April 28, 2011

Worldliness

Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen WorldListening to a great audio book called Worldliness by C.J. Mahaney.  It is one of the audio books that I received from Christian Audio, from their reviewers program.

I just finished Chapter 3, which was about music.  Chapter 2 focused on Television and other media, and it was absolutely convicting.  This chapter on music was equally thought-provoking, but the overall experience of this book is to stir up my thoughts in ways that I don't always want to go.

I will give you a full rundown eventually, but for now, here  is a great review.

April 26, 2011

Become an Expert Hacker

Visit Hacker Typer and become an expert hacker without knowing anything.  Go ahead.  Click the link and start typing.



via 22 words

April 25, 2011

Anthem - Book Review

Anthem, Expanded 50th Anniversary EditionA couple of weeks ago I finished the King Raven Trilogy and knew I needed some more fiction.  So, I headed to my local public Library and browsed through the books.  I hit the Science Fiction section and picked up The Last Theorem by Arthur C. Clarke and Frederik Pohl, then I started scanning through the general fiction section.  My eye caught the name Ayn Rand and I picked the smallest book she had, Anthem.

Ayn Rand has been talked about lately because she writes about what might happen if some of the various political trends that we see at work today were carried into the future.  The scary thing about her works is the amazing similarity between the proposed future and what is actually happening now.

On the back cover of Anthem we read this:
He lived in the dark ages of the future.  In a loveless world he dared to love the woman of his choice.  In an age that had lost all trace of science and civilization he had the courage to seek after knowledge.  But these were not the crimes for which he would be hunted.  He was marked for death because he had committed the unpardonable sin: he had stood forth form the mindless human herd.  He was a man alone.
I found Ayn Rand's writing to be really quite engaging.  In fact, I went today and picked up one of her more famous works titled, Atlas Shrugged.  In Anthem, I enjoyed following the hero of the story as he began to discover and find new knowledge, as he groped for the one thing that was missing.  Unfortunately the one thing that Any Rand promotes as the key missing ingredient is the self.

In her own words, in the final chapters of the book, the hero of the story comes to a full realization of the core reality of mankind.  He relates this new understanding, as he has now broken free from the individualess crowd of humanity, in this way:
What is my joy if all hands, even the unclean, can reach into it? What is my wisdom, if even the fools can dictate to me? What is my freedom, if all creatures, even the botched and the impotent, are my masters? What is my life, if I am but to bow, to agree and to obey? 
But I am done with this creed of corruption. 
I am done with the monster of "We," the word of serfdom, of plunder, of misery, falsehood and shame. 
And now I see the face of god, and I raise this god over the earth, this god whom men have sought since men came into begging, this god who will grant them joy and peace and pride. 
This god, this one word: 
"I."
That's it.  That is the crux of the book.  Man is fulfilled when he begins to worship himself.  It was so sad, actually.  I wanted to jump into the story line and tell this character about something bigger, something grander.  I wanted to share the glorious gospel of grace.  Unfortunately it is just a story.  Even more unfortunate is the reality of the crowds of people who have come to the same conclusion. And sadder still is the sinking realization of my own tendency to live out that conclusion.

I know this isn't much of a book review, but I did want to share my thoughts on this book.  This is, after all, a blog called, Harmless Thoughts.

April 22, 2011

Earth Day 2011

In case you hadn't heard, this year Earth Day falls on Good Friday. This is actually quite fitting.  You see, nearly 2000 years ago, the earth trembled and shook in the presence of the High King of Heaven as He accomplished the greatest work to ever happen on this very earth.

NASA's Image of the Day

It's Friday

April 17, 2011

Sunday (Holy Week)

This is the day that has become known as Palm Sunday.  We also refer to this as the day of the Triumphal Entry.  Bethany is only a few miles outside of the city and that city becomes the “home base” of Jesus’ final week.

Before Jesus enters Jerusalem, he is near the mount of Olives, he sends two disciples into Jerusalem to get a Donkey.
saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.”
(Matthew 21:2-3 ESV)
Getting this donkey's colt may seem like an odd event, but the gospel writers realize this was a fulfillment of prophecy and quote Zechariah 9:9 as an explanation.
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
(Zechariah 9:9 ESV)
As Jesus entered Jerusalem, riding on this donkey, people were laying down their coats and palm branches.  Mark also tells us this:
And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”
(Mark 11:9-10 ESV)
Luke adds this:
As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”
(Luke 19:37-40 ESV)
And John tells us this:
The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”
(John 12:17-19 ESV)
Luke also tells us about this event on the way into the city.
And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”
(Luke 19:41-44 ESV)
click for image source
As most people would do entering a capital city, he visits the main attraction, The Temple.  This temple is a huge construction.  It is the dominant feature in the city of Jerusalem at this time.  It would have been the tallest structure and by far the largest structure. (considering the entire temple complex.)

At some point this interaction takes place.

“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. So the crowd answered him, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”
When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them.
(John 12:27-36 ESV)

This interaction helps us to see the disconnect between the real and great and glorious purposes of the Messiah compared to what the people were expecting. Though all of the gospel accounts don’t tell us this, Mark lets us know that Jesus heads back to Bethany that first night.
And he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
(Mark 11:11 ESV)

April 15, 2011

Friday/Saturday

Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.
(John 12:1 ESV)
Bethany is a little town only about 2 miles from Jerusalem. So, exactly one week before Jesus is to be crucified, He arrives in Bethany.  John makes sure to point to the presence of Lazarus.  This plays a role later.

Also on this day, Mary anoints Jesus.  She anoints him with Pure Nard, an oil extracted from a root.  Judas doesn’t like that she has done this.  He makes a comment about how it could have been sold and how much it was worth.  John tells us this:
“Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.
(John 12:5-6 ESV)
Jesus, though he would have known Judas' heart, instead only responds to the statement itself.  He then alludes to the upcoming crucifixion.  John relays the story this way:
Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”
(John 12:7-8 ESV)
At some point after these events a crowd shows up.  They were wanting to see both Jesus and Lazarus... the famous man who was raised from the dead.  Because of this the Pharisees and the Chief priests start plotting to kill both of these men, the miracle worker and the evidence.

April 14, 2011

Galileo

GalileoJust started my next book from Book Sneeze.  This one is called Galileo by Mitch Stokes.  It is part of the Christian Encounters series from Thoma Nelson Publishers.

The back of the book gives this description:
It's no mystery how profound a role Galileo Galilei played in the Scientific Revolution.  Less explored is the Italian innovator's sincere, guiding faith in God.  In this exhaustively researched biography that reads like a page-turning novel, Mitch Stokes draws on his expertise in philosophy, logic, math, and science to attune modern ears with Galileo's controversial genius.
I have read through the first three or four chapters, and I have to agree that it does read similar to a novel, but the author goes to great lengths to validate everything with the proper footnotes. He also avoids making assumptions about Galileo motives and thoughts, either leaving it up to the reader to decide, or offering a guess, but making sure it is described as a guess.

I am looking forward to finishing the rest of this book during my bus rides!

April 9, 2011

Use your time to pray.

I wanted to add an extended quote from the book that I just finished reading titled, In Constant Prayer.  (Read my review here.)  This quote comes after the author discusses the loss of that tradition of seeking God through prayer.  Just prior to this quote he makes this statement,
"Sometimes it occurs to me that I am a member of the first generation of followers of Yahweh in six thousand years for whom the offering of daily fixed-hour worship and praise and prayer -- a tradition practiced and treasured and passed down to us from the Hebrews to the apostles to the early Christians to the fathers and mothers of the faith who sustained this church we now call home -- is no longer deemed a necessity or an obligation or a duty or even an opportunity."
In case you are unfamiliar with what he is talking about, he is referring to a tradition called the Daily Office.  According to this Lutheran website, the Daily Office is defined in this way:

Services of prayer offered at established times each day. Already at the time of Jesus, set times for prayer were customary (Acts 3:1). By the sixth century, eight services of prayer, which included psalms and readings from Scripture, were observed in the monasteries. Since the Reformation, this schedule has been simplified to three times of prayer: morning (Matins), afternoon/evening (Vespers), and close of the day (Compline).
To my understanding, and according to this book, this is a very good definition of the Daily Office.  The one idea that struck me, whether it was because I wasn't aware of this fact or because I thought that this was purely a monastic invention and ritual, was the heritage of this daily prayer.  This book has left me thinking about my own lack of prayer in all new ways.

Since I would like to share this dilemma of the conviction of my lacking prayer life, I share this quote with you.
We who will get up and walk, or even run miles in the mornings, not to mention those of us who are not willing to wait for there to be light to see the bottom of the flag or for the frost to go away before we tee off; we who will haul ourselves through our neighborhoods in the dark to make sure that we have the box scores as quick as we can -- for all kinds of reasons, including some good ones, I suppose, we will not, cannot, do not rise in the morning to greet the dawn with a song of praise on our lips, as did those who went before us. 
We who will stay up late to watch the televised version of the news that we heard on our drive home at six, who will TiVo enough must-see television that we have to stay up late to keep up, who will not go to sleep without reading a novel, who will burn a candle at both ends and in the middle if we can figure how to get it lit, will not end our days with praise and worship and confession and blessing. 
We will not do these things in the name of love or discipline, devotion or worship.  We will not even do it for selfish reasons, or even as a reliable way of self-actualization, to put it in its least favorable context -- which, in our Western American twenty-first-century, self-help, and consumer-driven culture, is astonishing.
There were some ideas in this book that I didn't agree with, but I have to say that this particular statement was right-on, and left me deeply convicted at the things that I am willing to sacrifice to do and the things that I have not sacrificed for that I should have.

The Pursuit of Holiness - Book Review

Whether you simply have a vague understanding of "holiness," or you are a Bible scholar that has spent a significant amount of time studying this word's origin, usage, and possible meanings, you know that holiness seems to be an unattainable attribute of men. Yet there it is in the Bible, the command, "Be Holy, for I am Holy." How are we to attain this holiness?  How are we to strive for this holiness?  What is meant by this command? To what degree are we to be holy?

These are the questions that I have struggled with over the years.  No matter how much I have efforted myself to be holy, I am not there.  Take into account all of my thoughts and desires and I am set back even further from the attainment of holiness.  Factor in my deep-seated motives, and holiness becomes a completely foreign country, where I am separated from it by vast oceans of selfishness, impurity, weakness, and the like.

The Pursuit of HolinessA few years ago I read through The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges, and it really helped me to understand the meaning of holiness, the commands of holiness, and the pursuit of holiness from a Biblical perspective.  Over the last few weeks I have been listening Christian Audio's version of this book and have once again been assisted in my own personal pursuit.

This book is both encouraging, in its ability to relate to everyone's struggle, and convicting, in its confrontation of the lack of pursuit. You see, we must be in this pursuit of holiness.  Sharing the struggles with all mankind doesn't exempt us from striving, it demands that we do so by eliminating the excuse.  Because of this, I also appreciate the fact that this book is very theological without sacrificing its practicality.  In other words, it is very useful.  Jerry Bridges gives very practical applications while building the Biblical basis for those applications.  I was able to walk away with something to do.  I found myself putting the lessons into practice on those days where I had listened to a chapter on the way to work.

I highly recommend this book.  I especially recommend this book for use in a group study or Sunday school situation.  There are many opportunities for discussion as Jerry Bridges is also open and honest about his own struggles.

I would also like to recommend the Christian Audio version of this book.  The voice talents that Christian audio employs for the reading of their books are really quite good.  I always feel pulled in, as if the author was actually sitting there reading the book to me themselves.  I am even considering purchasing a few of the CD versions of these books to keep on the shelves at the church where I am the Pastor.  I see quite a potential for those who have a difficult time reading or are simply looking for a way to fill their commutes to work or the drives to a vacation.  There are many that may not purchase an audio book right now, but would consider listening to one if the church made it available.  I'm telling you, once you've listened to an audio book, you'll be hooked.

April 8, 2011

Talk to Search

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a junk heap

Though I wouldn't agree with all of Ayn Rand's conclusions, I definitely agreed with this thought:
"A philosophic system is an integrated view of existence. As a human eing, you have no choice about the fact that you need a philosophy. Your only choice is whether you define your philosophy by a conscious, rational, disciplined process of thought... or let your subconscious accumulate a junk heap of unwarranted conclusions..."
Ayn Rand, Philosophy: Who Needs It?

Hole in the Head Documentary

This documentary looks very interesting.



(via Tim Challies)

April 6, 2011

In Constant Prayer - Book Review


In Constant Prayer (Ancient Practices Series) by Robert Benson is the first book that I received through BookSneeze.

I liked this book.

In Constant Prayer is one book in a series of books called The Ancient Practices that explores many of those ancient practices of the early Christians.  This book in the series, written by Robert Benson, is meant to be a study of the practice of praying the "daily office."

If I understand it correctly, the Daily Office is the practice of praying a set number of times each day.  This practice brings to mind certain monastic settings.  Images of  monks getting up to say their morning prayers, meeting together to say their afternoon prayers, and seeing each other again to say their evening prayers before they head off to their cells.

As far as the author is concerned, Robert Benson is really a very good writer.  As I read through this book I found each page to be enticing and entertaining, but also very personal.  He opened up his life, in small ways, to reveal his desire to pray, his encounters with the daily office, and his understanding of this ancient practice.  I felt compelled, as I continued through the book, to consider taking up this particular practice.

I did find the book lacking in two specific ways.  One was a lack of specific historical examples.  He would make comments concerning the historicity of this practice, but the actual examples to validate the claim seemed to be strangely lacking.  The second area where I found this book to be lacking was in its use of scripture.  Other than at the beginning of chapters, I don't recall one Biblical quote with a reference.  There were passages that were alluded to, but the only reason I knew that was because I recognized the scripture.  Frankly, without proper historical footnotes and scriptural references, this book falls into the category of opinion.  In no way is it improper to write (or read) a book of opinions, but to really sway this particular reader, I need some validation.

I review for BookSneeze®

April 5, 2011

Anniversary Sonnet

The sun is warm and yet the breeze is cool.
The grass is green and now is reaching high.
I watch it, though I seem to be the fool,
but watching stops its climb into the sky.
Intently looking at each blade so green,
still swaying from the cool air flowing by;
attention halts the time, or so it seems.
So watch with me in the sweet by and by.
But watching only seems to cease the grains
while falling through the narrow of the glass,
and holding tight though time cannot be tamed,
for grass is grass and always grows too fast.
And so my love I cherish moments past
and watch you close to make new moments last.

April 4, 2011

Public Transportation?

I have been thinking about trying the Danville Mass Transit for my work commute.  I have only tried public transportation a couple of other times.  Once it turned out really well, the second time it wasn't so good... But I have never done public transportation on a regular basis.

Why am I considering this?  Well, mostly because it would cost less money.  I don't know exactly what I would be paying, but I do know that it would be significantly less than what I am already paying for gas.  You may also be wondering, why don't I carpool?  Well, if I am going to ride, then it would be nice to use that time to get things done.  That would be approximately 50 extra minutes per day to read, write, grade papers, study, etc. It actually sounds a little bit fun... if...

See, there is that if.

How much will it actually end up costing?  How accurate is the bus schedule?  Do I really want to sit outside and wait for the bus? Is the bus clean?  Does it smell?  These are the things that I am wondering about.

Do any of you use public transportation?  More importantly, do any of you use Danville Mass Transit?