Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Never take lightly that the rules of the game are dynamic ...

Alpha - It was in our early teenage years that most of us started to take notice of the opposite sex. From the viewpoint of a young boy, he starts to notice things about those young girls around him that, somehow, he had never noticed before. Their smiles, their curves, their tenderness. Even more than their physical appearance, he begins to realize that they affect his external actions and his internal feelings when in their presence. Interestingly, just a few seasons earlier the lot of them were viewed as cootie-covered hindrances to his rough-housing play.

In middle school and high school, most boys start to seek out girls and to devote more and more of their energies toward trying to get closer to them. Through flirting and dating we start to gain an understanding of what sort of females attract us. We also learn how to interact with them. Hitting and cussing and crudeness and other sorts of typical and normal guy behaviors are frowned upon. This is a period for learning the basic rules of the game. Of course, this whole period is complicated beyond measure by the amazing biological changes that are going on in this stage of adolescence. A time when body and mind respond to controlling triggers that might not even be understood or recognized.

It is not surprising how few people end up with their high school sweethearts due to the fact that this is an important time of learning. What is preferred today, is likely to be cast aside tomorrow. Trial and error. Error and trial. These young kids in our western civilization are really in no position to make such important choices before they even establish themselves as responsible adults. Most young men are eager to attach themselves with the first young lady who shows them any attention. But lust-filled schoolyard crushes are no basis for long-term compatibility metrics.

(Part 1 of 2)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


In an offshoot of his Circle series, Ted Dekker gives us the six-volume Lost Books series. This set of adventures takes place in the nearly 15 years between his Circle series books Black and Red. This is a time when the evil Horde, worshippers of Teeleh, led by Qurong, and the remnant of the forest people, worshippers of Elyon, led by Thomas Hunter, face off in an ever-spiraling conflict.

The second of the Lost Book series Infidel picks up immediately where Chosen left off. The dark priest of the Horde wants Johnis, chosen one of Elyon, to increase his power. Qurong couldn't care less about his priest's inane dark powers, but he too wants to capture the chosen one because it will lead him to vanquish Thomas Hunter, which will lead to the defeat of the forest people. In this sinister planning, the bait is Johnis's mother, Rosa, who everyone believed was killed by the Horde. However, we learn that she is a prisoner of the Horde. Johnis will do anything to rescue her, even if he has to betray Thomas.

A rescue plan is hatched by Johnis and the shady forest guard recruit Jackov. Thomas is left for capture by the Horde after Jackov reveals his traitorous allegiance to the Horde and Johnis betrays his leader in an attempt to save his mother. In a chance exchange, Thomas is saved by Chelise, the daughter of Qurong, who will become his partner in the Circle series. Meanwhile, in his bull-rush to save his mother, Johnis loses the two books of history that he had found to the dark priest and he costs the forest guard 150 of their army with his ill-fated ideas. Johnis is eventually captured, but not before saving his mother and his love interest Silvie. He could have escaped cleanly, but he ended up trading his life for Karas, the young daughter of the dark priest. This is a sign of growth for Johnis, as he sees through hatred, bigotry, and tradition and starts to embrace light.

Eventually Johnis is rescued by a clever plan devised by Silvie, Darsal, and Billos. Silvie acts on her love for Johnis, Darsal acts on her love for Billos, and Billos acts because of his growing dark love of the power associated with the books of history. Now, onto the third book in the series, Renegade.

Monday, August 29, 2011


I have hit a natural trifecta! Boy howdy I must be a lucky man. Watch out Vegas and Atlantic City. Better pull in those welcome mats before I show up and fix to clean you out. I am on fire and nobody can put me out.

First there were the out of control wild fires in the Great Dismal Swamp (what a welcoming name, huh?) right across the border from me in North Carolina . The thick smoke hangs heavy in the air in my area. Each morning they issue lovely sounding air-quality reports with threatening ratings like "red", "orange", and the ever-dreaded "purple". Lemon

Second there was the magnitude 5.8 earthquake that recently caused me to yellow my trousers. Man this quake was so nerve rattling that it caused the Washington Monument to crack up. Lemon

Finally, third in the row is the hurricane that just passed through my area, ripping and tearing its way as it went. Way too much destruction and loss. Lemon

So, I have hit a natural trifecta and wish that I could return my winnings, every last chip, token, and marker. I don't want to be this lucky again.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Grind My Gears 24

Hey, I'm all for modern conveniences, especially if I can opt to hunt and peck on my state of the art computer (1.86 MHz CPU with a heart-stopping 4 kB of built-in memory) instead of actually having to stop and talk to people in person. email folks. That's e-m-a-i-l, which stands for Electronic Manipulation Adding to ILliteracy or some such acronym. But I tell you that I am getting sick and tired of this whole medium. How many times has someone sent you a communication promising that some important document or cartoon is included in an email "attachment"? Don't you find that most of the time said attachment is missing? Then the klondike bar who sent you the email in the first place sheepishly follows up with a second irksome and cloying communiqué saying "oops, teehee, forgot the attachment." Well this whole inane scenario that plays out time and time again really grinds my gears. This is rising above the normal levels of petty annoyance that I usually rant about in this forum. This is moving me to DEFCON 5 my friends. If I had absorbed near lethal doses of gamma radiation in the spectrum range from 520 to 570 nm, I would be hulking out right about now. For more on this issue, including detailed specifications on my computer, see the attachment.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


In an offshoot of his Circle series, Ted Dekker gives us the six-volume Lost Books series. This set of adventures takes place in the nearly 15 years between his Circle series books Black and Red. This is a time when the evil Horde, worshippers of Teeleh, led by Qurong, and the remnant of the forest people, worshippers of Elyon, led by Thomas Hunter, face off in an ever-spiraling conflict.

In the first book of the Lost Books series, Chosen, Thomas Hunter is in need of additional troops to ensure adequate protection of the forests where his people live, and where they have access to the cleansing waters of Elyon to protect them from the scabbing disease of the Horde. Thomas makes the decision to lower the age of enlistment in the forest guard from 18 to 16 in an effort to add 1000 new recruits. As part of selecting four officers from this list of recruits, a set of athletic games is staged in the middle forest. Ultimately, three recruits are named as officer candidates, Darsal, Silvie, and Billos (who will play a very important role later in the conclusion of the Circle series). However, unexpectedly, Thomas selects the fourth officer candidate from the crowd. This boy, Johnis, was a curious selection as he had failed to even be selected for the 1000 new recruits. A more obvious officer candidate would have been the skilled young warrior named Jackov. In time we learn why Thomas made his choice. Johnis is actually a chosen one of Elyon who was prophesied to serve an important role to protect the forest people.

The four chosen candidates must pass one final test defined by Thomas. They must endure a brief survival mission. However, along the way they are marked for attack by the Horde as they have somehow learned that Johnis bears the mark of Elyon. When Johnis evades the Horde soldiers for a time, he learns that his role is to collect the seven lost books of history. These books have immense power associated with them, such that if they were to fall into the hands of the Horde, then Teeleh could utterly destroy humanity. The quest that Johnis, Darsal, Silvie, and Billos accept is to find these books at any cost, including their own lives. The task will certainly not be easy, especially given the treachery afoot from the traitor now serving the Horde leaders. Now onto the second book in the series Infidel.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Have you ever seen a movie in the theater or on TV and just really got into it? Have you ever then told a friend about your experience only to have them say in a nasally, condescending or erudite manner that they much preferred the book version? Don't these pseudo-intellectual wanna-bes really make you want to projectile vomit all over their shoes? In fact I wish that whenever anybody even thought of uttering this ridiculous turn of phrase that a hyperactive irish man would sneak up behind them and whack them over the head with his shillelagh (a stout, knotty stick used for delivering a good beatin'). But this brief aside is not the subject of today's post, it serves only as an introduction.

Do you know anyone who has been in an earthquake and acts like they have something over you because you have not experienced one yourself? I sure have. All snooty and self-absorbed. They should be put on a whomp-down list just like the book readers. Well, perhaps I should now add my name to such a list. Yesterday afternoon at about 1:51 p.m. (EST) my area was "rocked" by a 5.8 magnitude (on the Andy Richter scale) quake. I was in my office and the whole place started shaking deeply without warning. It wasn't a gentle shaking either. I think I may have wet myself a little during the experience. Certainly my nerves were a bit frazzled and jangled. But I am sure that you couldn't possibly appreciate what I went through not having been there yourself.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Waiting for the Sun

When my daughter was younger, she would wake up early on the weekends. A bundle of energy and excitement, ready and eager for adventure. Naturally this meant that she would come and wake me up. She just couldn't stop herself. It was impossible for me to sleep in or linger too long in the warmth and comfort of my bed. There was just too much to do and she didn't want to miss out on a second of play time, wasting it by anyone sleeping the day away.

Now as the years have passed, things have changed completely. North is south and east is west. On most weekend mornings I am the first one up. I get showered, dressed, and do some chores. I then have time to do a bit of reading and savor that first cup of coffee before she even begins to stir and pull herself out of dreamland. As I wait, the house sits eerily quiet, yet there is an expectancy and charge in the air that is almost palpable as I wait for her to come out and start our day with her smile and laughter, as I sit in my study quietly waiting for the sun.

Monday, August 22, 2011


Green represents both the inception and the culmination of the "Circle Series" by Ted Dekker. It can be read before the other books Black, Red, and White or it can be read after. The future affects the past. The past rewrites the future. Of all the books in the series, this one is by far the darkest in its portrayal of evil and the extent of its desperation. As Green begins, present day earth has long since recovered from the deadly Raison Strain virus that had nearly eradicated all of humanity. In fact the series protagonist Thomas Hunter died in present day earth in order to save mankind and existed only in the future earth. With the passage of time, three powerful groups developed. The remnant of humans (albinos), followers of Elyon, led by Thomas Hunter. The diseased scab Horde legions (full breeds) lead by Qurong with his dark priest Ba'al, followers of Teeleh. The Edamites (half breeds) and their hybrid theology lead by Edam, who used to be humans before the scabbing disease of the Horde claimed them.

These three powerful factions are in constant conflict with each other to protect their way of life and their religions. A rift in the albino group develops when a sizable faction, led by Thomas' son Samuel, wants to return to their armed ways. Too much death, too much running, too little peace. They have forgotten the promises and the peace of Elyon. This ushers in the end times foretold in prophesy. Throughout this painful period of division and plotting, Teeleh's minions carry out his insideous plan to rout the forces of light with his dark magic. Two pawns from present day earth travel to the future to pit all of the armies against each other to bring about the age of darkness. Just when it seems that Elyon has left his chosen people behind, he reveals himself and fulfills his promises to save his tribe. The parallels to Scripture are strong and wonderfully woven into this entire thrilling series. A non-stop ride of excitement from start to finish.

Now my time in these worlds in not over. Dekker has written six additional books to complement this series that explore different characters and developments to flesh things out a bit more. These six so-called Lost Books will be explored in turn. Stay tuned.

Friday, August 19, 2011


A large number of people are packed into a small room. So full in fact that there is barely enough space to turn in a circle without striking a dozen others. In this same room stands a mature bull elephant, stomping and snorting its displeasure. The curious thing is that nobody seems to notice or acknowledge the elephant. They just go on with their conversations and their existence, seemingly oblivious.

There is a small oasis sitting in the midst of a vast, uninhabitable desert. Nothing but blistering, harsh conditions for mile upon mile in all directions. For the people who live in this lifespring, there is nowhere else to go. With common adherence to a small set of rules by all, this could be a paradise. However, a sizeable fraction of the population destroys the natural resources that are essential to survival with complete disregard for the consequences. In no time at all, the oasis will be eradicated and transformed into desert. This desert will support no life. Everyone understands this fact, but nobody seems to consider this with their actions.

Who will provide the grand design?
What is yours and what is mine?
'Cause there is no more new frontier
We have got to make it here.

We satisfy our endless needs and
justify our bloody deeds,
in the name of destiny and the name
of God.

(The Last Resort, The Eagles)

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Someone that I was once very close with had a bottle of sparkling cider that was given to her as a gift. It was at a very active time in her life when she had recently gotten married, had a child, moved into her first home, had love, and her family income level gave her a strong measure of stability. One day I asked her about the cider and was told that she was saving it for a time when she had something to celebrate. Looking at her life she should have been going through cases of that cider, but there it sat unopened. That was many years ago, and that bottle collected so much dust, it was eventually thrown out.

The title of today's post is celebrate, because I hope that you will appreciate the tale I have just shared. Open your eyes and see the blessings that you have in your life. Celebrate them with purpose, with joy, with thanksgiving. Don't wait for tomorrow or for your ultimate dream to come to fruition. Open that bottle, pour a glass, and celebrate. It begins with taking heed to recognize and appreciate the little things. Then when the big things come along, you will not be able to contain your joy. Celebrate.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


White represents the third book in the "Circle" series by author Ted Dekker. Having read the first book Black and the second book Red, there was no way I could stop, to pull away from these characters. I have been on a white-knuckle ride for far too long. The existence of humanity is at stake. In the present age, the evil antagonist Armand Fortier and his lieutenant Valborg Swensson have unleashed a virus on the planet Earth that started a death timer. Each person has about a week before their bodies will shutdown system by system. In the future age to come, the evil Horde and their leader Qurong, are systematically killing off the remnant of the forest people. Their leader, Thomas Hunter is a hunted man.

White picks up about a year after Red leaves off. The mighty forest guard is gone as are their armed and violent ways of self-defense and self-preservation. Each of the surviving remnant is now part of the Circle, a symbolic enclosure bounded by the love of their lord and savior Elyon. The Circle's existence is about the Great Romance, bringing people to Elyon so that they might know his love. This backdrop of pure love is also reflected in the precarious romance of Thomas and Qurong's daughter Chelise. Thomas is fighting for his life and that of his people in a dangerous back and forth with Chelise's suitor Woref, a mighty Horde general. At the same moment in the present age, Thomas and his sister Kara, along with geneticist Monique de Raison, are engaged in a fight for humanity that seemingly cannot be won. The odds are too great, but it is all about the power of sacrificial blood. Thomas can save the world. The future affects the past. The past rewrites the future. The great circle of life.

Now onto the first or the last novel in the Circle series (depending on how you wish to view it) called Green.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


I don't see you guys rating
the kind of mate I'm contemplating
I'd let you watch, I would invite you
but the queens we use would not excite you

With black against white and white against black, every move has as its goal to mate. Putting the other side into a position from which it cannot itself defend.

e2 to e3

Ahh, a variant on the king's pawn opening. But this refrain somehow seems out of tune, for his forces have lain fallow for many a season. While typically spring is the time that king's go out from their fortresses in search of conquest, he has remained walled up. Closed in on himself. The books of history tell of a time when his gardens were in bloom and his colors flashed in vibrancy. But if these myths ever witnessed the light of day, their veracity has since faded to naught.

d1 to h5

She has been biding her time, protecting her flanks from the relentless invading hordes. She has been on the front lines long enough to know nearly every opening. No thin flattery or bright banner would dare near her borders lest they pay the price of a humiliating defeat.

f1 to c4

But this, this seemingly pitiful offensive has taken her by surprise. She has defeated countless knights far more worthy than he. What her high council ranked as a foolish advance with nary a chance of success has somehow shown flashes of wisdom. Flashes of charm. Flashes of craft and of cunning.

h5 to f7

Lightning flashes. A quicksilver barrage. Although it makes no sense given the strength of his army, he has broken through all of her defenses almost en passant. White has taken black. Black has taken white. This changes everything.

... not much between despair and ecstasy ...

Monday, August 15, 2011


I was listening to the radio the other day when they came to a commercial break (they say they play a 20-song marathon, yet whenever I tune into this station, they always seem to be in a commercial break - but I digress). I thought for a moment that I had come across another seemingly ubiquitous cheesy radio spot. However, just a few seconds into the ad, I found myself weeping as the swelling music and contrived pathos turned me into a sobbing, blubbering man-baby ... Well, not exactly. What actually happened was that I found myself calling out "shenanigans", as in "Officer Barbrady, I call shenanigans". There was certainly tomfoolery and overstatement afoot.

The commercial was for a local insurance company. Here is what the ad said (and I quote), "Often passed down from generation to generation, our auto insurance is more than just insurance, it is like a cherished family heirloom." Yep, right up there with grand-grandpappy's ashes, the potato chip shaped like Elvis, and the collection of antique dust bunnies. The sad thing was, there was no hint of humor or acknowledgement of hyperbole in the delivery. The pitchman read his lines like Walter Cronkite on the evening news (and I even got the impression that his brow was deeply furrowed). This definitely was a bit over the top. Shenanigans.

Friday, August 12, 2011


In his novel Black, Ted Dekker introduced us to Thomas Hunter and his co-existence in two different worlds. As Black ended, both were in trouble. A virus had infected present day Earth and would kill all of humanity within a matter of weeks. The one person who could help to develop the saving antivirus, Monique de Raison, has been kidnapped. In other Earth, Teeleh and his evil minions have gained control of the forest of light. Thomas senses that the key to save present day Earth lies in his dream world, where he will stay until he can find some answers. Now, onto the second novel in this series, Red.

Thomas has lived for 15 years in his dream world. He not only managed to escape Teeleh's forces, but he led the chosen remnant of humanity to a new life in a new forest region of the creator Elyon. Here the people cleanse themselves daily in Elyon's lake. Thomas has married Rachelle and has become the leader of the forest guard, defenders of the people against the Horde, a separate remnant of the original forest people whose minds are controlled by Teeleh. They live in the desert surrounding the forest and constantly war against Thomas' people. Because they don't have access to Elyon's water, they live with the debilitating skin disease of the fallen world.

A new character emerges in the form of Justin, once a member of the forest guard. When he starts to preach a new way, embracing a peace between the Horde and the forest people, a plot is hatched to betray him. He is brutally beaten and drowned in Elyon's lake, turning its cleansing waters blood red. Yet this isn't the end, as Justin is really Elyon. His sacrificial death is the first step in cleansing all people permanently, if they just accept his way. Justin's triumphant return to Thomas and his small faithful band just a few days later is a wonderfully moving scene.

Meanwhile, present day Earth remains in grave peril. Although Thomas has lived in the other Earth for 15 years, only a few hours have passed back in his own world. When Rachelle tells Thomas of a strong connection with Monique, Thomas knows he must go back to rescue her, which he does, but pays with his life. Monique now must devote her full energy to develop the antivirus to save the world, but time has nearly run out. Now onto the next novel in the series, White.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Welcome Home?

A few weeks ago an event was announced on the news that affected many folks in my area. An aircraft carrier and its associated strike force were returning after a deployment that lasted the better part of a year. More than 5000 sailors were returning to their families and loved ones. The local news stations love this type of feel-good news story. Cameras rolling to catch every giddy wave and long embrace. Parents deeply clutching their young children, and some holding their newborns for the first time. These scenes are heart warming and moving.

However, I wonder what happens after the cameras get packed away and the crowds dissipate. What happens when one half is now living again with their other half after they have each come to a sort of separate equilibrium in their lives? After the euphoria of the reunion dissipates, how are the new tensions handled? I would guess that after the first few weeks, that frictions could start to emerge and inexplicable and unexpected thoughts of frustration and resentment could bubble up to the surface on both sides.

In the moment that these thoughts popped into my mind, I wanted to banish them. I chided myself for being so negative. Then I felt like I needed to pray for these men and women and their families, for love, patience, understanding, space, trust, and compromise.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


The passage of time sometimes seems like it does something strange to our minds. It gives rise to some peculiar type of myopia or amnesia. Things that were once very unpleasant or barely tolerated somehow become romanticized when viewed from a distance or through the filter of years. How many times has someone you know reminisced about the good old days when you know darned well that they despised those good old days? Those good old days actually sucked.

... Family reunions with those nasty cousins and that hateful aunt ... changing your babies diapers ... sweltering through summers without air conditioning ... fighting with siblings ... slogging through 4 years of back-breaking studies at college ... trying to keep up with repairs on a first house with an empty wallet ...

I could go on listing things that people love to look back on fondly. Oh, I am quite sure that a few actually did enjoy themselves during some of these seasons. However, I am even more sure that the majority of folks who fondly yearn for those old times have somehow not remembered how miserable they were. My guess is that they have developed some sort of Norman Rockwell-itis, where they wish they actually had good memories of the old times or where they wish that they could go back to those times that they should have embraced and relished in, and do it over again. The right way this time.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


In his novel Black, author Ted Dekker has created not one, but two distinct worlds. Two diametrically opposed realities. One world is the here and now. The other is a distant future earthly kingdom. These worlds are connected by one man, Thomas Hunter. The portal to each is entered when Thomas falls asleep. While asleep in one world, he exists in the other and vice versa. But it is not initially clear which, if either, is a dream. Is he losing his mind?

The story begins with Thomas and his sister Kara in Denver. These siblings were raised in the Phillipines, the children of a military chaplain. They ultimately relocated to the United States after their father betrayed them. They were finally starting to make a life for themselves, returning to normalcy, when some heavies, perhaps from Thomas' past, catch up with him and try to take him out. A bullet wound to the head and they believe they have done their job. While Thomas is passed out, he awakens in a world of innocence and light and love. A village filled with a new humanity, whose purpose is to worship their creator, Elyon. Separated from this eden, across a river, lies the black forest. A hell on Earth, filled with evil, flesh-eating bats, and their leader Teeleh. In his time here, Thomas learns the distressing fate of humanity. Done in by the release of a deadly virus by a meglomanical madman, bent on world domination. Thomas may be the key to stopping this fate, but we learn that he may also be the one responsible for it in the first place.

When Thomas gets back to the present he learns that this virus, developed from a mutated air-borne vaccine, is more than just a bad dream. As he tries to convince those around him of what he discovered in his dreams, nobody believes him. Just another crazy. When backed into a corner, he takes matters into his own hands and kidnaps the chief virologist of Raison Pharmaceuticals, the company that had developed the vaccine. Eventually as Thomas' predictions of the future continue to come true, he is finally taken seriously. But it's too late, the virus has been released and everyone on the planet will be infected within a week. Within three weeks, everyone will be dead. At the same time, Teeleh has duped the leader of the village into giving him and his horde access to overtake the forests of light. Likely, this too has occurred due to Thomas' influence and presence. Both worlds are under full attack and in danger of falling; all hope seems lost. Everything is painted an inky black.

Now, onto the next book in Dekker's Circle series, Red.

Monday, August 8, 2011


As a kid going to school, I always had a problem with lunch time. Most of the reasons have escaped from me due to the passage of time. However, I remember that the lunches that were prepared for me at home were given minimal care and when I complained I was told unapologetically to make my own dang lunch. Given that we really didn't have all that much, I just said to heck with it and went without eating lunch for many years. When it came to my own daughter, I made the decision to make her lunch a priority. I wanted her to know how much I loved her every time that she opened her lunchbox. For a time, she regularly told me how yummy things were and that she was thankful. Today though, it is very rare when she acknowledges my effort. There have been countless times when I have snuck in a special goodie, and when I ask her later how she enjoyed her lunch, she has no memory of any of it. She just scarfed it down without much thought. She has become inured to my efforts. Well, at least for the most part.

It was 12:45 p.m. the other day and I was in my office doing my thing when my daughter called me. That morning I had put a piece of her favorite strawberry/watermelon bubble gum in her lunchbox. For some reason that got her attention. When I asked her why she called, she said that she just wanted to thank me for the gum. Oh, and she had to get going because she was in the middle of something. Love you, bye (click) ... My smile took over my face for the rest of the afternoon.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Insights on James/Peter

"To the end of my days, my major goal in life is to communicate the Word with accuracy, insight, clarity, and practicality." Such is the underpinning of the New Testament Insights series by pastor and author Charles Swindoll. To date, I have already completed reading two volumes in this Bible commentary, Insights on Romans and Insights on 1&2 Timothy and Titus. With this post I bring to completion my study of another volume, Insights on James, 1&2 Peter.

I clearly remember when I was starting to take the Bible more seriously, more personally, and began to make plans to read it in its entirety. Several people advised me that I should not approach the Bible as if it were a novel. They recommended a plan for a specific order to help me frame and understand the Word. So, of course, I read it in order from Genesis in the Old Testament to Revelation in the New Testament. Over the period since my first complete read, I have re-read various sections in a "scatter-shot" approach. A little here, a little there. I have also studied in depth the lives of various prophets and Biblical personalities, and, of course, the life of Jesus Christ. Now with Swindoll's New Testament Insights series, I am making an opportunity to complete an in-depth study of entire books of the Bible, one at a time.

In this current work, Swindoll, in his usual relevant and readable style, takes us through the book of James, half brother of Jesus, written in roughly 45 AD. James is a wonderfully practical book for those in the faith, focussing on what we are to do as Christians. Specifically, what are the expected fruits of our faith. This is one of my favorite books of the New Testament. This is followed by the epistle 1 Peter, written by the apostle Peter (the rock) in roughly 63 AD (some 30 years after he had been humbled in his thrice-repeated denial of Christ). This letter was written to the Christians across Asia Minor in an effort to encourage them to stay strong in the face of ongoing persecution. Finally, Swindoll takes us through the brief epistle 2 Peter written by Peter in 66 AD, about a year before he was martyred. The central themes of this letter were written by a man, a leader in the church, who knew his days were numbered. He wanted to give one last exhortation to his fellow believers scattered across Asia Minor. Stay strong in the faith, watch out for those who would try to lead you astray, and prepare for Christ's return.

Next in Swindoll's Insights on the New Testament series, I will study Revelation. This should be quite enlightening.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Life Pruning

Today's post was inspired by an afternoon of yard work. I noticed that several areas of my property had become severely overgrown. What was once simple, organized, and carefully laid out, had become chaotic and wild. I knew that I had to get out my pruning shears and take back some measure of control. To be sure, this was not easy work. Each individual flower, bush, and tree was flush with vibrant colors and vigorous growth. Each stunning in their own glory. Yet taken as a whole, my landscaping had become an untamed jungle.

It seems to me that our lives can be a lot like my yard and my gardens. We set things up so that they are organized and manageable. However, with our busy rush-rush lifestyles, we seem to be trying to go in so many directions all at the same time. Seemingly without our even noticing how or when or why, our gardens become overrun, tangled, dense, choking. In this condition, health, vitality, and even ascetic beauty all suffer.

In moments like this, pruning is essential. Yet such drastic surgery often involves making hard choices. Pulling out one plant to save another. Scaling back a beautiful rose bush so that the delicate lilies and crocuses can find some healthy soil and some sun. Removing thick tree branches to allow circulation and space for the other plants. Yet although painful choices of what must go are required, this type of pruning will ultimately result in stronger growth and improved overall health for our gardens. We might even have to throw out the good to preserve and cultivate the great.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Two Weeks Notice

I think for most parents, separation from their young children for any length of time can lead to a mountain of anxiety and worry and uneasiness and fear. I would guess that most of us with children have had one or more periods of extended time apart from them. It could be due to a business trip, summer camp, divorce, or any number of other things. For me, this has been a fairly common occurrence over the years, mostly due to work-related travel. Once I remember being on travel for a two-week stretch when my daughter was just a few months old. It really tore at my heart to leave her. When I returned it seemed that she had changed so much. It felt like I had missed out on something unique and precious that would never come around again. I decided at that time to be very careful about travel as a result of that, only going when absolutely necessary for my career.

Now I am facing another of those points in our journey together. However, this time it is not me who is going away. Today, my daughter is traveling to visit some relatives in Spain. We will be apart for more than two weeks. When I see her again, the start of the school year will be just around the corner and our summer will be over. For many reasons, this stretch just ahead of me will be a difficult one to deal with productively and positively. I will deeply miss her and our special time together. I just hope that the echo of her laughter in our house will resound and sustain me until she returns home.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Million Miles

"The saddest thing about life is you don't remember half of it ... I wondered whether a person could plan a story for their life and live it intentionally."

I just finished reading the most recent book by Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. The seed for this work grew out of a garden that initially teemed with neglect. Miller had been riding the wave of popularity associated with his million-selling book Blue Like Jazz. Because of his sudden popularity and good press, he had grown smug and egotistical. Ultimately this evolved into a general laziness about and disconnection from life. Satisfied to lay in bed all day, only to roll out for food and television.

Then because of one phone call, his outlook began to change. Someone contacted him about his interest in making a movie based on Blue Like Jazz. That seed turned everything around. Over a period of about year, he worked to develop a script. Along the way he invested himself in the study of what makes a good story. He came to the conclusion that the elements of style, framing, and plot that make for a good movie are essentially the same elements that make for a good life story. The point is to purposefully move from the day-to-day boring reality of the humdrum into a meaningful narrative.

Miller takes us on his metamorphosis from couch slug to embracer of life. From a mindless television addict to someone who eventually hikes the Inca trail, opens a school in Uganda, and bicycles across the United States. From someone who randomly drifts through his existence to someone who approaches each day with his eyes open and with a sense of expectant purpose. The narrative too follows this development. Once off the couch he engaged in silly frat house antics with his newfound energy. However, slowly but surely he matured, and he became more focussed and conscious and contemplative with his pursuits. It was a slow but sure journey of development for him that gave me something that I needed as well.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Chalk Dust

Once upon a time I was a university professor. But the experience of teaching was an ongoing source of frustration for me. Students seemed to put more energy into being lazy than digging in and doing what was required. It ate at me that I had to constantly push and prod them toward taking their work seriously. I was developing ulcers trying to connect with them and engage them, all while they seemed so relaxed, so ambivalent. I feared that all of my effort and the long hours of preparation were going for naught. But one experience kind of changed some of that for me.

I was teaching the first semester of a two-semester electronics lab. My experience taught me that the students would only understand the material when they could explain every aspect of why the circuits behaved as they did. During class, I moved from team to team and asked question after question to force them to think and engage. They were not allowed to continue in their work until they had demonstrated sufficient understanding and mastery in response to my enquiries. However, this required diligent consideration of their homework and careful thought and analysis in preparation of their lab reports. Oh my how they moaned and complained. I was painted as a cruel and unreasonable taskmaster.

During the second-semester of this lab course, I was asked to substitute for the regular instructor when he went away on travel. During this week there seemed to be an intangible appreciation from my former students regarding my approach. I couldn't quite explain the vibe in the room, but they seemed genuinely happy that I was there. At the end of the week, the students came to my office en masse, pleading with me to take over the class. They were getting good grades with the current instructor, but they felt they were gaining no true depth of knowledge. They had come to understand why I pushed them so hard. The funny thing is that I would never have known any of this had I not gone back.