Quote of the Week

"The palest ink is better than the best memory." - Chinese proverb.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Weekly Upwords and Onwords - October 30th Edition

Carl Trueman and the Wages of Spin

Trueman provocatively challenges us to get over our culture's coolness and cult of youth in To Baldly Go, of course, where no man has gone before. I think he's dead-on, and the take away for youth ministers is that we are far too concerned with trendiness, coolness, and youthfulness rather than Jesus, the Gospel, and maturity.

Mohler reviews Dockery's Renewing Minds

I haven't read it, but it looks good. Mohler recommends Renewing Minds: Serving Church and Society through Christian Higher Education stating that it comes from one who has "earned the credibility to set forth his vision." Dr. David S. Dockery is president of Union University. A University president having more than a plan to increase the endowments? Imagine that!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Walking the Line with Russell D. Moore

I have already mentioned the series of teaching on Proverbs by Dean Moore from Southern Seminary. However, I wanted to include a transcription of portions of Session 3 on "You May Already Be A Sluggard: Work and the Wisdom of Christ." Perhaps this will draw some of you to interest and listening and learning from these sessions.

Here is the blockquote, which begins some around minute 30-31 of the mp3 of Session 3:

"…that’s the case with every single one of us. All of us. What we are to do, is to so gain dominion over the curse in our own lives, that we are actually in the face of our employers, surprising our employers with our excellence. That’s what ought to be happening. There ought to be a sense of awe, especially in the face of unbelieving employers, to say, “how in the world can that guy stack tires like that without having to be watched all the time?” “How in the world can that woman fill prescriptions with that kind of excellence without having to be watched and supervised all of the time?” Because you are showing and signaling that you have dominion. Not a pharaoh-like dominion, but showing that you have stewardship over what has been given to you. That is blessed in Scripture. You are having the kind of foresight: “look to the ant,” Proverbs says, because she stores up for the winter. You are seeing strategically and long-term. You may say, “well, its easy for me to see strategically and long-term when I’m the boss, when I’m the one who has ultimate accountability of what takes place.”

Yeah, but what you are called to is to have that kind of long-term foresight no matter where you are in the structure of the church, the company, or wherever you are, because you are imaging God, you are walking in the way of wisdom.

The Scripture also says that says that there is an open-handedness. Work is not simply about carrying out tasks. Its not simply about planning for the future, its not simply about living. But look in chapter 27-28: “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due when it is in your power to do it; do not say to your neighbor, ‘go and come again tomorrow and I will give it,’ when you have it with you.” It says here that there is a fruit of our labor that is an open-handedness, a giving of what we have…

The plumb-line is the way of wisdom; the measuring rod is the Lord Jesus Christ. And it is very, very easy to see spirituality as something that is disconnected from work. If you tell somebody you’re going to do something, you had better do it…with excellence. You had better do it before they want it done , better do it better than they want it done. Not because you’re trying to impress that person, we’re not eye-pleasers, Paul says, but because you are doing it as unto Christ.

If you are in a situation where you are overwhelmed about something at your job you need to be as concerned about that, about getting dominion over that, as you would be about a sin that is present in your life, what you would consider a sin. Rather, gouge out your eye, cut off your hand than fail, than be overwhelmed. Scripture is telling us that spirituality has everything to do with our callings.

So that we are working, carrying out the tasks we’ve been given, pointing to that ultimate adventure, that ultimate working in the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus, in which we are co-heirs and co-laborers with Him. You’re not in a retreat, you’re in an internship for the Eschaton. And the book of Proverbs is saying to us through the Holy Spirit will you image Jesus through work?"

Download and listen to the whole series at The Henry Institute. By the way, if you're wondering where the title Walking the Line comes from, think of these lyrics and you may figure it out: "I keep a close watch on this heart of mine, I keep my eyes wide open all the time."

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Weekly Upwords and Onwords - 10/24/07

SCC Nearing 10 Million Albums Sold!!
I've been talking a lot about Steven Curtis Chapman lately, and as you may know he's nearing 10 million albums sold. I believe that he will soon cross that number with his latest release, This Moment, which I will be reviewing soon. Several of SCC's albums are Certified Gold and some are even Certified Platinum. I was wondering what that meant and checked it out on Wikipedia. I quickly discovered that there were even higher certifications such as Diamond Certified. Do you know that? And just how well does SCC stack up to mainstream, secular artists and groups? This Wikipedia article will let you know: RIAA Certification.

John Piper & Desiring God
Back to books. I don't if you've ever heard of John Piper before, but I want to recommend his writing to you. He is the pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, MN, longtime author and national speaker, and founder of Desiring God Ministries. He has made a great stir through the years speaking on his understanding of the Christian life which provocatively calls "Christian Hedonism." If you wonder just how those two words could possibly go together then you must read Piper! Fortunately, many of his books have been made available as free downloads on his website: Piper Online Books. You can also see Desiring God's book recommendations at: DG Book Recommendations.

See his website at www.desiringgod.org.

Russell D. Moore on Proverbs
Dr. Russell D. Moore is the Dean of the School of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He also teaches Sunday School at the local church where he is a member. He recently went through portions of Proverbs outlining the Wisdom of God and many of its practical applications. The series is titled Walking the Line, I HIGHLY recommend them. Download them and listen with Bible, pen, and paper in hand. He also runs the Carl F.H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Artist Review: The Dove Man, Steven Curtis Chapman

Thomas Aquinas had a substitute title for his favorite author, Aristotle, it was simply the Philosopher. When Aquinas spoke of the Philosopher he meant Aristotle. I am a music lover and listen widely, particularly of Christian contemporary and modern worship music, but Steven Curtis Chapman (SCC) is the only artist with a dedicated playlist in my mp3 library. SCC is for me, simply, the Artist.

It has been 20 years since SCC debuted in the world of CCM with his first album, First Hand. In that 20 years, he has released 12 theme albums, 3 Christmas albums, 4 compilations, 1 live recording, and 1 new and upcoming album for a shocking total of 21. Add to that the many songs he has written or worked on for films (The Prince of Egypt, The Chronicles of Narnia, The End of the Spear, even We Were Soldiers...) and other projects, and the volume of output is simply amazing. He wrote much of this work himself displaying an impressive ability for combining deeply-felt, thoughtful lyrics with captivating melodies and cutting-edge pop, rock, and country sounds. The sales of his albums top 9 million and 45 of his songs have reached number one on the CCM charts.

In short, SCC has proved to be one of the most productive, consistent, and steady artists in the world of CCM. Of course, the CCM movement has stopped to thank him for this many times, rewarding him over the years with a record-breaking 51 Dove awards. In addition to that he has been awarded with 5 Grammys.

SCC's music first appealed to me as road-burning music. Certainly, not Sunday morning music but songs for jamming down the highway. I had rarely listened to anything but southern and black gospel music, having been taught that anything with a rock beat was wrong. I can remember when that notion was forever destroyed for me: I was riding along with a friend and his father to some event and they popped in The Great Adventure, and that was it. By the time I had my own vehicle, it was windows rolled down jamming with The Great Adventure, No Better Place, My Turn Now, The Walk, Treasure of You, Facts are Facts, Let Us Pray, Land of Opportunity, Only Natural, Rubber Meets The Road, and others blaring from my poor boy's factory car speakers. And it just kept getting better with the later great jam songs Dive, The Change, See the Glory, Jesus is Life, Fingerprints of God, Declaration of Dependence, Live Out Loud, Bring It On, Only Getting Starting, Whatever, and I Do Believe.

What drew me the most to SCC's music however was the depth of meaning in the lyrics of his some of his slower songs. The first to grab my attention was Heart's Cry, with these words:

This is my heart's cry
I want to know the one who saved me and gave me life
This is my heart's cry to be so close to Him that all my life becomes
A testimony of my Savior's grace and love
This is my heart's cry

Many of his songs have such a richness of meaning pointing to an obvious deep commitment to the Lord and much meditation on what worship and devotion to Christ is all about. For instance, ponder the words of this song, Much of You:

I want to make much of You, Jesus
I want to make much of Your love
I want to live today to give You the praise
That You alone are so worthy of
I want to make much of Your mercy
I want to make much of Your cross
I give You my life
Take it and let it be used
To make much of You

I would say that there is a depth of understanding of worship in that song rarely found in Christian music today. Other great SCC songs of this type include Hiding Place, My Redeemer is Faithful and True, His Eyes, Wait, His Strength is Perfect, Way Beyond the Blue, Waiting for Lightning, When You Are A Soldier, Miracle of Mercy, Be Still and Know, God is God, Savior, and Moment Made for Worshipping. The words of this last song, I can't resist including here:
This is a moment made for worshipping
'Cause this is a moment I'm alive
This is a moment I was made to sing
A song of living sacrifice
For every moment that I live and breathe
This is a moment made for worshipping

Between all the jam songs and the slow, deep songs are many great songs, some them ballads and some of them just easy listening. Songs such as The Mountain, Free, Burn the Ships, Remember the Chains, Walk With The Wise, In This Little Room, More to this Life, Love You with My Life, For the Sake of the Call, and Magnificent Obsession.

SCC hasn't always written CCM music exclusively. One of his classic songs, I Will Be Here has become a wedding standard. His album, All About Love, was dedicated almost entirely to love and romance songs, being an album devoted to the love he and his wife share.

Easy to overlook, but worth checking out are his joint project songs. Of note is By His Wounds with Third Day, and I See Love with MercyMe.

When it comes to style I'm not exactly sure where SCC falls. He has proven capable of driving rock songs, energetic blues-influenced numbers, acoustic based worship songs (precursors of the praise & worship movement), orchestral sounds prefacing or behind songs, and all sorts of blended genres from alternative to country. The key stylistic influences are certainly country and rock, but it is obvious that SCC appreciates and enjoys a wide variety of styles. The oft-repeated criticism of CCM is that it is merely Christianized pop music copied a few years after the real thing and marketed for a clean, Christian audience. I believe SCC resists such criticism easily, whatever can be said of other CCM artists, cheap imitation would not survive 20 years. And through the years his sound has evolved considerably and when a new release comes out often it is with a new sound, and whatever the new sound is it is clean, tight, and well-executed.

How does SCC do all of this? I'm not sure-God is the One who provides such gifts. SCC's got the voice, the musical ability, and certainly the passion, but the key, I believe, is his song-writing and his devotion to the God he sings about. His song writing demonstrates a grasp of the deep, wholistic nature of biblical worship and he crafts the lyrics so that it is communicated in words and images very relevant to the contemporary generation. His devotion is shown most completely in the some of the lyrics of the songs, some quoted above. Other little things demonstrate his devotion as well, like his habit of providing related Scriptures for every song in the liner notes of each album.

I also appreciate SCC for his consistency. As far as I know, he never attempted to crossover to mainstream rock and pop music which so many try to do. What he started out doing-making great music for Jesus-is what he is still doing today.

I appreciate and enjoy the music of SCC not in order to exalt SCC or indulge in some form of Christian rock idol worship, but rather because SCC has helped me through his music to exalt the Lord Jesus Christ in my personal thought life, worship, and prayer.

Thus, I commend to you the work of Steven Curtis Chapman.

For a full discography, see here.

Also, make sure to watch for his upcoming release Live in this Moment. He is also on tour this fall and in the Spring 2008, so check out the SCC website, and if he's coming close to home go!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Weekly Upwords and Onwords

I'm a great fan of The Simple Dollar blog and have learned quite a bit from it. I recommend its best of... stash of blogs. Recently, Trent (the man behind it all) published a very useful summary of 25 weeks of reviewing a book on personal development and productivity. He did this by reading one book on the subject every week! So, please check it out:

The Simple Dollar - Building A Personal Productivity and Development Library

I also greatly enjoy the blogging of Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. You may have seen him on TV as he has made many guest appearances representing the evangelical Christian perspective on a wide swath of issues. He is known to be a voluminous reader. It is fabled that he has personal library between 30,000 and 50,000 volumes, and legend has it that you can pick any volume and ask questions concerning it which he quickly and ably answer. So he is well-qualified to write about reading, so check out his recommendations on reading, his thoughts on the importance of books for the Christian faith, and some current books he recommends.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Book Review: Patriot Battles by Michael Stephenson

War may be Hell, nevertheless men love to read and write about war. Michael Stephenson is certainly equal to the task of writing about war professionally and passionately. It is obvious that he loves the writing, and if you enjoy military history, you'll love the reading.

Purpose of the Book

The subtitle of Patriot Battles is How the War of Independence Was Fought. The subtitle holds two keys to the book. The first is the purpose of the book: to answer the how question for all parties concerned in the war. The second is a key thesis of Stephenson's work: the war fought between the American colonies and their British brothers from 1775-1783 was actually quite conservative all things considered. That is, that it is better called the War of Independence than the Revolutionary War. It was essentially a change in management, from British to American, rather than a radical revolution in authority, society, and tradition. What he means is not that there were no radical ideas or results, indeed there were. Rather, the War was not accompanied by the mass upheaval, wide bloodshed, and chaotic shifts seen in later revolutions such as in France a few decades later or those throughout the 20th century.

Part One: The Nuts and Bolts of War

Patriot Battles is divided simply into two parts. The first, "The Nuts and Bolts of War," covers in 11 chapters the details of battle and war during the War of Independence. Stephenson succeeds at putting the reader in the place of the soldiers and leaders on both sides of the conflict. He provides a bluntly honest portrayal of their motives, weapons, equipment, and plight with a flair for iconoclasm. In fact, he enjoys this myth-busting, letting the reader know, for instance, that the Americans were rarely found in uniform "blue-and-buff," instead they were just happy to have cloths, coats, and shoes. The famed American rifleman, as deadly a shooter as he was, wasn't quite the favored warrior of imagination either, instead most commanders, Washington included, preferred the musket man.

Washington would have preferred to do otherwise than forced to in almost every way. Washington considered himself a Gentleman after the English-European tradition and deeply desired to fight in a European manner with national uniforms, bold battle plans, traditional tactics, and an aristocratic officer's class. But he didn't have any of those things and instead did very well with what he had. He also learned to play the Fox, something else he didn't really like-he would have preferred bold, open warfare-but he became very good at it. By the end of the war Washington neared his ideals, but by then, well, it was over.

Part Two: The Great Battles

The second half of the book, "The Great Battles," covers in brief the 18 key battles of the War of Independence. The order of battle, the battle's terrain, and the key movements for each are laid out in useful description. Interestingly enough, most of these battles were won by the British, whose Lobsterbacks and Hessians tended to take the field on most days though often at high price. The fact of the War is that the American patriots simply would not quit. Washington's subordinate and then later American commander during the War in the South, Nathanael Greene said, "We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again" (79). In the southern campaigns, for instance, the British fought ten major engagements. Stephenson says, "They 'won' seven of them and lost the war" (314).

Small Criticism

The only criticism I have is the somewhat consistent comparison to America's current war in Iraq with the War of Independence. Stephenson believes that we have reversed roles in the ensuing centuries. George Bush has more likeness to George the III rather than George Washington. Stephenson may be right, and that what would perhaps make the thesis for a fine work of its own. However, I would prefer to keep the history books history as much as possible. This will limit the longevity of the work and its reception by many. Most are not picking the book up to hear an opinion about George W. Bush or the War in Iraq.

Strengths of the Work

There are several things which commend Stephenson's book. First, his writing is image-filled and connects with the contemporary reader. He has a solid, impacting style that communicates well. For instance, take the following passage on the rush of battle, the chance for glory, and the consequent exhaustion:

“Because there were only a very limited number of social roles open to them…heroism in battle provided at least an opportunity for recognition if not for glory.” The individual soldier in combat can be driven forward not only by training, the fear of retribution, and the pressures of his peers but also by a profound sense of the possibility of the heroic: what might be called “internal glory.” It is that moment—an adrenaline flash—when a man picks himself off the ground and rushes a strongly held enemy position. It is the moment when an extraordinary feat of courage overcomes terrible fear. But that stupendous, transforming, adrenaline rush comes with a price, a debilitating drain of energy that follows close on its heels. The nervous system is burned out, like an electrical surge frazzling a computer’s motherboard. The psychological and physical crash that follows battle to some extent explains the inability of generals to follow up victory with vigorous pursuit. The truth was that their men were spent." (89)

Second, Stephenson includes a great many facts of the war which explain many contemporary questions concerning the style of 18th century warfare. For instance, why did men stand in long lines just a football field away from each other and just fire away? That seems stupid and inconceivable to us today. The truth is, that as extremely horrific the experience was, the actual battle casualties were quite low because the weapons used were simply that ineffective. Men could stand in lines and shoot at each for hours and yet the rate of casualties be quite low. These tactics would of course cause horrific casualties when in subsequent decades the weapons were improved-as seen in the Napoleonic and Civil Wars.

Third, Stephenson provides many anecdotes which help to humanize the leaders and soldiers in the war and remove the dust of glory provided by two centuries. Many of these are about George Washington. Though many of these may seem to idolize Washington, most of them are simple records of what really happened, and it could be that Washington was, well, great. His bravery and courage were well-noted during the war, as this passage shows:

“During the assault, the British kept up an incessant firing of cannon and musketry from their whole line. His Excellency General Washington, Generals Lincoln and Knox, with their aids, having dismounted, were standing in an exposed situation waiting the result. Colonel Cobb, one of Washington’s aids, solicitous for his safety, said to His Excellency, “Sir, you are too much exposed here. Had you not better step a little back?”
“Colonel Cobb,” replied His Excellency, “if you are afraid you have liberty to step back.””

- Recorded by Dr. James Thacher at the battle of Yorktown (72).

As well as this one, which has as it's backdrop the near revolt of the American officer corps at the end of the war:

“On 10 March 1783 two anonymous declarations of grievances—the Newburgh Addresses—were circulated among the officers of Newburgh, New York. In a striking way the addresses echo the language of patriot revolt against Britain itself, except America was now the oppressor: ‘A country that tramples upon your rights, disdains your cries and insults your distresses.’ In order to head off the insurgents, Washington preempted a meeting they had called and, with a brilliant coup de theatre—reaching for his glasses, he said, ‘Gentlemen you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray, but almost blind in the service of my country.’—he won them over. The office corps returned to what it had always been during the war: loyal to the nation beyond all reasonable expectation and more steadfast in republican ideals than most of the people it served.” (78)

In the end, I commend to you Patriot Battles.