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June 07, 2008

A couple of months ago my son got his first job—a paper route. Three times a week he loads a stack of Oakville Beaver’s in a wagon and drags it around the neighborhood. The Saturday and Wednesday papers are typically pretty small. Fridays, though, are when all the fliers are released upon the local population. There are typically six or seven of them—the regulars: Best Buy, local grocery stores and maybe Staples and a sports store. But the week before special occasions, the number of fliers can grow exponentially.

Yesterday, the lead-up to Father’s Day, was by far the most we’ve had to deal with. The papers were so thick with all of the fliers that we had to get the whole family stuffing, rolling and elasticing the papers to keep them from exploding all over the neighborhood. I couldn’t help but notice that almost every one of those fliers had something on it about Father’s Day. The electronics stores were out in force, trying to get mom to buy a TV or a Blu-ray player or a Playstation 3 for dad; the grocery stores were featuring steaks and ribs; the big box stores were selling barbecues and tools. Every store wanted a piece of the family’s financial pie for this Father’s Day.

Looking for evidence as to who benefits most from Father’s Day? Look no further than your local newspaper. Here are the fliers from ours:

Fathers Day

(And, ironically enough, look just below this post and you’ll see…you guessed it…an ad for Father’s Day stuff at Amazon).

May 30, 2008

I returned home last night from my final conference of the year (or of the spring season, at least). At this point I’ve got only one tentative date on my calendar through the rest of 2008. While I’ve thoroughly enjoyed going to this year’s conferences, I’m not sorry to have a rather barren travel schedule for a while. Looking back at my calendar I can see that this spring I was in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, Florida and Tennessee.

I enjoyed the Banner of Truth experience. It’s certainly unique as the conferences go, with a very conservative constituency, yet a very vibrant faith obviously active in the hearts of those in attendance. It was good to revisit some old hymns and Psalms I haven’t sung for many years and to catch up with some old friends I haven’t seen for just as long. Yesterday my friend Steve Burlew, who heads up Banner in the U.S. drove me over to the Banner offices and warehouse and it was good just to poke around there for a few minutes. In case you are not aware, they have an extensive “damaged book” section there where you can get some really good deals on books that have been damaged. The damage may include nothing more than the tiniest tear on the jacket, yet it will get you a great discount. If you’re ever in the area, it’s worth dropping in just to look for a bargain.

May Giveaway Winners

This morning I sent out an email announcing the winners of the May giveaway. The following three people have won the Monergism Books gift certificates (and will need to send me an email to claim them!):

  1. Rick Aldrich
  2. Mike Driskill
  3. Christa Allan

The Seven Sayings

I apologize to those who are reading with me The Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross. As I was traveling yesterday I did not manage to post my reflections on the chapter. I had good intentions but they just didn’t work out. I’ll pick up again next Thursday.

This Site

I’m hoping that by next week this site can return to normal, whatever normal means in this context. I apologize that the content around here has been just a bit “light” over the past week or two.

May 03, 2008

It is a rainy Saturday afternoon here in the Toronto area. I’m supposed to be heading out to coach a baseball practice at 2 PM but it’s looking rather doubtful at the moment. It seems like the kids are going to head into their first game with only one practice under their proverbial belts. It should be an interesting game to say the least. I’d guess at least 2 out of every 3 outs will come via the strikeout as the kids try to adjust to a pitching machine set at around 40 to 45 MPH.

Last month saw more visitors to this site than any other in the site’s history and readers took in over a quarter million pages. For the first time a long while (I’m a bad blogger, I know) I spent a few minutes trying to see what all those people were reading. I culled a list of the top ten articles from the last week, many of which are representative of the top articles from the last month. It is interesting to me to see how those book reviews continue to be read. Here’s the list:

We’ve got a double birthday in the family today, with Michaela celebrating the big number 2 and Aileen celebrating a birthday significantly higher than 2. Aileen is spending much of the day helping paint a neighbor’s house. But she’ll be back before too long and we’ll be doing what we can to make this a special day for her.

Enjoy your weekend!

April 26, 2008

It’s funny how Saturdays, which used to be the most relaxing day for me, have become so busy. I am coaching Nick’s baseball team this year and we were on the field early this morning for our first practice. This season the kids are staring from the plate to a pitching machine and seeing pitches whistling in at 40 miles per hour. This is a substantial step up from last year’s coach pitch league where the balls were lobbed from about 10 feet away. Each of the kids got ten pitches from the machine and most of them flailed helplessly at all ten. Now that practice is over, we’ve got to get ready for Nick’s birthday parting at a nearby bowling alley. His birthday was a few weeks ago but this was the earliest we could book some lanes for him…and he really wanted to bowl for his birthday. So it is going to be a good but busy day.

Amazon’s Kindle

I have been thinking about buying a Kindle (which Amazon finally has in stock after many months of distribution problems). Though the reviews on the Kindles are decidedly mixed, I do think it could solve a couple of problems for me.

One problem is that I am just about out of room to store books in my office. When we first moved into this house two years ago, I had three or four bookcases in the office and my books fit. Today I have seven full and two half bookcases and they are almost all full. Of greater concern is the fact that I am out of walls against which I can place more bookcases. The photo above was taken a couple of months ago. Even since then things have gotten worse. Books are beginning to stack up on top of the bookcases. I am going to go through and cull some of the junk, but I know it will not take long for the problem to return.

All of this to say that a Kindle may just offer me the ability to read at least some of my books in a “soft” format rather than a printed format.

The second issue, and the one that is probably more likely to be solved by a Kindle, is that I have stacks of manuscripts to read through and it might be nice to read some of those on the Kindle rather than on printed 8.5 x 11 inch paper or in PDF files on my computer.

And so I ask…does anyone out there own a Kindle? What is your user experience like with it? Is it worth the rather steep price of $400? What I really need is to find a friend who can loan me one for a while…

Strange Places

Last week I shared a couple of photos of my book in strange places. The very next day I received not one but two photos of the book in Mongolia, of all places. And the two people who sent the photos are not, to my knowledge, connected to one another. So here is the photographic proof of the book in Mongolia. If you have a picture of my book in a strange place, feel free to send it along.

New Music

A CD I’ve been enjoying a lot in the past week is Before the Throne by Sojourn (Sojourn Community Church of Louisville, KY). It is a CD that earned a rare five star review from Christianity Today. The reviewer said, “Every once in a while, I receive an album that pleasantly surprises me on all fronts. Not only is the packaging impeccably and cleverly designed on Sojourn’s Before the Throne, but the worship band for Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, Kentucky also managed a far more impressive feat: They actually wrote worship music that I didn’t feel like I’d already heard a million times before. Hard to imagine, I know.” The album features ten original songs and one cover and the songs represent a wide variety of musical styles. Personal favorites are “We Are Listening” (Morning and evening we come / To delight in the words of our God / Give us eyes to see / Give us faith to hear / …that the Word has come / …that the Word is here) and “In the Shadow of the Glorious Cross” (These crowns I’ve clenched with fisted hands / I cast them down before the throne / Of Christ my God the worthy lamb / Christ crucified, the Great I AM / Hallelujah, Hallelujah). You can learn more about it at sojournmusic.com. You can download several songs for free (including my favorite tracks) if you’d like to sample the album.

Sojourn has just announced that their next project will be a 2-CD set of hymns inspired by Isaac Watts, “The Father Of English Hymnody.” The assignment for the songwriters was to “rewrite the Isaac Watts hymnal … Take these lyrics as a springboard and rewrite the words and melodies. Capture the language of our time and place and keep vibrant the message of the songs. Look for ways to refresh metaphors and imagery in the songs … and write melodies that will fit contemporary song arrangements.” This will prove quite the challenge, I am sure, and I look forward to hearing the result!

Another new and good CD is one you’ve seen advertised right here—Come Weary Saints by Sovereign Grace Music. “Come Weary Saints is an invitation to redirect your focus to the God whose love has been forever demonstrated at the cross of Calvary. As you listen to these songs, may your faith and joy in the Savior be strengthened for the challenges you face, now or in the future.” It features songs by the usual cast of characters, including Bob Kauflin, Mark and Stephen Altrogge, Steve and Vicki Cook and Pat Sczebel. It is perhaps not insignificant that the first time I listened to the album was in a hospital bed while cradling a sleeping but very sick little girl. It was an encouragement to me then and has been in the couple of weeks since.

You can listen to song samples and purchase the album right here. Personal favorites are “So I Will Trust You,” “I Have a Shelter,” and “Through the Precious Blood.”

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.


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.


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.