From The Rag Bag – 2014


All-3-Wilderking-BooksJust bits and pieces of this and that today.

Good news on the Christian fantasy front. Accomplished author and all-around nice guy Jonathan Rogers is re-releasing The Wilderking Trilogy, his middle grade fantasies about the feechie folk. They’re being published by Rabbit Room Press, the independent publisher that is putting out Andrew Peterson’s final Wingfeather Saga novel later this year. If you’re interested, you can pre-order Jonathan’s books from RRP.

I’m sad the blog tour for Donita Paul’s One Realm Beyond is over, though I still have a number of sites yet to visit. I love blog tours! ;-)

Sticking with the genre for a bit, the nominations opened this week for the Clive Staples Award for Christian Speculative Fiction. Readers can nominate a book at either the award site or at SpecFaith. Already we have twenty-eight books that have been nominated. I hope readers will consider taking a look at that list and turning them into to be read books.

And now to the Olympics. I haven’t seen much of the Sochi games. To be honest, it’s a little hard to get excited about winter sports when we’re having days with temperatures reaching the high 70s. One of the highlights for me came early when snowboarder Sage Kotsenburg won the first US gold medal of the games. As it turns out, Sage is related to Gerry Jennings, a good friend, former colleague, and former neighbor of mine. She told me about him over a year ago–excited about his chances of making the Olympic team. And now he’s won gold!

I saw a Facebook notification about the women’s gold medal hockey game and hurried in to turn on the TV–just in time to see them receiving a consolation speech, having just lost in overtime. So was it disappointing that I’d missed the game or relief that I hadn’t spent two hours watching a game we lost? A little of both.

I’m about ready to call it quits as far as Yahoo! mail is concerned. That’s been my public email where editing clients write me. But there’s some glitch going on, though I downloaded a Yahoo! optimized edition of Firefox. I can read emails, but I can’t reply. I can type the H in Hi, but as soon as I try to add the i, a chat box opens. Yea, somethings not right. I keep holding out, hoping they’ll fix whatever is the problem, but no such luck.

The California drought persists in the southland. In our next-to-rainiest month we’ve had about an inch of rain, if that. Supposedly this week we had a chance of some rain. Tuesday was indeed cloudy, but today winds off the desert brought high temperatures and clear skies. It just feels so wrong, especially when so much of the rest of the country has been struggling through such a hard winter.

PowerElements_of Story Structure finalOn the writing front, I’ve made some small progress on the prequel to The Lore of Efrathah, but of course the real news is Power Elements of Story Structure, my writing instruction ebook. Just the other day, I got an email from Amazon–an ad really, for books in the education category, and Story Structure was the first on the list. I have to admit, that was . . . kind of a cool feeling. Sort of like seeing your book on the bookshelf at the book story, I imagine. Of course, I have no idea how many people Amazon sent that particular ad to. But it was nice to think that people I don’t know might see it and consider buying it.

Speaking of the book, if anyone has read it and would be willing to write a review, I’d be very grateful. I understand those are a big help in selling books on Amazon.

I think I’ve hopscotched from one topic to another enough for one day. Blessings on you.

The Future Of The Church In Western Society


St-Damase-Eglise_churchIs the Church in the US on the decline? Our influence upon society is not as great as it once was. We have numerous false teachers claiming to be part of the Church. And to a degree we ourselves seem more intent upon working for societal change than for spiritual change. Could it be that the Church is dying?

Not at all.

With little effort, we can learn about the growth of the Church in unexpected places–places that persecute Christians and places with economic struggles.

And yet, there is a distinct pattern developing. Look at the churches the Apostle Paul established on his missionary journeys. Over time, they disappeared as salt in their world. Look at the churches spread throughout the Roman Empire. Who today is worshiping in the great cathedrals of Italy, Denmark, or Belgium? Or what about those churches established after the Reformation by Martin Luther and John Calvin and John Wesley? Where is their witness in Germany or France or England?

One might wonder if Christianity doesn’t just play itself out after time, and perhaps the Church in the US is experiencing the downside as Biblical faith is ushered out the door. There may be some truth to this concept, but not as a part of inevitability due to some endemic problem with religion or, specifically, with Christianity.

The problem is with Mankind, not with Christianity.

Interestingly, the Bible forewarns the Church of the possibility of losing our place in society. I’m referring to Revelation 2 and 3, in which John, via the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, records a message to seven specific churches.

Here’s the thing. Should God by His mercy give many more years to this world, then the Church in the US must pay attention to what Scripture says, or we too can lose our place in the evangelism of the lost.

So what is it we find in Revelation? First, to the church in Ephesus:

But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you, and will remove your lampstand out of its place – unless you repent.
– Revelation 2:4-5

My question, then, is this: Has the Church in the US left its first love? Do we love God as much as we love liberty? Or our family? Or our health? And our wealth?

Perhaps the worst mistake a church can make is to operate as if there is no error in us, or within us. Certainly Paul didn’t approach the churches he wrote to in the New Testament as if, now that they’d come to Christ, sin was a thing of the past. Instead he warned, reproved, confronted, and forgave.

These elements are also present in John’s writing in Revelation. No surprise, since both authors wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. What I like about John’s passages is that the messages to the churches categorize the sinful behavior–for them and for us–he’s warning against.

However, in an enumeration of specifics, it’s easy to use those in prideful comparisons. Well, I gave the newspaper delivery guy a $5 Christmas bonus last year, and I know my neighbor didn’t. Too bad he’s not as generous as I am. And while I’m thinking about it, thank God, I’m not like those selfish Wall Street CEOs.

Looking at the overall command–love your neighbor as yourself, for example–forces us to either examine our own lives or ignore the commandment. Neither option will lead to pride in connection to law keeping. If we examine our lives, we will repent or rebel. If we ignore the commandment, we’ve already chosen to rebel.

The angel’s admonition from God to the church in Ephesus was to repent because they had left their first love. The second church to receive similar instruction was that in Pergamum:

But I have a few things against you, because you have some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit acts of immorality … Repent therefore; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth.

Here John points out what these people were doing by relating their actions to those of an Old Testament prophet–a prophet, it turned out, who was trying to work both sides of the fence. He had said he would only report what God told him to. God’s message was a curse on the army opposing Israel. But it was the king of Israel’s enemy who hired the prophet. So he turned around and told the king what he could do to erode Israel rather than defeat the nation outright.

Pergamum was tolerating just such people–those who taught others how to chip away at truth and lead God’s people into turning their backs on Him. They were, in fact, tolerating false teachers. Might this not be something the Church today should guard against?

I’m not talking about the leaders of a particular body or denomination. I think all of us who name the name of Jesus need to see if those we listen to are consistent with Scripture. Or do our teachers direct us to political action more than to prayer? To demand of God rather than repent before Him? To express our anger toward Him instead of praise the Giver of good gifts? Or any number of other ideas that square with psychology, societal norms, or what have you, while clashing with Scripture.

Who on my bookshelf holds to the teaching of Balaam? My prayer is that the Church in the West will repent. But that starts with me.

Originally posted as Part 1 and 2 of a miniseries “A Christian Worldview of the Church”

Published in: on November 1, 2013 at 6:39 pm  Comments Off  

Scientific Discovery Of The Sin Nature


Baby_meets_stuffed_animalLast Sunday on 60 Minutes Lesley Stahl did an investigative piece on a Yale baby lab which studies the human condition. The scientists who discovered how to determine a baby’s preferences when he is as young as three months old have been studying whether or not a baby has a sense of right and wrong—in other words, whether they have a sense of morality.

And the answer is, yes, resoundingly.

Wesley chose the good guy [puppet] and he wasn’t alone.

More than three fourths of the babies tested reached for the nice puppet. Wynn tried it out on even younger babies, 3 month olds, who can’t control their arms enough to reach. But they can vote with their eyes, since research has shown that even very young babies look longer at things they like. Daisy here looked at the mean puppet for 5 seconds; then switched to the nice one for 33.

Karen Wynn [Yale researcher]: Babies, even at three months, looked towards the nice character and looked hardly at all, much, much, much shorter times, towards the unhelpful character.

After a series of experiments and statical evidence that shows a trend, Lesley Stahl asked if babies actually had a sense of justice since they seemed to favor punishing puppets that did mean or selfish things. The researcher said yes, at an elemental level.

This, of course, is shocking to behaviorists. Stahl asked the question key question:

Lesley Stahl: So, remember B.F. Skinner, who said that we had to teach our children everything through conditioning. So, does this just wipe him off the map?

Paul Bloom [Yale researcher]: What we’re finding in the baby lab, is that there’s more to it than that — that there’s a universal moral core that all humans share. The seeds of our understanding of justice, our understanding of right and wrong, are part of our biological nature.

Uh, not a blank slate then. Moral beings. But wait a minute. How, then, do we account for evil. Is that learned behavior?

That would appear to be no. Another series of tests showed things like bias toward those most like us and a desire to withhold good even to anonymous other children and even at personal expense. The researchers concluded then that we’re hardwired not only to know good and evil but to choose evil. (And no, they aren’t using those terms that have religious connotations.)

Karen Wynn: In our studies, babies seem as if they do want the other to be punished.

Lesley Stahl: We used to think that we’re taught to hate. I think there was a song like that. This is suggesting that we’re not taught to hate, we’re born to hate.

Karen Wynn: I think, we are built to, you know, at the drop of a hat, create us and them.

Paul Bloom: And that’s why we’re not that moral. We have an initial moral sense that is in some ways very impressive, and in some ways, really depressing — that we see some of the worst biases in adults reflected in the minds and in the behaviors of young babies.

The immoral behavior isn’t limited to bias against those who are different but extends to greed.

The youngest kids in the study will routinely choose to get fewer prizes for themselves just to get more than the other kid –

[Ainsley: I'll pick green.]

– in some cases, a lot more.

Paul Bloom: The youngest children in the studies are obsessed with social comparison.

[Mark: So you get these seven. She doesn't get any.

Kendall: Yay!]

Paul Bloom: They don’t care about fairness. What they want is they want relatively more.

Similar experiments with older children, however, showed a reversal of this trend. Now boys and girls were choosing what was fair and in some cases even sacrificing so the other unknown child would have more. Here’s the conclusion:

Paul Bloom: They’ve been educated, they’ve been inculturated, they have their heads stuffed full of the virtues that we might want to have their heads stuffed with.

So we can learn to temper some of those nasty tendencies we’re wired for — the selfishness, the bias — but he says the instinct is still there.

Paul Bloom: When we have these findings with the kids, the kids who choose this and not this, the kids in the baby studies who favor the one who is similar to them, the same taste and everything — none of this goes away. I think as adults we can always see these and kind of nod.

Lesley Stahl: Yeah. It’s still in us. We’re fighting it.

Paul Bloom: And the truth is, when we’re under pressure, when life is difficult, we regress to our younger selves and all of this elaborate stuff we have on top disappears.

But of course adversity can bring out the best in us too — heroism, selfless sacrifice for strangers — all of which may have its roots right here.

Paul Bloom: Great kindness, great altruism, a magnificent sense of impartial justice, have their seeds in the baby’s mind. Both aspects of us, the good and the bad are the product I think of biological evolution.

Well, sure. Biological evolution.

And yet, this study basically says what the Bible has said about Mankind all along. We are made in God’s image–therefore heroic, kind, altruistic, filled with a sense of right and wrong, a desire for justice. And we are fallen so that we have biases and selfishness that no one teaches us. They come from within, from our hearts that are deceitful and, yes, desperately wicked. How much more wicked does it get than to hate? And that’s what those babies in the tests showed.

These Yale studies, by the way, have been written up in professional journals since 2007, so this “discovery” has already been scrutinized by the scientific community.

Anyone who’d like to watch the video of the 60 Minute segment can find it here and anyone who would like to read the entire transcript can find it here.

Published in: on August 2, 2013 at 6:27 pm  Comments (5)  

Gotta Love The Dodgers


Dodgers_coach_Larry_Bowa_wearing_a_batting_helmet,_spring_training_2008No, there’s no metaphor here or any symbolism or spiritual lesson behind the scenes. I’m a sports nut, and I’m enjoying cheering for the Dodgers. They were the first major league team in any sport that I followed, so it’s fitting.

I admit, I went through a period after the latest strike and a series of steroid scandals in which I lost interest in baseball altogether. It didn’t help that the Dodgers experienced a change of ownership that could not uphold the proud tradition of the team.

Steroid scandals are still plaguing the sport, but at this point it seems the current crop of Dodgers are not connected with the ongoing league investigation. Most of them are too young. They’ve only been in the league for a few short years.

Well, “most of them” is probably an exaggeration. To be honest, I’m still getting to know who’s on the roster. I’ve only been following them for about six weeks–sort of that turn-around point when manager Don Mattingly said the season started anew for the guys in Dodger blue.

Don_Mattingly_(2011)The fact that Mattingly was still the manager was a minor miracle as the media pundits had him on the way out unless he had a particularly good series against . . . I forget which team. I think the Dodgers might have been swept.

But to the surprise of all those sports talkers, the new, new ownership–a group of sports lovers which includes Magic Johnson–stuck by their manager. They recognized that no one on the team had given up and that Mattingly hadn’t been playing with the line-up he expected due to a rash of early injuries.

As some of those players who had been on the DL (disabled list), returned to action, a new-comer burst on the scene, too–a raw talent with all kinds of enthusiasm named Yasiel Puig.

Those in the know call Yasiel a 5-point athlete. He is fast, has a strong arm, can hit for power, can hit for average, and plays defense. But he’s still a bit of a diamond in the rough, which is why he was in Triple-A. Sometimes he misses his cut-off man. Sometimes he tries too hard to hit home runs. Sometimes he makes base-running blunders. But he also gets key base hits and makes spectacular catches in right field. Sometimes he throws runners out or steals bases or stretches a single into a double.

He plays with abandon–at least he did until the All Star break. Now he’s settling in a little and seems aware that the world is watching. He’s a good human interest story, having come from Cuba by way of Mexico. His is a rags-to-riches story, and we still love to hear those.

But the Dodger success has more to do with the changes Don Mattingly made in the bullpen, so that the games the Dodgers had been losing in the late innings, they now are winning. And it has to do with improved defense, and key hitting.

Shortstop Hanley Ramirez has figured into both those last factors. He came off the DL days after Yasiel Puig joined the parent club. When was the last time a shortstop was a clean-up hitter? It’s new to me, but Hanley is managing to hit better than .380 in that spot. He’s either driving in runs or getting on base or moving runners over.

But from top to bottom the Dodger line-up can hit (in July the team batting average is .292). And now, after struggling through April and May and a good part of June, they are actualizing their potential. And they still have an ace up their sleeves.

Arguably their best player who isn’t a pitcher, Matt Kemp, is once again on the DL. After nursing a pulled hamstring for far too long, he finally sat down, healed, and had just come back. Oh, I forgot the shoulder thing. He re-injured the shoulder he’d had surgery on, so sat for a short while to heal that. Then he came back for a couple days and was smoking! I mean, home runs, key base hits, his usual outstanding defense.

Everyone was wondering how the Dodgers were going to juggle four outfielders who all deserved to start. And then Kemp slid into home. Well, he actually slid into the catcher’s shin-guard-covered leg blocking home plate, and broke his ankle.

But he’ll be back. And the Dodgers, full of confidence now, don’t look like they’ve got a mind to slow down. They just might be the best team in baseball. Since the All Star break they’ve won 10 of 11 games. Since the beginning of Don Mattingly’s season reboot, they’re winning 80% of their games. That’s unheard of in baseball.

The thing is, they’re winning in all the ways there is to win. They’ve dominated teams offensively, they’ve won pitching duels. They’ve even won ugly–ever heard of a team striking out 20 times in a game and WINNING? Yep, the Dodgers managed that just the other day. They’re winning at home. They’re winning away. They’re beating teams in their division and those outside. They’re beating AL teams as well as NL teams.

This time of year I’m normally getting excited about the start of football. But pardon me for staying focused on baseball a while longer. It’s pretty fun to be a Dodger fan these days. ;-)

Published in: on July 31, 2013 at 7:42 pm  Comments (3)  
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March Madness


USAirwaysCenter-2008NCAAWestRegionalWhat’s mad about watching college basketball? Here are my random thoughts about the tournament so far.

The Pac-12 has once again shown how underrated a conference they are. Too many of the media pundits fall in love with one line of thinking–this year that the Big Ten is by far the superior conference. Of all people to be the voice of reason–surprise, surprise, it’s Charles Barkley who said more than once that the teams out west don’t get the respect they deserve.

I’m looking for at least one Pac-12 team to make the elite eight.

I don’t fill out my brackets like everyone else. I pick winners round for round. I mean, if you don’t have the right two teams playing each other in round two, how can you possibly predict a winner?

Last night I finished the night 11-5. Like many others, I missed on New Mexico vs. Harvard. I saw the Lobos play in the Mountain West final and thought they looked impressive, but I remember UCLA losing to Princeton some years back, so I know it’s unwise to take an Ivy League team for granted. Of course, New Mexico may simply have been experiencing the letdown that naturally comes after achieving a goal. You feel relieved, not hungry.

I lost all three of my upset specials. I chose Bucknell over Butler, but Butler won by 12. Then I picked Montana over Syracuse, but by over 40 points the Orangemen demolished the Montana Grizzlies who didn’t have their leading scorer due to injury. My third miss was taking Valparaiso over Michigan St. I saw the Spartans play in their conference tournament and thought they could be upset. But it wasn’t to be. Michigan St. won by eleven.

The game I’m second guessing myself about is Pittsburgh vs. Wichita. I wanted to pick Wichita. I started to write them into my bracket, but then I remembered Pittsburgh’s reputation for tough defense. I went with the number eight seed, and I was wrong! Wichita pulled off the minor upset.

Glancing at today’s scores, it doesn’t look like I’ll fare quite as well with this half of the bracket. As long as UCLA wins, I won’t mind.

Yea, March Madness! :-D

Published in: on March 22, 2013 at 6:38 pm  Comments Off  
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Olympics!


After I lost the start to my original post, I decided I’d save that one for another day and send you all to your television sets to enjoy the Olympics. It’s a great time.

I’ve loved the Olympics for as long as I can remember, even before I had the privilege of attending a few events in the 1984 Summer Games held in Los Angeles.

My favorite so far this year are the women’s and men’s indoor volleyball matches. I’ve also enjoyed the water polo. The announcers explained some things that I’ve never understood before, so the game makes more sense to me now.

I watched cycling on the first day–just because that was on, and it was The First Day! I would watch all the US basketball if I had cable, but it’s probably a good thing I don’t.

Gymnastics–I watch, but I hate every recital of the horrible injuries these young people have sustained on their way to reaching this phase of their career. It’s horrible hearing about their concussions, torn ligaments, broken collarbones, sprained ankles, knee surgeries, and more. If any other kid had the collection of bruises and medical issues these athletes have, we’d be calling social services to investigate whether or not they were subject to abuse.

To make matters worse, the media praises “pushing through” or a quick recover. They make heroes of the kids that take the punishment in order to win.

But a good spanking to help shape their character? My no! How can you suggest such a thing?

Just a little inconsistency there.

So gymnastics isn’t my favorite sport, to put it mildly.

I’m sad that the media builds up athletes to be heroes before they’ve done anything. There’s the girl that was to win the gold medal in the women’s gymnastics all around who didn’t even qualify. And the men’s team slated for the gold medal that didn’t even get on the podium.

Then Michael Phelps and the anticipation that he would come away with the most medals of any US athlete ever. So in his first event, he barely qualified for the final and didn’t medal.

Or how about the man the media has been building up to replace him–the one whose time is now, but who couldn’t keep the French swimmer from overtaking him in the relay?

The question is, what happened? The implication is, you let us down. But it was the media who built the expectations and made us viewers think these are scripted sure things that we have but to sit back and watch.

Well, no, the other athletes who have worked and dreamed just as much as the media darlings just might have something to say about the outcome.

It’s time the media started reporting instead of trying to predict.

Now go, watch, and enjoy. :-D

Published in: on July 30, 2012 at 6:46 pm  Comments (2)  
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Fantasy Friday – Spec Faith Makeover


Speculative Faith, the team blog started in 2006 by a group of Christian speculative writers headed up by Stuart Stockton, almost died out a few years ago. One thing and another happened, causing regular writers to drop off.

I was the last to keep the home fires burning, and then my computer crashed–or, more accurately, performed a slow meltdown. For a month I struggled to log on to our old site. When at last my computer came through surgery, new and improved, I didn’t want to face all the spam that had accumulated on our old site.

Enter Stephen Burnett. He’d earlier taken on the role of regular contributor but went on a hiatus–some excuse about getting married, or something … :-D When Stephen returned and saw the spam situation at the old site, we did a confab and agreed to start over, importing as much content as was feasible.

Hence, Spec Faith 2.0 launched at our present WordPress site in the summer of 2010. Since then we’ve had steady growth, in large part due to Stephen’s watchful eye and innovative work.

He created a Spec Faith Facebook page, for example, and added the Spec Faith library which now has over 400 books. (If only we could actually lend them out!)

Today he introduced the latest upgrade, Spec Faith 3.0. Besides tweaking the already classy look of the site, he has enhanced our library by bringing the creation of and access to reviews to the forefront.

Now anyone interested in seeing what’s available in Christian speculative fiction can go to the library and find, not just a book cover and blurb, but reader reviews and comments.

Of course, to make this feature viable, we need readers to actually post reviews and comments. For comments–a quick recommendation, perhaps, a response to a previous review, or maybe a report on how many stars you’d give the book–visitors only need to locate the book of their choice and click on the comment link.

For reviews, there’s a basic form where a visitor leaves their review, and an administrator will add it in the appropriate place.

I don’t know about you, but I have begun to pay more attention to reviews. How great, then, to have all these Christian speculative titles all in one place, along with reviews to help potential readers sort out which are the best books.

Not only that, but the reviews will also post to Facebook, so the influence of each one is magnified. For reviewers who are re-posting from their own blog, there is also a link (I’m pretty sure) to the original site, so it’s also a way to attract visitors to the reviewer’s blog.

OK, enough of my chit-chat. It’s much more effective if you click on over and take a look at the site yourself. Enjoy.

Published in: on June 1, 2012 at 5:40 pm  Comments Off  
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Flagrant 2


In professional basketball, a personal foul — contact with an opposing player not allowed by the rules of the game — is a violation and results in either free throws or possession of the basketball by the opposing team. A flagrant foul is a personal foul that is excessive or violent and could injure a player.

There are two levels of flagrant fouls. The first level, deemed less severe by the referees, results in a technical foul — free throws and possession of the ball by the opposing team. The flagrant 2 is the most serious, results in immediate player ejection and may also bring further suspension by the League office.

No dirty tricks, the NBA is saying. Basketball is not going to sink into violence. Players are to play by the rules, which admittedly allows some contact, but they aren’t to deliberately hurt anyone either by intentionally trying to do so or by playing so rough, that’s the inevitable consequence.

These flagrant foul rules came into the league a few years after Boston’s Kevin McHale close-lined Lakers forward Kurt Rambis and threw him on his back as he was going up for a lay-up. As I remember, McHale was called for a foul, received no technical, and was not ejected from the game.

Professional hockey used to be known more for the fights on the ice than any actual skating and scoring, but their league also took action and has done much to clean up the game so that it is growing in popularity.

Schools are beginning to call a flagrant 2 on bullies. No more purposeful, intentional, harmful bashing — physically or emotionally — of another student. The damage is too great and the repercussions are unacceptable.

The problem, however, is that the flagrant 2 is a penalty, not a prevention. Yes, in sports and perhaps in schools, the penalty may act as a deterrent. That would seem to be the case in hockey, and fewer players are being thrown on their backs these days in professional basketball.

But the flagrant 2 does not address the heart of the matter — the heart. Bullies of any stripe in any venue don’t care about the rules. They only care about not getting caught.

How else can we explain a professional football coach paying players to go out and hurt athletes on opposing teams? Rules don’t matter to guys like that, so no flagrant 2 ruling is going to change a person like that.

What will?

A heart transplant.

Chuck Colson, who died on Saturday, is proof of what a new heart can do. He was involved in the greatest political scandal of US history, and ended up serving jail time because of it. But in the midst of the finger-pointing and cover-ups, he found Christ, and the world began to see what a changed life looks like.

No, Mr. Colson didn’t turn his life around. His personal flagrant 2 didn’t set him straight or even scare him straight. He actually entered prison as a Christian, and as God so often does, He used what appeared to be the lowest point of Mr. Colson’s life to do something of greatness.

It was in prison that Mr. Colson came to understand what life was all about and what his purpose was for. A year or so after his release from jail, he founded Prison Fellowship. The change in this man’s heart began to have widespread affects, not just in the lives of the inmates who had the opportunity to hear about Jesus Christ but in the Church as it came face to face with the responsibility to reach beyond the boundaries of our comfort zone to our neighbors we’d rather flag with a flagrant 2 and be done.

Mr. Colson has given the Church far more than we may realize today. I suspect his legacy will be among the great Christian thinkers. Well, it already is.

“Precious in the sight of the LORD
Is the death of His godly ones” (Ps. 116:15).

Published in: on April 23, 2012 at 8:31 pm  Comments Off  
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Good Teacher


The guy was conscientious, the type most moms would like to see their daughter date. He was law-abiding, a man of some standing and quite successful, but that wasn’t enough. He wanted to go above and beyond the rest, even when it came to the all important issue of religious things.

In that vein, he approached Jesus.

“Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Like so many men, this guy was all about doing. Give him a task, and he’d see to it. I suspect he was the Type A personality, the alpha male. He lived by his check list. Keep the Sabbath, check. Give to the poor, check. Do the ritual washings, check. Honor his parents, check.

Then Jesus showed up. So why not cover all his bases? Why not find out from this New Voice, this radical, authoritative teacher, what he himself might be overlooking?

So he asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

I think I know what he was hoping. It’s the same sort of thought process I go through as a writer when I give someone pages to critique. If I’m honest, I would really, really like to hear them say, This is brilliant; don’t change a thing. But realistically, I expect to hear some bit of advice or insight that can help me do better. From what they say, then, I’ll go about improving.

Undoubtedly Mr. Got-It-Together was approaching Jesus the same way. Just maybe, the teacher would be complimentary — even impressed, with the very question and certainly with the long list of done-that’s he’d discover upon probing further.

But at the worst, Jesus would give him some obscure tidbit that would put him ahead of the game and would put him that much closer to assurance that he not only had it together now, but for eternity.

How surprising, then, when Jesus didn’t settle into critique mode right away. Instead he asked an odd question. “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.”

Technicalities. I mean, wasn’t that question like someone today saying, Why do you call me a good editor or a good writer?

To Mr. Got-It-Together it was probably nothing more than a way of saying to Jesus, I respect your role and therefore your opinion. What you say to me matters. I want to know what you think about this subject because your view holds some sway.

Jesus, however, pulled that technicality. No one is good but God.

Sure, sure. Mr. Got-It-Together knew that. So maybe Jesus was saying, About this eternal life thing, back off from any terminology that might be construed as insincere flattery or even from any language that has the taint of the blasphemous. Quickly, the petitioner amended his reference. Teacher, I’ve kept the law …

But hadn’t Jesus already given Mr. Got-It-Together what he asked — that something he needed to inherit eternal life?

Only God is good, and God in the flesh stood in front of the man. If he could have answered, I called you good because you are the Christ, the Son of the Living God, wouldn’t Jesus have gone straight to “Follow Me”?

But Mr. Got-It-Together was hung up on what he needed to do, not what he needed to believe. Hence Jesus had to show him his true heart: there was something more precious to him than eternal life, something he was unwilling to do, some quest he refused, some idol that kept him from what he said he wanted.

And the man walked away.

He didn’t like the critique he got. It wasn’t a generic rejection letter, but it was worse. He had to abandon who he was and accept who Jesus was.

He didn’t need tweaking, a little editing, better understanding of how to follow this or that rule. He didn’t even need a rewrite. He needed to sell all rights to the Good Teacher — to God who looked at him with such compassion — and to let this Good God do with his life what He would.

That, Mr. Got-It-Together just couldn’t bring himself to do.

- – – – -

To read the story yourself, see Mark 10:17-22

Published in: on April 11, 2012 at 1:52 pm  Comments (1)  

My Turn To Tell


As promised, here are my picks from yesterday’s post, “You Tell Me Yours, I’ll Tell You Mine,” marked in boldface font and followed by brief commentary.

a Mac or PC — no contest. Whenever I have to use a PC, I realize anew how much I like Macs.

Narnia or Lord of the Rings — but that’s no slight on Narnia because I love it too.

science fiction or fantasy — and that one’s not even close.

classical or country — same here!

books or ereaders — but I’m just getting started with my very first ereader, so this could change in the near future.

Facebook or Twitter — I’m getting more comfortable with Twitter, but I don’t see it moving ahead of Facebook.

LinkedIn or Pinterest — Pin-what? Seriously, I haven’t been to the site yet, but from what I’ve heard … it’s not for me.

YA books or adult — nothing against YA. I read it with some frequency, but I gravitate toward the adult stuff.

mystery or suspense — I love figuring stuff out and hate being scared!

Dancing with the Stars or So You Think You Can Dance — Stars are soooooo overrated!

The Voice or American Idol — neither, really, but the few times I watched some of The Voice, I thought it looked like a better show.

Survivor or Amazing Race — I’m a die-hard fan! :-D

Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum — I like the fact that the only bad thing the media says about him is that he’s spending too much time on “social issues.”

Old Testament or New Testament — this is where I start cheating: both, absolutely.

Apostle Paul or Apostle Peter — ditto

Elijah or Daniel — tough call. I actually like Elisha more than Elijah, but I may have learned the most from Elijah because of a wonderful series of sermons Pastor Swindoll did years ago.

Tom Sawyer or Lord of the Flies — when I wrote this, I intended to say Lord of the Flies. I think it’s a great study in human nature. But it’s also pretty depressing. So I’ll go with humor, adventure, suspense, and a little peak at human nature on the side.

Denver Broncos or Oakland Raiders — need I say more? ;-)

Tim Tebow or Jeremy Linn — I’ve heard Tim speak about Jesus. So far I’ve only heard others say Jeremy Linn has faith like Tim Tebow. Besides, Tim plays for the right team, and Jeremy doesn’t. ;-)

Corrie ten Boom or Elizabeth Elliot — Elizabeth Elliot is a remarkable woman. I actually had the privilege of hearing both of them speak, though, and Corrie exuded the love of Christ. Her life has had a big impact on me.

iPad or Kindle Fire — I own neither so don’t know what the advantages of each are, but because I favor Apple products, I’d be inclined to go with the iPad if it were possible.

grace or mercy — yeah, no way to choose on this one. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who, according to His great mercy, has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3), but “By grace you have been saved, through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).

Christian fiction or general market fiction — I’ve been reading more Christian fiction of late, but I like the general market fiction that’s been recommended to me.

New York Times or Wall Street Journal — I don’t read either regularly, but when I find links to articles, I usually find the treatment in the WSJ to be thorough and less “media party line.”

hymns or choruses — Both have their place. Paul said in Colossians, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col. 3:16). Was he just being redundant, or was he making a point that different kinds of musical renditions have their place? I favor the latter view.

Well, there you have it. Again, special thanks to those who took the time to give their picks. This was fun.

Published in: on March 1, 2012 at 5:17 pm  Comments (2)  
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