December 8, 2010

The Truth of the Matter by Andrew Klavan (Review)

I don't normally read books of fiction, however, after reading its synopsis I decided I'd give it a read. It promised a juvenile fiction thriller and I figured I'd be willing to delve into the world of fiction if it'd be a quick, exciting visit.  I was not disappointed.

The Truth of the Matter is the third part of a 4 book series written by Andrew Klavan. I didn't read the first two parts but  was easily able to pick up where the story left off and thoroughly enjoy the story.  Charlie West is a teenage boy who pretty much lives out the fantasy of any thrill seeking guy his age. He was selected to join a top secret government agency (he can't tell his parents, his friends, or his incredible girlfriend) anything about it.  He is chosen because of qualities that only he has which will help America destroy terrorists. The cops are after him. The terrorists are after him. Agents are after him.  He also is a black belt in karate so he can fight when he needs to. He can also use guns.  But who can he trust? Who is on his side?

The third part in the series delves into these issues in the overall storyline.  The action is non-stop throughout this book. It's like walking into an action flick just as the climax is about to begin so if you get into it now, you'll still enjoy it, but having background information can certainly make it more enjoyable.

The book was very suspenseful.  I kept wanting to look ahead to see what was going to happen (and did on several occasions) but was able to constrain myself most of the time.  I would define the book as a version of the television show 24 if Thomas Nelson publishers (who actually did) shared the storyline.  There is high drama, wild chases, explosions, and characters who turn out to be people you didn't expect them to be... but done in a manner friendly to the Christian worldview.

This book has a fairly specific audience. Patriotic American Christians who support war efforts against the Taliban, who is the clearly stated enemy against whom Charlie is working against. Military service is defined as being extremely honorable. Teachers in public schools who advocate the moral relativism growing in our culture are scorned. I myself would classify myself as pretty conservative politically and this book is certainly written for those in that camp.  Definitely for flag waving Americans.

That said, this book is certainly juvenile fiction. It will be most enjoyed by males aged 11-15.  Others can certainly enjoy it, but it is written from the perspective of the male, teenage character and his perspective on things might be most relatable to them.  There are words used seemingly intended to give the reader an opportunity to look up its meaning in the dictionary as it is then used several times shortly after it's initial use.  Additionally, characters are defined repeatedly ensuring that the reader isn't missing the author's intent. If you are the parent of a child that age and want to give him a book he will utterly enjoy, and you are a "family, faith, and God" type of Christian, this would be a great book to purchase.

Four stars (out of 5).

I received a complimentary copy of this book by the publisher for review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255

September 26, 2010

To build an altar

“From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD.” Genesis 12:8 (NIV)

            On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered what is widely known to be the highest point of the civil rights movement in the United States.  Standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, speaking to a crowd of thousands but heard by the entire globe, he boldly proclaimed, “I have a dream!” 
            The fact it was delivered at the Lincoln Memorial was significant as well, as it was built to honor president Abraham Lincoln who led the US during the Civil War and helped bring about the end of slavery in the country.  So as King spoke, he was standing at the feet of Lincoln (as a giant, seated statue stood behind him) as he expressed gratitude for the past, accepted the role of the present, and shared his hope for the future.
            The Lincoln Memorial was built in the form of a Greek Doric temple and has a large reflecting pool in front of it. It is quite striking on the landscape of a city known for its power, it’s history, and its memorialization of significant people and events in the country that has helped shaped it into the nation that it has become.  Millions of visitors experience this memorial every year.
            In the Old Testament, as the people of God moved from place to place, altars they built were a part of their experience and a part of the landscape.  In Genesis 12, as Abram traveled from Haran to Canaan, he built altars at Shechem and Bethel, and both went on to serve as major sacred sites in the history of Israel. John H. Walton writes, “At each one Abram builds an altar. What function do these altars serve? It is of interest that the text makes no specific reference to offering a sacrifice at either site (though that may be implied in his calling on the name of Yahweh in 12:8).[1]  Since we are looking strictly at what scripture says here, we will not delve into the sacrificial component of altars – simply the act of calling upon the name of the Lord.  In Genesis 12:6-7, it is written, “Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. The LORD appeared to Abram and said, “to your offspring I will give this land” So he built an altar there to the LORD, who had appeared to him.”
            Walton notes, “The building of the altars in the places where Abram settles are advances. God is bringing to the land, establishing him in the land, and renewing the promise of the land (e.g. 12:7).[2]
            Regarding the city of Hebron, he goes on to write, “Ancient roadways converge on this site coming east from Lachish and connecting with the road north to Jerusalem, indicating its importance and continuous settlement. The construction of an altar here, as at Bethel, transforms it eventually into an important religious site, and its subsequent use as a burial place for the ancestors established its political importance.”[3]
            These altars are places of remembrance where the promises of God are acknowledged that are built up by those who are in covenant with God.
            In many places in the Old Testament, people are recorded as calling upon the name of the LORD. Walton comments, “The phrase ‘to call on the name of the LORD’ is not unique. People call on the name of the Lord when they worship him at an altar or any other sacred spot. They call on the name of the Lord for deliverance. Calling on his name involves proclaiming his reputation and attributes.  It is equated to taking hold of him, aligning with his cause, and acknowledging him as one’s God.”[4]
            The value of calling up on the name of the Lord in conjunction with an altar is important because by building a memorial, one can remember both God’s fulfillment of a promise and man’s acknowledgement of it. It serves to be a significant place where beyond Abram himself, but the countless generations after him are able to be reminded of it and acknowledge the continued promises of God to their family.
            Our culture today still places significance as to defining moments in our culture for future generations to remember.  The Lincoln Memorial itself was built in honor of Lincoln, however, today when you visit it, a stone has been placed at the exact spot where Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his famous speech. A visitor can now stand where he stood, imagining the thousands he spoke to on that day many years ago, remembering both what the promise of his dream of racial equality was then, but since we are many years later, see how it has been fulfilled in so many ways.  Like Abraham was unable to see the fulfillment of God’s promise, and King was unable to personally see fulfillment of his dream, millions of people after them are able to look back and remember their roles in the process.
            In the very first instance of an altar being built in all of Scripture is in Genesis 8:20 where Noah, after emerging from the ark with his family and the animals that would eventually repopulate the entire earth, built an altar to the Lord.  It was not a part of a Mosaic law, nor are we told how or why he did it.  But we simply know that he did.  And throughout the Old Testament, we are presented with the construction of many altars with stories of how people many years later see what was built, and can still remember why someone had previously called upon the name of the Lord.  Even if one might have not known why, they would have at least known people were acknowledging the God of heaven and the fact he is pro-active in the blessing of mankind.
            God continues to bless us today and often we remember and acknowledge God for what he has done.  However, years, months or even days go by, and the excitement of that moment is forgotten.  When a new challenges arises, like a fading memory, the activity of God is not easy recalled.  We wonder where God is in the new situation.  But then he reveals himself and once again we praise him, but then we forget.  And the cycle continues.
            Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we ourselves had physical remembrances of what God has done for us?  Things we could look upon and remember of his continual presence, leading, and blessing in our own lives. However, it should be much more than that – it should be for our own families, our children, and their children could have continual reminders of God’s activity in our lives.
            While we may not have an entire countryside to ourselves in which we can build mounds of stones strewn across the ages, we can deliberately construct items – photographs, stories compiled in a book, videos, audio recordings posted on the internet – whatever seems most relevant in our cultural context which can remind us and all those around us that we serve a living God who keeps his promises to his people – and that we receive these blessings time and time again.

[1] John H. Walton, The New Application Commentary: Genesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 394.
[2] Ibid. 398.
[3] Ibid. 415.
[4] Ibid. 279.

September 24, 2010


I had a conversation over the weekend with the leader of our college ministry who was my successor in the job.  We were having an afternoon church activity and during our lunch before it began, a couple of the college students chose to not sit where we were sitting, and rather ate their lunch away from us.

I thought nothing of it, but Jon commented how he would have been "one of the guys" before he had assumed the position, but now that he is in charge, he is viewed in a different way.  He was slightly lamenting the change, however I told him that this was significant.

He sighed when I told him I was going to tell him about George Washington.  I told him, and now I will tell you. Luckily the internet doesn't tell me if you are sighing. Or actually even reading this.

In 1776, David McCullough quotes Washington, writing:

"Be easy . . . but not too familiar," he advised his officers, "lest you subject yourself to a want of that respect, which is necessary to support a proper command."

In doing ministry, this is a lesson that I have only recently learned.  If you want to have the ability to work with and influence a group of individuals, you can't simply be one of them. You must stand apart from them so that they will have a reason to follow you.

It's that mental note that people will naturally create in their heads--yeah, this guy is in charge. He always (seems to) know what he is doing. What does he think about that? Why is he telling me this?

This designation takes effort to create.  McCullough writes, "It was a philosophy unfamiliar to most Yankees, who saw nothing inappropriate about a captain shaving one of this soldiers, or rough-hewn General Putnam standing in line for his rations along with everyone else.  Nor was it easy for Putnam and others of the older officers to change their ways." (p.43)

Don't get me wrong here. I am certainly not saying that within the church, one must deliberately construct walls in the form of clergy and laity.  I'm not clergy. Jon isn't either. We are simply leaders.

An individual must be willing to be separate from the crowd to be a leader.  Otherwise, they won't be.

September 17, 2010

Going all in

Today I was reading 1776 by David McCullough which I've started for the third time but still haven't finished. It's not a bad book by any means, but just one of those it takes several times to jump before it gets rolling.  I'm hoping the third time's the charm.

Anyway, as I was reading on the bus today, I came across a few sentences about George Washington. Earlier this summer I read a biography of him (His Excellency by Joseph J. Ellis if you are looking for a good one) so his presence in the story is somewhat like watching a flashback of a character whose story you know so well, but now a part player in the context of others.

Washington's wealth and way of life, like his physique and horsemanship, were of great importance to  large numbers of the men he lead and among many in Congress. The feeling was that if he, George Washington, who had so much, was willing to risk "his all," however daunting the odds, then who were they to equivocate. That he was also serving without pay was widely taken as further evidence of the genuineness of his commitment. (pg. 48)

Washington's leadership was inspirational because if he was willing to put so much on the line for the cause, they who had relatively little to put up surely could do the same.

My initial takeaway from this was purely in the realm of leadership.  Those in the highest positions, those who are the most visible to the crowd have an extremely important role to play. The amount of themselves they are willing to personally sacrifice for the sake of a collective cause has a direct impact on how those below them will respond. If their leader doesn't appear to care or concern himself with taking a risk to face a seemingly insurmountable challenge, his followers in their relatively smaller capacities will respond in kind.

When those you lead do not appear to care about a mission that you personally believe in, it may be because you haven't truly displayed your personal commitment to it.

However, I then thought about Christ and His willingness to risk "his all."

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  Philippians 2:5-11 (ESV)

Christ's sacrifice on the cross was a deliberate act of going all in and trading all he had for the sake of the cause of man. However in a far greater act of modeling, seeing the humility of Christ which God then exalted, we must also model our behavior as He did.

In James, it is written, "Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up." James 4:7-10 (ESV)

Our humbling of ourselves, rather our going all in for a cause greater then ourselves, is like a militiaman's sacrifice compared to that of George Washington. Well, sort of like that on a much different scale.  But if Christ was able to give up so much, who are we to equivocate?  And God Himself will then lift us up.

September 6, 2010

Summer Snapshots

So I apparently decided to give my blog the summer off. Even though it wasn't working, I certainly was.  Because I had taken a bunch of time off when Leilani was born, I spent the summer working to regain a stash of vacation days that I could once again utterly deplete.

That said,  fun was certainly had.  We took our very first family vacation to Williamsburg and Virginia Beach to celebrate our first wedding anniversary.  A weekend jaunt to Ocean City.  Various celebrations were attended.  Oh, and I also completed my Master of Arts in Religion.

Because a picture is worth a thousand words, I have decided to do my summer recap using photographs.  This collection was created by me going through iPhoto and selecting images from the start of summer to it's (apparent) end, though I will deny it until the first frost.

Check out the passage of time through the growth of one certain little girl.

May 19, 2010

A Church of Introverts (or Extroverts)

I saw this article flow down my Twitter feed this morning:

Can Introverts Thrive in the Church? by Adam McHugh

Aside from agreeing with the author, I would like to affirm his recommendation that leaders come to understand their temperament and what it means to them and how to greater enhance their personal effectiveness in ministry.  However, I would additionally like to provide suggestions both to introverts and extroverts about how their personality type directly has an effect upon others.

For example, extrovert leadership might require all decisions to be made during a group meeting where active discussion takes place. Meetings might be set with much frequency as they could be seen as the best times for ideas to come forth.

An extrovert might set things up so that working in groups is the primary means where productivity happens, so for those people who need detached time for reflection and determination of their own ideas or positions on the issues, they might be out of luck. "Thinking out loud? I prefer keeping things a bit more focused inside my own head, thank you."

Groups, teamwork, loudness, hysteria... all things that might get extroverts going, but things that shut introverts down.  But the extrovert just might not get it. The world, to them, is where extroverts live and the introverts would just need to adapt.

On the other hand, however, when introverts are in leadership, their own natural tendencies can similarly set the tone unintentionally because they could view the world as where the elements needed for them to thrive are the very same ones everyone else needs, as well, which is just as incorrect.

I love my church dearly, and have spent the past ten years of my life serving there.  However, I myself am more extroverted than not, but all three pastors are introverts. And it shows.

Our setup allows for individuals who have their own individual ministry to thrive, and there are certainly many success stories. However, our church is generally a collection of one-man or one-woman shows without any sort of interaction or coordination asked for or expected.  Their commonality is that they show up for the same worship service each week.

Everyone is empowered to act, but everything is done with a live and let live mindset.  For example, we routinely have various meetings inconveniently scheduled for the same time because nobody is aware what others are up to.  We have had up to five different versions of our church logo on various ministry brochures because each individual can independently decide on how they want to be perceived without requiring any sort of "So how do we collectively as a church want to be seen?" questions be asked.

So can a church be successful when operated with an introvert mindset? Absolutely, as I have seen it with my own eyes.

Can a church be successful when operated with an extrovert mindset? Once again, the answer is yes based upon my observation as well as the general premise of the article.

So the takeaway should not simply be, "Let me figure out the best way I work and come to terms with it."  Rather it should be, as church leaders, let us devise a strategy that will allow both extroverts and introverts to thrive simultaneously.

Not simply saying to an individual, "Adapt to our way doing things or hit the road..." Or more accurately, "Find a ministry better suited for you..."

In unintentionally skewing your operation to one group mindset, you are alienating half of humanity from being able to thrive.

So what can be done about it? Stay tuned for part 2 of the, "A Church of Introverts (or Extroverts)" series.

April 6, 2010


As you may know or not know, Peter is my favorite disciple. And 1st and 2nd Peter are among my favorite books in all of scripture.  Why and how I have reached these conclusions are perhaps the subject of a future post, but I am more concerned with the present.

In 1 Peter 1, we are charged to set our minds upon Christ. In verse 14, Peter writes, "As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: 'Be holy, because I am holy.'" He continues in 2:1, "Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good." (ESV)

Until the past two weeks, craving spiritual things like a newborn baby craves milk is something I had understood passively. Meaning like, "Yeah, babies love their milk! We need to desire it the way they want their milk!"  And that's it.

I likened it much more along the lines of craving it in the way that I get the urge to have a glass of freshly squeezed lemonade. Or maybe some brewed sweet tea. Do I thoroughly enjoy these things? Absolutely. They are my favorite things to drink. But is this an appropriate illustration of this biblical lesson? Certainly not.

When my daughter is hungry, she lets you know. There is absolutely no doubt in anyone's mind that she is hungry. You look at her, and there she is screaming at the top of her tiny lungs. No words. No, "I really want milk right now!" Just simply a loud, continuous shriek with her eyes closed and her face slightly turning side to side that cannot be satisfied by anything other than the milk she is craving. Nothing. No bouncing. No singing. No sunlight.  No pacifier. And the process repeats itself, not the next week. Not a day or two later. A mere couple hours later, there she is again, screaming for more milk.

When I "crave" lemonade or sweet tea, sometimes I find some, usually I don't. I forget about it. The next time I have some I'm happy about it, and possibly remind myself and those around me, "Yeah, I've been craving this for days."

For Leilani, on the other hand, every second feels like an eternity until her craving can be satisfied.  Her milk cannot be to her a moment too soon. She needs it NOW.

So the question is, is my desire for the things of Christ and his holiness on par with my daughter and her desire for milk? Probably not. I'd say it's much more in the lemonade/sweet tea category. Now each time she cries for milk, I will be reminded of how that's exactly how I'm supposed to be in regards to Christ, holiness and the things of the Spirit. Isn't it amazing how we allow the things of the flesh to satisfy us? You know what they are in your life. But the desire for the spiritual milk should be unquenchable.

Having kids, they say, teaches you more about God and how he loves us. And I can certainly attest that this was the very first (and continuing) lesson that I have learned since having a kid. The love for your own child is unlike any sort of love I've experienced in my life.

But lesson #2: unquenchable thirst for Christ and the type of holiness that he commands has begun. Thanks, my little Miss Leila Mikayla.

March 24, 2010

LMA Update

This morning, Leilani was sleeping on my chest belly down, facing one way. She proceeded to lift her head and turn it to face the other way.

March 23, 2010

LMA Update

This afternoon as I was sitting on the couch having a ministry meeting in my living room with Micah, Leilani was resting on my lap. She started fussing a bit, and then proceeded to lift up her head straight up, her belly down, for about two and a half seconds. Way to work that neck.

March 22, 2010

She's here!

After an intense period of 28 hours, my daughter was born! It was the best cry I've ever heard. Full story to come soon, but here are the vitals:

Leilani Mikayla
March 20, 2010
8:49 a.m.
7 pounds, 6 ounces
20.5 inches
Black hair. Plenty.

March 16, 2010

Give me the test!

So here we are, three days passed the "due date" of child #1.  We are at week 40, and I learned recently that up to 42 weeks is considered "normal." So, yeah. Really doesn't do much for my patience levels, or lack thereof.

I do know many other things, though. 

For example, I know that "Life will be forever changed... in a good way." Check.  I also know, "You will be grateful for this additional time you had before the baby was born because your new life will be different than it is now." Check.  "You have sleepless nights ahead." Check.

A friend asked me today how I was doing, and I came up with another illustration of my state of mind.  I told him it was like when you know you have to take an extremely important test in life.  You walk into the exam room and see the test booklets sitting, ready to be passed out.  The instructor picks up the tests, and you are ready. Anticipating what is going to be on there, with a vague sense of what it might be.  The test begins the moment the booklet is placed in your hand, but the professor simply walks around the room. And walks. And walks, looking around. Not getting to the point where you can actually start the test by giving you yours.

Is NOT taking the exam great? Sure.  Is not having to confront the reality of what is contained in the exam for a few extra moments giving of a sense of peace? Maybe. Can you actually relax in that situation? No.

I get it. Parenting is going to be a challenge. I am just ready for the test now. Not in the indefinite state of surprise.

March 13, 2010

I don't want my children to be happy

So in my check-on-blogs-I-save-links-to-but-don't-visit-often-enough whirlwind tour this morning, I found a post that linked to this one. It is brilliant, and kind of puts words to things that I had been thinking about in this buildup to parenthood. So I heard about it from another blogger, who linked it which is why you are reading it.  It's like 4th hand information, but actually accurate.

Here it is.


March 12, 2010

Ready, Set...

So our daughter's due date is tomorrow, March 13. As every day, hour, and minute passes, the anticipation continues to build. I have talked to many people, specifically regarding the birth of their first children and it seemed to me (seemed) that all of them came well before their due dates. Several days to a couple weeks (to more for some, as well). I was born two weeks in advance of my scheduled arrival date. However, this is certainly not the case here.

Sure, there were people and articles that informed me that for the first born child, going right up to or beyond the due date is quite normal. However, these sources I immediately held at low regard... do they even know what they are talking about?! Hello, I know exactly what I want to hear, and you are certainly not saying it!

This period of waiting I liken to the moments an athlete waits for before starting a run. Those seconds that a speed skater waits crouched upon the ice, ready for the gun to fire. When a skier is standing at the top of the hill anticipating the beeps to let them know the clock has started ticking. An ice skater skating to the middle of the rink stalling until the melody they have listened to hundreds of times before start playing through the crackling speakers up above.

For each, a million things could be going through their head, all rushing through in just a few seconds. "I really should have not skipped practice that one time," "Maybe that cheeseburger was a bad idea last week," "I'm ready for this!," "This is the moment I've spent all this time preparing for," "This is it!"

Typically, this all takes place in about five seconds. However, what if these moments of waiting took 10 seconds? What if they took a minute? What if it took 10 minutes for them to get rolling? Can you imagine how eager they would be to finally start the experience they had been building up to for seemingly forever?

This is where I am. Ready to start but still waiting for the gun, the beep, the music. It reminded me of a moment from a movie I watched in childhood many times, captured by YouTube, linked below:

I'm ready. I'm set. Just waiting.

February 6, 2010

I'm Expecting

For the past eight months I've been living in the "My wife is pregnant" phase of life. I get continually asked, "How big is she?," "How is she feeling?," "Where is she right now?," and "You know your life is going to change, right?"

After coming up with person-appropriate answers whenever the questions are asked, I have come to the shocking realization that I wish I could be the one pregnant. No, not because I could endure having to cope with nausea, heartburn, backaches or other sundry symptoms of pregnancy. Not because of all the attention some men feel that they are missing when the extreme amounts of attention are being placed on their wives. But rather my pregnancy dream is the result of my desire to play host a living organism within me for many months, with it starting out as a tiny thing you can't really tell that is there, to something that makes your entire abdominal cavity bulge with punches, kicks, and headbutts from a creature that is fighting for freedom from the bubble in which it lives.

This goes on for many weeks until the organism breaks free from its former host with both screaming at the very top of their lungs in an explosion of liquid and blood. But instead of this alien creature trying to wreak havoc upon the planet (unless that becomes an item on his or her to-do list later in life), both parties come home cleaned up by professionals to the comfort of a home they will share in love, not war.

And then, this process will again be repeated by another invader in the woman's body, and this is all deemed usual as a normal part of life. Not simply the theme of a horror movie, nor the type of thing one would do followed by, "Please behave." It's actually acceptable! How cool is that!

Aside from that aspect of the awesome-factor, the fact that you are able to provide a physical place where your child can live must be an incredible feeling. You yourself get to be "home," not something that you have to create. It's just you.

Because since my contribution to the earth is labor and not going into labor, I am working on my daughter's home away from her mother-home. As many of you know, our home has been undergoing a massive transformation over the past several months. With thirty four days until her expected arrival date and the home stretch of the project in site, here is what her bedroom looks like:

You're probably wondering how this could possibly look like the end is in sight but believe me, it certainly is. My goal is to be done with her room within the next two weeks. I'm hoping she decides to stay in her current residence for the entirety of this month and into the next before she decides to emerge into this one.

So while providing a place for her to live isn't as exciting as it could be as if she were actually living within me, building the very first place she will get to live on her "out in the world" journey is just as humbling. Being the very first one to greet her is my job. And to say, "Welcome, I'm expecting you." I am ready.