dr Laura's blog, I couldn't help but pass it on.  As the dad of four athletes, two of whom are in high school, it is frightening to me what can happen when these kids are put on a pedestal because of their physical abilities.  This is an example of that very thing run a muck.

I'm not even sure where this happened (her blog doesn't say).  But if it was anywhere near me, I'd be calling some school board members and giving them an ear full.  Is it any wonder why we see the behavior we see in professional athletes, if they've been coddled like this since high school (or even earlier)?

A Reminder to Parents of College Kids

Burk Parsons wrote this article, Deus Pro Nobis, in the current edition of Tabletalk magazine.  It is a scary (but accurate) picture of the constant lowering of the bar for both academic and parental expectations for the college student; but it is also a reminder of the fact that, "greater is he that is in me than he that is in the world."

That's an important reminder, and a clue that we continually need the gospel in our lives.

31 October 2010

Today is Reformation Day!

Today may be Halloween to many, but to me it is Reformation Day.  Those of us who celebrate it commemorate the anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the church door at Wittenburg in 1517.  While the events of the start of the protestant reformation are many and diverse, most accept this event as the impetus that started it all.

Here is the best concise explanation of the ramifications of that event on our culture and the church today (from Ligonier Ministries, of course).

30 October 2010

Missionary Steve Saint Builds a Flying Car

This is an interesting story; if you saw the movie End of the Spear, it is a compelling story.  Steve Saint is the son of Nate Saint, one of the missionaries martyred in 1956 trying to establish contact with the Waodani (Auca) tribe in the Amazon jungle.  If you want the whole story, go rent End of the Spear, and get a box of tissues while you are out.

Here are the details, and here is a video of the car/plane in action (you have to sit through a short ad first).

The FAA has certified the device, the first time a flying car has been so recognized.  Wow!

21 October 2010

What's a Good Study Bible These Days?

Since I teach a Sunday School class, I've been asked a few times which study bible one ought to buy; which one is the most accurate translation, has the best notes, etc.  Those are tough questions to answer in generalities.

TRANSLATIONS

First, there are a number of good translations, starting with the good old King James Version (KJV).  Most of the modern version are good as well.  But before you can pick a version, you need to ask yourself what kind of philosophical foundation you want in the text.  Bible translations are done on one of about three (give or take) foundations- (a) literal, word-for-word; (b) dynamic equivalent (so-called thought-for-thought); or (c) paraphrase.  I have condensed these a bit, and there are many ways to make distinctions such that there are more ways to translate the bible than these three, but I've done this for the sake of brevity.

Some paraphrase versions- New Living Testament (NLT), New English Bible (NEB), Today's English Version (TEV), Phillips', Living Bible, The Message.  If you want to read scripture like a story, with writing at the 9th-grade level or below, these are your target.  You will gain readability, but lose accuracy and detail in translation.  In addition, several are the work of single individuals, so you get their biases in the text.

Some thought-for-thought translations- New International Version (NIV), Today's NIV (TNIV), Revised Standard Version (RSV), New RSV (NRSV), Amplified Bible, updated New American Standard Bible.  These try to strike the middle ground between literal, word-for-word translations and the paraphrases.  On the whole, they are mostly good and useful for most people.  If you want precision to the original text, they aren't as good as the next category, but they are certainly better than the first category.

Some literal word-for-word translations- KJV, New KJV (NKJV), original NASB, English Standard Version (ESV).  The KJV is the historical standard, in spite of a few translation issues.  However, it is written on a 16th-grade reading level, and many people find the language inaccessible.  The NKJV is an excellent translation, and I recommend it.  The original and updated NASB versions are good as well, though the flow of the language can be stilted in some places.  The ESV is one of the newest version, and in my opinion, the best.  It is as readable as the NIV, but retains much more accuracy to the original languages, and retains the genders in the original languages.

STUDY BIBLES

There seem to be almost as many study bibles available now as there are versions.  This is really a bit silly, though in our consumerist culture, I can see why this is so.  If your primary interest is understanding the text and the meaning of the original authors, I can narrow the list down to just a few.  Here are my recommendations, in order-

  (1) MacArthur Study Bible, ESV or NKJV

  (2) Reformation Study Bible, ESV

  (3) ESV Study Bible, ESV (obviously)

In terms of conservative, gospel focused commentary, I don't think you can do better than the MacArthur Study Bible.  Since it is now available in the ESV (as of Summer 2010), it's a no-brainer.  Dr. MacArthur provides more meaningful and helpful notes on the text, stays true to the original intent (as defined by historic, post-reformation orthodox Christianity), and is a bona fide biblical conservative, than any other translation out there. 

The Reformation Study Bible, edited by R. C. Sproul, is also excellent.  It has notes of no less value, but there are fewer of them.  It has the advantage of having been compiled by a committee of men rather than a single individual (like MacArthur), which can be important (though not in the case of Dr. MacArthur's work, in my opinion). 

The ESV Study Bible is the biggest in terms of the volume of helps and notes.  As a result, it is BIG.  I keep one of these on my desk for reference, but don't carry it to church.  It has a tendency to move a bit further to the left in terms of the notes, compared the the two bibles above, but it is still a very conservative, evangelical (in the traditional sense) study bible.  It has the best (most, and high-quality) maps and charts.  And if you buy one, you get free access to the online version of the study bible, which I find very helpful.

These are just my recommendations...you may find another that you like better, and that's fine.  But if you ask me, these are the three suggestions you'll hear.

20 October 2010

Wednesday Wisdom: Six Reasons to Love Church History

When I was young, church history was taboo to me.  I grew up in a denomination that claimed (at least locally) exclusivity as the church; it claimed that it was an extension of the first-century church and all other manifestations (i.e., denominations) were false.  (And yes, by extension, all those folks in them were bound for hell.)

So looking at church history was not a good thing to be doing...it raised too many questions.

As I've aged, I've of course looked into these things for myself, and found church history to be both fascinating and frightening at the same time.   But mostly, I've found it to be enlightening.  Hebrews 13:7-10 certainly teaches us that we should look at our past, and for good reasons.

I recently ran across an online article about why we should love studying church history.  In it, the authors (Rick and Susanna, relatives of one of my favorite bloggers, Tim Challies) look at why church history is important.

There are a lot of church history books out there.  Some are very specific to an individual or event, or a period of time.  These are too numerous to mention.  Others are more general, covering long periods of history in a more superficial way.  These are a good place to start.  Some are very academic in nature, and are about as much fun to read as the instructions that came with your most recent 'some assembly required' purchase from China (excuse me, Wal-mart).  Others are written for the non-academic audience, and are much better.  Of these, I recommend Justo Gonzalez's book for both readability and accuracy.  It is two volumes, but CBD has a version with both in one hardcover volume, and the price is very reasonable.

Of the more specific books out there, one I recommend is a compilation of multiple specific events/people.  It is called Turning Points by Mark Noll.  Of course, one of the best places to start with a biography is the classic Here I Stand (Martin Luther) by Roland Bainton.

I should also mention, for those who like audio-format learning, that a semester church history course by a fantastic lecturer, Dr. David Calhoun of Covenant Theological Seminary, is available various places online.  Here is a set of the first half (Ancient and Medieval church history), and here is a set of the second half (Reformation and Modern church history).  You'll need to do a free registration to get them...really, it's free.  These can be downloaded and burned to CD or MP3 player for easy listening.  These lectures are engaging and enjoyable...not at all boring or overly academic, for having come from a seminary course.

13 October 2010

Wednesday Wisdom- 'Missional'...what does it mean?

I've heard the term missional thrown around for a number of years now, and most of the time I hear it, context is the only way to try to figure out what the author means by it.  I've interacted on other blogs with authors, asking for definitions of words at times, and often missional is one of the words I want defined.  I'm usually ignored.

A few days ago, I ran across this blog post by Ryan Kelly over on the Gospel Coalition web site.  It is by far the most helpful article I've read on missional and missionalarity (that's a new word I just made up...much like others use words in new ways).

I hope you find this as helpful as I did.  Use the hyperlinks...there's a lot more additional info buried in those.

12 October 2010

Monday's Meanderings- What do Sex and Salvation Have in Common? What about the Puritans?

Today's blog by Tim Challies is an excellent look at what sex and salvation have in common, and how they relate to each other.  It is much more useful stuff for defending traditional marriage than the usual fare like, "it's Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve".

Ever consider reading Puritan literature?  I didn't think so.  Neither did I, until I started seeing how much many of the pastors I respect were reading it.  Ligonier has a neat article on why we should, at least occasionally, read the Puritans.

Joe Carter had this funny, but true, quote a while back- "Whether they are Lutheran, Methodists, or Presbyterian, when it comes to religious engagement online, all bloggers act like Baptists."

Yes, I know this is a day late for a Monday post, but in the interest of being truly meandering, I meandered into Tuesday.

My plan is to start some regular features on this blog.  Here's the idea-

Monday's Meanderings (Mondays, of course)
Tuesday Twos (interesting posts or articles of interest that pair up, by chance or Providence...some Tuesdays)
Thursday Thuggery (some Thursdays...point out the nasty, mean evidence of total depravity in our society)
Friday Follies (humor, Fridays, of course)

I haven't decided what to do on Wednesdays.  Since I'm already a day behind, maybe I should make Wednesdays, Wednesday Wiggle-room, to get caught up.

:-)

07 October 2010

Atheism and Morality- Is there such a thing as morality beyond God? (Thinker Thursday)

This started out as a question asked by a friend in our local church social network called 'The City'.  My friend Chris posted this-

I’m always interested in British thinking.  It is often quite different from what we typically encounter in the Texas Panhandle.  The article linked below is an interesting essay on morality.  I would be curious to have someone decipher the article for me.

    Morality beyond God


I initially responded with the following post-

[begin post]

What is there to decipher?

    This author is very much infused with Nietzsche-an “God-is-dead-ism” and is trying to find a basis for a universal (morality) in a worldview of relativism.

    She does get one thing very, very right.  She says, “However, the enthronement of God as the source not only of the laws of nature but of moral law has its origin not in the argument from design, but in the narrative of the scriptures.”  That’s absolutely true.  If we reject the authority, inerrancy, and divine inspiration of scripture, we leave ourselves not with a three-legged stool, but a no-legged stool.  One look at the direction of American culture is all the emprical evidence we need of this fact.

    Here’s her inescapable predicament…she claims, “No human being is exempt from the temptation to make things worse in his own interest, nor from the responsibility not to do so.”  That’s a moral absolute, in a statement with no foundation in which to ground it.  Who says (if not God, as she claims) that no human being is exempt from anything?  How dare she state an absolute from within her worldview of relativism?  (If you make the statement that ‘there is no absolute truth’, is that statement absolutely true?)

    Without the absolute of an infinite creator who establishes moral law, there are no absolutes in human behavior.  There’s not even a standard by which to judge good or evil.  Atheists like to point out the ‘problem of evil’ for the theist.  However, in reality, they have it backwards.  If there is no God, there’s a much bigger ‘problem of good’ for them to deal with.

    No absolute moral authority, no morality.  In fact, to state that there is a basis for morality outside God would itself be an immoral statement, because you are infusing yourself with absolute moral authority.  Everything moves from’the good’ to ‘the power’.  As Marx said, if you remove the absolutes of God, then all that’s left is me gaining power over others.

    Look at the two hundred million murder victims of the 20th century for evidence that he was right.

[end post]

It occurred to me a bit later to add a spin on Tertullian's quote about, 'What hath Athens to do with Jerusalem'...so I added, 'What hath London to do with Amarillo?'

Chris replied in much the same way as R. C. Sproul, Jr., did, in this very useful blog post from Ligonier.org.  (If you want the Cliff's Notes version, Tim Challies give it here.)  Basically, the answer is, 'much in every way'.

I was thinking about this last night and this morning when I ran across four different blog posts over on James White's website, aomin.org.  These posts are all responses to the 'Consensus Statement' (which aomin.org humorously calls the 'Atheistic Ethics Confession of Faith') published recently by militant atheist Sam Harris and others.   These are much more detailed in how they answer the ideas that we can have moral codes without ultimate moral authority.  I highly recommend you take time to read them.

    A Christian Response to the 2010 Consensus Statement on Morality, Part 1

    A Christian Response to the 2010 Consensus Statement on Morality, Part 2

    A Christian Response to the 2010 Consensus Statement on Morality, Part 3

    A Christian Response to the 2010 Consensus Statement on Morality, Part 4

 This isn't easy reading, all of it, but it is important reading.  Are you prepared to do anything more than just blush and stammer when one of your acquaintances hits you over the head with, "We don't need God to have a moral code in society...how can you insist on the need for God?"  If you aren't, please re-read Jude 3 and 1 Peter 3:15, then come back to these articles and become ready.

06 October 2010

American Theology: Justification by Death Alone

This past week in our Sunday School class, I talked briefly about what has become the American ideal in terms of the theology of justification- not sola fide (justification by faith alone), and not even a mix of justification by faith and works.  The ideal in this culture is justification by death.  In other words, the only thing required of us to receive entry into heaven is that we die.

R. C. Sproul has written on this in numerous places, and has put an outstanding blog article on the Ligonier page this week.  Read it and tell me if this is not what you hear at funerals, and now, even in conversations with people about what happens when they die.

When you die, are you willing to risk standing before a perfectly holy God, and answering his query about why you should get into heaven with, "Because I'm dead?"

04 October 2010

The Inherent Danger of Consensus as the Arbiter of Truth

Does using Wikipedia ever bother you?

It bothers me sometimes.  I use it quite a bit...because it is so convenient.  But when I use it, I always take what I find there with a grain of salt. (What will we use when the FDA bans salt from out diets???)

As is the norm, no one says deep philosophical things about culture quite as understandably as Tim Challies.  (Well, I guess Al Mohler does, but who's counting.  And don't forget R. C. Sproul and his peeps at Ligonier Ministries.)  In this article, Tim talks about the problems with wikis (he uses Wikipedia as the example of all wikis).  In a previous article, Tim spoke about what Wikipedia does well, and it does do some things well.  But the second article is the one of import.  Read the first for balance, or to get perspective on the second, but the second is the important one.

Everybody with a kid in school, especially the younger kids in (say) fourth grade through high school, should zip off a copy of this blog and let their kids read it.  Or read it to them, if they can't read (you know how our education system is).  This is a tremendously important concept that reaches over from the cultural into the spiritual sphere.  Please don't go wandering through life without this perspective!

30 September 2010

Not 'Just Sayin'

I've noticed a new fad lately.  It's probably not all that new, but things move slowly around here.  The fad is to use the phrase, "just sayin'" after a remark.  The remark would usually be considered rude or inappropriate.  Then the speaker tags it with, "just sayin'" and everything seems fine.

It's not fine.

People, saying, "just sayin'" after a rude remark does not make the remark any less rude!!

It's like the much older practice, here out west, of adding, "ole" before an insult to make it a non-insult.  If you called somebody "that ole poker cheat", everybody laughed.  If you called him a "poker cheat", you got shot.  The difference between then and now is, the 'ole' was added to the front of the expression to indicate that no offense was intended.  The 'just sayin' is added after everything's been said, and then only to cover one's tracks after the damage is done.

Good grief.  If you are one of the 'just sayin' folks, grow the heck up and quit acting like a fourth-grader!

Just sayin'.

23 September 2010

Finding Christ in the Old New Testament

I hope the title, 'Finding Christ in the Old New Testament', is catchy, because the irony there is important for understanding a subtlety we often miss.

My Sunday School class is going through the books of First and Second Peter this year.  We are still in 1 Peter 1, and have not yet reached verse 13 (that's next week).  The importance of verse 13 is that it is the first time a command is issued in the book of 1 Peter.  Peter spends the first 12 verses of his letter (I know he didn't write it in verses, but that's the easiest way to refer to it) proclaiming the glory of God and Christ, and our place in Christ.

I constantly remind the class that being a Christian is not about finding a way to write God into their stories, but about finding a way to write themselves into God's story.  We often hear about 'finding Christ in the Old Testament' but we take for granted that we'll find Christ in the New.  Not necessarily so...we can often too easily pass over the proclamation of the gospel to get to the commands (passing over the indicative to get to the imperative) since we want to put 'shoe leather' on the text.  That passing-over is a mistake, and a serious one.

I need to get a patent on a new line of wrist bands called, "WHJD" ('What has Jesus done?'), but I'm guessing somebody already has.  However, I have a funny feeling that they wouldn't sell nearly as many as the old WWJD bands, simply because the reality of the focus of the gospel isn't nearly as important to many people, believers or not, as is living a moral life.

And that's exactly why we struggle so much trying to live up to God's requirements for us...we take the focus off of Christ and put it on ourselves, as we are woefully bent to do.

21 September 2010

How Porn Really Isn't a Victimless Crime

This summer, the First Things First blog published a fantastic article on the effects of pornography on society and on individuals. The article, here, is rather long for a blog-type post, but is well worth the read because of the multifaceted approach it takes to the dangers of this media, especially on the young.

Having teenagers at home makes this issue a lot bigger than it was a few years ago, personally.  With the recent brain research showing how adult images can re-wire the brain in ways that make normal relationships with people difficult to impossible, it gets even more scary.  (See this article, for example, citing how the exposure can make teens more rebellious.)  Add to that, porn now seems to be a growing problem among teenage girls and young women (see this article from Christianity Today).

This raises the whole question of the new media again...not just adult-related material but the whole concept of rapid access to shallow bits of information.  How is that process affecting our kids' ability to reason?

I don't have the answers, but some smart folks are working on it.  Hopefully, they'll have more answers sooner rather than later.

20 September 2010

Bookmarks Are Killing Me

Over time, I have managed to collect thousands of bookmarks in my various web browsers.  They've all come together in the latest version of Firefox, which I now use almost exclusively.

Here's the question...how do I efficiently go about browsing through all those bookmarks and then determine which ones I want to keep?  If anyone out there has a good way to do this, please let me know.  I dread the thought of actually clicking on each one to see if it still works, and then trying to decide if I need it anymore.

OK, I'm just being lazy, but if you know of any good organization methods for internet bookmarks, I'd love to have the reference.

16 September 2010

Sojourners a Leftist Fifth Column Organization

We already knew Sojourners leaned to the left, kinda like the Tower of Pisa viewed from the southeast.  But this puts the icing on the cake-

http://blog.christianitytoday.com/ctpolitics/2010/08/wallis_admits_t.html

I hope any of you with any ties to Sojourners immediately junk them.  Despicable.

14 September 2010

I Really Do Hate the Prosperity 'Gospel'

My Sunday School class had a discussion on the prosperity gospel last week.  They all know how I feel about it (I hate it), but not all have heard many explanations beyond the very brief as to why I hate it.

This short video clip is from John Piper, and illustrates through a video-style interpretation a short clip from one of his sermons on the problems with the prosperity gospel.

I don't think I can make it much clearer than that, other than to try to get folks to read all the passages replete in both testaments of scripture on how suffering is part of God's plan, and not punishment for sin or lack of faith.

Reftagger