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Ramblings

January 26, 2007

Sovereign Grace Music is offering a free song written by Steve and Vikki Cook and sung by Vikki. It is from the Everlasting recording that was released in 1999. “I Bow Down” is a slow, meditative song that reflects on the holiness of God. Here is a sample of the lyrics:

You saved me the sinner
With crimson red You washed me
White as snow
How I love You Lord
You loved me the mocker
With kindness You won my
Heart forever
How I love You Lord
And as I behold this mercy
I’m undone

To download “I Bow Down,” click here and add the song to your shopping cart. During the checkout procedure, simply enter the promotional code FREEDOWNLOAD to bypass the credit card payment. Make sure that the total is now $0.00. Simply finalize the sale and you will be presented with a download link. This offer is only good until February 9.

There is also a new single available and another song written by the Cooks. “Beautiful Grace” moves at a slightly higher tempo and speaks of God’s grace.

Who could imagine
The life-giving beauty
That shines from Calvary
My eyes were opened
And my heart was won
When Your mercy conquered me
Lord, how could I flee from this love
Lord, why would I flee from this love

What beautiful grace, incredible hope
Lord, thank you for saving me
This beautiful grace will carry me home
Lord, thank you for saving me
For saving me

It is available here for 99 cents. Several other Sovereign Grace products have seen price reductions and are now priced at $10 per album.

If you enjoy the Sovereign Grace music, you may want to Sovereign Grace e-News. Almost every newsletter comes with news of a free song.

Overheard

Overheard this morning in the Challies household:

Son, age 6 - “Ah, it’s good to have a breakfast that sticks to your lungs.”

Dad - “I think you mean ‘stick to your ribs.’”

Son - “Oh, right, ribs.”

Dedication:

I spend my days sitting in a small office on the second floor of our home. I have a view across a park area to a row of townhouses facing ours. Every two weeks or so a pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses visits a neighbor who is never home. They show up like clockwork but never catch her in. A new family has moved in next to this family and they have begun to knock on that door as well. No one ever answers. It is somewhere around 25 degrees below zero today (with the wind chill) and they are out there knocking on doors. No one is answering. I admire their dedication. For some reason they never knock on my door anymore. Until today. I actually got to talk to a couple of them today. They wanted to talk about the importance of telling the truth. I guess politicians and children lie and they think it’s better for society if we all tell the truth. They wouldn’t admit to lying and couldn’t answer any of my questions about the eternal consequences of lying. But they really did want me to read their magazines. So I took them and will read about truth. They’ll come back, I suppose. Talking to these people is about as much fun as beating your head against the wall, but if I can get the gospel to them just once I’ll be pleased!

Book

I spent yesterday working on my book and intend to do the same today. It’s now at 110 pages and around 40,000 words (which doesn’t seem like a very good word/page ratio. I don’t think 40,000 words would likely translate to a book with more pages). I am enjoying writing more each time I do it and each time I write my confidence increases that this may actually be a book worth reading. As always, I would really appreciate your prayers today as I attempt to put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) and press towards the finish line.

December 29, 2006

Ping! That’s the sound of a pin dropping in the blogosphere. My RSS reader has been awfully quiet this week as I suppose the majority of bloggers are taking a break from the usual commitments. Good for them! Most people outside of the retail world are doing little if any work this week, and those of my friends and family who are working keep mentioning that they seem to be the only ones in their offices this week. I’ve been doing a little bit of work but have primarily been focusing on writing my book (that March 1 deadline is, after all, fast approaching!). According to my site statistics, traffic has fallen off by almost 50% this week, which I believe is quite typical for late December. So if you are a blogger and have something particularly profound you’d like to share, you may want to consider waiting until next week! I have been a bit lazy this week as well, trying to take a bit of a break from my usual quantity of reading and blog-writing.

I did pause from my writing yesterday to take the children to see Charlotte’s Web. We just finished reading the book and decided to take in the movie as well. It was excellent and, unusually as these things go, was mostly faithful to the book (which is good since the book is just wonderful). Beyond a bit of attitude from children to parents, there was nothing in the film to feel guilty about seeing. I give it two thumbs up!

Bargains

I do not do much of my online buying at Christian Book Distributors, but I do keep an eye out for their sales. They often have great sales on sets of commentaries and theological volumes that are otherwise almost unaffordable. Today I noted a few excellent deals.

If you are interested in filling out your library a little bit, they are having a great sale on the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament which is a ten volume set that examines more than 2300 theologically significant words in the New Testament. Listed at $700, it is currently selling for only $99. They also have Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament, 10 Volumes: Updated Edition with CD-ROM for $69.99 (this is a good, general set of Old Testament commentaries) and Calvin’s Commentaries in 22 volumes for $99.99. Also, though I linked to this one a short time ago, they are still offering an excellent deal on Schaff’s
History of the Christian Church
($49.99 for the 8 volume set).

Children’s Books

As I mentioned earlier, I recently finished reading Charlotte’s Web with my kids and they really enjoyed it. We’ve also read Stuart Little, the Little House on the Prairie series, The Black Stallion, The Littles, Lost in the Barrens and quite a few other classics (and favorites from my childhood or my wife’s childhood). A couple of days ago I ordered another stack of books to read for them. I got The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, The Borrowers, The Incredible Journey, Big Red, the next in the Black Stallion series, and a couple of children’s history books (a biography of Abraham Lincoln and a history of the battle of Bull Run). While I read to both my son (age 6) and my daughter (age 4), my son is much more fond of the books and listens much better, so for the time being I read primarily for his benefit. I’d be very interested in suggestions from other parents for books that would be suitable for young children. We love to read together and work our way through books quite quickly, so I’m anticipating needing quite a few more titles in the years ahead.

And now, I’m heading back to Microsoft Word to do more work on my book. Have a good weekend. I hope to return to regularly-scheduled programming next week!

December 22, 2006

Amazon likes to send me recommendations for books I may enjoy. They obviously check my account to see what I have purchased recently and run some kind of a script to determine what other books I may like based on what I have bought in the past. A couple of days ago I received a tremendously helpful recommendation.

“We’ve noticed that customers who have expressed interest in The Bible or the Axe: One Man’s Dramatic Escape From Persecution in the Sudan by William Levi have also ordered Happy Princess (Carmen Browne) by Stephanie Perry-Moore. For this reason, you might like to know that Stephanie Perry-Moore’s Happy Princess (Carmen Browne) will be released on January 1, 2007. You can pre-order your copy by following the link below.” I appreciate the tip, but frankly, this doesn’t really sound like the kind of book that would appeal to people who read about persecution in the church.

Energetic pre-teen, Carmen Browne is determined to live her life to please God as she faces life issues such as an unexpected family move, her big brother’s search for his birth family, and the tragedy of domestic violence. Carmen’s learned a lot about herself, too: being popular doesn’t guarantee you true friends, honesty up front saves a lot of hurt, and sometimes self-confidence is just bossiness in disguise. In the fifth and final volume of the popular series, Carmen enters the uncharted waters of adolescence,discovering that her changing moods and growing body bring new challenges to her life.

Nice try, Amazon. Better luck next time.

The Way of the Wild Heart

Back in October I reviewed John Eldredge’s The Way of the Wild Heart and posted the review on Amazon. I just happened to make my way by that page yesterday and noticed that, since I posted the review, it has gotten pretty badly beat up in the “helpful” voting (only 23 of the 80 people who chose to cast a vote have found the review helpful). I was surprised to find that one subsequent review is titled “Don’t Believe Challies” with the first line reading “If you want him running your life, don’t read ‘Way of the Wild Heart.’” So there you have it. If you don’t read the book, I am running your life. I’m probably ruining it too. Don’t believe me! Another reviewer did a point-by-point review of my review under the heading “You can tell a lot by the enemy’s [sic] a book or author makes.” I stand by the words I used to conclude my review: “This book is a complete mess and it was a trial to read. At three hundred pages Eldredge says a lot, and yet it seems like he doesn’t say much of anything. It is puff; it is filler; it is a near-complete waste of time. Avoid it.”

Looking Pastoral

Last week my son had his Christmas holiday concert at school. He wanted to dress up, so hauled out the hair gel and tried to “look like daddy.” He came downstairs with his hair pretty well plastered to his head. “Look, dad! I used gel!,” he said. He then went over to the mirror and, seeing his new look, exclaimed in a disgusted voice, “Oh man, I look like a pastor!”

Amazing Grace

In case you haven’t seen it yet, here is the trailer for Amazing Grace:

December 15, 2006

William Wilberforce

In February of 2007 a film titled Amazing Grace will hit theatres, though only in limited release (and I’d be surprised if it makes it to Canada at all). The movie deals with the life of “the world’s greatest reformer,” William Wilberforce.

Ioan Gruffudd plays Wilberforce, who, as a Member of Parliament, navigated the world of 18th Century backroom politics to end the slave trade in the British Empire. Albert Finney plays John Newton, a confidante of Wilberforce who inspires him to pursue a life of service to humanity. Benedict Cumberbatch is William Pitt the Younger, England’s youngest ever Prime Minister at the age of 24, who encourages his friend Wilberforce to take up the fight to outlaw slavery and supports him in his struggles in Parliament.

Elected to the House of Commons at the age of 21, and on his way to a successful political career, Wilberforce, over the course of two decades, took on the English establishment and persuaded those in power to end the inhumane trade of slavery.

Not limiting himself to just abolitionist work, he dedicated his life to what he called his “two great objects:” abolishing slavery in the British Empire and what he called “the reformation of manners [society].” To this end, he advocated for child labor laws, campaigned for education of the blind and deaf, and founded organizations as diverse as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) and the National Gallery (of Art). “Good causes,” it has been said, “stuck to him like pins to a magnet.”

It is not often that we see the life of a great Christian man potrayed in film. Because of the film Wilberforce will be the subject of several upcoming biographies. John Piper’s short Amazing Grace in the Life of William Wilberforce will be available in January. I assume this is the same text that was published as a chapter in The Roots of Endurance. This was, in turn, based on Piper’s biographical address at the 2002 Bethlehem Conference for Pastors. You can read or listen to the speech here. In February Zondervan will be publishing Kevin Belmonte’s William Wilberforce: A Hero For Humanity. Also in February, Harper San Francisco is releasing Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery by Eric Metaxas. Regal Books will bring us Real Christianity: A Nation Was Blind Until One Man Made Them See, Bob Beltz’s modern paraphrase of Wilberforce’s original book about the authentic expression of the Christian faith.

You can visit the official site for the film at amazinggracemovie.com. While a trailer is not yet available, there are a couple of move clips on the site along with plenty of other interesting information.

William Wilberforce

Marriage

For some reason, an article Al Mohler wrote a month ago came through my RSS reader this morning. In this article Mohler asked if marriage is going out of style. He quoted David Popenoe, a professor of sociology at Rutger’s University and co-director of the National Marriage Project who said something that is entirely true, but entirely politically incorrect: “The bottom line is that a heavily married society is a whole lot better off than one that’s not.” He went on to show something we already know: fewer people are getting married and those who do are getting married later. “The median age at first marriage went from 20 for females and 23 for males in 1960 to about 26 and 27, respectively, in 2005, the Marriage Project says.”

I find it interesting that the decline in marriage coincides with increasing demands to allow homosexuals to “marry,” something that is impossible according to the definition of marriage given to us by the one who created marriage. Here in Canada our Conservative government just made a very half-hearted attempt at preserving the real definition of marriage. They failed. At this point Canada has accepted homosexual marriage and it will never change. I wonder if the acceptance of gay marriage is a cause or an effect of the overall decline in marriage. Do people somehow realize that the whole concept of marriage is being cheapened by allowing homosexuals access to it, thus making the decline in marriage an effect of homosexual unions? Or are people so apathetic about marriage today that they no longer care who marries and how the definition of marriage is changed? Maybe we see both cause and effect at the same time.

Lesson Learned

There is a lesson I learned from the homeschooling topics I posted recently. And no, I don’t intend to bring up the topic again anytime soon! When I write something that ends up being controversial, I something have a large number of people visit the site who are unfamiliar with me. In this case, and if the site statistics are to be believed, several thousand people came by my site in the past few days who had likely never heard of me before. They know nothing of me and, for all they know, I could be anything from pinko liberal commie to a Bible-quoting Mormon. This made me realize how valuable it is to first establish credibility with people who read blogs. Of course establishing credibility can be a long process. It is done only with time. Thus I think there was a different reaction to these articles (and others I’ve posted recently that turned out to stir controversy) from people who have read my site for a year or two as compared to people who have read nothing except for those controversial articles. This is something I’ve filed away in my head to think about later.

Concert

Switchfoot is coming to Toronto in February and I just bought my tickets. This is why I don’t got to concerts very often. $26.50 doesn’t sound like a bad price for a concert ticket. But then Ticketmaster gets involved:

General Admission Tickets $26.50 x 2
Total Building Facility Charge $1.25 x 2
Total Convenience Charge $8.50 x 2
Order Processing Charge $3.50

Total Charges $76.00

Now I just need to find someone to go with. Buying concert tickets is like booking a plane ticket. For my next trip to California the charges look like this:

Flight - Returning airfare 339.99
Navcan and Surcharges 14.98
Canada Airport Improvement Fee 15.00
U.S.A Transportation Tax 33.20
Canada Security Charge 7.94
U.S Passenger Facility Charge 5.15
Canada Goods and Services Tax 36.59
September 11 Security Fee 2.86
U.S.A. Immigration User Fee 8.01

Total Airfare 695.71

Gotta love it…

December 08, 2006

I feel I should apologize about the relatively low quality of the articles I’ve posted this week. I decided to take a week’s “sabbatical” to focus on writing the book. I thought of calling this a vacation, but that didn’t seem quite right. In the end I settled on sabbatical since I like the sound of the word and since it makes me feel very professional. I wish I had had the opportunity to take more than a week, but this is about all I can reasonably fit in with the volume of clients and web sites I am dealing with now.

I have never dedicated a complete week to writing before and must say that, on the whole, I really enjoyed it. There have been moments of frustration, but I really have enjoyed myself and am looking forward to taking another week in the near future. In fact, I think I could gladly write all day every day and be perfectly happy doing so. Unfortunately I have not found a way of paying the bills doing that. Maybe in the future! Of course if you are filthy rich and would like to sponsor me to do so, I’m all ears!

But seriously, thanks to all of those who have been praying regularly for my labors on this book. I’ve said so before, but please know that these prayers are making a difference and I am grateful for them. If you are wondering about the book’s progress, here is a very brief update. Essentially I have until March 1 to write some 60,000 to 80,000 words (which should bring the book in at between 150 and 200 pages). I don’t quite know what will happen if I don’t submit the manuscript on the agreed-upon date, but I assume it will involve Justin Taylor (or another Crossway employee) flying up to Canada with a bullwhip and a baseball bat. As per the statistics below, I am probably heading towards the mid-way point of my writing if we are to measure purely in quantity. I feel the quality of the book still leaves a lot to be desired, but my approach to this point has been mostly to plot out and expand upon ideas. Later sweeps through the book will refine the quality, writing style, and so on. I’ve never been told how to write a book and have not had opportunity to confer with any previously-published authors to learn from them, so I am really just making this up as I go! I assume this is what most authors do their first time around.

So here are where things stand at this very moment:

dod_update.jpg

Manliness is not Godliness

A reader sent me an article that appeared yesterday in the L.A. Times. It sure seems that the media is expressing a growing interest in the general weirdness of evangelicalism. There have been multitudes of articles in recent months dealing with all that is wrong with Christianity and a lot less dealing with what is right! This article, entitled “Manliness is next to godliness,” deals with “GodMen” and other movements seeking to recapture a masculine Christianity. “Stine’s daylong revival meeting, which he calls “GodMen,” is cruder than most. But it’s built around the same theory as the other experimental forums: Traditional church worship is emasculating.”

Hold hands with strangers? Sing love songs to Jesus? No wonder pews across America hold far more women than men, Stine says. Factor in the pressure to be a “Christian nice guy” — no cussing, no confrontation, in tune with the wife’s emotions — and it’s amazing men keep the faith at all.

Cue up the GodMen house band, which opens the revival with a thrashing challenge to good boys:

*
Forget the yin and the yang
I’ll take the boom and the bang…
Don’t need in touch with my feminine side!
All I want is my testosterone high.
 *

This is all part of a movement, which I have seen through the multitudes of books I receive from publishers, to capture a picture of Jesus that is distinctly masculine. And, of course, Jesus was masculine. The image of Jesus that arose from the middle ages and that has seemed to stick around is what guys like Mark Driscoll are preaching against. As Driscoll says, “It’s hard to worship a guy who you can beat up.” But this new movement goes to far.

“ ‘Jesus was a very bad Christian,’ [Paul] Coughlin declares. After all, he says, the Son of God trashed a temple and even used profanity — or the New Testament equivalent — when he called Herod ‘that fox.’” Uh huh. Coughlin wrote a book called No More Christian Nice Guy in which he tried to convince men to stop being prissy. A noble goal, but one that doesn’t necessarily require a cussing Jesus.

And so these conferences encourage men to head into the wilderness (though not necessarily to talk about their “father wounds” with John Eldredge) and to act like real men. And apparently real men swear. “Stine, a born-again Christian, shouts that it’s OK to cuss — and then demonstrates with a defiant ‘bull….’”

So whatever happened to meekness and humility? These were traits Jesus valued and exemplified. Somehow it seems that these men’s movements, these virility crusades, confuse masculine with obnoxious. Cussing doesn’t make anyone more masculine. More obnoxious? Yes. More masculine? No. More godly? Certainly not. This movement, like so many before it, seems premised on the idea that God is most pleased with us when we act most in accord with our desires, as if God desires authenticity more than godliness and submission to His Word. From what I see in Scripture, this simply isn’t the case.

You can read the article here.

And Finally, A Video

I don’t know how I missed this (actually, I do. Bob, would you fix your RSS feed already!) but Bob Kauflin posted the video of the George W. Bush impersonator who appeared at the WorshipGod06 Conference. Here is what Bob said about it:

Last August at the WorshipGod06 conference, I wanted to welcome Irish singer/songwriters Keith and Kristyn Getty to the conference in a special way. If you didn’t know, Keith and Kristyn write theologically rich, musically appealing contemporary hymns for the church, and are good friends. So, I got in touch with John Morgan, a guitarist in the Sovereign Grace church in Orlando and also a professional George W. Bush impersonator. I asked if he would introduce the Getty’s at the conference and he was kind enough to say yes. This video was taken the night he welcomed them. He did such a good job that I received a letter from one attendee wrote me to say how thrilled they were to finally see George W. Bush in person. They were serious.

However, this video isn’t. Enjoy.

Here it is for your viewing pleasure. And in case you’re interested, this is John Morgan’s site.

And just like that, I am going to get back to my book. I trust you will enjoy your Friday and look forward to spending a weekend to the glory of God.

November 21, 2006

I had great plans for the site for today, but real life very rudely interrupted those plans. Hence I’ll haul out a ramblings column I had hoped to post on Friday. Ramblings are, of course, things I have wanted to say but things that haven’t seemed worthy of a post all their own. I also hadn’t planned on this being an unofficial celebration of Thabiti Anyabwile, and yet somehow, events have conspired to make his name figure prominently around here today.

Reformation Day Symposium:

You’ll have to excuse the delay in announcing a winner for the Reformation Day Symposium. The response was far greater than I had expected and I had to work my way through over seventy entries. Needless to say, this took some time. And, as people always say in these situations, choosing a single post as a personal and largely arbitrary favorite was not easy. There was such a variety in emphases, with some people discussing personal experience, some discussing theology and some discussing great men and women of the Reformation era. In the end I narrowed it down to four posts: John Samson’s Has the Holy Spirit Moved On?, Steve Weaver’s By Grace Alone Sola Gratia (Ephesians 2:1-10) and Titus2Talk’s Katie Luther: a Proverbs 31 woman. But the one that stood out in my mind was Thabiti Anyabwile’s Reformation Day Reflections. This post jumped out at me the moment I first read it and has stuck with me since. He reflected that “I would not be in Cayman if it were not for that massive Christian church split some 500 years ago. I’ve been thinking a lot about church splits lately… and this one I am quite thankful for. I could wish that the result had been sweeping reform in the Roman Catholic Church. But failing that, I’m thrilled for the recovery of the Gospel.”

If there had been no recovery of the Gospel of Jesus Christ—the grand promise of justification in the sight of God by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone to the glory of God alone—I and most African-Americans and Caribbean peoples would likely be utterly and eternally lost today.

The greatest miracle of the Reformation is that enslaved Africans heard, above the din of rattling chains and the back-slashing crack of whips, the free Gospel call at the hands of slave traders and many less-than-heroic gospel preachers in the plantation south. That untutored Africans, imprisoned in a foreign land and surrounded by hostile wilderness, heard with clarity the learned oracles of Christ, were spiritually set free, and found the glorious banks of Zion is astounding!

However crude, however hampered by their conditions, however assaulted and persecuted by white brothers and sisters in Christ, the Reformation found expression among African descended peoples. There was every earthly reason why it should not have happened. But the one heavenly reason why it should — justification by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone — prevailed even among the meanest slaves of the south and the Caribbean.

You see…this gospel truly makes everything level at the foot of the cross. The conversion of African Americans and Afro-Caribbean peoples proves this. Despite caste and castigation, slaves came to Jesus! It’s inexplicable apart from the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ! Why would the master’s Master become the Master of the mastered? Because He is Master of all.

His conclusion is well worth pondering. “The miracle is that the Reformation Gospel came to African America and the Caribbean. The work that’s left before us is to recapture it and to reform our churches according to the Word of God. There’s much to celebrate this Reformation Day…and much work to be done once the celebration is over.”

So thanks to Thabiti for the encouraging and moving post. I’ll be sending him a copy of Steve Lawson’s A Long Line of Godly Men.

Burned By Branding:

Christianity Today’s “Out of Ur” blog has an interesting column called “Burned By Branding.” Skye Jethani compares churches to Starbucks and attempts to show that, just as many consumers are now turning against Starbucks, they will also turn against certain kinds of churches. The issue people have with Starbucks is that it “ignores local culture in favor of maintaining its brand-identity.” “People don’t necessarily want to be connected to a massive corporate identity. An increasing number want to identify with local, accessible, and human-scaled institutions. My own experience affirms this. I am writing this post in a local coffee shop. At 8am there is not an empty table in the house. This is where community happens in my town. Directly across the street is a Starbucks. That store sees a steady stream of people pass through to get their morning fix. But the tables are empty. It isn’t a place people gather, converse, or write blog posts.” The final paragraph is worth considering:

If the church is to be merely a dispenser of spiritual goods and advice, a place people pass through to get their religion fix, then we should follow the example of brand-driven corporate giants. But, if we hope to form meaningful communities of Christ-followers we shouldn’t neglect the power of being local. Rather than reading the latest branding book, why not gather mature leaders and listen for the Holy Spirit? How is he advising us to be the community of Christ in this unique place at this unique time?

While some people still tend towards “big box” Christianity, it seems that more and more are opting to join more intimate, more personal communities where they feel like more than just faces in a crowd. Actually, it reminds me of the first century church in that way.

Design:

Last night I launched a new web site. It had been under development for some time, but came together well and I am very pleased with the result. The site was created for First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman, the new home of Thabiti Anyabwile (you see, there he is again). It only occurred to me after the project was complete that I should have tried to convince them that I needed to meet with them face-to-face. A little trip out to the Islands would have been quite the treat! Regardless, the site came together well and can be seen at http://www.fbc.org.ky/. The site was, in many ways, a departure from my typical design and I had great fun with it. Incidentally, if you are the type who enjoys listening to sermons throughout the week, you may be interested in subscribing to Thabiti’s podcast.

Petra:

And finally, some of you may be aware of my love for the classic Christian band Petra. Though the band retired on December 31, 2005, John Schlitt and Bob Hartman are keeping active. Schlitt will be releasing a third solo album later this year and he and Bob have also recorded a praise and worship album called “Vertical Expressions”. It will also be available later this year. John was recently a guest on LIFE Today (click here and scroll down to October 19) where he and his wife shared their testimony.

November 10, 2006

Tomorrow is Remembrance Day here in Canada, the day we remember veterans and those who sacrificed their lives to protect our nation. My son’s school is honoring this day today in the way many schools do: they are inviting veterans to the school and will hold an assembly. I hope my son looks in awe at the veterans as I did when I was his age, though there are fewer and fewer veterans still alive. Yesterday my son’s class made crosses, like those that mark the graves of countless men who fell in battle. My son, who is six, like many boys his age, is intrigued by the Second World War and has tried to learn what he can about it. He decided that the cross he made would be more authentic if it had on it the name of a man who fell in the war. He knows that he has a great great uncle who was a fighter pilot and was shot down, but couldn’t remember his name. He racked his brain and came up with the one name he could remember. So if you happen to be at my son’s school today and are looking at the crosses, you’ll know his by the inscription. His cross says “Hitler” on it.

Christmas Music:

A few years ago I gave up on Christmas music. I was so tired of the same old songs, sung in the same old way. So many songs with good content and nice tunes were padded with horrible keyboard work and filled with over-the-top orchestral arrangements. Or even worse, they got the “kids choir” treatment! Last year I decided I would cautiously look around and see whether Christmas music is as bad as I remember it. I am glad to say that there are some new entries on the scene that have a lot to offer.

Yesterday morning I received a copy of Savior, the new Sovereign Grace Christmas album. I set it on repeat and listened to it ten times in a row. At 48 minutes long, this means that I listened to the same CD for 8 hours. And I enjoyed it. It is pretty well what we have come to expect from Sovereign Grace in terms of both the quality of the music and of the lyrics. The majority of the songs are new and are written by Sovereign Grace songwriters. There are no traditional Christmas songs on the album. Personal favorites are “Hope Has Come,” “Emmanuel, Emmanuel,” “Glory Be to God,” and “Rejoice.” I guess I tend toward the songs that are a little more up-beat. All of the songs are suitable for personal worship and most are also suitable for corporate worship. If you buy the album right away, you may just be able to learn them on time for this year’s holiday services. As always, lyrics, lead sheets and audio clips are available on Sovereign Grace’s site.

The CD is now available. I assume the MP3 download will be available shortly as well.

Another album, or series of albums, that caught my eye not too long ago was Sufjan Steven’s “Songs for Christmas.” “As some of you may or may not know, for the past few years, as a holiday tradition, Sufjan has embarked on an extraordinary experiment to record an annual Christmas EP. It started in 2001, the year of Epiphanies, and continued onward (skipping only 2004), culminating into an odd and idiosyncratic catalog of music that has only existed in the Asthmatic Kitty archives (and on a number of file sharing sites).” Like me, Stevens had given up on Christmas music but decided to rediscover it. Unlike me, he had the talent to do so himself. These albums are wonderfully eclectic and offer fresh takes on many of the traditional songs we hear every Christmas. Stevens’ music is usually bit too weird for my tastes (I don’t think I’m smart or artsy enough to figure out a song titled “They Are Night Zombies!! They Are Neighbors!! Ahhhh!”), but these albums are different. They are brilliant. I love them and have listened to them repeatedly.

You can listen to the full albums here, though the sound quality is somewhat reduced. You can order them from Amazon.

These albums and a few others (every Christmas needs at least a small dose of Trans-Siberian Orchestra, doesn’t it? And of course you’ll need to listen to Handel’s “Messiah” a few times.) have helped me realize that Christmas music isn’t all bad. And I am grateful.

Quote:

I read a biography of David Livingstone this week and drew out a couple of quotes. The first is taken from a letter he wrote to a friend in which he described his fiancee (soon to be his wife). He described her as “not a romantic. Mine is a matter of fact lady, a little thick black haired girl, sturdy and all I want.” I guess it’s a good thing she was not a romantic for clearly Livingstone was not either!

I found a couple of quotes that were a little more inspiring. “If a commission by an earthly king is considered a honor, how can a commission by a Heavenly King be considered a sacrifice?” And a personal favorite is something he often petitioned God in prayer, asking that “we might imitate Christ in all His inimitable perfections.”

November 04, 2006

I got a laugh out of Phil Johnson’s post this morning on Pyromaniacs. He wrote “I have part 3 of Gary Johnson’s review queued up and ready to go, but I’m holding it till Monday because weekend traffic at the blog is sometimes low, and I don’t want the end of that series to get overlooked.” I have to admit to doing the same thing, namely, writing an article and figuring that it’s just too good to post on the weekend when blog traffic tends to fall by 40 or 50 percent. In fact, it happened today where I began writing and, as I was about to hit the “Post” button, realized that I should probably wait to post this one another day when more people can read it. That may sound awfully arrogant, but all the wisdom in the post comes courtesy of another person and I believe this wisdom needs to be heard by more than a diminished weekend audience.

For those who are interested, traffic here at Challies Dot Com and at most other blogs is highest on Monday. It slowly subsides over the week, dropping maybe a few percentage points each day until Friday. Then on Saturday it takes and dive and falls further on Sunday, before rebounding for Monday. I guess this proves what we already know: the vast majority of people who read blogs do so from work. Shame on all of us.

Scrabble: Stefan Fatsis, writing for Slate Magazine, has somehow managed to do the unthinkable. He has written a play-by-play for a game of Scrabble and has made it interesting. You can read here about how a carpenter managed to shatter the previous single game record of 770 points. In the basement of a Unitarian church, two men “set three records for sanctioned Scrabble in North America: the most points in a game by one player (830), the most total points in a game (1,320), and the most points on a single turn (365, for Cresta’s play of QUIXOTRY).”

Johnny Mac Rap? Expository Thoughts posts the audio for another weird and wonderful Internet phenomenon, suggesting “John MacArthur has finally embraced his rap alter ego “Dr. Miggidy Mac.’”

Symposium: I do intend to award a prize in the Reformation Day Symposium. The participation in this Symposium was far beyond my expectations and I have not yet had opportunity to sift through the entries (there must be 70+ entries to go through!). The team of judges (i.e. myself and a friend) have pulled out a few favorites and will go from there. Check back sometime next week.

Books: Every now and again I like to mention some of the books I’ve read or have tried to read, but have decided not to review or not to finish reading. Such is the case with A Week in the Life of MAF by Irene Howat (published in 2006 by Christian Focus). The book has a very interesting premise: it discusses each of Mission Aviation Fellowship locations around the world and seeks, on the basis of week-long diaries, to show what happens within the organization in a given week. Unfortunately, I found the execution of this good idea was somewhat lacking. Not every good idea makes a good book and this may just be proof of that. Still, for the right person with an interest in this organization or in mission work, this may be a worthwhile book. As an aside, the book begins with a sentence that is strangely awkward: “The week in 2004 in which the snapshot of MAF’s work was taken started with the rising of the sun on Sunday, 5 September, and the first operation on which it shed its light was in Eastern Australia, in Cairns, where MAF’s Head Office is.”

Etc: And that’s it from me today. I am about to head out to do some shopping with the kiddies. Have a blessed weekend (the 40 or 50% of you who actually visit on Saturday…)!

October 29, 2006

Some time ago, my pastor posted on his blog asking if anyone could identify the author of a song called “Teach Me To Love What You Say.” We sang the song in church this morning and I noted that it is still marked with “Author and copyright information unknown.” So I guess he never tracked it down. It is a sweet song and one the children seem to enjoy singing a great deal. Do you happen to know who wrote it?

Teach Me to Live What You Say
Teach me to live what You say,
Make me a child who’ll obey;
Holy in all that I do,
May I bring glory to You.

My life is all Yours to shape as You will
I’ll be the glove for Your hand to fill;
I want to be pleasing, to You may it be,
That You might be glorified somehow in me.

To be more like Jesus with each passing day;
More like the Master in every way,
A servant who’s yielded his heart to the One,
Who gives life and says to His servant, “Well done!”

October 20, 2006

I want to take an opportunity to thank those of you who have been praying for me on Fridays as I attempt to write The Discipline of Discernment. I look to Fridays with equal excitement and dread—excitement to be working on the book and dread that I will end the day downtrodden and feeling like I just can’t make this book work. There have been times when I’ve felt, almost literally, picked up while struggling with writing it. I’ve been feeling down and have been about ready to give up, when I’ve just felt a surge of strength. I know that this is God’s answer to your prayers. So thank you. And please continue. It means the world to me.

The State of Preaching

I don’t often read The Southern Seminary Magazine but noticed an interesting article in the most recent edition. In the “President’s Journal,” Al Mohler writes a brief commentary on “The State of Preaching Today.” As he reflects on this, he writes “On the one hand, there are signs of great promise and encouragement. On the other hand, several ominous trends point toward dangerous directions for preaching in the future. The last few decades have been a period of wanton experimentation in many pulpits and preaching has often been redefined and reconceived as something other than the exposition and application of the biblical text.”

He considers five points relevant to the downgrade of preaching:

A loss of confidence in the power of the Word - Our culture is gravitating towards images as the preferred mode of communication. Words are, then, necessarily losing their power and this in turns impacts preaching. But “the audacious claim of Christian preaching is that the faithful declaration of the Word of God, spoken through the preacher’s voice, is even more powerful than anything music or image can deliver.”

An infatuation with technology - “We live in a day of technological hubris and the ubiquity of technological assistance. For most of us, the use of these technologies comes with little attentiveness to how the technology reshapes the task and the experience. The same is true for
preachers who have rushed to incorporate visual technology and media in the preaching event.” While technology is not inherently bad, it has allowed the visual to overcome the verbal. And yet God has chosen to be heard and not seen. We know God not through what we see but what we read and hear. We know God through the Word.

An embarrassment before the biblical text - “Many preachers simply disregard and ignore vast sections of Scripture, focusing instead on texts that are more comfortable, palatable and non-confrontational to the modern mind.” There is much in the Bible that makes us uncomfortable and maybe even a little bit embarrassed. But the Bible, from cover to cover, is the Word of God and must be taught. It all exists for our edification and we must not dismiss those parts that are more difficult to understand and reconcile.

An evacuation of biblical content - “Another problem that leads to an evacuation of biblical content is a loss of the “big picture” of Scripture.” Rather than preaching the big picture of the Bible and rather than pointing to the story of redemption, many preachers focus instead on only individual passages, treating them much like fortune cookies and acting as if they are disconnected from the rest of Scripture.

An absence of the Gospel - “The clear presentation of the Gospel must be a part of the sermon, no matter the text. As Charles Spurgeon expressed this so eloquently, preach the Word, place it in its canonical context and ‘make a bee-line to the cross.’” Too few preachers speak of issues of morality and practical living, but omit a clear presentation of the gospel. In so doing they eviscerate the power of preaching.

Too many churches and too many preachers have made preaching something it was never meant to be. Mohler’s conclusion presents the simplicity of preaching. “In the end, the Christian preacher simply must confront the congregation with the Word of God. That confrontation will be at times awkward, challenging and difficult. After all, this is the Word that pierces us like a sword. The evangelical preacher must set his aim at letting the sword loose, neither hiding it nor dulling its edge.”

An excellent article, it is well worth reading and sending to others.

Ripping Up Roads

An article in the Edmonton Sun caught my eye. A reporter discusses his favorite childhood game which involved groups of boys constantly scrapping to attain the privilege of being King of the Hill. It sounds like a great game and exactly the kind of game I loved playing as a boy. But it’s also the kind of game that schools are now forbidding. According to this article, some schools in Edmonton have now banned the game of tag.

Apparently for the first time in human history, some children have been spotted getting overexcited and carried away.

In the words of one public school official, “When tag escalates to a punch or a karate chop, it’s not fun anymore.”

Well, duh.

But blaming the game because some kid is not playing by the rules is like ripping up roads to eliminate drunk driving.

It’s absurd, isn’t it? I half expected that tag would be banned because of concerns for the fragile egos of children who are always chasing and never being chased. I would imagine that this is coming as well.

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