Manichean

manəˈkēən
adjective (chiefly historical)

of or characterized by dualistic contrast or conflict between opposites.

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Heard or read four times (and counting) over the past three days to describe the current political race.
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Books for September

  • Beyond Bells and Smells by Mark Galli. I was surprised by this book, as I had thought (and hoped) it to be something that would introduce the reader to the spiritual foundations of the liturgy, explaining the elements, etc. It wasn’t that, or anything like it, though I wasn’t disappointed with it overall. It is more a collection of essays on the spiritual impact and importance of liturgical worship, offering something more like a devotional approach to liturgy rather than an analysis of it. (8)
  • The Power of Speaking God’s Word: How to Preach Memorable Sermons by Wilbur Ellsworth (re-read). This book is very good, offering a perspective on preaching and the preparation for preaching that is different and fresh. Beginning with the premise question of “what makes a sermon memorable?” Ellsworth quickly moves in the direction of an increased oral approach to preparing and delivering sermons, instead of the more common written/literary approach. Great words on the “what” and “why” of orality, but lacking a bit on the “how” aspect-- a factor that I find myself both disappointed with (who doesn’t like “method” and concrete advice on something like this?) and grateful for (because the approach I’ve developed is fairly different from his, and I like the freedom to do it my way). (8+)
  • A Mile in My Shoes: Cultivating Compassion by Trevor Hudson. Hudson, it turns out, is one of the original “Christ-Followers”-- those who have eschewed the term “Christian” as being over-used and lacking the oomph they want in a label. If that suggests something about the ethos of this book, then you’re probably right on. Hudson’s contribution here is one part helpful reflection on the need for deeper compassion in a Christian’s (oops-- I mean Christ-Follower’s) life, a la Henri Nouwen; and three parts method for how to do what Hudson did. In all, sadly, the book amounts to only a little more than a planning resource for a Hudson-style spiritual exercise-- which is really a shame, since had the ratio been reversed it really could have been something. I give it slightly higher marks only because the gold to be mined within the method is good stuff, and maybe worth the work. (8)
  • Calls to Worship: a pocket resource by Robert Vasholz. Following his pocket guide to Benedictions, Vasholz has produced another very helpful book for pastors and worship leaders, opening the door to fresh material that is too easily overlooked. A useful addition, this time, is to break them down into sections-- Vasholz offers the following sets of calls to worship: for special occasions including the Church calendar (42), responsive readings (36), and those to be read by Pastors only (39). A great resource. (9+)
  • The Encore Effect: How to Achieve Remarkable Performance in Anything You Do by Mark Sanborn. I’ve already reviewed this one elsewhere. (6-)
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Wildlife watch, late September

Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. ~Isaiah 35:6


Two does and two fawns grazed casually on the shrubs this afternoon, before playfully prancing across the field toward the pond. Such a beautiful sight.

These were a different set of deer from the three does I saw earlier today as I sat in my vehicle, watching them cross behind the big oak near the playground. The woods are full of deer this year, it seems-- and big ones, too: two of them are larger than most does I’ve ever seen.
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Bits & Tidbits, 9/30/08

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Wildlife watch, mid-September

A couple of crows have been at it all day today, cawing and flitting up and down from the trees just outside my window. They surprised me several times with their cawing, and one time the flutter of wings so close to the window startled me.

Late in the afternoon, a pair of deer came out for a snack-- a doe and fawn, with spots still clearly showing on the young one. They munched for a bit, and I noticed them in time to watch for a few minutes, wondering to myself about how good twigs and leaves taste to a deer.

As they made their way around the bend, mother doe was startled by the crows, too-- enough to jump. Young fawn remained careless, not yet accustomed to the need to be wary. Crows are harmless to deer, though, and they continued on their way for a while before finding a convenient hole back into the brush.
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Book Review: A Handful of Pebbles

Banner of Truth asked me to write a more detailed review of this book, so I’m posting it here.

Publisher: Banner of Truth Trust
Publication Date: 2008
Rating (1-10 scale): 7+

Anytime I hear the term "liberal" these days, I'm not sure what to think. On the one hand, the word can mean a number of things that are threatening to orthodoxy, or it can mean some things that are actually very good. On the other hand, I wonder if the term has served its purpose, and no longer is the broad-sweeping inclusive category that it once was. So when I received my copy of A Handful of Pebbles and saw that it was subtitled, "theological liberalism and the church," I wondered which of these it would be.

Fortunately, author Peter Barnes is quick to define what he means by liberalism, even granting that it can sometimes have good associations-- yet qualifying how the liberalism he intends is that which is a threat and challenge to biblical orthodoxy. What follows is Barnes's summary of what liberalism is, how it came to find its way into the church, and how an orthodox Christian ought to respond.

This small book offers a brief history of the rise of liberalism in the church, and it does a fair job of that. The first half could be an outline to a historical theology class, if that class focused exclusively on the rise of heresy and philosophical departure from orthodoxy. I appreciated some of the discussion about key doctrines, especially, and thought the content in the couple of chapters given to the problem of "what do we do about it?" were helpful, at least in a limited way, to give the reader some idea about why theological liberalism is at odds with orthodox Christian beliefs.

However, at the end I was left with a nagging question about who the intended audience for the book is. If it is for pastors or professors, it is far too thin on history and foundations to be of great use; It clearly is not intended as an academic reference. If, on the other hand, it is intended as an apologetic for liberal thinkers, it is likely too thin on refutation and discussion of problems; only the most willing and self-skeptical liberal would be convinced by this little tome.

The best audience I can think of for this book is the average church member in an evangelical church, who is himself/herself already committed to orthodoxy; for this person, it would be a good introduction to the indicators of liberal theology and their problems. I could see it being especially useful to put in the hands of a "liberal church refugee," stepping into an orthodox church after years of having the edge taken off of his or her beliefs. Or perhaps it might be a good tool for church officers, who may at times encounter mild or vague questions along the lines of what this book answers.

At times the tone of the book is a bit too defensive or even aggressive. While this may be justifiable given the subject matter, it undermines the brief urging at one point of approaching those in error with love and forbearance. I would have liked a bit more gracious attitude in a book like this.

Overall, I appreciated A Handful of Pebbles, even if I felt it was appropriate for only a limited audience.
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Wildlife Watch, early September

Well, the does are back to making frequent appearances. Sunday morning I saw the “pair” that regularly moved together last fall-- I think a mother/daughter couple. Only this time, they were accompanied by two fawns, spots still showing. They moved down the left side of the field, then stepped into the woods about 50 yards from my window. I’ve seen them several times, and the other group as well.

I’ve also seen bucks a couple of times. One was just a glimpse of the big guy I first saw last fall; he stood at the edge of the far side of the field for a moment, then turned quickly back into the woods. The other was a younger (looking), smaller buck who crossed the field on his way to the pond. Thirsty in the late-summer heat, I suppose.
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Good friends

In a (very) brief trip to St. Louis, I had the pleasure of staying with my friends Craig and Megan, and their lovely girls. We met these sweet people as they were moving to St. Louis to begin seminary a couple of years behind us, and they have become dear friends.

I’ve stayed with them before, and each time has been similar: I come in late, displace someone from their bed, visit briefly with them in the morning, and leave. I’m sure their girls (who are growing up so fast!) think I’m a little crazy (maybe I’m the
Mr. Edwards of this half-pint house) but they are gracious and loving, never complaining about the fact that I took one of their beds.

My friends have moved into a new house, and it is great! They have a lot of good space, and they’ve already done some pretty fantastic work to make it theirs. They have a good vision for the place too, so I’m sure it will be a great home for them for years to come. (Megan, I still think the pinstripes will do best. Maybe a medium-dark blue with white pinstripes?)

I’m so grateful for you, my friends. Thanks for being so inviting--
you are the very model of a house of hospitality.


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Blogs I'm reading

A friend of mine asked me earlier in the week what blogs I’m reading these days; I told him I’d look at my list and post some recommendations here. So, here are some of the blogs I read and recommend:

Friends
  1. Craig Dunham
  2. Megan Dunham
  3. Jon Barlow
  4. Ann Barlow
  5. Adam Tisdale
  6. John Allen Bankson
  7. Paul Bankson
  8. Dane Ortlund
  9. Russell Smith
  10. Jeremy Jones
  11. Margie Haack
  12. Travis Scott
  13. Buffy Smith
  14. Nikki Sawyers
  15. Sam Murrell
  16. Jeff & Aubrey Tell

News (not really “blogs” but RSS feeds included)
  1. NY Times
  2. Slate
  3. Macworld
  4. byFaith

Church/Ministry/Theology
  1. Church Forward (Sam Rainer)
  2. Ed Stetzer
  3. The Sola Panel
  4. Jesus Creed (Scot McKnight)
  5. Seminary Survival Guide
  6. Internet Monk (Michael Spencer)
  7. Parchment & Pen
  8. Biblical Horizons
  9. Reformation21
  10. The Last Homely House
  11. The Rabbit Room
  12. PastorHacks

Random/Other
  1. 43 Folders (Merlin Mann)
  2. Rants & Ramblings on Life as a Literary Agent
  3. From Where I Sit (Michael Hyatt)
  4. Unclutterer
  5. Rands in Repose
  6. GTD Times
  7. How to Change the World (Guy Kawasaki)

There it is. There’s something in there for almost everyone, I think. Have fun!


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Books for August 2008

I managed to finish a few more books this month than last-- and more importantly (to me, at least), I got my rhythm back for reading. I feel like I’m plowing through them lately, having finished four books in the last 10 days.

Here’s my list for August:
  • Evangelism in the Small Membership Church by Royal Speidel. This book is one of a series, entitled the “ministry in the small membership church” series, published by Abingdon Press. I can’t tell you how disappointed I am by this book. For one thing, most of it really isn’t about evangelism at all; after the first couple of chapters, the bulk of the content is just about pastoral ministry in general. Ironically, the author suggests that the book is a good one for groups of laypeople, but most of the book focuses on the pastoral side of church ministry. Secondly, the author doesn’t speak to small membership churches-- not really; he frequently cites examples from his own ministry experience where he refers to congregations of well over 100, several times mentioning events accomodating more than 500-- even though approx. 60% of all churches are congregations of 100 or fewer. Finally, much of his theology is just poor; there were a number of times that I just shook my head, wondering where he got an idea or how he found what he was saying in the text. While there are a few ideas in the book that I will come back to-- and I’m glad to have read it for those alone-- I simply cannot recommend this one. (3)
  • Waterbrook Press Children’s Extravaganza (children’s books)-- reviewed earlier in the month: God Gave Us Heaven by Lisa Tawn Bergren, When God Created My Toes and God Loves Me More Than That by Dandi Daley Mackall
  • Making a Meal of It: Rethinking the theology of the Lord’s Supper by Ben Witherington, III. I appreciate Witherington’s keen insight into the historical, social, and anthropological culture of biblical times; I’ve long been a fan of his “socio-rhetorical” commentaries. He brings that same insight into this book, giving a comprehensive look at what the institution and celebration of the Lord’s Supper would have looked like in Jesus’ day, and in the early church. There is good stuff to be found here, and Witherington affirms much of what has been something of a revival in Lord’s Supper theology. But I think the subtitle may take things a bit too far: the rethinking began well before this book was published (in 2007). Still, good stuff, even if Witherington is sometimes on the fringes with his theology, which makes me cautious about recommending him. Only because of that occasional theological variance, I rank this one a little lower than I might otherwise. (7)
  • How to Pick a Peach: the search for flavor from farm to table by Russ Parsons. This has been a great and fun read, one I picked up for our vacation in the NC mountains and have recently finished. Parsons offers a season-by-season, produce-by-produce guide for how to know when fruits or vegetables are ripe, how to store them, and even some good advice on preparation and cooking. He also has encyclopedic knowledge of the backgrounds of our modern produce, as well as the food industry (farm and market). His book is peppered with history, science, recipes, and tips for the garden and kitchen alongside a nearly-exhaustive reference for produce. It deserves a place on my shelf alongside my cookbooks and other kitchen references, but I found that I enjoyed reading it cover-to-cover, unlike any reference book I’ve read before. (10)
  • The Lord’s Supper: Eternal Word in broken bread by Robert Letham (re-read). I re-read this one quickly in preparation for the sermon series I’m about to begin on the subject of the Lord’s Supper. Letham does such a great job of covering this topic, with a lot packed into this little book (only 60 or so pages). I especially appreciate Letham’s practical approach: everything he has put into this book is geared toward a practicable use, and while the content is certainly theologically rich it is also written at a lay-level. So this would be a great book to introduce folks-- maybe in a Sunday School class, or officer training-- to the fundamentals of the Reformed theology of the Lord’s Supper. It’s not comprehensive-- there’s a good bit of Old Testament and historical content missing that is well-covered in other books (such as Given for You by Keith A. Mathison). But it is a great primer. (9)
  • A Handful of Pebbles: theological liberalism and the church by Peter Barnes. This small book offers a brief history of the rise of liberalism in the church, and it does a fair job of that. I appreciated some of the discussion about key doctrines, especially. However, my question is who the intended audience for the book is. If it is for pastors or professors, it is far too thin on history and foundations to be of great use; if, on the other hand, it is intended as an apologetic for liberal thinkers, it is likely too thin on refutation and discussion of problems. The best audience I can think of for this book is the average church member in an evangelical church, who is himself/herself already committed to orthodoxy; for this person, it would be a good introduction to the indicators of liberal theology and their problems. While the tone is a bit defensive, perhaps that is justified given the subject. (7+)
  • The Faith of Barack Obama by Stephen Mansfield. I’ve already reviewed this book on my blog, and you can read my review here. (8+)
  • Serving in Church Visitation by Jerry M. Stubblefield. I was excited about this little book when I first got it-- and I wasn’t disappointed! This introduction to the approach, attitude, and practice of visiting others on behalf of Christ and His church is brief, yet as thorough as it needs to be. This would be a good tool to use in Officer Training, or perhaps more appropriately in ongoing study with existing officers-- though it is not limited to officers in its scope or audience. (9+)
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Book review: The Faith of Barack Obama

I was invited by Thomas Nelson publishers to review one of their new titles, The Faith of Barack Obama by Stephen Mansfield. This is one of a small handful of books that are hitting the stores as the Democratic Presidential Nominee gains more attention in the U.S. and the world. Mansfield, who in 2004 wrote the similarly-eloquent title, The Faith of George W. Bush, brought the same approach to this look at Senator Obama’s life of faith.

You can’t consider a man’s story of faith without considering the story of his life, and Mansfield offers a brief but sufficient overview of Barack Obama’s family, childhood, early adult life, and entrance into the political realm. Senator Obama’s life story is rich and amazing in itself; through Mansfield’s pen it is a delight to read.

From there, the author presents us with Obama’s re-introduction to Christianity-- a more personal one than the senator had encountered before. We also get a closer look at Trinity Church of Christ of Chicago and Rev. Jeremiah Wright, both of which were instrumental in Obama’s spiritual awakening, as well as Rev. Wright’s version of Black Liberation Theology, which was less a part of Obama’s journey. And we are offered a brief contrast of Obama’s faith story with those of Senator John McCain, Senator Hillary Clinton, and President George W. Bush.

As a book, I appreciated Mansfield’s insight and perspective very much. He was light-handed with his own interpretation, instead relying on extensive interviews and quotes to tell the stories of Senator Obama’s life and faith for him. He was also mercifully light on political material or analysis, though at times (especially in later chapters) it emerged more explicitly, though not in a dogmatic way. Due to the timing of the book, I found some parts of it already felt a bit dated-- especially a couple of references to the likelihood that Obama would lose in the primaries-- but overall this aspect was masked fairly well.

As a message-- and every book has a message-- I appreciated Mansfield’s perspective, though less so. As
I’ve mentioned before, I accept Barack Obama’s profession of faith as credible, and find it frustrating when people assume otherwise simply because of his name or his background. Mansfield does a fine job of addressing this, and perhaps that was a major goal for his writing; his style and approach is a positive one, focusing more on affirmation than exposé. But I felt that the questions that needed to be answered in a book like this went unaddressed, such as how much or how little Senator Obama embraces the prominent Black Liberation Theology of his (now former) pastor and church, or how he reconciles some of his more extreme views with his professed faith and trust in the Bible. As such, the book felt just a little unfinished-- as if the rush to press meant that the time ran out for the interviews that would answer these and other questions.

Still, the country and the church-- especially the evangelical right-wing-- need this book, and others like it, to help us understand our brothers and sisters of the evangelical left. Overall, I’ll rank this book at 8+.
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Good, funny stuff

When I was a senior (in high school), believe it or not, I was the theater guy. I did all the lights, sound, sets, and production stuff. Charlie Todd was a guy who went to the same school as I did, and I remember him as a seventh grader taking huge interest in all of that stuff, too.

Fast forward 17 years, and
Charlie is now a leading part of a group called Improv Anywhere (which he started). They do hilarious things.

Yesterday I was reading a friend from seminary’s blog, and lo and behold-- there’s Charlie doing his thing:


(HT: Stacey)

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Blog tour: The Children's Extravaganza

Waterbrook Press invited me to participate in another blog tour-- where I read and review books on my blog(s). This time, it is the “Children’s Extravaganza” (their term) which is a set of three children’s books they have recently published.

We read through the books-- of course we read them with Jack and Molly-- and got their opinions as well as forming our own. I’ll take each one in turn and offer sort of a mini-review.

The first book we read was God Gave Us Heaven, by Lisa Tawn Bergren. In it we follow a family of polar bears, with Little Cub asking Papa questions about God and heaven throughout the course of a day. It is a sweet story, and Bergren takes care to answer many important (and complex) questions in a way that is understandable to children. The artwork, drawn by Laura J. Bryant, is fun and cute, and both Jack and Molly liked it. In fact, Jack and Molly liked this book the most of the three. Marcie and I liked it a lot as well, though both of us thought that a few parts toward the end open the suggestion that everyone eventually goes to heaven. Apart from that concern-- and the subtle notion that polar bears have souls and go to heaven because of Jesus, which I don’t consider a huge problem in a book like this-- we liked the book and thought it was very helpful to begin conversations with Jack and Molly about eternal life and heaven. I’ll rank this one an 8+.

Bergren has written nearly 30 titles in the publishing world, and God Gave Us Heaven is her fourth. I hope she will offer us more.

When God Created My Toes was a cute idea-- speculate about what God thought about creating the different parts of the body (which, of course, we know already: He pronounced them “very good” in Gen. 1:31). It was done in rhyme, which made it easier to follow for the kids. While some of the rhymes were a stretch, several of them offered interesting and good insights. Jack and Molly liked it okay, but it wasn’t a favorite for either. And we didn’t love it, either-- mainly because a number of the pictures (drawn by David Hohn, some of which made Jack and Molly giggle) portrayed the children doing mischievous things, which we didn’t think we wanted our kids getting ideas from! Overall, I’ll give this one a rating of 6/6+.

Both
When God Created My Toes and the last book, God Loves Me More Than That, are by Dandi Daley Mackall, who has written many, many children’s books (over 400!), and has other titles published by Waterbrook, as well.

Last, but not least, was God Loves Me More Than That, which we all liked very much. Focusing on how great is God’s love for us (Ephesians 3:17b-18, “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ”), this book does a good job of offering something of a balance to the many wonderful books that focus on a parent’s great love (think Guess How Much I Love You?). The illustrations (again drawn by David Holm) were terrific-- my favorites of the three books-- and complemented the book so well. I had no parental or theological concerns about this one at all, in either the content or the drawings, and it’s a toss-up about whether this one might not be my favorite of the three. Marcie felt like it might be better for kids a little younger than ours, though Jack seemed to connect with it. I rate this one as a 10.

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Haiku #9

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a haiku-- and, since I’m starting a series on the Lord’s Supper this Sunday, I’ll offer one on that.

Sacrament Supper
Christ’s body and blood for you
in fellowship meal
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Wildlife Watch, mid-August

The deer have been moving more and more. Over the past week, I’ve seen does almost every day-- and usually multiple times a day. They are frequently lurking just inside the edge of the woods behind the big oak, and they love to eat the berries and leaves off of the brush out of my office window.
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Books in July

Well, I came to the end of July and realized that, while I had actually begun a number of books through the month, I didn’t actually finish any of them. So August promises to be a heavier list of mini-reviews, but July is left with nothing to say (at least from my perspective regarding the books I read).

Instead, then, I’ll offer up this brief list of books that folks in my congregation are reporting that they have found to be of great help and interest to them:
  • Putting Amazing Back into Grace by Michael Scott Horton. This isn’t a new book, but there is a new edition out, and several HWPC members have been reading it. Horton does an excellent job of offering an overview of the doctrines of grace, which are pillars of our theological foundations in the PCA.
  • How People Change by Timothy S. Lane and Paul David Tripp. This one has (relatively speaking) flown off the HWPC book table, and tells the truths of the doctrines of grace from a decidedly different angle. It is, nevertheless, a great book that offers transforming truths to those who would look for gospel change in their lives.
  • Surprising Insights from the Unchurched by Thom Rainer. This great book, based on Rainer’s research a few years ago, gives an amazing look at what formerly unchurched folks report were the keys to the church having an effective ministry of outreach to them.
  • The Only Necessary Thing by Henri J. M. Nouwen. One of our members just lent me this book, assuring me that I would, as a Nouwen fan, be delighted in this look at prayer and the prayerful life.

Also, I’ve been asked to participate in several “blog tours” or blog reviews of books, so I thought I would mention those books at this point as a teaser:
  • A Handful of Pebbles: theological liberalism and the church by Peter Barnes. Published by Banner of Truth.
  • The Faith of Barack Obama by Stephen Mansfield (the same guy who wrote The Faith of George W. Bush). Published by Thomas Nelson.
  • Three Children’s books by Waterbrook Press: God Loves Me More Than That and When God Created My Toes by Dandi Daley Mackall; and God Gave Us Heaven by Lisa Tawn Bergren.
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Update from Ridgehaven

All is well as we spend this week at Ridgehaven, the PCA’s camp and conference center in the mountains of North Carolina. I’m speaking for the Senior High group that is here-- about 40 campers-- and we’re also enjoying something close to a vacation at the same time.

So far, I’ve spoken twice; tonight, I’ll speak on the idea that we are saved by grace alone. During the course of the week, I’ll be presenting the essentials of reformation theology-- the “Solas”-- over the course of nine talks. I pray that these are useful for the Spirit to work truth into the hearts of these students.

Needless to say, I won’t be blogging much this week. If you don’t hear from me again, this is why!

Please pray for our trip to be both restful and a good ministry to those around us. See you soon...
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Wildlife Watch, July 2008

It’s been a while since I’ve given an update on the wildlife around the church-- but that doesn’t mean it has been absent.

This summer has been inconsistent: sometimes the heat has appearently kept all the creatures under cover and in the shade; at other times, I’ve seen them out in force.

This morning, two does walked by the windows of my study, just as they have done so many times before. Again, it looked to be a mother and daughter-- though I think the daughter must be a yearling, not a fawn, since she didn’t have any hint of spots. Is this the same mother-daughter pair I saw so often last fall?

Earlier in the week I saw a group of them grazing in the field behind the church-- all does. There were at least five, but it was dusk and difficult to tell, especially because the grass was quite tall.

I’m certain that I’ll see more and more as the fall approaches. Now back to work...
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Swamped

Slow blogging these days-- mainly because I’m a little swamped with work. I’m getting ready to spend next week at Ridgehaven, where I’ll be speaking to a group of Sr. High students. It should be a great week-- Marcie and I have always enjoyed it when I’ve spoken there before-- but I have a good bit of prep to do for the nine times I’ll speak (all to the same group-- not repeating any of the material). So forgive me if the blog is quiet for this week and next; I’m focused.

Talk to you soon.
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Self-assessment and life plans

Following up on my comments about health and risk, the next question about personal health assessment-- regardless of how you scored on the tests-- is, “what are you going to do about it?”

This is where
a recent post from Michael Hyatt, the CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, is very helpful. Michael gives a concise yet complete guide for creating a “Life Plan” which is a self-assessment of how things are in your life, how you want them to be, and how you will get from one to the other.

For example, Michael talks about assessing his own health-- which he is generally happy with (Michael has completed two half-marathons in the past 18 months, so he’s in pretty decent health)-- and where his concerns are. He says:

here’s what I wrote a couple of weeks ago in my Health account: • I feel great. My stamina is great. It's been a long time since I have been sick. • I feel good about my weight and my overall fitness. • I am running (or cross-training) four days a week for at least 60 minutes. • I am not presently doing any strength training. I am concerned this will eventually catch up with me. • I am eating pretty well, but I could be more consistent in choosing more healthy foods.I would share more, but, frankly, it’s too personal.


Michael has a lot of good report of what he learned from doing his life plan, and he even offers a basic template you can download for creating one of your own.

I think this is a solid idea; whether it is related to health, family life, career, church and ministry involvement, or other areas of life, most of us don’t put enough thought and reflection into what lies ahead-- or how easy it will be to get there. Thanks, Michael, for giving us some great food for thought.
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Health and risk

I’ve got something of an awful family history health-wise, with Diabetes coming down from one side of my family tree and heart disease/attacks coming from both; add to that the prominence of things like breast cancer (my mother and her mother both had it) and Lupus (my grandmother and one other relative), and suddenly Marcie is justifiably anxious about my health and longevity.

Which is why I was very interested to find this set of risk-assessment quizzes from the School of Medicine of Washington University in St. Louis, in partnership with Barnes Jewish Hospital and the Siteman Cancer Research Center. It offers a brief but comprehensive quiz that will assess your degree of risk for Diabetes, heart disease, stroke, Osteoperosis, and twelve types of Cancer.

I’ve worked through a handful of them, and I’m pleased with my results:
  • Diabetes = below average risk
  • Heart disease = much below average
  • Stroke = below average
  • Prostate Cancer = below average
  • Lung Cancer = much below average

Keep in mind, all this quiz can do is assess what degree you are “at risk” for these health issues. A clean or encouraging word from this helpful site is great, but it doesn’t excuse you from attending to your body’s health needs through exercise, dietary discipline, and keeping stress and anxiety levels in check.

That’s why I especially appreciate that, when they return your quiz results, they also include suggestions for how to improve your scores, as well as buttons that answer questions such as, “what makes up my risk?” and “what does my risk mean?” Beyond the basic quiz results, these folks offer a surprising amount of information in an interactive, semi-personalized format.
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Baby news

Many of you know that we are expecting twins in late fall.

You may NOT know that we visited the doctor today and had an ultrasound. Both babies are healthy and right on track for growth and development.

And, it turns out, both are girls.
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A note to sitters about TV

For all the grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other babysitters out there, here’s a rule of thumb about appropriate TV shows:

Don’t assume that it’s safe or appropriate to watch just because it is animated or drawn.

We were recently at someone’s house for a visit, and they don’t have young children. (No, you don’t know them.) One of these adults turned on the TV for Jack and Molly while we (Marcie and I) were in another part of the house. When I came in, they were watching a show that was an animated cartoon-- so the assumption was that it would be a safe show for them. But, in fact, it was a show with a fair amount of violence and themes that we would prefer to introduce our children to more gradually and through a different channel (sorry about the pun) of communication other than television.

It is difficult to grasp the amount of animated TV available these days, especially if you don’t have children under 20. I can name six or seven distinct channels that show animated productions, and some show only animated stuff. There is plenty of stuff that is animated, but is not even marketed to very young children. There is at least as much stuff that
IS marketed to children Jack and Molly’s age, but that we don’t want them watching. Many of these shows regularly portray one or more of the following behaviors and/or ideas as both appropriate and acceptable:
  • Crude language/joking
  • Disrespect for other people/their possessions
  • Whining and complaining
  • Jokes/mischief at others’ expense
  • Moral relativism
  • An almost religious/spiritual environmentalism
  • Thoughtless foolishness
Now, it’s true that many of the above are common behaviors/ideas among even young children, and many of the shows that are on portray exactly that: children acting like children. But something changes when any of these are shown on a show that makes them seem normal and right, and even appealing. Marcie and I simply aren’t willing to expose our children to that; they’ll get enough of it without feeding it to them through the TV.

On the other hand, the best shows deal with many of the same themes in a way that is good and helpful. Disney produced a show called “Recess” for a few years that frequently portrayed authoritative adults (usually school teachers) in a foreboding and somewhat intimidating manner; however, the show also regularly added in a plot development where the adults that appeared fearsome were shown to be caring, likeable people with normal lives. A show that our kids watch, called “Max and Ruby,” has older sister Ruby displaying a condescending and bossy attitude to her little brother Max in almost every episode; the resolution of every plotline, though, has Ruby realizing that there was something she didn’t know at work, and humility and appreciation were in order.

There are good shows on for children, and I appreciate that many production houses that market to younger children strive to offer some vallue in their shows, even if it is something on the order of a portrayal of decision-making in social circumstances. But it’s a safe bet that the parents of children you know have some distinct preferences about what their kids watch. If you don’t know what these preferences are, be sure to ask before you reach for the clicker.
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Books for June 2008

June was full of travel, which in this case meant substantially less reading for me. I feel a little bit starved of books, and hope that I’ll recover somewhat in July and August.

At any rate, here are the couple of books I read in June:

Effective Small Churches in the Twenty-First Century by Carl S. Dudley is a very helpful book that is based on thorough and useful research. Dudley deals with the data and concepts that arose from his study, so many of the ideas here are fresh and not found elsewhere (in other words, this one takes you beyond the "conventional wisdom” about small churches). A bit of a slow read at parts, but generally good stuff. (8+)

“The Vision Thing” by Don K.