Saturday, December 31, 2011

A NEW DON THE BAPTIST RECORD!

Yay! for the first time my blog has had over 100 page views in a single day. From the beginning in 2007 until October 2011 I amassed a pathetic 3,500 page views. From October through December, "Observations" Has more that doubled the previous three years views to  7,296 at this posting. AND there are 4.5 more hours left in the "counting" day.
THANK YOU.


Final Score:
Count for the day:  167 page views
Total All Time Count: 7,335 page views

GOOD MEMORIES

On this last day of 2011 I remember being a graduate student at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary (GGBTS is not much less of a mouthful) 1981-1984. I loved my studies there. I learned a great deal from learned professors. I built furniture, bookcases, and a cross for the chapel that still remain. My favorite memory is this view from the chapel, overlooking San Francisco Bay.

DON THE BAPTIST'S AMAZING 2012 "PROPHECIES"

Prophecies... Yeah, dats the ticket.

In the category of POLITICS, I prophesy...

A truly dreadful, scorched-earth, interminable election season that would surely turn General William Tecumseh Sherman's stomach, were he with us today.

In the category of RELIGION, I prophesy...

That Fundamentalist Atheists, who claim not to believe in God, will spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about God and religion, fretting that somebody somewhere actually believes in God, and expending lots of energy attempting to suppress God and religion in the lives of other people.

In the category of SOCIAL SHENANIGANS, I prophesy...
Some idiot starlet will defy a court order, go on a binge (name your poison), break numerous laws and get away with it, all to the cheers of adoring fans.

In the category of ENTERTAINMENT, I prophesy...

that BBC's TOP GEAR will still be my favorite program on the telly.

In the category of WRITING, I prophesy...

That Alton Gansky will sell several more books.

It will be truly amazing if none of these vague generalities come true.

Friday, December 30, 2011

2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY FINALLY COMES TRUE

My favorite movie as a teenager was "2001, A Space Odyssey." Much of the philosophical content went over my head, but I didn't care. I loved the cool space ships, sentient computers, and gadgets.  Sadly, almost none of what we saw on the big screen came true. There have been no manned space expeditions since the Apollo program. The "sentient" computer, HAL 9000, was cool but completely off the mark from actual computer development. (the cool 3D computer graphics in the movie were hand drawn). Compared to 2001's, our space station looks like an erector set with parts missing. And there is, of course, no permanent moon base. What's up with that?


There is one thing from the movie that has happened.* The notebook, or "pad" computer is a reality. In the movie you can see the astronauts watching a news program via "streaming video"  on their pads. At the time the idea was super cool. It still is. I got one recently and I can't log onto the internet or watch a video without feeling some of that old Space Odyssey coolness.

(* Okay, I'll grant you that bland, prefab food has also come true)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

VALUING THE LIFE OF THE MIND

I've been thinking about the statement, “if we are going to be wise spiritual people, prepared to meet the crises of our age, we must be a studying, learning community that values the life of the mind.” I agree with that statement wholeheartedly. The notion of the mind is a somewhat nebulous concept, difficult to define. Is it the gray matter in our skulls? Is it a spiritual part of us that manipulates our gray matter in the same way we play a piano? Is the mind synonymous with the Soul? I believe the mind is that part of us which is in the image of God.

We possess the divine ability to reason, weigh alternatives, make moral judgments, come to conclusions and design means to implement those conclusions. In short, we display reasoned creativity, just like our Creator. The mind sets us apart from all other creatures. Dolphins are smart, dogs learn tricks, chimps can sign language. However, you never saw a hospital or school or even a can opener built by an animal. Animals build incredible homes out of junk. They don't manufacture refined products out of raw materials. Only thinking humans create on a grand—divine—scale.

In fact, it is not possible to be “wise,” to “meet the crises of our age” apart from the life of the mind. Unfortunately, too many people prefer to let others think for them. Thinking is hard work. It’s easier to react with the emotions than to reason through a problem.

Sometimes Christians shy away from what they see as the danger of “learning too much.” They point to students who have gone to schools that challenge Christianity and have “lost their faith.” I went to schools that challenged my faith too. I thought through the implications and concluded they were mostly bunk. Sometimes I had to modify my faith in light of new information. Never has it been shattered by what I've learned. Frankly, I question whether those students had their own faith to lose in the first place. I also think the fear of knowledge sets kids up to crumble when they are challenged by knowledge, which seems to contradict what they believe. Again, bunk! Christianity, of all religions has nothing to fear from truth. We are a historical religion, based on reality.

Believers must think, encourage the healthy, growing life of the mind. We must discern the difference between truth and opinion. We must think through challenges to our faith. We must challenge opinion and biased interpretations, but we must never shirk from the truth.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

READING IS FUNDAMENTAL

Even on Christmas morning, with toys spread all around her, my granddaughter took time to read. That blessed me.

PASTORAL PEROGATIVES

Saw a list like this on an Air Force Master Sergeant's wall once, and figured it could be adapted to fit the ministry as well.

1.  The Pastor is always right.

2.  In the inconceivable circumstance that someone else might possibly be right, rule #1 becomes immediately  operative.

3.  The Pastor does not sleep in his office; he meditates.

4.  The Pastor is never late; he is ministering to the needy.

5.  The Pastor never becomes angry; merely vexed in his spirit.

6.  The Pastor never stops working; his presence is required elsewhere.

7.  The Pastor never wastes time reading extraneous materials in his office; he studies.

8.  The Pastor never deviates from established congregational procedure; he uses creative management.

9.  Whoever may enter the Pastor’s study with an idea of his own must leave with the Pastor’s ideas.

10. The Pastor is ALWAYS the Pastor, even in his swim trunks.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

THE BIRTH OF JESUS THE CHRIST

Luke 2:1-20

1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register. 4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

 8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”  16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

WEEKENDS ARE FOR FUN

Getting a ticket is a bad thing. But at least it would be more festive if the police cruiser was blinged-out like this one.

GABRIEL'S ANNUNCIATION OF THE CHRIST CHILD TO MARY

This song, as interpreted by "Sting," is based on a 13th-Century Basque carol.

Friday, December 23, 2011

CHRISTMAS AND CULTURE

It is difficult to separate the Christ of Christmas from our cultural trappings and traditions. After all, we are children of our own culture; a people who can place mangers and Santa Claus together in the same scene.

Why do we celebrate Christmas at all?  We all know that presents are nice to get.  AND we all know that presents are not the highest expression of Christmas.

There appears to be a great deal of confusion in our society.  Perhaps we could profit from a small dose of history.
Christmas is about children.  To be specific about one child; Jesus, who is called Immanuel:  God with us.

God’s gift to us is to be among us, to be one of us and to bear our sins which we could not do for ourselves.

                                                                              
When God’s hands made the heavens and the earth
 . . . that was CREATION.

 When God’s morning stars sang together
 . . .that was CELEBRATION.

When God’s word broke through the silence of time
. . . that was COMMUNICATION.

When God’s prophets stood alone against all odds
. . . that was  CONSECRATION.

But when God’s Son was delivered to a manger. . . that was COMPASSION. 

Christmas lives today because it is eternally the celebration of God’s compassion.

It’s not the date.   it’s the reality of the event.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

DR. BILL HENDRICKS

Dr. William (Bill) Hendricks was Professor of Theology when I was a student at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, California. Of all my teachers over the years Bill was at once the most down-to-earth and the most profound. I am deeply in debt to the man. Once I told him, "You are dangerous." He replied, "That's Goooood." I said, "No, I meant I want to believe everything you say." He said, "That's Baaaaaad."



Of Solar Systems and Insects


"In the beginning God created . . ." The Bible begins with that simple phrase. In fact, everything began with that simple phrase. The skeptic says, "Prove it." The believer says, "Disprove it."

Science and faith both ask big questions. When did God create the world? We don't know; we weren't there. Nobody was there. Only God. Someone said of a very elderly man, "He is as old as dirt." We all are! Yet with the birth of every child, we are as new as today.

"How did God create the world?" is much in the popular mind. Scientists have various answers. People of faith quickly admit ignorance. Would it really help to know? We cannot start over. What is here is here. An acrimonious argument once ended when one person seemed to have all the "How" answers and the other challenged: "Okay, then make dirt."

For centuries, theologians have discussed the "Why." Why something rather than nothing? The best theological answer seems to be "Because God wanted to." Got a better one?

"Where" is obvious: Here, there, everywhere. I once heard an old farmer reply when a county clerk asked for his birth certificate, "I'm here, ain't I?" The farmer's answer did not solve the legal problem, but his conclusion was indisputable.

Two eloquent examples of creation—one big, one small: First, nearly everyone far enough from city lights can locate the galaxy we call the Milky Way; our own. Did you know it is 100,000 light years from planet earth? A light year is, of course, the distance light travels in one year. A light year in miles is roughly 5,878 plus nine zeroes. This means that starry band we see is 587,800 plus 12 zeroes away. God created it. And if, as some think, the universe is expanding, as one theologian-scientist put it: "God is out there pulling it toward God's self."

But God is not just "out there." He is right here in the small things. In April 2002, scientists identified a new order of insects—the first in more than 85 years. Would it help to know the insect's name? Mantophasmatodea. That's 16 letters long—as long as the insect. Live examples were found in Namibia in Africa. The discovery is variously described as a living fossil or like coming upon a saber tooth tiger. God is in the details: The insect is about the size of a paperclip.

These minute examples imbue an old hymn with new meaning: "All things bright and beautiful, all things great and small, all things wise and wonderful: our Father made them all."
That is the size of it:
great and small, huge and tiny.
"In the beginning God created. . . ."
Thanks be to God!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

THE LAST MAN by P.T. Deutermann

P.T. Deutermann is one of my favorite authors of action and suspense. I've been hooked since I first read "Official Privilege," about a Naval investigation of a body found in a mothballed battleship. A retired Naval Officer and Pentagon insider, Deutermann weaves his knowledge of military minutiae and political gamesmanship into incredibly taut and suspenseful plot lines.

Though he excels at stories about the US Navy, he is not limited to that sub-genre. Several of his later books are set in the wilder parts of the US South, with an emphasis on rugged hills and tough mountain folk.

His latest book, "Pacific Glory," is a sweeping saga of the Second World War in the Pacific Theater. The story climaxes with the amazing-yet-true David & Goliath engagement between US Navy destroyers against Japanese Battleships and cruisers. Their brave, suicidal action saved Mac Arthur's landings in the Philippines.

Now I come to Deutermann's next book: "The Last Man." This is a story set in the Jewish rebellion against Rome @ 70 AD. Specifically, the story centers on the Last Stand at Herod's Dead Sea mountain fortress of Masada. In Deutermann's words: "For many years, historians have assumed that the Zealots and their families died by their own swords in order to deprive the Romans of a meaningful victory, and, of course, to avoid the horrors of slavery in the Roman galley fleet. But now a young American engineer and amateur historian comes to modern day Israel to prove a theory he’s held for years: that the Zealots’ mass suicide was done for two reasons: to defy the Romans, but also to protect a monumental secret on the mountain. The Last Man tells the story of his search among the stones and the bones of Masada for evidence that there’s a lot more to the eerie history of this bloody mountain than anyone knows."

This is a surprising genre departure for Captain Deutermann. But I know the end result will be his usual triumph. I am really looking forward to this one. Release of "The Last Man" is planned for late Spring 2012

THE STORY OF THE BIRTH OF JESUS

This is one of my favorite Christmas albums.

Monday, December 19, 2011

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JESUS

THE ZOAD By Dr. Seuss

The Zoad (OR, The Guy Who Couldn’t Make up His Mind)


Did I ever tell you about the young Zoad
Who came to two signs at a fork in the road?
One said to ‘Place One’ and the other ‘Place Two’
So the Zoad had to make up his mind what to do.
Well, the Zoad scratched his head and his chin and his pants
And he said to himself, “Now, I’ll be taking a chance.”
“If I go to Place One, that place may be hot
So how will I know if I’ll like it or not?
On the other hand though, I’ll feel such a fool
If I get to Place Two and find it’s too cool.
So Place One may be best.

On the other hand though if Place One is too high
I may get a terrible earache and die.
On the other hand though if Place Two is too low
I might catch a terribly strange pain in my toe.
So Place One may be best.”

So he started to go and he stopped and he said
“On the other hand though, on the other hand,
other hand, other hand though…”
And for thirty-six hours and a half that Zoad
Made starts and made stops at that fork in the road
Saying, “No, don’t take a chance, you may not be right!”
Then he got an idea which was wonderfully bright.
“Play safe!” cried the Zoad. “Play safe, I’m no dunce.
I’ll simply start to both places at once!”
And that’s how the Zoad who would not take a chance
Got to no place at all
With a split in his pants.

I WONDER By Ruth Harms Calkin

You know Lord, how I serve you,
    With great emotional fervor
        in the limelight.
    You know how eagerly I speak for You
        at a woman’s club.
    You know how I effervesce  when I promote
        a fellowship group.
    You know my genuine enthusiasm
        at a Bible study.
    But how would I react, I wonder,
        if you pointed to a basin of water
    And asked me to wash the callused feet
        of a bent and wrinkled old woman
        day after day, month after month,
    in a room where nobody saw,
        and nobody knew.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

WEEKENDS ARE FOR FUN: Them Minnesotans

Two guys from International Falls die and wake up in hell. The next day the devil stops in to check on them and sees them dressed in parkas, mittens and bomber hats warming themselves around the fire. The devil asks them, "What are you doing? Isn't it hot enough for you?"

The two guys reply, "Vell, ya know, we're from nordern Minnesota, the land of snow and ice and cold. We're just happy for a chance to warm up a little bit, ya know."
The devil decides that these two aren't miserable enough and turns up the heat. The next morning he stops in again and there they are, still dressed in parkas, hats and mittens.
The devil asks them again, "Its awfully hot down here, can't you guys feel that?"

Again the two guys reply, "Vell, like we told you yesterday, we're from nordern Minnesota, the land of snow and ice and cold. We're just happy for a chance to warm up a little bit, ya know."

This gets the devil a little steamed up and he decides to fix the two guys. He cranks the heat up as high as it will go. The people are wailing and screaming every where. He stops by the room with the two guys from Minnesota and finds them in light jackets and hats, grilling walleye and drinking beer. The devil is astonished, "Everyone down here is in abject misery, and you two seem to be enjoying yourself."

The two Minnesotans reply, "Vell, ya know, we don't get too much warm weather up dere in International Falls, we've just got to have a fish fry when the weathers this nice."

The devil is absolutely furious, he can hardly see straight. Finally he comes up with the answer. The two guys love the heat because they have been cold all their lives. The devil decides to turn all the heat off in hell. The next morning, the temperature is below zero, icicles are hanging everywhere, people are shivering so bad that they are unable to wail, moan and gnash their teeth.

The devil smiles and heads for the room with the two Minnesotans. He gets there and finds them back in their parkas, bomber hats, and mittens. They are jumping up and down, cheering, yelling and screaming like mad men. The devil is dumbfounded, "I don't understand, when I turn up the heat you're happy. Now its freezing cold and you're still happy. What is wrong with you two?" The Minnesotans look at the devil in surprise,

"Vell, don't ya know, If hell froze over dat must mean da Vikings von da super bowl."

Saturday, December 17, 2011

WEEKENDS ARE FOR FUN: 0 TO 60 CHALLENGE

video
I drove to New Mexico in October and filmed the trip as sort of a "NotGear Road Trip." This is the lame, pathetic, "Zero to Sixty Miles-Per-Hour Challenge" portion.

Friday, December 16, 2011

THE FALSE PROMISE

“False is the idea of utility that sacrifices a thousand real advantages for one imaginary or trifling inconvenience; that would take fire from men because it burns, and water because one may drown in it; that has no remedy for evils except destruction. The laws that forbid the carrying of arms are laws of such a nature. They disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crime.”

Caesare Beccaria as quoted by Thomas Jefferson

One of the interesting aspects of the test in the Garden of Eden is the conclusion that God appears to honor personal freedom. Think about it. If it was more important that Adam and Eve never sin, God could easily have put enough guard rails and safety nets in place to prevent them from failing. He did not. He gave the first couple the choice, and therefore the opportunity to make the wrong choice.

Funny, our culture does just the opposite. We exalt the state--the nanny state--over individual freedom. We don't trust people to make their own choices, wrong or not. We try with all our laws and regulations to ensure that nobody fails, no one suffers from wrong choices. It dosen't work. The problem with legislating safety is human nature. Modern, secular philosophy denies human nature. It believes that man is simply a clever animal, an advanced ape. Therefore, there is nothing standing in the way of training, or conditioning us to make choices advantageous to society.

And that's the bottom line. For all our pretense of individualism, modern man exalts the society as a whole over personal freedom. Regimentation of the species only works to a certain extent. Human nature--me first--will always take precedence in making choices. Until we approach life with that understanding we will continue to fail in building a better culture.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

TOP TEN SIGNS YOU MAY NOT BE READING YOUR BIBLE ENOUGH

10) The Preacher announces the sermon is from Genesis... and you check the table of contents.

9) You think Abraham, Isaac & Jacob may have had a few hit songs in the 60's.

8) You open to the Gospel of Luke and a WWII War Bond falls out.

7) Your favorite Old Testament patriarch is Hercules.

6) You can’t imagine why the largest book in the Bible is about Palm trees.

5) You become frustrated because Charlton Heston isn't listed in either the concordance or the table of contents.

4) Catching the kids reading the Song of Solomon, you demand: "Who gave you this stuff?"

3) You keep falling for it every time the pastor tells you to turn to First Condominiums.

2) The kids keep asking too many questions about your usual bedtime story: "Jonah the Shepherd Boy and His Ark of Many Colors"

And the No. 1 sign you may not be reading your Bible enough:  You don’t get any of these.

HELP WANTED

HELP WANTED: Advertising and Promotion Specialists needed. Local, national and international positions available for those wanting to promote the Gospel. No experience necessary. Training provided through the Holy Spirit. Must be willing to advertise the Good News of Jesus Christ. Start immediately. See Matthew 28:19 for details.

HELP WANTED: Looking for friendly, outgoing Company Representatives. Good people skills required. Must be able to represent the values and principles of our Company Philosophy, The Bible. Sorry, no part-time work available. Applicants will be "on call" at all times to represent the Kingdom of God. Serious inquiries only. See 2 Corinthians 5:20 for details.

HELP WANTED: Now organizing a team of Prayer Warriors for global intercession project. This is the ideal "work from home" position. Leads are provided and the applicant will be expected to generate their own list of prayer requests. Prefer candidate who loves to communicate and is goals oriented. This position is critical to the success of our other opportunities. See John 15:7 for details.

HELP WANTED: Servants needed for a variety of odd jobs. Applicant will receive a daily calendar from the Holy Spirit. Some responsibilities and duties might include: teaching Sunday school class, driving the church van, visiting the sick, encouraging the downtrodden, serving as an example, discipleship training, evangelism, caring for the elderly, giving, soul-winning, bearing burdens and many other activities. Tired of the "same old boring" position...this one is ever changing and offers exciting possibilities. All ages are encouraged to "apply." Assignments available now. See 2 Peter 1:4-9 for a detailed description of this opportunity.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

THE LESSON OF THE POTTER

"CHRISTIAN" FICTION

C. S. Lewis once said, “The world does not need more Christian writers, it needs more writers that are Christian.” The work of the novelist is to glorify God through art. Though we approach our art with a touch of pragmatism, we must retain our purpose. We are not propagandists, nor are we advertisers writing commercials for God. We are artists in the line of Beethoven, Michelangelo, and Bunyan… and even John Grisham, for that matter.

Good fiction deals with the issues of character and morality. Yet Christian fiction is sometimes criticized for avoiding realistic situations and characterization. Part of the problem is that Christian fiction is in its modern infancy, and part of the problem is our hard-headed American pragmatism. Publishers already have an idea of what the evangelical market wants and expects, and to some it appears that a realistic approach to life and human nature is not an expectation. I believe that is a misunderstanding, based on evangelical expectations for nonfiction works.

When I said Christian fiction is in its modern infancy I meant it has been lying dormant for most of the twentieth century. Over the last twenty years it began re-emerging as a legitimate Christian expression. One of the results of the fundamentalist/modernist controversy in the 1920’s and ‘30’s was to view fiction as “escapist entertainment” and therefore, a frivolous waste. We are beginning to abandon that stigma, but let us not make a greater mistake by simply saying that frivolous, escapist entertainment is now a good thing.

As I see it, Christian fiction has a narrow road to travel and two wide pitfalls to avoid. With wide latitude, I would say that Christian fiction ought to tell a story illustrating how godly principles play out on a worldly stage. The pitfalls to avoid are arrogant sermonizing on one hand and gratuitous sex and violence on the other. This does not mean that no moral point may be made. All good fiction speaks to moral choices. The operative words are arrogant and gratuitous.  A realistic portrayal of life could not be made without showing the awful power of sin, rebellion and violence. But those things ought not be the point of the story. They are instead grist for the mill, predicaments in which godly principles and power may be demonstrated.

Christian fiction is blossoming during a formative time in American culture, but the question is, what makes fiction “Christian?” The distinction between sacred and secular is a recent invention, a product of the Enlightenment and the “Scientific” Victorian Age. Prior to the twentieth century, the categories of Christian fiction or music would have been absurdities. True, there were writers who sought to glorify God and those who did not, but you did not buy them in separate bookstores. They stood on the same shelves, vying with secular works for the minds of people.

Of course as far as the modern world is concerned Christians ought to be relegated to our own well-defined (and invisible) corner of the world. So what? There is nothing that says we have to accept those limits. Personally, I agree with C. S. Lewis’ sentiments on the subject. I am a writer who is a Christian. Preaching to the choir may be fun and easy, but there is a world out there that might just benefit from an exposure to a Christian approach to life’s struggles.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

WRITERS IN THE FAMILY

I came across some poems written by by grandfather, Charles G. Patterson. Here are two of them

MAN

Who climbed the mountain to say a prayer?
All alone with his God in cool clean air.
And with all his wisdom and reason
he was hanged to a cross.
Yeah,
Even a half-wit can see who was Boss.

HIS MAJESTY

There, on yonder hill stands a big oak tree.
Sturdy and strong, alone and free.
With no malice, no greed, no hatred
-unlike you and me.
He's king of the hill - His Majesty.
He has been standing there
many a year, and many a day.
Keeping watch on us and the foolish
games we play;
digging and scratching, going to and fro.

DO YOU HEAR WHAT I HEAR?

When I was a kid I never understood that Christmas was a religious holiday. I got toys, that’s as much as I needed to know. When I got a little older I enjoyed giving & getting presents; but I still had no clue that Christmas was anything more than that.

Thing is, I had no excuse. I heard the Christmas story every year. I mean there were School programs where we sang the carols… Somebody managed to drag me to VBS at least once a summer. We even had a backyard Bible Club in my neighborhood. I went. If that wasn’t enough, every year I listened to Linus telling Charlie Brown the true meaning of Christmas, right out of the Gospel of Luke.

And yet… I got nothin’.

But, maybe it’s not so surprising after all. The twelve men whom Jesus chose to spend his public ministry with—to pour his life into—were just as clueless.

31 Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, "We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. 32 He will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. 33 On the third day he will rise again."
34 The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about. Luke 18:31-34 (NIV)

They got nothing, too. Zip. Zero. Nada. They didn’t understand because what Jesus told them was contrary to their desires. The message was hidden because they didn’t want to hear it in the first place. They wanted a Mighty King not a Suffering Servant.

So what about you…? Yeah, yeah, you’ve heard it all before: Baby Jesus, meek and mild… Yada-Yada-Yada…Here’s a surprise, from the point of view of Jesus’ sacrifice, it IS all about you. God became one of us; not just LIKE us, but one of us. He experienced nine months in the womb. He had all the childhood diseases. He had to take care of whiny little brothers and sisters. He made the ULTIMATE sacrifice for you: He VOLUNTARILY went through puberty and the teenage years… He had acne For YOU. That’s what I call suffering before the cross. This little child came specifically to live thirty years as one of us BEFORE giving his life as a ransom for YOU.

Are you like I was? Like the disciples? Are you clueless or do you understand?

Friday, December 9, 2011

THERE'S SOMETHING TO BE SAID FOR TEDIUM

We have a house full of kids and granddaughter. Four: it feels--and sounds--like Sherman's Army marching through Georgia. It's great, but I'm exhausted. This is the thing about getting older I hate the most. Despite hiking, bike riding and staying active, I just don't have much long-term energy any more.

It makes me respect Karen's grandparents all the more. They raised her to adulthood from the time she was nine. How did they do that? It's not like she was a shy, friendless, bookworm. She was a cheerleader, for Pete's sake.

So, the multiple inputs are fading. The screeching train whistles, electronic carols, and two squealing elementary girls are mellowing. Charlie Brown Christmas is playing on the DVD. It's quite pleasant. I'm enjoying the moment, but I'm still tired.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

THE SABLE QUILL AWARD

Next week the High Desert Christian Writers will meet for our annual Christmas party. Each year we award the coveted "Sable Quill" to the member of the group we deem to have accomplished the most as a writer. It's a group vote by ballot cast at our November meeting. I (insert maniacal laugh of power) am the only one who knows who this years recipient is.

There are at least three valuable reasons to be part of a writers critique group. FELLOWSHIP: as a writer, you know what is is to be different from the other children. You need to find others, like you, who look at a gorgeous sunset and think primarily of strong verbs. CRITIQUES: Iron sharpens iron. Writers help each other hone their craft. The big writers conferences are where the macro lessons are learned. A local critique group gives that input all year long. ACCESS: You need to meet and network with other writers, agents and editors in the business. As a member of a writers group you will network with others, sharing information and contacts.  I highly recommend you find or start your own group. 

If you plan to be in the Antelope Valley next Tuesday morning and you'd like to attend, be our guest. Email me and I'll give you the GPS coordinates. (that's address, for those of you over 50)

UPDATE: this year's award winner is Stephen Hutson.

Monday, December 5, 2011

THOU SHALT NOT SKIM FLAVOR FROM THE HOLIDAYS

By Craig Wilson, USA TODAY

I hate this time of year. Not for its crass commercialism and forced frivolity, but because it's the season when the food police come out with their wagging fingers and annual tips on how to get through the holidays without gaining 10 pounds. You can't pick up a magazine without finding a list of holiday eating do's and don'ts. Eliminate second helpings, high-calorie sauces and cookies made with butter, they say. Fill up on vegetable sticks, they say. Good grief! Is your favorite childhood memory of Christmas a carrot stick? I didn't think so. Isn't mine, either. A carrot was something you left for Rudolph. I have my own list of tips for holiday eating. I assure you, if you follow them, you'll be fat and happy.

1. About those carrot sticks. Avoid them. Anyone who puts carrots on a holiday buffet table knows nothing of the Christmas spirit. In fact, if you see carrots, leave immediately. Go next door, where they're serving peanut butter balls.

2. Drink as much eggnog as you can. And quickly, it's rare. In fact, you can't find it any other time of year but now. So drink up! Who cares that it has 10,000 calories in every sip? It's not as if you're going to turn into an eggnogaholic or something. It's a treat. Enjoy it. Have one for me. Have two. It's later than you think. It's Christmas!

3. If something comes with gravy, use it. That's the whole point of gravy. Pour it on. Make a volcano out of your mashed potatoes. Fill it with gravy. Eat the volcano. Repeat.

4. As for mashed potatoes, always ask if they're made with skim milk or whole milk. If it's skim, pass. Why bother? It's like buying a sports car with an automatic transmission.

5. Do not have a snack before going to a party in an effort to control your eating. The whole point of going to a Christmas party is to eat other people's food for free. Lots of it. Hello? Remember college?

6. Under no circumstances should you exercise between now and New Year's. You can do that in January when you have nothing else to do. This is the time for long naps, which you'll need after circling the buffet table while carrying a 10-pound plate of food and that vat of eggnog.

7. If you come across something really good at a buffet table, like frosted Christmas cookies in the shape and size of Santa, position yourself near them and don't budge. Have as many as you can before becoming the center of attention. They're like a beautiful pair of shoes. You can't leave them behind. You're not going to see them again.

8. Same for pies. Apple. Pumpkin. Mincemeat. Have a slice of each. Or, if you don't like mincemeat, have two apples and one pumpkin. Always have three. When else do you get to have more than one dessert? Labor Day?

9. Did someone mention fruitcake? Granted, it's loaded with the mandatory celebratory calories, but avoid it at all cost. I mean, have some standards, mate.

10. And one final tip: If you don't feel terrible when you leave the party or get up from the table, you haven't been paying attention. Reread tips. Start over. But hurry! Cookieless January is just around the corner.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

GOD’S CHURCH TRIUMPHANT

Through the ages the Church has seen her ups and downs.
She has been hailed as the Bride of Christ,
and vilified as the opiate of the people.
BUT GOD’S CHURCH IS STILL ALIVE.

She has been hunted in the streets,
and driven into the catacombs of Imperial Rome.
Her members have been burned to illuminate Nero’s garden parties,
and savaged by ravenous lions;
slandered as cannibals over the Lord’s Supper,
and branded as atheists because of fidelity to her One Lord.
The whole might of the Roman Empire was brought to bear
in order to terrify it’s subjects concerning the consequences of following Jesus Christ.
AND YET, GOD’S CHURCH IS STILL ALIVE.

The Adversary has employed every trick and every weapon
in his vast arsenal in order to destroy the church of Jesus Christ.
Through the centuries and around the globe
She has been driven underground by persecution.
At times she has been painted and draped in scarlet,
set upon a throne and encouraged to indulge her desires.
She has experienced every pain and temptation
in an unholy attempt to shake her allegiance to Christ, her bridegroom.
AND STILL, GOD’S CHURCH IS ALIVE.

No amount of persecution or prosperity will ever
succeed in destroying the Blood bought Church of  Jesus Christ.
Her Lord, Jesus Christ himself, has promised that
the very gates of hell could never prevail against her.
Hear me!  The purest sweetest water is that which
has forced it’s way through solid rock.
Opposition can never stop us.
GOD’S CHURCH IS STILL ALIVE.


Frazzled Parents; you’re not wasting your time worshiping
with your children.  You’re training them for life.

Lonely Housewife; Jesus Christ touches the world through
the investment you make.  Take heart.

Confused Husband; reject the world’s call to selfishness.
Be a Godly man.

Single Mother;  You’re not abandoned.
God has given you a family.

Busy Student; don’t give in to futility about the future.
You have a blessed hope in Christ.

Frustrated Christian; don’t surrender to problems which shake your faith.
Follow in the footsteps of those holy saints who have gone on before you.
GOD’S CHURCH IS STILL ALIVE.

ALIVE AND WELL.

Friday, December 2, 2011

DON THE BAPTIST'S ANNUAL BAH, HUMBUG, BREAK-EVERYBODY'S -HEART CHRISTMAS POST

Christmas imagery is filled with Heavenly Choirs musically heralding the Savior's birth. One problem with that: it never happened. There is zero evidence that angels sing. I know, I know, I'm trampling all over your cherished childhood memories. Tough. It's simply not found in scripture.

But wait, what about the Heavenly choir at Bethlehem? There was none. Matthew's Gospel talks about the Magi, but no angels. Luke 2:8-12 tells us about the angels:
"And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel SAID to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and SAYING,
   “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
   and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests
.”

Then the angels left and went back to heaven.

NO SINGING.

Well, okay... What about IN HEAVEN? Ah, ha! like in Revelation. Nope. Sorry. In the great picture of worship around the heavenly throne of Revelation 4, the angels before God SAY, "Holy, Holy, Holy." 
In chapter 5, "...many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. 12 In a loud voice they were SAYING: “Worthy is the Lamb."

Why? Why don't angels sing? I think it's because singing--music--is an inherently human action. Animals exist in the completely earthy realm. Angels exist in the purely spiritual realm. Humans are amphibians; we exist in both worlds at once. Music moves us; to joy, sorrow, sometimes to tears. We don't just play or sing music; we FEEL it. I don't believe angels truly comprehend music.

So, sorry I had to break your heart. But I take theology seriously. I take the same stand on other "doctrines of men" that have no foundation in scripture, as well.
IMPORTANT NOTE: I am speaking from a Biblical perspective. If you are an unbeliever, feel free to indulge your imagination. For those of you who claim to accept the Bible as God's Word, knock it off.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

GRAND CANYON





Watch the scene to the end. The key to it is the phrase, "Maybe we don't 
have any experience with miracles so we're slow to recognize them."

The movie Grand Canyon is twenty years old now, but I still think it resonates with our culture. Grand Canyon didn't do that well at the box office and as far as I remember was panned by the critics. I think it spoke the truth about our spiritually impoverished culture. The story features an ensemble cast representing people from all walks of life in LA. The question for each of them is the same: "is this all there is?"

The theme of the movie is the futility of modern life. In LA, urban life is squalid and dehumanizing for rich and poor alike. Our marvelous, modern, high-tech world has become a terrifying nightmare. It is self-evident that the world is not working the way it ought to. Life, as our culture has defined it, is random, purposeless, lonely, empty, short, brutal, nasty and nearly hopeless. The characters in the story experience the futility of knowing they could contribute to a better world, yet fail to act out of pride or selfishness.

There are two symbols of hope in the movie. The first is the "rescuing stranger" who appears frequently as a sign of hope from out of nowhere. The second is the Grand Canyon itself, which stands as a symbol of majestic creation, and ultimately of God.

Like the book of Ecclesiastes, Grand Canyon is a proto-gospel, crying out that we are missing something.  Honestly, when I saw this at the theater I had a nearly overwhelming urge to stand up and give and invitation to Christ as the credits rolled.