February 29th, 2012

“Somewhere Over the Rainbow/Simple Gifts,” by Steven Sharp Nelson & Jon Schmidt

These guys are awesome.

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February 22nd, 2012

Book Review: “Banner in the Sky,” by James Ramsey Ullman

“It stands unconquered, the last great summit of the alps. Only one man has ever dared to approach the top, and that man died in his pursuit. He was Josef Matt, Rudi Matt’s father.
At sixteen, Rudi is determined to pay tribute to the man he never knew, and complete the quest that claimed his father’s life. And so, taking his father’s red shirt as a flag, he heads off to face the earth’s most challenging peak. But before Rudi can reach the top, he must pass through the forbidden Fortress, the gaping chasm in the high reaches of the Citadel [the mountain] where his father met his end. Rudi has followed Josef’s footsteps as far as they will take him. Now he must search deep within himself to find the strength for the final ascent to the summit—to plant his banner in the sky.” — from the back cover

I have mixed feelings about this book, so I’ll deal with the positive first, and then the negative.
The book is about a young man, Rudi Matt, who lives in the village of Kurtal, a small village at the foot of the Alps. Mountaineering is in the blood of every man in the village, and every nearby peak has been conquered…except for the last and greatest peak, the Citadel. No man has succeeded in climbing this one perilous peak that dwarfs all others around it. Josef Matt led an expedition fifteen years ago, but of the three men, two died in the attempt (including Josef) and the third was badly injured. Despite popular beliefs and fears about the mountain being cursed, Rudi dreams of conquering the mountain and fulfilling his father’s quest.
In the past fifteen years, no one has tried to climb the mountain—and anyone who gives any serious thought about doing so is considered crazy and foolish—and no one besides Rudi gives it serious thought. However, things change when renowned climber Captain John Winter arrives at Kurtal: he is determined to climb the Citadel, and Rudi is equally determined to go with him. Thus the catalyst for the adventure.
It’s a great read, and the literal cliff-hangers held my rapt attention, even though I’m nineteen. The trials and obstacles of mountain climbing are presented well, and the reader walks away (or should I say “climbs down”) from the book with a good sense of what it’s like to be a mountaineer. That is, as close as one can get to actually clinging to the near-vertical edge of a rock with a few fingers and the toe of one boot—with a yawning mile-deep empty space below.
The above praise aside, the book is nevertheless tainted to some extent. Rudi is obsessed with climbing the mountain, to the point where his attitude ultimately becomes, as I see it, mountain-worship—resulting, unsurprisingly, in lying to his mother (who specifically does not want Rudi to become a mountaineer because of what happened to her husband, Josef) on multiple occasions. And not just Rudi, either: other characters also lie to cover up the Citadel endeavor. Mrs. Matt’s wishes are not taken seriously, and are in fact blatantly disregarded in favor of Rudi’s desire to be a mountaineer.
Unfortunately, these issues are not resolved. I was holding out hope that somehow the author would deal with them, but as I drew nearer and nearer to the end I realized that even if there were going to be a reconciliation, it would be a rather shallow resolution (forced so because of the ever-shrinking remainder of the book), with a sort of “Oh, by-the-way, I’m sorry” afterthought effect—almost tacked on to the end.
Catholicism pops up two or three times, and at one point, Rudi prays to both the Lord and Mary. (The Catholicism really isn’t very prominent though; it’s scarcely present in the book at all.)
It’s unfortunate that all these elements taint the book. Were it not for them, I could wholeheartedly recommend the story as a great tale of manly mountaineering and adventures in exercising dominion over Creation. However, I won’t specifically not recommend it; I think there is a place for books like these in a library (though I won’t expound that idea here).
With all the preceding in mind, I recommend this book as a solid, manly, adventure story—with some negative elements worthy of discussion.
LANGUAGE: Three or four occurrences of d—n, and three or four instances of the Lord’s name being used carelessly.
DISCUSSION POINTS: As a parent (or an older sibling), you can talk with the reader about the lying that goes on in the book.—What does the Bible say about it?—Are there situations where lying is acceptable? You could also discuss the Catholicism which crops up a couple of times.
AGE RANGE: I’m nineteen, and I enjoyed it. That said, because of the language I’d let my children read this book somewhere around twelve years, at the youngest. (Ultimately, though, it boils down to the potential reader’s maturity.)

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February 16th, 2012

Concerning the Old Stuff, and a Poem

I love the Old Stuff.
I don’t know what it is, exactly; but there’s just something about the Old Stuff. By “Old Stuff” I mean not junk; mind you, but useful things, like old typewriters, old Linotypes, and old books—things like that. For me, those old things are like breaths of fresh air because they’re so different; they’re from another period of history. They are history, in some ways.
To be clear: Technology isn’t evil; it’s just a tool. I have absolutely nothing against technology, and I use and appreciate modern technology all the time—for example, I’m writing this on my MacBook Pro, and earlier today I was listening to music on my iPod. It’s just that there’s a special something that I love about the Old Stuff and doing certain things the Old Way. (I grinned from ear to ear when I learned that R. J. Rushdoony wrote all of his books with a fountain pen, when he could have used a typewriter. Now that’s cool.)
This poem by Mr. Phillips really embodies, I think, my own appreciation of the Old Stuff, the gadgetry of yesteryear.
by Douglas W. Phillips

Dear Typewriter, we love you.
Your keys are old, but still prove true,
Your name which speaks of royalty,
Reminds us of antiquity.
We think of men who long ago
Gave us worlds we long for so,
By tapping on your metal letters
And with words free’d us from fetters.
Preachers, fathers, and mothers too,
Would come to you to peck and hew
A life of thoughts and hopes and dreams,
By ribbons inky, metal seams.
Glowing screens and digital books
Will not replace your steampunk looks.
Before your hefty, iron frame
Our tired eyes extoll your fame.
So thank you for reminding all
That long before the iPads call
Our fathers tapped upon your keys,
And brought down nations to their knees.

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February 13th, 2012


We hate God.
We are born into this world hating Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. From our cribs we squeak in rebellion against our parents, against the authorities He has placed in our lives; and we would shake our little fists at Almighty God Himself—if only we could roll over onto our backs to do so.
We want to see His skull crushed under our heel; we want to see His Kingdom made our footstool and see all things put under us. We cry out for His death even while, in the next breath, we cry for sustenance. The God Who fills our lungs with breath, Who upholds our life, Who created our amazing body, Who provides food for us—this God we seek to destroy.
Shocking? Yes. Surprising? Not really. Jesus said, “He that is not with me is against me” (Matthew 12:30); and until the Spirit quickens us, we are “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1)—and this period of deadness, of course, spans the entire time between the moment we were conceived (Psalm 51:5) and the moment of our rebirth in Christ. During this period, “we [are] enemies” (Romans 5:10), we are not for Him—and that leaves only one other option. It’s an either-or case.
But in His infinite grace, He reached down and plucked us out of our muddy hatred of Him, sprinkled us with clean water, and gave us new life. “[W]hile we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). For no reason understood by us, God in His sovereign mercy sent His Son and poured out His unfathomable wrath upon Him that we might have life; Christ willingly gave His life and submitted to His Father and drank the cup of wrath (Jeremiah 25) that we, who gnash our teeth for His death, might have eternal life and fellowship with the Father. What wondrous love, what amazing grace, is this?
Shocking? Yes. Surprising? No doubt. After all, what have we done? Why would He do this for us?
We have done absolutely nothing to merit His grace and mercy. In fact, we are born with a legal case against us, and the only possible pardon is found through the shedding of blood, for “without shedding of blood is no remission” (Hebrews 9:22). We owe an infinite debt we cannot repay. While we cried out for Jesus’ death, the Firstborn, the Spotless Lamb of God, suffered separation from His Father and took the infinite punishment upon Himself as the final sacrifice (Hebrews 9:26), that God’s justice might be satisfied and our legal case before Him might be finished—paid in full. It was on Golgotha, “The Place of a Skull,” that the skull of the serpent was crushed.
We say, “He came to Christ”; we ought to say, “He was dragged to Christ”: for this is exactly what happens. He puts a new heart in us against our will (which “free will,” I might add, is nothing more than the free will to choose sin over righteousness) and draws us to Him in His infinite kindness.
Why were we chosen? Why not the next man? Why did God not see fit to save him, too? Why us? Such is His sovereign will—that is the only answer we have. In fact, until we are regenerated, there is no difference between us and the most evil man to ever live as far as our moral status before God is concerned. None at all—and this fact only adds to the amazingness of His grace. We are left with no ground to stand on. We truly, honestly, have nothing to say. We have done nothing—we can take no credit to ourselves for any part we played. How can I say it any clearer? “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8).

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul;
What wondrous love is this, O my soul—
What wondrous love is this, that caused the Lord of bliss
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul?

Doubtless, some will say I am being extreme. I refer them to the Scriptures as the basis for my words, and challenge them to show me a more biblical position.

O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen. (Romans 11:33–36)

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February 12th, 2012

“Give Me Jesus”

In the morning, when I rise
In the morning, when I rise
In the morning, when I rise, give me Jesus
Give me Jesus,
Give me Jesus,
You can have all this world,
But give me Jesus
And when I am alone
Oh and when I am alone
And when I am alone, give me Jesus
Give me Jesus,
Give me Jesus,
You can have all this world,
But give me Jesus
And when I come to die
Oh and when I come to die
And when I come to die, give me Jesus
Give me Jesus,
Give me Jesus,
You can have all this world,
You can have all this world,
You can have all this world,
But give me Jesus
Traditional African-American
Arranged by Fernando Ortega

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February 10th, 2012

On the Memorization of Scripture

David hid the Lord’s Word in his heart, that he might not sin; we’re instructed to guard our ways according to His Word; the blessed man meditates on the Law day and night; the Israelites were to lay up the words of the law in their hearts; and we’re to study the Scriptures to show ourselves approved unto God. By these and many, many other examples, we know we’re to memorize Scripture and impress its words on our hearts.
But what is the most efficient and effective method of memorization? Mnemonics? Repetition? And how do you memorize long passages of Scripture and keep the verse references straight?
Enter Dr. Andy Davis and his booklet, An Approach to the Extended Memorization of Scripture.
I know certain methods of memorization work for some people better than they do for others; but for me, regular ol’ repetition is the way to go—and that’s the way Dr. Davis recommends as well.
His booklet isn’t very long, but it contains a truly solid method for the memorization of long passages. Dr. Davis suggests one verse a day, to start with; but once you get the hang of it, he suggests advancing to six verses a day. Some may believe that the “advanced” method he provides is much too fast (and I have to admit, six verses per day is extremely fast), but the same principles can still be applied regardless of the number of verses you work on each day. Regarding references, he recommends keeping the chapter and verse numbers as part of the verse. As an example, Genesis 1:1–2 would be, “One-one: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. One-two: And the earth was without form, and void….” Dr. Davis recommends the memorization of entire books: this, he argues, helps prevent the inadvertent removal of a verse from its context and also gives an overall feel for the book.

the link to Dr. Davis’s little booklet. John Piper says, “I wish I could persuade everyone to do this.” I agree.
What are you memorizing right now?

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February 5th, 2012

Book Review: “It’s (Not That) Complicated,” by Anna Sofia & Elizabeth Botkin

“Ever been confused about friendships with boys? How to handle crushes? How friendly is too friendly? How close is too close? What to do when a guy is being way too friendly? What guys think about all this? What it means to be a “sister, in all purity”? Guy-girl relationships have always been complicated, but perhaps never more so than today. It’s (Not That) Complicated is a humorous, hopeful, and deeply thought-provoking new look at guy-girl relationships in our times. Dealing practically with such complications as online interaction, Hollywood expectations, undefined relationships, and unrequited love, the Botkin sisters offer enduring biblical principles that can make it all much simpler.” — from the back cover

In this book, Anna Sofia and Elizabeth, the daughters of Geoff and Victoria Botkin, tackle the oft-perceived-as-complicated subject of friendships with boys.
But stop—I’m a guy. That negates everything in this book and so we don’t have to read it, right? Nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, my greatest fear regarding this book is that it will not be read by very many young men—simply because the book is written by two girls, for girls, and has a girl on the front of the book wearing pink.
As a matter of fact, so much in this book is applicable to us guys. Sure, there are things we don’t need to work on (like being feminine, or learning how to submit to a husband, or other female-specific aspects), but—Lord willing—you will have daughters one day!—So maybe you should pay attention to those parts too. However, there many, many pieces of (biblical) wisdom in this book on how to treat the opposite gender that are just not female-specific or able to be applied only by young ladies. I cannot over-emphasize enough the importance of the principles contained in this book. Guys, you can glean a phenomenal amount from these pages. In fact, sprinkled throughout the book are little gray boxes containing text written by a guys on whatever point the Botkins are discussing at the moment. These boxes are very insightful—and accurate.
The Botkins wisely deal with many important issues.—How do proper relationships start? What do you do if you have no brothers (or sisters, if you’re a guy)? Should I avoid boys (girls) altogether? What do I do if I have a damaged relationship with a brother (sister)? What kind of an influence do I have on my brothers? How important are family relationships, compared to marital relationships? What can we talk to with guys (girls)? If we dress modestly and aren’t loud and showy, won’t guys (girls) overlook us because we don’t stand out? How do I protect my heart? How should I think of young men’s (ladies’) polite actions toward me? Can I still be a fun person? What if I’m a shy girl (guy) and have a very hard time interacting with guys (girls)?—And while this book is not explicitly or primarily about courtship or marriage, it is impossible to avoid this topic (as it is a type of guy-girl relationship) and throughout the book they accordingly speak to these issues.
If I were to quote here everything I would like to, I might get myself in legal trouble very quickly. So I’ll just post a little bit. (Page numbers in parentheses.)

“God has created men to strive to live up to the expectations that are set for us, and we have an innate desire to impress girls. Most girls have no idea of the amount of influence (for good or evil) that they exert on the guys around them. I’ve seen it time and time again—the flirtatious girl who encourages the guys around her to foolishness and rewards their folly—and the guys, in this case, sink to the expectations set for them. But while this is true, the reverse is even more so. A girl, by her godly behavior, can encourage a foolish boy to cease his foolish ways, and inspire a good man to strive for greatness. When a guy truly loves his sister in Christ, he will want to protect her (physically, morally, emotionally, and spiritually), and he will strive to be the best man that he can.” (28; gray box, written by “James”)


“I know several guys that a pseudo-pious girl might label “spiritual hunks.” They’re the knights in shining armor every Christian girl would love to wrangle into a tux for a storybook wedding. The irony is, none of these guys are looking for a storybook wedding. They don’t even think of marriage as entailing the big romantic wedding and the to-do of a romantic life. They’re so grounded and mission focused that their picture of marriage is one of a blessed co-labor in doing really important things. Working hard! Men, good men, love working hard, and will admire women who love a life of hard work as well.
A man who longs for a life of spiritual significance will not be charmed by a girl who longs for a life of romantic bliss. The two worldviews are inherently incompatible. If you dream of a life that nourishes the soul with purity, truth, and purpose, you will find a life that nourishes only the emotions, sentimentalism, and silly fantasy to be quite distasteful.” (35; gray box, written by “Robert”)


[on conquering crushes and infatuation] “If we want to make these feelings stop, then we need to trace our emotional footsteps back to where they started. Infatuation begins when we let a thought take root in our imaginations, and then feed and water those fantasies until our minds are overgrown. Love or infatuation is not a force of nature, swirling around us, breaking in from the outside. It’s something that we are actually creating within ourselves, a seed we germinate in our own minds and hearts. We sometimes feel like the feelings are attacking us, but in fact, we are generating them within ourselves—one thought, one fantasy, one feeling at a time. (123–124)


“When the focus of our life is the real adventure of the Great Commission, then boys will fall back into a much healthier and more biblical place.” (125)


“The opposite of flirting is not shunning, it is being friendly. As far as what is flirting and what is friendliness, it honestly comes down to where your heart is.” (159; gray box, written by “Paul”)


“How much you love God’s handiwork in your life—trials, challenges, and all—is an indication of how much you love God. And we don’t mean how warm and spiritual you feel when you’re singing praise and worship songs; we mean how much you love and delight in Who He actually is and what He actually does.” (231)


“Girls [or guys], if we’re failing where we are now, our propensity for failure will follow us wherever we go. Our bad character, bad attitudes, and bad habits will blight our future lives as much as they are blighting our current ones. Ask yourself: How well are you doing with the life you’re in the middle of right now? How well are you doing with the relationships God has put into your family right now? How well are you using your time? How well are you fighting the fight of faith?” (235)

(A very lengthy excerpt on emotional purity can be found on here on their website.)
So. What’s the verdict? It’s (Not That) Complicated is one of the top five best books I’ve ever read, and every father, mother, daughter, and son needs to read it. It’s insightful, Scripturally sound, humorous, delightful, convicting, thought-provoking, and excellent.
Guys, you need to read this book. Forget for a moment that it happens to be written by girls, happens to be written for girls, and happens to have a girl in pink on the front.
Girls, you need to read this book. Even more of the wisdom in this book will apply to you than it does us, obviously—and this book offers some very accurate inside looks at how our minds work.
This will be required reading in my family.
AGE RANGE: Young adult, though I think it may be best gone through together with a parent.


February 1st, 2012

Book Review: “The Reagan Diaries,” ed. Douglas Brinkley

“During his two terms as the fortieth president of the United States, Ronald Reagan kept a daily diary in which he recorded, by hand, his innermost thoughts and observations on the extraordinary, the historic, and the routine day-to-day occurrences of his presidency. Now, nearly two decades after he left office, this remarkable record—the only daily presidential diary in American history—is available for the first time.
Brought together in one volume and edited by historian Douglas Brinkley, The Reagan Diaries provides a striking insight into this nation’s most important presidencies and sheds new light on the character of a true American leader. Whether he was in his White House residence study or aboard Air Force One, each night Reagan wrote about the events of his day, which often included his relationships with other world leaders Mikhail Gorbachev, Pope John Paul II, Mohammar al-Qaddafi, and Margaret Thatcher, among others, and the unforgettable moments that defined the era—from his first inauguration to the end of the Cold War, the Iran hostage crisis to John Hinckley Jr.’s assassination attempt.” — from the front flap

This book was difficult for me to read because it is a diary, a daily record of things: the book has no plot, no point, no direction, no goal—it is a constant, without much development or progression.
In addition, this is a personal diary; and because of this, Reagan does not stop to describe anything. Thus, acronyms will pop up out of the blue, with no definition; great international crises will creep into the picture and creep back out before you realize their import; the progress of issues such as START and SALT II are discussed, but no definition is given as to what they actually are. A glossary at the back of the book can be helpful for individuals, but unfortunately only covers people. For anyone who reads this book, it is critical to have a fundamental grasp of the events that took place during the Reagan administration in the ’80s, or it simply will not make much sense.
Douglas Brinkley, the editor, summarized out of necessity great portions of the journal to save space; the National Security Council redacted only about six pages; and Mrs. Reagan wished for only a few entries to be edited out for personal reasons.
However dull and difficult to read I personally found this book, this is a must-have for any student of Ronald Reagan. It truly does describe his inmost thoughts on nearly everything—surgeries, his children (it is sad to see that he seemed to have little affection for his children compared to that for his wife), foreign diplomats, Congress, the newspapers, John Hinckley Jr, terrorists, and daily life.
Reagan really didn’t like the press at all because of their constant spinning of facts.
I was surprised at how many leaks Reagan reported.
I was surprised when I learned that the government operates full-force seven days a week—I thought it was usually only five or at most six, except for special occasions or emergencies.
Thought it interesting when Joe Biden and John McCain showed up; also one “Howie Phillips” (Mr. Howard Phillips?)
INDECENCY: Almost none: Reagan mentions a breast surgery Mrs. Reagan had at one point.
LANGUAGE: Mild language is used somewhat frequently, but is almost always written with dashes between the first and last letters. Nothing greater than d*mn and h*ll, though I think I noticed one instance of blasphemy.
AGE RANGE: Honestly, anyone could read this book, but not everyone would understand it. I suggest it for young adults because of the sophisticated subject matter.

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