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Ramblings

March 28, 2008

It’s Friday and there are a few things I’ve been saving in my Favorites folder that I’d like to mention today.

The Internet Effect on News

I say, without any hyperbole, that this article from TIME may be the most important you read today. In it Michael Scherer explains how news has become commoditized through the internet.

Here is a basic shift that has occurred in the news business: Because of the Internet, you, the reader, no longer have to buy information in pre-fabricated packages like “newspapers.” You can just go online and individually select the articles you want to read. And there are lots of websites and blogs to help you out. Every day, Matt Drudge, the Huffington Post, Yahoo, Google, Swampland, or a hundred other different bloggers, will pre-select articles for you and provide links. You choose your own adventure.

There is a corollary effect here: As the value of the package declines, the value of the individual article increases. Online, news organizations charge advertisers based on the number of hits they can get on a site. And since the hits are often coming for specific stories, and not the entire site, a blockbuster story that gets linked to, say, Drudge, is money in the bank.

This means that the competition on the level of the individual story is more intense than ever before, and there is enormous pressure to distinguish yourself from the pack. Assume, for instance, that 12 news organizations do the same story on the same day about how Hillary Clinton has a tough road ahead of her to get the nomination. Which story is going to get the most links and therefore the most readers? Is it the one that cautiously weighs the pros and cons, and presents a nuanced view of her chances? Or is it the one that says she is toast, and anyone who thinks different is living on another planet?

The author explains that, as we rely more on isolated headlines and less on the total package, we become enamored with flashy headlines and stories that are fast and provocative rather than methodical and accurate. “This trend towards story-by-story competition, and away from package-by-package competition, is a blessing and a curse. It is forcing better writing, quicker responsiveness, and it is increasing the value of actual news-making and clear-eyed thinking. But it is also increasing pressure on reporters to push the boundaries of provocation. I am not sure that the Politico story crossed any boundaries, or distorted the truth. I do believe that what Allen and VandeHei did is very much the future of news.”

This is something that we, as Christians, need to consider and consider well. Of all people we are the ones who should value truth above speed or controversy. We should be people who do not allow what’s controversial and provocative to titillate us, even while many of the facts may be wrong. I’ve seen this tendency in my own heart and at times even on my own blog.

The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment

I just found out yesterday that my book, The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment, has gone into a second printing. I’m not too familiar with the whole publishing industry and associated terminology but what I do know is that this means the book has sold most or all of the copies Crossway printed. I’m guessing their sales forecasts were for the book to sell fewer copies than it has. So I suppose that’s a good thing.

Thanks again to all of those who purchased it. Since the book’s release I’ve been blessed with many kind and encouraging emails. Several people have written to say that they are using the book with youth groups, Bible studies, and so on. That is both humbling and gratifying.

The Atonement

Some time ago Shai Linne was kind enough to send me a copy of his new album The Atonement. I can’t say that I listen to a lot of rap music so I’m not the kind of person who can adequately evaluate the album from a musical standpoint. However, I can say that it is very strong lyrically. The only real parallel I can draw is to Voice and his albums. The songs deal with real and deep theology. The music is interspersed with snippets of sermons by John Piper and C.J. Mahaney.

Here is a brief biography:

shai linne is living proof that God has a wonderful sense of humor. He once told his mom that he would never, ever become a Christian, completely oblivious to the fact that God had chosen him to be a Christian before time began. He doesn’t like the spotlight, so God gave him natural gifts that put him on stage as an actor. He doesn’t like to be in front of people, so God gave him spiritual gifts that are mostly public in nature. shai has appeared on numerous independent and national Christian Hip-hop releases, including his 2005 full-length debut, The Solus Christus Project. All this from someone who doesn’t like hip-hop and never pursued a career in music. Someone in heaven is having a big laugh at his expense. After all this time, shai still doesn’t get the joke.

For more information and to listen to song samples, check out his MySpace page.

Earth Hour

Tomorrow is Earth Hour. People around the world (but mostly around North America) will be turning off their lights for one hour at 8 PM. “Join people all around the world in showing that you care about our planet and want to play a part in helping to fight climate change. Don’t forget to sign up and let us know you want to join Earth Hour.” Toronto is a flagship city and many people here will be participating (though surely far less than the organizers would like). I noticed that even the Toronto airport will be dimming the lights for that hour. The management of a local mall just held a contest to seek ways to save energy. The prize was a trip for two to Australia. I couldn’t help but wonder…wouldn’t that trip to Australia cause more pollution than anything they might hope to save by turning down the lights? But I digress. I don’t think I’ll be participating (though it’s possible I’ll change my mind if we’re the only family in the neighborhood with lights on). How about you?

March 01, 2008

Our church is hosting its first ever conference today, and I was supposed to help out. I was looking forward to serving there and just doing whatever needed to be done. But it wasn’t mean to be. Just around the stroke of midnight, both Aileen and Michaela came down with some awful strain of the flu and both were up pretty well all night. I didn’t fare much better, what with changing bedding, rinsing out buckets, and all the other joyous tasks befalling those whose family members are sick. It looks like they are both over the worst of it, so hopefully whatever it was is short-lived!

My brain is pretty well convinced that it’s time for bed and I certainly don’t have it in me to write anything intelligent or profound. Instead, I’ll provide some miscellania—a compendium of weird and wonderful things that, for one reason or another, I’ve decided to bookmark this week.

A Great Review (of an Awful Movie)

I greatly enjoyed reading Christianity Today’s review of the new film “Semi-Pro” (starring Will Ferrell). It does a great job dismantling what sounds like an exceptionally poor (and immoral) movie, and this from a publication that, in my judgment, can sometimes be a tad soft on bad movies.

It’s not simply that Semi-Pro is bad, it’s that it has the appearance of a film actively doing everything in its power to be rotten as it can possibly be. At one point in the film, after making a cruel joke at the expense of another person’s feelings, Harrelson’s character takes an emotional step backward and questions/confesses, “Still not funny?” No Woody, not by a long shot.

Despite a riotous cast and a battery of what should be hilarious cameos, Semi-Pro shoots and misses the mark by a wide margin. Even the usually reliable Ferrell falls flat, prompting one to wonder if this film is uniquely bad or if Ferrell’s brand of humor has finally reached its critical mass.

Is there such a thing as an F minus?” one reviewer asked me as we filed out of the theater. If there is, it was invented for films such as this. Semi-Pro is the sort of film you’d describe as laughably bad except for the fact that you wouldn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea by seeing the film’s title and the word laughter together in the same sentence.

Semi-Pro has utterly no redeeming value, spiritual or otherwise.

An Interview with Warren Buffett

A couple of days ago I read a Q&A with Warren Buffett. Students from Emory’s Goizueta Business School and McCombs School of Business at UT Austin had been invited to visit Mr. Buffett for a session and one of the students recorded the answers. Though there were quite a few interesting points in the interview, one of them really stood out to me. Buffett was asked this: “Given your business success, your immense fortune, and your celebrity status, how do you stay so down to earth and humble? Are there specific people or lessons you have learned throughout your life that enable you to maintain this outlook?” Here is a part of his reply, focusing on the money he has given away in his lifetime:

I have never given away a dime that has any meaning on how I live. There are people that go to church and they put money in the offering plate that truly makes a difference in how they will live their lives, what they will eat, what presents they will buy for their children. There’s no reason to get puffed up over things you didn’t control.”

I was reminded immediately of the biblical story of the widow giving her last pennies to God while rich men blew trumpets to announce their greater but still lesser gifts. It is always interesting to hear of the world’s wealthiest people giving away billions of dollars, but Buffett realizes that his gift of billions have nowhere near the impact of a much smaller gift from a much poorer person. The gifts that God seems to treasure are those that are sacrificial rather than those that come from the overflow. Buffett seems to have some awareness of this.

Superficiality

The day of the Oscars I noticed a story describing what the Hollywood superstars go through so they can look their absolute best on Oscar night. The story was fascinating, hilarious and horrifying all at once. It’s amazing the physical standards our society holds up for these people. We expect them to look absolutely perfect. We don’t really care how they act before and after, as long as they look good. So the celebrities do their best to deliver in what must always be a losing game. Here are some of the things they do to themselves so they look their best on the red carpet:

  • The most crowded waiting room pre-Oscars is at the Beverly Hills clinic of celebrity skin specialist Sonya Dakar - where stars line up for her signature £1,000 facial. Madonna is said to have headed there for a treatment last year which includes a diamond scrub (using diamond particles to exfoliate the skin), an exfoliating skin peel, green tea face mask and red-and-blue UV light therapy to prevent acne.
  • It seems there was a tiny bump of fat which stuck out over the back of her dress. Rather than change her outfit, she dialled Manhattan dermatologist Dr Patricia Wexler, who says “it was easier to do a little liposuction than to fix the dress.”
  • Reese Witherspoon once had some Oscar gold sprayed into her hair. Top LA stylist Mark Townsend used Vavoom Gold Heat, a dry oil spray containing real gold. That way, Reese really sparkled on TV.
  • Another popular pre-Oscars trick is the Suddenly Slimmer body wrap. Stars are wrapped in bandages soaked in a special mineral solution (said to remove toxins) and then jump on an exercise machine for one hour. The inches are guaranteed not to come back unless they gain weight.
  • Most of the women in LA have been on the Master Cleanse (that’s lemonade with cayenne pepper and maple syrup, a saltwater drink and laxative tea) all week.”
  • While last year everyone clamoured for the best “eyebrow specialist,” this year it’s all about having your own “eyelash expert.”
  • The drugs Inderal or Atenolol are popular as they “slow down your heart so, when you’re up there on stage, you don’t get palpitations and become sweaty.”

It’s easy to laugh at these people when we see what they go through, but really the problem is with us and our crazy culture. We are the ones who make such absurd and unrealistic demands.

Escape the Trap

Escape the Trap” is a small booklet designed to give “men and boys a biblical basis for winning their battles with sexual temptation and pornography.” I read through it and found it to do a good job of describing the personal, relational and spiritual dangers of pornography and pornographic addiction. Sadly, such material is badly needed both within the church and outside of it. Thankfully, there are some good resources for people seeking to overcome or avoid such temptation. This booklet is one more example.

Language Rapists

A friend forwarded an excellent article from The Weekly Standard. David Gelernter, writing about feminism and the English language, asks “Can the damage to our mother tongue be undone?” He laments the gender-neutralizing of the language and the damage it does to our ability to express ourselves smoothly and easily. Here are a few choice quotes:

  • How can I teach my students to write decently when the English language has become a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Academic-Industrial Complex?”
  • When students have been ordered since first grade to put “he or she” in spots where “he” would mean exactly the same thing, and “firefighter” where “fireman” would mean exactly the same thing? How can we then tell them, “Make every word, every syllable count!” They may be ignorant but they’re not stupid. The well-aimed torpedo of Feminist English has sunk the whole process of teaching students to write. The small minority of born writers will always get by, inventing their own rules as they go. But we used to expect every educated citizen to write decently—and that goal is out the window.”
  • The fixed idea forced by language rapists upon a whole generation of students, that “he” can refer only to a male, is (in short) wrong. It is applied with nonsensical inconsistency, too. The same feminist warriors who would never write “he” where “he or she” will do would also never write “the author or authoress” where “the author” will do.”
  • We have accepted, implicitly, a hit-and-run vandalizing of English—the richest, most expressive language in the world. Languages such as French are shaped and guided by official boards of big shots. But English used to be a language of the people, by the people, for the people. “The living language is like a cowpath,” wrote White; “it is the creation of the cows themselves, who, having created it, follow it or depart from it according to their whims or their needs.” We have allowed our academic overlords to plow up White’s cow-path and replace it with a steel-and-concrete highway, hemmed in by guardrails and heavily patrolled by police.”
February 22, 2008

Occasionally I use a Friday article to take care of a few things that have been on my mind. I’m going to do that today.

A Media Junkie

Joe Carter is a media junkie. You can read about his media obsession right here. He took an inventory of his media consumption and found he reads “one daily newspaper, 12 magazines, and over 300 RSS feeds.” And even then he reads far more magazines than he subscribes to.

I do not subscribe to any newspapers, despite their best efforts to get me to do so. I think newspapers call more often than any other telemarketers trying to get me to subscribe. It must be desperate times. I subscribe to two magazines and intend to let both of them lapse when my subscriptions run out. I read People magazine when I forget to take a book when going to the doctor or for a haircut. I have found that newspapers and magazines are no longer a compelling source of information. I miss the analysis they provide, but see no other reason to subscribe to them anymore. I do, though, subscribe to 100 RSS feeds or so and I do enjoy skimming those headlines looking for nuggets of gold. Some I read for pleasure, some for information and some out of habit.

How do you consume media today? How much do you consume?

Dear America

Dear America. Please stop complaining about everything.

Sincerely,

Tim from Canada

(I mean, seriously, is there a country in the world that is greater than the U.S. but which breeds such discontent among its people?)

Keller, Chopra, Tolle

Tim Keller’s The Reason for God is, as predicted, rising up the bestseller charts. It’s currently #6 on the Amazon “Spirituality” chart (and #41 overall), sandwiched between Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra. If Oprah hadn’t recently praised Tolle, taking several of his titles far up the charts, Keller would be higher still.

When I was traveling a couple of weeks ago, I was reading Keller’s book and was surprised to see how many people stared at the cover. A couple stopped short to stare at it, though I was on the phone at the time and couldn’t converse with them. But I’m thinking the book is going to be a great conversation starter. There is such a hunger for spirituality in our day and this book may held lead many people to the One they need.

Jesus in Love

As you may know, novelist Anne Rice recently returned to the Catholic Church and subsequently gave up writing about vampires in favor of writing a series of books on the life of Jesus. I just finished reading the second in this series, Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana. Like any dramatization of the life of Jesus, this one takes liberties and artistic license. It also gets many facts just plain wrong, something I’ll cover in my review next week. But in the meantime, it raised an interesting question.

Much of the story involves the relationship between Jesus, the year before he began his public ministry, and a young woman who wants to be married to Him. Jesus’s family cannot understand why He does not marry and neither does the community around Him. Rice (wrongly, I’m convinced) chooses to portray Jesus as only slowly coming to the realization of His deity, and Jesus is sometimes confused and conflicted by His human desires. He desperately desires to know the intimacy of love, but somehow knows that it is something He will have to forsake because of His unique calling. So this young woman begs Him to love her and He, with great pain, refuses her. This is one of the main plot lines in Rice’s second book.

So what do you think? Did Jesus ever fall in love? Could Jesus have fallen in love? Would His humanity allow Him to feel such things, or would His deity protect Him from a broken heart? Why or why not?

February 20, 2008

A total eclipse of the Moon is set to occur during the night of Wednesday, February 20/21, 2008 (tonight). It will be visible throughout most of North and South America. I believe it is the last total eclipse we will see for several years.

Lunar Eclipse

Here is what NASA says about the event:

During a total lunar eclipse, the Moon’s disk can take on a dramatically colorful appearance from bright orange to blood red to dark brown and (rarely) very dark gray.

An eclipse of the Moon can only take place at Full Moon, and only if the Moon passes through some portion of Earth’s shadow. The shadow is actually composed of two cone-shaped parts, one nested inside the other. The outer shadow or penumbra is a zone where Earth blocks some (but not all) of the Sun’s rays. In contrast, the inner shadow or umbra is a region where Earth blocks all direct sunlight from reaching the Moon.

A partial eclipse will begin at 8:43 EST and will become total at 10:01. So make sure you take the kids outside to see it.

NASA has lots of good information.

December 31, 2007

We spent our new year’s eve on the road. We got up at three o’clock this morning and scraped the frost off the windshield (frost in Chattanooga?) before hitting the road very shortly after four. Nobody should ever be awake at that hour. It’s just a bad idea. The children were simply hauled out of bed and shoved into their booster seats. Thankfully they went back to sleep (even if they did awake a few hours later complaining of neck aches). We got almost to Cincinnati before stopping for breakfast, but experienced a slower journey after that. Still, we were just over fourteen hours door-to-door which is a pretty good deal, we think. We’re finally home safe and sound. The house is still standing and my fish are still alive. A neighbor had kindly agreed to gather the stacks of books and paraphernalia that inevitably showed up while we were away. And so we’re home. It was a good trip and a good time away. But home is always best.

We knew that we were coming home to empty fridge and empty pantry so wanted to stop by the grocery store. We pulled into the parking lot precisely one minute after they locked the doors (they are a 24 hour shop but closed early today since it’s new year’s eve). We drove fourteen hours and missed by one minute. D’oh! We did an inventory of the food we’ve got left and it’s basically nothing. We’ll be scrounging until the stores open again on Monday. Noodles with nothing on them, anyone? Happy New Year! Maybe we’ll make it a new family tradition. (Just kidding, of course. We are pleased to have traveled home safely and will be grateful for what we’ve got).

I had lots and lots of time to think while driving today, and here are a few of the things that were rattling around in my mind.

Paul Washer

The Reality Check Conference gave me the opportunity to experience the teaching ministry of Paul Washer. I really enjoyed it, on the whole, and learned a lot from him. He’s given me lots of things to think about in the days to come. He’s passionate (by which I mean he yells a lot) and very motivated to help Christians, and young Christians in particular, to avoid the trappings of empty evangelicalism. I hope and pray my children are able to sit under teaching like that when they are teens. My only reservation is that he often seems to overstate things. For example, he said that if anyone were to speak to his six year old boy about having a crush on girls, he would grab that person by the neck and throw him up against the wall. A bit extreme perhaps? Another time he essentially mocked boys who play video games, seemingly suggesting that such games are never a worthy activity. This kind of blanket statement and extreme statement seemed to take away rather than add to his points. I love his passion and would not want him to temper that aspect of his ministry. But I’d also love to see him perhaps stop just a bit short of some of the more extreme statements. Young and impressionable people are listening! Beyond that small concern, I very much appreciated his ministry and look forward to hearing him again in the future. If I were a pastor or youth leader I would not hesitate to ask him to speak to my congregation nor would I hesitate to recommend him to others.

Ohio

I still dislike Ohio. If I were to give the state a new motto it would be “The Out to Get You State.” For Kentucky I’d suggest “We Burn Stuff” (since there are always fires burning in Kentucky, it seems) and for Tennessee “Closed At Five.”

Fireworks

All up and down the I-75 are stores that seemingly sell nothing but fireworks (and DVDs of firework displays. Whee!). I’ve never seen any cars at these stores and, despite having spent at least a month out of the past year in the United States, have never once seen or heard any evidence of a person using fireworks. And so I wonder, what are these stores a front for? If they aren’t selling fireworks, and the evidence seems to point to no fireworks being sold, how do these people make money and what do they do all day? What are they really selling and who shops there? Inquiring minds would like to know…

Timing

When we arrived home Aileen called her mother to let her know we had made it through. We found out that we arrived just hours ahead of a snowstorm that is set to drop ten to fifteen centimeters of snow over the area we were driving. I’m glad we made it ahead of that. Thank the Lord for small providences.

Enjoy your New Year’s Eve and be sure to watch out for that “other guy” on the road tonight…

December 05, 2007

A few notes of varying interest and importance:

Prime Time America

During the week of December 31 - January 4 I’m scheduled to guest on Moody Radio’s Prime Time America with Greg Wheatley. We’ll be discussing The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment and all things related to spiritual discernment. We’ll be carrying on the discussion for a few minutes each of those days. So if you listen to Prime Time America, well, hopefully you’ll enjoy that.

Win A Gift Certificate Again

This is the final pre-order bonus offer! The last one went well and people seemed to enjoy it, so I thought I’d give it one more shot. If you pre-order my book between now and December 10 you’ll automatically qualify to win a $100 gift certificate from Westminster Books. You will receive one ballot for each copy you purchase. If interested, you can pre-order the book by clicking here.

Christmas Book Bargains

My wife has pretty well finished her Christmas shopping. Though I am well advanced in my shopping, I still have a ways to go. You may well be like me—still looking for that final perfect gift or two. I’ve been keeping an eye out for some deals and thought I’d pass along a few of them.

Westminster Books seems to be the first to have Sinclair Ferguson’s new book in stock: In Christ Alone. I have not had time to read much of it yet, but have progressed far enough to think it looks excellent and well worth the read (would we expect anything else?).

Westminster also seems to be the first to have the new Indelible Grace CD available: Wake Thy Slumbering Children. This is a favorite series of mine and I can’t wait to get ahold of that album.

Monergism Books has some good deals, such as 1 Timothy in the Reformed Expository Commentary set for $18.99 and the Calvin Commentary set for $169. Rummage through their Sale category for some bargains.

Christian Book Distributors, as they often do, has great deals on sets of books. They have sets of Spurgeon’s sermons and Luther’s sermons, church history, commentaries, and so on. I find it’s the best place to begin when looking to buy a complete set of books.

I also keep tabs on what’s happening at Amazon but don’t often find anything worth mentioning there. If you know how to dig up the great deals at Amazon, post a comment as I’m always eager to learn how to beat their system! It seems to me that they have great prices on most items (but prices that are routinely bettered by Westminster and Monergism Books), but don’t often offer sales on the books or items that interest me.

Happy shopping! Make sure you check shipping schedules this time of year to ensure that your items make it to you before stores and couriers close down for the holidays.

If you know of other good deals online that we should be aware of, feel free to post a comment below…

November 30, 2007

There are a couple of things I wanted to post before we head into the weekend…

Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!

FoxNews is reporting that “Thousands of Sudanese, many armed with clubs and knives, rallied Friday in a central square and demanded the execution of a British teacher convicted of insulting Islam for allowing her students to name a teddy bear ‘Muhammad.’” In response to the riots and the obvious danger, authorities was moved from a prison for women to a secret location where they expect she will be safer. “The protesters streamed out of mosques after Friday sermons, as pickup trucks with loudspeakers blared messages against Gibbons, who was sentenced Thursday to 15 days in prison and deportation. She avoided the more serious punishment of 40 lashes.” Whether or not she can avoid the still-more-serious punishment of being slaughtered by angry and senseless radicals remains to be seen.

As I read the story, I couldn’t help but think of Acts 19 where Paul preached the gospel in Ephesus. Fearing that the success of the gospel would destroy the business of the men who crafted images of Artemis, a man named Demetrius rallied the crowds and began a riot. For two hours they yelled “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” Stop and imagine that for a minute. For two hours they filled the city with the senseless, stupid cries of “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”

Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”

For two hours. Luke did not miss the humor in it. “Now some cried out one thing, some another, for the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together.”

Sound familiar?

Al Mohler and Tom Brokaw

Dr. Mohler just posted this at his blog:

I am scheduled to appear on tonight’s edition of NBC’s Nightly News to discuss younger evangelicals and the Emerging Church movement. I discussed these issues with NBC’s Tom Brokaw earlier this week, and I was very encouraged by the quality of the discussion and by Mr. Brokaw’s interest in the story and knowledge of the background. It will be interesting to see how the segment comes together. The segment is scheduled for tonight’s edition of Nightly News. Check television schedules for your area.

I always enjoy watching Dr. Mohler’s media appearances and will definitely be trying to tune into this one (sometimes easier said than done since Canadian channels don’t often carry American news).

October 26, 2007

It looks like Westminster Books is the first to receive copies of what is undoubtedly one of the most anticipated books this fall: Pierced For Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution. The book was previously available only in Europe, but Crossway secured the North American rights and has just published it. You can read my review of it here: Pierced for Our Transgressions.

For just one week the book is available at 40% off…so get it now while it’s cheap!

Reformation Day Symposium

I’d like to remind my fellow bloggers about this year’s Reformation Day Symposium. You can get the details simply by visiting that link. I hope you’ll participate!

Reformation Day Deal

I received an interesting note from Ligonier Ministries announcing a great deal on the Reformation Study Bible—the best Study Bible I’ve ever used.

A few of us spoke with RC recently and talked about a way to commemorate Reformation Day. We have decided to offer something special. Next Wednesday, Ligonier Ministries will offer the Reformation Study Bible for $15.17. This is the ESV, hardback edition. It’s a 1 day only sale and I thought you should know.

To quote Stephen Nichols, it’s been 490 years since “a monk with a mallet” nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. God used Luther to start the greatest revival the world has seen. Though there were many benefits to the Protestant Reformation, the publishing of God’s Word in common languages was united to a hunger for the right understanding of that Word. The year 1517 saw a display of God’s grace in human history and every year since we have the opportunity to remember. Let us redouble our efforts to be faithful to the historic Christian faith.

To this end they are offering the Reformation Study Bible on October 31 (Reformation Day) for only $15.17. You can order as many copies as you like at that price, provided you do not resell it. You can get details here: reformationstudybible.com.

October 19, 2007

This is a compilation of various things that caught my eye this week. They were things that needed more explanation than I could offer in A La Carte, but not enough that they merited an article of their own.

The Great October Giveaway Winners

The Great October Giveaway comes to a close today. I have already drawn the names of the winners and will be sending emails out shortly. So check your inbox in the new few minutes to see if you’re among the winners.

Amazon Reviews - They Matter

I post almost all of my book reviews at Amazon and, because I write so many reviews, have become one of the top reviewers there (ranked 335 out of approximately 1,000,000). It is always interesting to me to track the reactions to them. I post the majority of my most notable reviews here as well, but of course Amazon represents a much larger, much more diverse readership. What I say at my blog tends to go over well with the readers here, but often doesn’t go over so well at Amazon, especially when I write about Christian bestsellers.

Take my review of Joel Osteen’s Become a Better You. It got a fair number of mentions in the blogosphere (27 blog reactions, according to Technorati), the majority of which were positive. But at Amazon it has been voted on 91 times with only 54 of those people believing it is helpful (You can see it here). This tells me that there is a great deal of interest in this book (which there must be for a book with an initial print run of three million!) and that people are greatly divided on the book.

Then there is the review of Jerry Bridge’s Respectable Sins. It has been voted on 21 times, with all 21 people agreeing that the review was helpful (You can see it here). I take this to mean that the type of people who research and read Jerry Bridges’ books are from a fairly narrow slice of the Christian world.

And then there is the infamous review of Brian McLaren’s Everything Must Change. It is registering 248 votes with 189 of them saying the review was positive. (You can see it here). Of course this book, as with all of McLaren’s, elicits strong reactions, both positive and negative.

What does all of this voting mean? It actually does prove important. The reviews that are deemed most helpful, purely by volume of helpful votes, are included on the main product page for the book. They are the first reviews people see. And since Amazon sells countless millions of books, a good or a bad review there can make a lot of difference as it will be seen by a lot of people. While customers vote on whether or not a review was helpful, in reality the votes are really about whether or not customers agree with the review (which is ironic, since most of these people haven’t actually read the book).

The long and the short is this. If you are an Amazon shopper, you should get in the habit of voting for reviews you find helpful. It really does matter.

The Forgotten 500

Some time ago, Al Mohler recommended a book called The Forgotten 500, a book that tells the story of an amazing but largely forgotten rescue. When he waxes eloquent about a book on the Second World War, I take it as a given that I am going to need to give the book a read. I immediately secured a copy for myself.

During the ongoing bombing campaigns against the massive oil refineries in Romania, a country conquered by Nazi Germany, hundreds of American bomber crews were shot down, far from lands occupied by Allied Forces. Though they had been warned of the risks they took in falling into the hands of the local populace, they were shocked to find the Serbian villagers embracing them and regarding them as conquering heroes. Serbian forces controlled by General Draza Mihailovich helped these American soldiers evade the Germans and eventually helped them organize an incredible rescue operation. Under the very noses of the German army they built an airstrip and landed plane after plane there, taking the Americans back to freedom. The Serbians did this despite knowing that it could cost them their lives. Had the Germans discovered what was happening, they would have tortured and killed entire villages.

This story is set against the backdrop of the Serbian-Croatian conflict with Mihailovich’s Serbian forces battling the opposing Communist Croatian forces, even while they both battled the Germans. The author, Gregory Freeman, shows how the Allied forces came to favor the communists, even after the Serbians saved so many American lives. The communist forces eventually destroyed the Serbian resistance and communism reigned in Yugoslavia for many decades. For this reason the entire operation was buried for years and was largely forgotten. The Forgotten 500, though, brings it all to light, shining some richly-deserved attention on the heroic Serbian forces who gave so much and received nothing in return.

The Forgotten 500 describes a fascinating piece of history and one that was, until now, almost entirely forgotten. And this, just when we thought that there was little new we could say about the Second World War. World War 2 enthusiasts will want to add this book to their collection! You can buy it from Amazon.

July 08, 2007

Just a couple of things I’ve wanted to mention but haven’t fit anywhere else…

Music: - A couple of weeks ago I received Asleep in a Storm, the latest album from Sovereign Grace Ministries. “Produced by Jeremy White, a member of Grace Church (San Diego, CA), the CD features a fresh take on nine previously released songs, plus one new instrumental track from Jeremy. You’ll hear original vocals from Shannon Harris, Vikki Cook, and others, presented in a whole new way.” I’m not so sure of my music terminology anymore, but I suppose this would just be considered dance or techno music. I’ll be honest and say that it’s really not my thing; I’ve never been a fan of dance music. But the CD still brings good, God-glorifying songs in a way that is sure to appeal to a whole new audience.

While we’re on the subject of music, being the Petra geek fan that I am, I recently bought Vertical Expressions, the new album by John Schlitt and Bob Hartman (i.e. “II Guys from Petra”). I was pleasantly surprised. It basically just brings a list of popular worship songs performed by John and Bob. If you’re a Petra fan, I guess you can’t argue with that.

Facebook - A little while ago my wife signed me up for a Facebook account. She had recently discovered the joys of the site and thought I’d enjoy it as well. I haven’t found it all that useful but I suppose that may owe to the fact that I’ve got a blog and assume that most of my friends who want to keep up with my life can do it that way. Still, it’s been fun to link up with some old friends and to meet some new ones.

I got to thinking about Facebook the other day and realized it may well represent the Internet’s greatest bonanza of user information. Sooner or later a big company is going to buy it and will take advantage of millions of people, all of whom share their interests, passions, educations, vocations and so on. Facebook does not currently feature and significant targeted advertising, but it is really just a matter of time, I’m sure, before they do. And with all that information we’re pouring into it, you can be certain that they’ll do so successfully. The site must already be worth billions to Google, Microsoft, and other companies that enjoy the profit that comes with Net-based advertising.

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