Minor Thoughts from me to you

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The To-Do Lists Are Never Done

As unfinished work piles up each day at the office, I could certainly stand to remember this more. The To-Do Lists Are Never Done:

Only God gets his to-do list done each day.

This simple sentence informs how I begin my day, what I expect to accomplish during the day, and how I close each day.

When I step out of my office and turn the light off at the end of my day, and the list of to-dos is incomplete, I say to my secretary, "Nora, we will try again tomorrow." This brief statement is an acknowledgment of my limitations, and is my way of saying that--once again--I didn't get everything done. It's a moment for me to cultivate humility.

No matter how much planning, scheduling, and discipline is present in my life, I will never completely redeem the time. I am a finite creature, limited in what I can accomplish, and further limited by my sin. So it should surprise nobody that I leave to-dos undone each and every day.

My joy is not derived from the flawless execution of my goals. My joy each day is derived from the person and work of Jesus Christ on the cross.

Only God gets his to-do list done each day. I need the cross of Christ each day.

(Via C.J. Mahaney's view from the cheap seats & other stuff.)

This entry was tagged. Christianity

The Problem with Gender Neutral Bibles

I stumbled across a very interesting essay by Vern Poythress. In it, he talks about gender neutral Bibles (like the TNIV, the Good News Bible, the CEV, etc) and how they can change the meaning of the Biblical text in subtle ways.

Language nerds will probably understand and enjoy it the most, but I think his examples are worth thinking about it -- even for those of us who aren't language nerds.

We may illustrate by considering the complex challenge of translating sentences with gender-marked generic pronouns. In English the issue comes to a head only with the third-person singular personal pronoun, because all the other pronouns are unmarked for gender. The third-person singular has three genders, "he," "she," and "it." Until recently the masculine forms, "he/him/his/himself," served as default forms in generic statements. But now some people frown on this use, and so-called gender inclusive translations have sought substitutes.3

Changing from "he" to "you"

One possibility they have tried is the use of the second person "you" instead of the third-person singular.4 Consider Proverbs 12:14. The New International Version (NIV) reads: "From the fruit of his lips a man is filled with good things as surely as the work of his hands rewards him." The Good News Bible (GNB, 2d ed.) reads: "Your reward depends on what you say and what you do; you will get what you deserve." The NIV and the Hebrew, by using the third person, invite readers to see a sample case "out there," and then to apply the truth to anyone whatsoever. Certainly each reader may apply to the truth to himself. But he may also apply the truth to others whom he is counseling, just as the father counsels his son in the early chapters of Proverbs. By contrast, the second-person in the GNB invites each reader to apply the truth first of all personally. Applying the truth to others by offering them counsel is an afterthought. The directness of focus on application to the individual reader is different in the two cases. The same differences crop up again and again in changes from third person to second person in Proverbs.

Read -- or at least scan -- the whole thing.

(And, yes, it's one reason that I'm reading out of the ESV and not the TNIV these days.)

It's Not Fair?

I have a tendency towards quick anger. Every time life doesn't go my way -- kids want attention, wife needs something done (or leave something undone), customers want immediate answers, snow blankets the area, or idiots on the Beltline ruin my commute -- I get angry. I know that the world isn't treating my fairly and I resent having to put up with it.

Perhaps you've noticed, just from the tenor of some of my previous posts?

In the last year, God has shown me that my anger is really directed at him. After all, he's in control of everything. Why didn't he give me better kids, a better wife, more patient customers, better weather and better drivers? Doesn't he know whom I am? Does't he care? Slowly, He's been changing me. He's been making me more humble and less angry.

There's a new book I may want to pick up and read through.

Written by Wayne Mack and Deborah Howard it is titled simply It's Not Fair. Mack deals with the very attitude I had fallen into. "From years of personal and counseling experience," he writes, "I know that nothing is more damaging to us spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and behaviorally than responding to the unpleasant, unwanted, and (in our judgment) undeserved attitude of life with the 'it's not fair' attitude." We fight against this attitude with a properly knowledge of who God is. "Nothing is more helpful to us in overcoming the tragic results of being infected with the 'it's not fair' attitude than possessing the knowledge of who and what God really is and the implications of that knowledge."

In this book, Mack focuses on four aspects of God's character that he thinks are the most useful in counteracting and destroying the devastation brought about by the "it's not fair" attitude. He looks to God's wisdom, love, sovereignty and justice. These characteristics, taken individually and together, counter an attitude that we are somehow getting less than we deserve. "Sometimes we are angry at other people, and sometimes we're angry about situations or circumstances. Ultimately, we are angry with God, regardless of how well we disguise it--even to ourselves."

Red Sex, Blue Sex

I saw an interesting article about the sociology of sex recently: Red Sex, Blue Sex. Specifically, the difference in attitudes between "red" communities and "blue" communities. One observation in particular really jumped out at me.

Social liberals in the country's "blue states" tend to support sex education and are not particularly troubled by the idea that many teen-agers have sex before marriage, but would regard a teen-age daughter's pregnancy as devastating news. And the social conservatives in "red states" generally advocate abstinence-only education and denounce sex before marriage, but are relatively unruffled if a teen-ager becomes pregnant, as long as she doesn't choose to have an abortion.

But that wasn't all. Apparently, the truly religious (rather than the socially religious) teen-agers do act differently than their peers. But that difference may be more related to the religious support network than to the affects of religion itself.

Religious belief apparently does make a potent difference in behavior for one group of evangelical teen-agers: those who score highest on measures of religiosity--such as how often they go to church, or how often they pray at home. But many Americans who identify themselves as evangelicals, and who hold socially conservative beliefs, aren't deeply observant.

Even more important than religious conviction, Regnerus argues, is how "embedded" a teen-ager is in a network of friends, family, and institutions that reinforce his or her goal of delaying sex, and that offer a plausible alternative to America's sexed-up consumer culture. A church, of course, isn't the only way to provide a cohesive sense of community. Close-knit families make a difference. Teen-agers who live with both biological parents are more likely to be virgins than those who do not. And adolescents who say that their families understand them, pay attention to their concerns, and have fun with them are more likely to delay intercourse, regardless of religiosity.

Finally, the article points out some of the drawbacks of each approach to sex. Pay attention to the warning at the end. If religious conservatives want to make a difference in societal behaviors we'll have to work a lot harder on actually being involved in our communities and helping young Christians.

Each of these models of sexual behavior has drawbacks--in the blue-state scheme, people may postpone child-bearing to the point where infertility becomes an issue. And delaying child-bearing is better suited to the more affluent, for whom it yields economic benefits, in the form of educational opportunities and career advancement. But Carbone and Cahn argue that the red-state model is clearly failing on its own terms--producing high rates of teen pregnancy, divorce, sexually transmitted disease, and other dysfunctional outcomes that social conservatives say they abhor. In "Forbidden Fruit," Regnerus offers an "unscientific postscript," in which he advises social conservatives that if they really want to maintain their commitment to chastity and to marriage, they'll need to do more to help young couples stay married longer. As the Reverend Rick Marks, a Southern Baptist minister, recently pointed out in a Florida newspaper, "Evangelicals are fighting gay marriage, saying it will break down traditional marriage, when divorce has already broken it down." Conservatives may need to start talking as much about saving marriages as they do about, say, saving oneself for marriage.

"Having to wait until age twenty-five or thirty to have sex is unreasonable," Regnerus writes. He argues that religious organizations that advocate chastity should "work more creatively to support younger marriages. This is not the 1950s (for which I am glad), where one could bank on social norms, extended (and larger) families, and clear gender roles to negotiate and sustain early family formation."

Free Trade and Christian Charity

It's popular among the Christian left to talk up the "Old Testament" values of social justice: caring for the poor, paying fair wages, not perverting justice, etc. They're fond of the Old Testament prophets and the prophets jeremiads against wealth and privilege.

Increasingly, the Christian left is also fond of promoting Democrat candidates and talking about how Republican candidates only look out for the rich and powerful. The exact people that the Old Testament prophets inveighed against. Ergo, the Old Testament prophets hated Republican ideals and all good Christians will vote against Republican ideals.

If that's true, what should we make of the Democrats record on free trade? After all, the poor in America are far richer than the poor in the third world. By any just standard, the America's poor are rich. They're poor only if they're exclusively compared to other Americans. Free trade is the biggest and best "social justice" platform in existence. Free trade spreads the wealth around the entire world and gives opportunities to billions of people in the third world.

If we do as the Democrats demand -- if we restrict free trade -- we remove opportunities from billions of impoverished people. "Fair trade" would take jobs away from those that need them the most. "Fair trade" would raise prices for those that can least afford to pay them. "Fair trade" would benefit rich Americans (that is, all Americans) at the expense of the global poor.

Is that Christian? I don't think so. But don't take my word for it. India has good reason to fear a Democrat government.

So, pressures will mount for protectionist measures and beggar-thy-neighbour policies in the US, hurting countries like India. Apart from erecting import barriers and subsidising dumped exports, US politicians will seek to curb the outsourcing of services to India. Visa curbs will slow the movement of skilled workers and their dollar remittances back to India.

[Obama] has voted against trade barriers only 36% of the time. He supported export subsidies on the two occasions on which he voted, a 100% protectionist record in this regard.

In 2007, he voted to reduce visas issued to foreign workers (such as Indian software engineers), and to ban Mexican trucks on US roads. He sometimes voted for free trade - he supported the Oman Free Trade Act and a bill on miscellaneous tariff reductions and trade preference extensions. More often he voted for protectionist measures including 100% scanning of imported containers (which would make imports slower and costlier), and emergency farm spending.

In 2005 he voted to impose sanctions on China for currency manipulation, and against the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). He voted for the Byrd amendment, a disgraceful bill (later struck down by the WTO) that gifted anti-dumping duties to US producers who complained, thus making complaining more profitable than competitive production.

Obama says the North American Free Trade agreement is a bad one, and must be renegotiated. He has opposed the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement on the bogus ground that Colombia is not protecting its trade union leaders from the drug mafia. In fact, such assassinations have fallen steadily from 205 in 2001 to just 25 last year. Obama is cynically twisting facts to woo the most protectionist US trade unions. This cannot but worry India, which may also be subjected to bogus slander and trade disadvantages.

Unlike Obama, McCain voted against imposing trade sanctions on China for supposedly undervaluing its currency to keep exports booming and accumulate large forex reserves. India has followed a similar policy, though with less export success than China. But if indeed India achieves big success in the future, it could be similarly targeted by US legislators and, will need people like McCain to resist.

Obama favours extensive subsidies for US farmers, hitting Third World exporters like India. This has been one of the issues on which the Doha Round of WTO is gridlocked. McCain could open the gridlock, Obama will strengthen it.

Obama also favours subsidies for converting maize to ethanol. The massive diversion of maize from food to ethanol has sent global food and fertiliser prices skyrocketing, hitting countries like India. But McCain has always opposed subsidies for both US agriculture and ethanol. While campaigning, he had the courage to oppose such subsidies even in Iowa, an agricultural state he badly needs to win if he is to become president.

I want to help the poor. I want the poor to succeed and become rich. I don't want to protect the rich at the expense of the poor. That's why I support open borders, free trade, and no import / export tariffs. That's why I'm surprised that so many people who talk so much about helping the poor consistently support policies that will make the rich richer and the poor poorer.

Changed by Jesus #16: Trust in the Truth

How many regular church members could explain the Gospel this clearly, succinctly, and correctly?

I went to Mars Hill for the first time that January. I sat near the door in case it was weird. It was not at all like I had feared it would be. Here were happy people full of hope and purpose in their lives. "You've got to be kidding me," I said to myself. I didn't know how to respond.

I met two guys who took me to lunch afterward. I explained to them that I couldn't understand why they were so full of joy. I explained that I was a pretty good person, had cleaned up my act somewhat, and still could not find God despite years of fruitless seeking and searching. I explained that everything and everybody had let me down, from my father onward, and that I had been defiled. I was jealous of them, for it was clear to me that day that they were loved of God and I was not.

They pointed out that my attempts at finding God were going nowhere because I had fashioned a god to suit myself and worshiped according to my own preference and superstition. A voice inside my head cried out your whole worldview is sin. God created you. You did not create him! I began to see that I had been wrong about life, God, and everything.

They told me they had some good news. "You have tried to worship what you do not know," they said. "Now you can worship the Living God in spirit and in truth. God became the man Jesus Christ to live a perfect life and then die on the cross to pay for your sins with his own blood. Jesus Christ did not just die. He rose again and is alive today and reigns as God at the right hand of the Father. In him we have reconciliation with God and forgiveness of our sins. If you will give your life to Jesus today and repent of your sins, God will adopt you into his family and you will have eternal life."

Changed by Jesus #16: Trust in the Truth

Right on. I Praise God for what he's doing at Mars Hill Seattle.

(Via The Mission & Vision.)

This entry was tagged. Christianity

Expanding My Circle

Last Sunday, Tim Mackie preached about "our circle". Who are the people that we love? Who are the people that we care for? Who are the people that we would go out of our way to help? Who's "in the circle" and who's out?

Tim challenged us to expand our circles. To realize the hardships that others are facing. To move beyond our own selfishness and to demonstrate the love of God. As he taught, I thought of C. S. Lewis's sermon on "The Weight of Glory". I was planning on requoting it here, but I hadn't yet gotten to it.

Earlier today, I watched these clips of Bill Maher on the Daily Show. In it, he roundly mocks Christians, Christianity, and the entire idea of believing in God.

My first, immediate, reaction was "what a loathsome man". He and and Jon Stewart took great delight in mocking everyone who did not live up to the ideals of their towering intellects. It was a disgusting performance.

My second reaction -- very close behind the first -- was "what a great illustration of what Paul was talking about".

[esvbible reference="1 Corinthians 1:18-31" header="on" format="block"]1 Corinthians 1:18-31[/esvbible]

Bill Maher is right: Christianity is foolish. But I'm glad that God demonstrated His love the way that He did.

My third -- and final! -- reaction was to think back to "The Weight of Glory". Once again, it seemed to dovetail perfectly with the challenge in Tim's sermon and my own reactions to Bill Maher. Here's the end:

Meanwhile the cross comes before the crown and tomorrow is a Monday morning. A cleft has opened in the pitiless walls of the world, and we are invited to follow our great Captain inside. The following Him is, of course, the essential point. That being so, it may be asked what practical use there is in the speculations which I have been indulging. I can think of at least one such use. It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbour.

The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour's glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.

All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization -- these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit -- immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously -- no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.

And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner -- no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat -- the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.

I need to remember that Bill Maher is an eternal being. Maybe instead of thinking of him as a loathsome man, I should add him to "my circle".

Mushy, Postmodern "Christianity"

Nathan Williams, from John MacArthur's Shepherds' Fellowship, reported on a recent visit to Mars Hill Bible Church.

It's a good example of how not to do church. I love creativity, I love seeing Christians that are creative. I think far too many Christians portray an uncreative God. But the solution isn't to ignore the cross and focus exclusively on creativity.

I mentioned in yesterday's post that when we entered the worship center we were greeted with quotes on the overhead projectors. One of the main quotes that continued to cycle through as we waited for the "gathering" to start was a quote by Dorothy Sayers. After getting back home and doing some research I realized that much of the teaching on creativity and the Trinity comes from a book by Sayers called The Mind of the Maker. The entire message was based on the idea that every bit of human creativity resembles the Trinity. The creative idea we have is like God the Father, the action that we perform because of that idea is like the Son, and the influence and power of that creative idea is like the Holy Spirit.

Once Jeanette taught this background it was easy to see the shape the message would take. Jeanette taught the philosophy and theology (I use that term loosely) behind creativity and then Don gave us practical insight into becoming more creative. For example, after Jeanette taught on the idea of creativity and that being analogous to God the Father, Don taught on the top ten places for creative ideas to come to us. After the section dealing with Jesus and the creative idea being put into action, Don taught on several habits of creative people.

The ultimate point of the message was for us to learn to be creative and then use that creativity for something useful. The Sayers quote which they kept using throughout the lesson was "…that we may redeem the Fall by a creative act." When one actually begins to break that down and think it through, it's a scary thing to be teaching people. The point of the message was that we can use our creativity to redeem the fall. In other words, our world is in a rough situation. All of the pain and hardship in society comes as a result of the fall. We must use our creativity to fix the problems created by mankind's fall into sin.

Sadly, throughout the message there was no mention of the gospel of Jesus Christ being what redeems men from the fall.

In the end, the tag-team talk consisted of little more than some vaguely inspiring teaching about using creativity to meet the physical and temporal needs of those in our community. Noticeably missing was the centrality of the gospel.

Single Column Bibles

I'd really like to buy a single-column Bible in the near future. Of all of my Bible wants, I think this is the biggest. Of course, I also want a black letter Bible, that's printed in a paragraph-by-paragraph format rather than a verse-by-verse format. Here's a quick rundown of the major candidates:

ESV Study Bible (Crossway)

  • 9-point type, single-column layout for the Bible text; 7.25-point type, double-column layout for the notes
  • Size: 6.5" x 9.25"
  • 2,752 pages

It looks like a good candidate and I'll probably buy a copy just for all of the "study Bible" features. But the pages themselves look really busy and distracting. That's mostly due to those same "study Bible" features.

ESV Literary Study Bible (Crossway, Amazon)

  • 8.5-point type
  • Size: 6" x 9"
  • 1,952 pages

The ESV LSB is smaller than the ESV Study Bible, with a slightly smaller font size. The text is printed in a paragraph-by-paragraph format rather than a verse-by-verse format. The font size is slightly smaller than I'd prefer, but I don't think it would be too small (sample pages).

I'm afraid that I'll get annoyed at the embedded literary study notes. I have no doubt that they'll be very useful and educational. Unfortunately, they break up the text and make the Bible larger than it otherwise would be. That will distract me from using this Bible as a pure reading Bible.

ESV Personal Size Reference Bible (Crossway, Amazon)

  • 7.4-point type
  • Size: 5" x 7.25"
  • 1,308 pages

I think this Bible is exactly what I want -- except for the tiny font size. (Sample pages.)

TNIV Reference Bible (Zondervan)

  • 9-point type
  • Size: 6.9" x 9.8"
  • 1408 pages

I generally prefer the ESV over the TNIV. This Bible would have to really impress me, for me to purchase a TNIV instead of an ESV. This Bible comes close, but I think the verse numbers and footnote letters are distracting. (Sample pages.)

Conclusion

Right now, I think I'd like to purchase the Literary Study Bible as a "bedside" Bible and an ESV Personal Reference Bible as an "out and about" Bible.

Reading and Understanding the Bible

The Bible is old and complex. How can I possibly expect to understand it? Every time a pastor gets up, he seems to teach something from the Bible that I've never even seen before. Why should I even bother trying to read it myself?

The truth is, I can learn to read the Bible for myself. It takes practice -- but I have my whole life to get it right. I don't have to develop into a theologian overnight. My church recently taught a session on how to read the Bible. I wasn't able to attend, but a friend did. I'll share a portion of her notes.

  1. Begin with the context: historical - the writer - the audience - the culture - other events
  2. Read headings before/after this chapter. What is going on? Whose life is being chronicled?
  3. Is this a minor or major incident?
  4. What else do we know about the people involved?
  5. List questions that occur to you as you read this passage. Try to forget past messages you have heard or books and studies you have read about this. Read with fresh eyes and think about someone telling you this story. What would you ask them before you go on? What do you need further clarification on?
  6. What?
  7. Why?
  8. When?
  9. How?
  10. Where?
  11. Who?
  12. Look for repeated words, details, unfamiliar terms.
  13. What are differences/similarities between the original audience and us.
  14. What principle(s) cross cultural divide? What is applicable to us in our culture?

I'm not a Bible expert. Answering the Who, When, What, Why questions can be tough. It can even be tough to know who the writer and audience are or what the culture was. Even with those principles, how can I really know what's going on?

I start with the realization that the Bible was written for me, but it wasn't written to me. I first heard this idea when Dr. John Walton spoke at Blackhawk. His sermon -- Why Didn't God Call the Light, Light helped me to see that the Bible doesn't necessarily speak in the way that I expect it to speak. I can't simply pick it up and read it the same way that I would read a novel or a science textbook. I have to read it the way that the original audience read it.

Fortunately, Dr. Walton helped me to do just that. He didn't personally help me, but one of his books did. Old Testament Today is an Old Testament overview that helped me understand the Old Testament in a way that I never had before. It has a very unique style:

Old Testament Today is unique among Old Testament surveys. It not only provides an orientation to the world of the Old Testament but also builds a bridge between the original audience and modern readers, demonstrating why the ancient message is important for faith and life today.

Old Testament Today goes beyond basic content to help students understand what the Scriptures mean and how to apply them personally. [T]his text takes the reader section by section through the Old Testament using a progressive, three-step format:

  1. Original Meaning presents the details of the content, focusing on the story line, historical background, and literary information that address the original setting and audience.
  2. Bridging Contexts focuses on theological perspectives and on issues of the authors purpose and the universal message of the text, building a bridge between the original audience and todays audience.
  3. Contemporary Significance develops an understanding of the relevance of the Old Testament writings to todays Christian, showing how they can be applied in personal faith and practice.

It covers the major sections of the Old Testament: the Fundamentals of the Old Testament, the Pentateuch, Historical Literature, Prophets, Wisdom Literature, Psalms, and a wrap-up. It really helped me to understand where each book fits and how the different parts of the Old Testament mesh together. (Google Books will give you a bit of a sneak peak at the book.)

After reading Old Testament Today and seeing how the three-step process worked, I wanted to get more than just an overview of the entire Old Testament. I wanted to understand each book, using that same method. The NIV Life Application Commentary series fills that need perfectly. Each commentary focuses on one book of the Bible and uses the same three step method (Original Meaning, Bridging Contexts, and Contemporary Significance) to explain what's happening in the text.

If you're like me -- you want to both read and understand the Bible, I'd highly recommend buying a few of these books.

This entry was tagged. Bible Christianity

Designing the Perfect Bible

As I've started actually reading my Bible more, I've become pickier about which Bible I read. Since this is my blog, I'm going to spend some time talking about what goes into my decision. Be warned: this is slightly long winded.

Translation

I prefer the English Standard Version. The ESV website describes the translation this way:

The ESV is an "essentially literal" translation that seeks as far as possible to capture the precise wording of the original text and the personal style of each Bible writer. As such, its emphasis is on "word-for-word" correspondence, at the same time taking into account differences of grammar, syntax, and idiom between current literary English and the original languages. Thus it seeks to be transparent to the original text, letting the reader see as directly as possible the structure and meaning of the original.

Every translation is at many points a trade-off between literal precision and readability, between "formal equivalence" in expression and "functional equivalence" in communication, and the ESV is no exception. Within this framework we have sought to be "as literal as possible" while maintaining clarity of expression and literary excellence.

Therefore, to the extent that plain English permits and the meaning in each case allows, we have sought to use the same English word for important recurring words in the original; and, as far as grammar and syntax allow, we have rendered Old Testament passages cited in the New in ways that show their correspondence. Thus in each of these areas, as well as throughout the Bible as a whole, we have sought to capture the echoes and overtones of meaning that are so abundantly present in the original texts.

That's very important to me. I've read other translations that chose to emphasize readability and understandability instead of literalness. They weren't bad translations -- I liked them. But when it came to "difficult" passages (such as the issue of women in leadership), I felt like the translation was hiding the author's original meaning. After a while, that started to bother me. I feel that the ESV strikes a decent balance between being understandable in the 21st century and staying true to the original text.

Black Letter

Whichever translation I use, I want a black-letter edition of the Bible. Many popular editions of the Bible choose to print Jesus's words in red. I don't like that practice, for two reasons.

Printing the words of Jesus in red implies that they are more important than the other words in the Bible. It sets them apart from the rest of the text and draws extra attention to them. The publisher, in effect, chose to highlight those words for you. But I don't think that's what God intended. Paul and Peter explicitly say that all of the Bible comes from God.

[esvbible reference="2 Timothy 3:16" format="inline"]2 Timothy 3:16[/esvbible]

[esvbible reference="2 Peter 1:21" format="inline"]2 Peter 1:21[/esvbible]

Secondly, printing the words of Jesus in red assumes that the Gospel quotations are direct quotations. I don't believe that they are. First century writers weren't concerned with getting direct quotations or properly attributing every source. They didn't make material up, they just weren't as rigorous as we are about documenting it and relaying it precisely. We can also see that the quotations aren't exact. Compare Matthew 9:4-6 with Mark 2:8-11.

[esvbible reference="Matthew 9:4-6" format="inline"]Matthew 9:4-6[/esvbible]

[esvbible reference="Mark 2:8-11" format="inline"]Mark 2:8-11[/esvbible]

The differences are subtle but real. While the gist is the same, the exact words differ. Both texts were inspired by God, but related by men. I want a Bible that prints the Jesus's words the same as everybody else's words.

Not Distracting

I want a Bible that doesn't distract me from the meaning of the text. Chapter headings, subheadings, and chapter / verse divisions are all modern innovations. People throughout history created multiple different ways of breaking up and organizing the text. Our modern chapter and verse divisions first appeared in the Geneva Bible in 1599.

Chapter and verse divisions are necessary, to quickly locate a given passage. But they can break a text in the middle of a narrative, leaving the reader with a false impression about where a thought begins or ends. Headings and subheadings can be even more intrusive and distracting.

One example: the parable of the prodigal son. Many people are familiar with the parable, from [esvbible reference="Luke 15:11-32" header="on" format="link"]Luke 15:11-32[/esvbible]. Most Bible editions have a helpful subheader that indicates "The Parable of the Prodigal Son". But that subheader hides the fact that the parable was told as the third in a series.

In [esvbible reference="Luke 15" header="on" format="link"]Luke 15[/esvbible], the Pharisees complain about Jesus choosing to hang out with non-religious people. Jesus responds to them by telling three parables, each with a different point. Jesus intended each parable to be a partial response. We misread the text if we try to take the parables one at a time and read them separately.

I think we also risk misreading the text if the publisher formats the text in a verse-by-verse style instead of a paragraph-by-paragraph style. In a verse-by-verse style each verse starts on a new line. This unnecessarily -- and arbitrarily -- breaks up the text. It destroys the flow of the narrative and makes the text harder to read. Conversely, a paragraph-by-paragraph style combines multiple verses into one block of text. It is much more natural to read and helps to keep the text as a series of coherent thoughts.

Headers, subheaders, and intrusive verse divisions can encourage misreading. I prefer a Bible edition that formats the text into paragraphs and has few headers dividing up the text.

Readability

I want a Bible that's easy to read: not too heavy, not too thick, and easy on the eyes. I have two primary criteria for readability: single column pages with at least a 9pt font. I take this preference from J. Mark Bertrand. In this review of The Message: Remixed Bible, he explains his fondness for single-column layouts.

The fact that The Message Remix is laid out in single columns deserves a point all its own. This is what readers are accustomed to, and it makes more visual sense than the traditional double column layout. I don't know why so many publishers are committed to double columns. The practice creates all sorts of problems. For example, the ESV's narrow columns force unintentional line breaks on passages set in verse. The problem is solved in the standalone edition of the Psalms, which is set in a single column. But for some reason, the single column format that works so well in the ESV standalone editions of the Psalms and the Gospel of John is not available in a complete edition of the Bible. Designers take note: single-column formatting makes a world of difference in terms of the reader's experience.

If a Bible is going to have a single column layout, the lines need to be kept relatively short. Studies have shown that most people prefer reading text that has 60-75 characters per line. (About 12 words per line.) Using a larger font is the best to keep the lines short and the text easy to read.

As someone who loves to read, I prefer single column text. As someone who loves to read for long stretches of time, I prefer text that's large enough to read without requiring me to squint or strain to see the text.

Binding

Finally, I want a strong binding that will last for a while. My goal is to find a Bible that I'll use daily for the next 10-20 years. The binding should last as long as the Bible does. Ideally, I'd like pages that are sewn together, not glued together. Again, J. Mark Bertrand explains why:

This means that the pages are folded over into little booklets called signatures and then the signatures are stitched together. The individual page -- say page 993 -- is actually one of four pages that are printed together on a single sheet, then folded. What's the advantage of this? For one thing, the pages don't fall out with heavy use the way adhesive bindings do. For another, a sewn binding has the potential to be more flexible in the hand.

To be honest, I'm not yet sure what the Bible cover should be made out of. I'm not up on the differences between genuine leather, calfskin and TruTone materials. Rest assured, I'll have an opinion soon and I'll let you know what it is when I discover it.

Summary

Here's the short version of my "perfect" Bible checklist.

  • ESV
  • Black letter
  • Paragraph layout, not verse layout
  • 9+ pt font
  • Single Column
  • No subheadings
  • Sewn, not glued, binding

Yes, that's very picky. As I write this, I'm incredibly grateful that I live in a society wealthy enough to enable me to be that picky about my copy of the Bible. I'm thankful that not only do I have access to a complete copy of the Bible -- something that many Christians worldwide still don't have -- but that I can be discriminating about what that copy looks like. As I read each day, I thank God for the text I have and the freedom I have to worship Him.

Self-Esteem is Dangerous

On a whim, I started reading Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton. I downloaded it several months ago (because the copyright has expired, it's freely available), but just saved it as something to read later. Today, as it turns out. I've already been entertained and enlightened by the first 11 pages.

Take this excerpt for instance. Chesterton clearly shows the folly of teachers and parents who want children to have a "high self-esteem", no matter what.

Thoroughly worldly people never understand even the world; they rely altogether on a few cynical maxims which are not true. Once I remember walking with a prosperous publisher, who made a remark which I had often heard before; it is, indeed, almost a motto of the modern world. Yet I had heard it once too often, and I saw suddenly that there was nothing in it. The publisher said of somebody, "That man will get on; he believes in himself." And I remember that as I lifted my head to listen, my eye caught an omnibus on which was written "Hanwell." I said to him, "Shall I tell you where the men are who believe most in themselves? For I can tell you. I know of men who believe in themselves more colossally than Napoleon or Caesar. I know where flames the fixed star of certainty and success. I can guide you to the thrones of the Super-men. The men who really believe in themselves are all in lunatic asylums." He said mildly that there were a good many men after all who believed in themselves and who were not in lunatic asylums. "Yes, there are," I retorted, "and you of all men ought to know them. That drunken poet from whom you would not take a dreary tragedy, he believed in himself. That elderly minister with an epic from whom you were hiding in a back room, he believed in himself. If you consulted your business experience instead of your ugly individualistic philosophy, you would know that believing in himself is one of the commonest signs of a rotter. Actors who can't act believe in themselves; and debtors who won't pay. It would be much truer to say that a man will certainly fail, because he believes in himself. Complete self-confidence is not merely a sin; complete self-confidence is a weakness. Believing utterly in one's self is a hysterical and superstitious belief like believing in Joanna Southcote: the man who has it has 'Hanwell' written on his face as plain as it is written on that omnibus." And to all this my friend the publisher made this very deep and effective reply, "Well, if a man is not to believe in himself, in what is he to believe?" After a long pause I replied, "I will go home and write a book in answer to that question." This is the book that I have written in answer to it.

Don't feel bad if that quote doesn't drive you to read the whole book. Chesterton himself had no interest in reading the book!

If any one is entertained by learning how the flowers of the field or the phrases in an omnibus, the accidents of politics or the pains of youth came together in a certain order to produce a certain conviction of Christian orthodoxy, he may possibly read this book. But there is in everything a reasonable division of labour. I have written the book, and nothing on earth would induce me to read it.

This entry was tagged. Christianity

Doubting Doubt

There are many non-Christians who don't understand either Christianity or Christians. To many skeptics, Christianity seems ludicrous and fanciful. Christians are mocked for being credulous fools, willing to believe anything.

Is it true? Not really. But it can be hard to explain exactly why faith makes sense. Enter Tim Keller's new book The Reason for God.

As the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, Timothy Keller has compiled a list of the most frequently voiced "doubts" skeptics bring to his church as well as the most important reasons for faith. And in The Reason for God, he addresses each doubt and explains each reason.

Keller uses literature, philosophy, real-life conversations, and reasoning to explain how faith in a Christian God is a soundly rational belief, held by thoughtful people of intellectual integrity with a deep compassion for those who truly want to know the truth.

The book's official website even features a video introduction by Tim Keller.

Dr. Keller has been talking about the book in venues across the United States. Recently, he made a stop at Google and talked about his book at the Google Author's Forum. The event -- about an hour long -- is a nice overview of the book and a great example of how to respond to people who are hostile to Christianity. I highly recommend watching it.

Building a Community

I've thought about Scott's comments all week long. He presented a contrast between preaching (reaching out to the unsaved) and teaching (reaching out to the saved).

As I thought about the discussion this week, I noticed something ironic: Blackhawk is Blackhawk Evangelical Free Church. The "E-Free" denomination is supposed to be about the good news of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, we can go many weeks without hearing the name of Jesus mentioned during a sermon. (For instance, Jesus wasn't mentioned in tonight's sermon and he wasn't mentioned in last week's sermon. Will he be mentioned in next week's sermon?)

Because of this, I agree with Scott. I think Blackhawk tends to reach out only to those who already know Jesus. It's right there in our mission statement: "Building a community...". The ultimate goal is for the Blackhawk community to reach out to the broader community (Madison) and present Jesus to Madison. The church community does present Jesus through our actions: the church is involved in multiple charities and service organizations around the city. But the teaching team does not often present Jesus from the pulpit. I think this is a problem.

I think it's a problem for two reasons: the teaching doesn't inform seekers who come in from the community about Jesus, and I think it misses the main thrust of the Bible. I won't spend much time talking about the first point -- it was the main focus of last week's discussion. But I do want to reiterate it: a non-Christian visiting Blackhawk would leave most Sundays without a clear idea of the gospel. As Tim Mackie discussed in the Jephthah sermon, "God" is a word with many different definitions. Ask a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, and a Wiccan who God is, and you'll probably get six different answers. The true, distinctive mark of the Christian faith is Jesus. As I said last week, we are what we are because of Jesus and only because of Jesus. That is the single biggest idea that differentiates Christianity from every other religion on earth. I believe that it must be preached on a regular basis.

I believe that Jesus must be taught on a regular basis. I believe it for three reasons:, it's important, we're forgetful and we need a model. It's important because Scripture says it's important:

[esvbible reference="1 Corinthians 2:1-5" header="on" format="block"]1 Corinthians 2:1-5[/esvbible]

I've always noticed that Paul said the gospel is of first importance. It's not the only important thing in the Bible. But he does think it's the most important thing in the Bible. Instead of telling someone the gospel right before they commit to Jesus, I think we should tell them the gospel on a regular basis, as the foundation of Christianity.

[esvbible reference="1 Corinthians 15:1-3" header="on" format="block"]1 Corinthians 15:1-3[/esvbible]

Notice that Paul says he is reminding the Corinthians about Jesus. We Christians are forgetful people. It's easy to forget how desperately wicked and evil we are apart from Jesus. It's easy to forget that Jesus is the only hope we have for ever seeing heaven. It's easy to forget that we can do nothing good apart from Jesus. I think the old hymn had a lot of wisdom:

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it

Prone to leave the God I love

I think any good teaching has to lead us back to Jesus on a regular basis. We have to be (or I have to be, at least) regularly reminded of who we love, why we love him, and what he's done for us. Only then can we live the life of good works that he's called us to live.

We also need a model. It's easy to say that we (the Blackhawk community) should be the primary people to communicate Jesus to our friends and neighbors. It's even true: my friends, neighbors, and co-workers are going to trust me a lot more than they're going to trust a pastor from a random church. But how do I share Jesus? How do I relate him to the modern, secular world I live in? How do I tie Jesus to the moral principles that the world loves and yet still talk about the sin that Jesus hated? How do I tie Jesus to every page of Scripture? Pastors can model these discussions through their sermons. If Jesus is relevant to modern life, it should be possible to both effectively teach the Scripture and effectively present Jesus. Through a constant diet of Jesus-filled sermons, I can see how to present Jesus to people I interact with.

I want to see this happen at Blackhawk. I admit to being spoiled. For the past year, I've been listening to the sermons of Pastor Mark Driscoll at Mars Hill Church, Seattle. In every sermon -- every single one -- that he preaches, Pastor Mark presents Jesus as the sole solution to the problems we face. Every week, he presents sin as the root problem and Jesus as the only solution. He preaches practically, but grounds every message in the story of Jesus. It's powerful stuff. And, as I've listened, I've gained more of an understanding of both how to live and how to share Jesus.

Mark Driscoll does have one advantage over the Blackhawk teaching team: the average Mars Hill sermon is 65 minutes long. It's a lot easier to cover ground when you have that much time. I'm not arguing that Blackhawk should look and act exactly like Mars Hill. We live in a different community and in a different culture. But maybe we could learn something about how to present Jesus, even if it is every other sermon instead of every sermon.

Thoughts?

Preaching the Gospel or Teaching the Bible

Alternate Title: Sheep Feeding or Adding to the Flock

Hi Joe,

I think your point is well taken, although I see it less as a theological issue at this time and based on the information and more an issue of preference. How do you like that for hedging:) But I'm of mixed minds about the issue, and appreciate the question, as well as the opportunity to respond.

Based on some of our prior conversations, I think it would be fair to say that there is a sentiment that Blackhawk does not consistently present the Gospel in its Sunday sermons that would allow a person with no, limited, or incorrect of Scripture to identify a) who Christ is, b) why it's important to know Christ in general and in the context of the message, and c) what you should do with the knowledge of Christ.

SHEEP FINDING (PREACHING)

I certainly think that it is typically for a sermon message to contain the elements in the above paragraph. It was at the church I grew up in and it is at the church my parents attend. Anyone who walks through the door will, assuming they've listened, heard something about the power of Christ before they've left. Evangelism is the primary goal of the Sunday sermon, or at least the last five minutes.

SHEEP FEEDING (TEACHING)

However, I don't think the absence of those elements make a sermon unsound. Sermons can and should be used to deepen the understanding of Scripture and relate it to our lives today, i.e. that it has meaning, that it does still translate in modernity, that our human condition has not changed. Fundamentally, Matt's sermon illustrates the continuing need for Christ in our lives, although this was not explicitly stated. I think Matt may make the assumption that many of those in attendance get the point.

FINDING AND FEEDING

I don't think the two subjects, finding and feeding, need to be mutually exclusive. A Sunday sermon can address both, but it may not be necessary that it does both, or one or the other, in the name of theological soundness. My concern is the imbalance.

If the message from the pulpit does not help people find Christ explicitly, then this duty should be held by someone and it should be exercised on Sunday during the sermon. Some pastors point out people in the back of the room that are waiting to talk and answer questions, while other churches have "Fireside Rooms" to invite newcomers or those with questions to hear about the Gospel more explicitly. Currently, I do not think that Blackhawk has excelled addressing this issue.

Alternatively, if the pulpit doesn't help people grow in Christ through the effective exposition of Scripture, then the flock can falter. While some would say that this is the purpose of Sunday school, and I would agree, there is a good and useful purpose to the pulpit being used to teach.

CONTINUING DILEMMAS?

I think that there is an imbalance at Blackhawk. The Gospel is not presented in a traditional way in each sermon. There is no Sunday school. There is no immediately visible (to me) means by which a seeker can gather more information and hear the Gospel without taking some risks. In the effort to be welcoming, we may simply be offering a place for a club to meet (not unlike many other churches, whether they preach the Gospel or not). How then is it best done and should it always fall on the pulpit, or should it fall on those that are fed? If so, what direction, motivation, and organization does the flock need to feed others that attend on a Sunday?

Samson and Jesus Follow Up

After writing last night's post, I sent an e-mail to a friend -- Scott Sager.

A couple of things were running through my mind as I listened to today's sermon.

Do you think I'm off base? I actually talked (very briefly) with Matt after the sermon tonight. He basically said that he wanted to go in a different direction. I'm not very good at actually confronting people, so I don't think I expressed myself as well as I could have. I wasn't mean or anything -- just timid. I'm not exactly sure how a lay person goes about bringing a theological concern to the teaching team.

Anyway -- do you think I have a point?

I've invited him to respond here. I'd like this to be the start of a (hopefully) edifying conversation.

Samson and Jesus

Today's sermon at Blackhawk (in the "The B Team: Book of Judges" series) was on Samson. Matt Metzger preached a wonderful sermon illustrating that Samson was no action hero.

Samson was a narcissistic, selfish man. Everything he did was designed to feed his own ego and legend. He consistently ignored his religious vows and violated the agreement God had made with Israel. From wanting to marry a Philistine women to regularly visiting a Philistine prostitute, he had no respect for God's laws. More than that, he had no desire to use his God-given strength to help his own people. He only used his strength for his own amusement and vengeance.

At this point, Matt turned the message to us. We are no different from Samson. In our natural state, we seek to glorify ourselves not God. In our natural state, we want revenge for whatever wrong's we've suffered. In our natural state, we want to live only for ourselves.

But I don't like where Matt took the sermon next. He didn't point us to Jesus. He didn't tell the good news of the gospel. Instead, he invited us to stop looking out our own tiny story and look at God's big overarching story. He invited us to stop working for our own good and start working for the good of everyone around us. He invited us to join God, in the work of God's kingdom.

That's not bad -- we should work for the good of others. We should join the work of God on earth. We should focus more on the big story of God and less on the tiny stories of ourselves. But it's not the full story. The truth is, we don't have any choice. We all act like Samson. No matter how hard we try, we can never act any differently from Samson. We can try to look at God's big story. Inevitably, we'll find ourselves living out our own tiny stories again and again.

There's only one solution. We need a power stronger than ourselves. We need Jesus. We can only have salvation and change through Jesus's death and resurrection. That is the gospel -- the good news.

[esvbible reference="1 Corinthians 15:3-11" header="on" format="block"]1 Corinthians 15:3-11[/esvbible]

The good news is that Jesus died for our sins and that God brought him back to life. The good news is that Jesus gives us the strength to be different -- the grace of God. Or, put differently,

[esvbible reference="Ezekiel 11:19" header="on" format="block"]Ezekiel 11:19[/esvbible]

God changes us. God makes us different from what we were. God actually makes us into new people.

[esvbible reference="2 Corinthians 5:17" header="on" format="block"]2 Corinthians 5:17[/esvbible]

This is the power of the gospel. This is the power of Christ's death on the cross. We don't have to lift ourselves out of our own story. We don't have to move ourselves into God's story. Jesus will do that for us. Jesus will change us and make us new. Jesus will give us a heart that wants to glorify him, not ourselves.

Samson is not a Biblical hero. Samson is a cautionary tale. Samson lived the empty, meaningless, pointless, violent, lustful life that we all live. In spite of his "religious vows", Samson never actually had faith in God. Samson never once depended on God's strength. Without Jesus, we are all just like Samson.

Because of Jesus -- only because of Jesus -- we don't have to be like Samson. Because of Jesus, we can be reborn and be new men. Because of Jesus, we can look at the world with new eyes and serve the world with a new attitude. But it's only because of Jesus. If we forget that, we forget what makes us strong -- just like Samson.

Is Church Discipline Bad?

Last week, I read an article in the Wall Street Journal talking about church discipline. At the time I read it, I thought that it was more than a little unfair. Not only did the author present church discipline in an entirely negative light, but she somehow found only bad examples, of church discipline, to write about.

Unfortunately, I didn't have time to critique it with the seriousness that the topic deserved. Thankfully, one of the people interviewed for the article has critiqued it.

Confessions of a Pastor: A Wall-Street Journal Hatchet Job:

So when the WSJ reporter called me, I explained its biblical basis, its practical application, and its obvious benefits. I reasoned that, if sin is indeed harmful, the cruelest thing we can do is leave someone in it. Confrontation must always be motivated by a sense of compassion and a desire for reconciliation. Then, to prove the point, I gave her the name and number of a man whom our church disciplined. His testimony is that he would not even be alive today had we not dealt with him as we did. Within the past week Ms. Alter called and interviewed this man and he told her the whole fascinating story.

Notice that she refers to "a passage in the gospel of Matthew," but does not tell her readers that the words are from Jesus. All of her examples of discipline are negative. She did not include a single example which she portrays in a positive light. For this reason neither Buck Run nor I are mentioned in this article because we had nothing but positive things to say. Even the subject of our discipline says the action was not only deserved, but necessary and restorative. Not one word of that testimony is included.

The article is tantamount to being against spanking because some parents abuse their children, or criticizing "time out" because some parents lock their children in the basement.

I have little doubt that discipline is sometimes abused, but frankly the greater and far more frequent problem in contemporary churches is that discipline isn't even discussed--regardless of what Jesus taught. What a shame that a publication the stature of the WSJ would countenance so unbalanced a presentation of the facts.

It beats an altar boy

Britney confesses

CATHOLIC LEAGUE SPOKESPERSON Kiera McCaffrey is righteously indignant about an album booklet included in Britney Spears' new CD release, "Blackout", reports MTV.

Said booklet shows Britney Spears and a handsome man of the cloth getting cozy together in the confessional.

Declares McCaffrey: "What would be great is if she got serious about her religious faith and instead of mocking the confessional, maybe she could visit one for its intended purpose... [The photo of her on the priest's lap is] a cheap trick."

Your Minor Thoughts correspondents naturally take umbrage at Ms. McCaffrey's assertions. Getting a pretty woman to sit on your lap is not a "cheap trick"; it's a difficult art - especially if you want Quality. It took the writer of this article 4-5 months to get this beauty onboard, and while he's no Don Juan, he doesn't think the Catholic League could've done any better.

But this leads us to the real tragedy: because, really, having a pretty woman on your lap is simply one more Biblical value which the Whore of Babylon can never understand. Looking at these photos, the priests of Rome see blasphemy, whereas we Protestants, quite frankly, see a step in the right direction.

At least Ms. McCaffrey and her ilk have the comfort of knowing not a lot of priests are going to see what fun they're missing, though. Sales on Spears' album debuted below expectations and have been sinking ever since.

This entry was tagged. Christianity

Things that Might Interest Only Me

Diet and Fat: A Severe Case of Mistaken Consensus - New York Times

In 1988, the surgeon general, C. Everett Koop, proclaimed ice cream to a be public-health menace right up there with cigarettes. Alluding to his office's famous 1964 report on the perils of smoking, Dr. Koop announced that the American diet was a problem of "comparable" magnitude, chiefly because of the high-fat foods that were causing coronary heart disease and other deadly ailments.

That was a ludicrous statement, as Gary Taubes demonstrates in his new book meticulously debunking diet myths, "Good Calories, Bad Calories" (Knopf, 2007).

It may seem bizarre that a surgeon general could go so wrong. After all, wasn't it his job to express the scientific consensus? But that was the problem. Dr. Koop was expressing the consensus. He, like the architects of the federal "food pyramid" telling Americans what to eat, went wrong by listening to everyone else. He was caught in what social scientists call a cascade.

Because of this effect, groups are surprisingly prone to reach mistaken conclusions even when most of the people started out knowing better, according to the economists Sushil Bikhchandani, David Hirshleifer and Ivo Welch. If, say, 60 percent of a group's members have been given information pointing them to the right answer (while the rest have information pointing to the wrong answer), there is still about a one-in-three chance that the group will cascade to a mistaken consensus.

In the Battle Against Cancer, Researchers Find Hope in a Toxic Wasteland - New York Times

Death sits on the east side of this city, a 40-billion-gallon pit filled with corrosive water the color of a scab. On the opposite side sits the small laboratory of Don and Andrea Stierle, whose stacks of plastic Petri dishes are smeared with organisms pulled from the pit. Early tests indicate that some of those organisms may help produce the next generation of cancer drugs.

For decades, scientists assumed that nothing could live in the Berkeley Pit, a hole 1,780 feet deep and a mile and a half wide that was one of the world's largest copper mines until 1982, when the Atlantic Richfield Company suspended work there. The pit filled with water that turned as acidic as vinegar, laced with high concentrations of arsenic, aluminum, cadmium and zinc.

Today it is one of the harshest environments in the country. When residents speak of the pit, they often recall the day in 1995 when hundreds of geese landed on the water and promptly died.

But the pit itself is far from dead. Over the last decade, Mr. Stierle said, the couple have found 142 organisms living in it and have "isolated 80 chemical compounds that exist nowhere else."

Panel Sees Problems in Ethanol Production - New York Times

Greater cultivation of crops to produce ethanol could harm water quality and leave some regions of the country with water shortages, a panel of experts is reporting. And corn, the most widely grown fuel crop in the United States, might cause more damage per unit of energy than other plants, especially switchgrass and native grasses, the panel said.

The report noted that additional use of fertilizers and pesticides could pollute water supplies and contribute to the overgrowth of aquatic plant life that produces "dead zones" like those in the Chesapeake Bay, the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere.

Book now for the flight to nowhere - Times Online

An Indian entrepreneur has given a new twist to the concept of low-cost airlines. The passengers boarding his Airbus 300 in Delhi do not expect to go anywhere because it never takes off.

In a country where 99% of the population have never experienced air travel, the "virtual journeys" of Bahadur Chand Gupta, a retired Indian Airlines engineer, have proved a roaring success.

"Some of my passengers have crossed the country to get on this plane," says Gupta, who charges about £2 each for passengers taking the "journey".

The Odyssey Years - New York Times

People who were born before 1964 tend to define adulthood by certain accomplishments -- moving away from home, becoming financially independent, getting married and starting a family.

In 1960, roughly 70 percent of 30-year-olds had achieved these things. By 2000, fewer than 40 percent of 30-year-olds had done the same.

Overlawyered: Welcome to West Virginia: Joe Meadows v. Go-Mart

Joe Meadows was drunk. Very drunk. 0.296 percent blood-alcohol content drunk, 12 or 13 beers worth. Fortunately, he didn't drive in that state. Unfortunately, he chose to sleep it off by resting under a parked 18-wheel truck. More unfortunately, the driver, Doug Rader, who didn't check to see whether there might be drunks lying under his truck at 1:40 a.m., ran over Meadows. Rader had EMT training, and was able to save Meadows's life, but Meadows lost a leg, and sued both the truck company and the store that owned the parking lot. A Kanawha County jury decided that Meadows was only a third responsible for his injury, which means he "only" gets two thirds of the three million dollars they awarded.

What is Orthodoxy? (Part 1, Part 2)

What is the "orthodoxy" in our "humble orthodoxy" anyway? What do we mean when we say "orthodoxy?" "What must we agree upon? What are the basics, what are the essentials?"

Now this is a dangerous question. And we have to proceed very carefully here, because if you take this wrong, this question can sound a little like the teenager in the youth group asking, "How far can I go? What's the least I have to believe and still be considered a Christian? What can I get away with?" Friends, that is not the spirit in which I'm posing this question. You want to pursue truth in every single matter about which God has revealed Himself in His word. If He's gone to the trouble of revealing Himself, you should care as a Christian, you should want to understand it, so that you can know more about who this God is that you're worshiping.

Part of what we need for doctrinal discernment is to understand what must be agreed upon and how serious errors are. Because you know not all errors are created equal--they're not all the same. We need to understand the significance of the doctrine that is in question.

... So God, the Bible, the gospel.

Those are the things that we must agree upon to have meaningful cooperation as Christians. True Christian fellowship cannot be had with someone who disagrees with us on these matters. These are the essential of the essentials.

Finally, for Adam, Pastor John Piper's view of Ayn Rand's philosophy. Several years ago, after I read Adam's copy of Atlas Shrugged, I disagreed with her view of altruism. But I couldn't put my feelings into words. Now I find that John Piper has.

Atlas Shrugged Fifty Years Later :: Desiring God

My Ayn Rand craze was in the late seventies when I was a professor of Biblical Studies at Bethel College. I read most of what she wrote both fiction and non-fiction. I was attracted and repulsed. I admired and cried. I was blown away with powerful statements of what I believed, and angered that she shut herself up in what Jonathan Edwards called the infinite provincialism of atheism. Her brand of hedonism was so close to my Christian Hedonism and yet so far--like a satellite that comes close to the gravitational pull of truth and then flings off into the darkness of outer space.

Sentences like these made me want to scream. No. No. No. Altruism (treating someone better than he deserves) does not have to involve "betraying your values" or "sacrificing a greater value to a lesser one." In other words, I agreed with her that we should never sacrifice a greater value to a lesser one. But I disagreed that mercy (returning good for evil) always involved doing that.