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The Unwritten

January 19, 2011

When a book is read, an irrevocable thing happens – a murder, followed by an imposture.  The story in the  mind murders the story on the page, and takes its place.

≡  Mike Carey  – Author of The Unwritten

Book Review: A Visual History of the English Bible

January 17, 2011

A Visual History Of The English Bible

By Donald L. Brake

When I picked up this book, I was interested in learning about how the Bible first was translated into the English language, but I held little expectation of finding that process interesting.  But Donald Brake blew away all of my expectations and crafted a fascinating look at a history that I was unfamiliar with but that has had undeniable influence in my own life.  Although I am well aware of how lucky I am to be able to read God’s Word in a language I understand, since there are so many people in our world today that do not have it translated into their own tongue yet, I had taken for granted how the Bible came to be in English in the first place.  Brake gave me a new appreciation for Scripture and the struggle it took by many Godly men to bring its words to the English-speaking world.

Donald Brake is a scholar and collector of rare English-language Bibles.  As such, his own personal collection provides the visual element of the title, with numerous pictures of these artifacts he describes.  Brake performs an admirable job of blending narrative accounts of the lives and struggles of men like John Wycliffe and William Tyndale with the actual historical process of translation, while mixing in stories of his personal adventures in collecting that have fueled his passion for the English Bible.  He paints a picture of the resistance that existed to seeing God’s Word removed from the hands of the religious elite and delivered to the common folk and the obstacles that prevented initial widespread distribution.  But ultimately, Brake’s book continually points toward God’s guiding hand and providential sovereignty in ensuring His Word would reach the whole world and all people.

Every Christian should be aware of the sacrifices made to translate the Bible into English, and the ever-present need to still bring God’s Word to the masses of this world in their own heart-language.  Brake has written a book that enables history to be absorbed in an engaging manner.

Pizza War: National Pizza Week!

January 16, 2011

Pizza With Chutzpah After  Christmas and Easter, my favorite holiday would have be National Pizza Week.  It is like Hanukkah for the pizza fanatic, only with more parmesan.  For those of you who missed it, last week this very special event was in full swing.  So last night, I joined Nikki and her parents for a night out at Stone Canyon Pizza, an excellent local pizza chain here in the KC area that I had yet to sample.  It was time to rectify that terrible oversight, and I must say I was not disappointed!  I chose the Fuzzy’s Favorite:  a double layer of pepperoni and mozzarella, topped with red and green pepper and a dash of cheddar.  I modified it, though, into what from henceforth shall be known as the Jordan’s Favorite, replacing the red pepper with red onion (crazy, I know).  Here’s a quick run-down of my initial reaction to my Stone Canyon experience:

1) Sauce The sauce was not the strongest element of this pizza, but that’s okay.  It was a very complementary feature to the cheese, crust and toppings, with just the right amount of sweet savory taste.  I normally prefer a bit more sauce lathered on, but I really have no complaints about the sauce.

2) Cheese The double dosage of mozzarella lent the Jordan’s Favorite with an excellent in-your-face cheesy dominance.  I was especially impressed with the added sharp punch lent by the sprinkling of cheddar mixed in.  It was the kind of cheesy flavor that you dream of from a great pizza.

3) Crust To be honest, the crust was the scene-stealing element at Stone Canyon.  Not too thick, not too thin, the original crust that I chose was perfectly cooked, firm enough to support the pizza and its toppings but doughy enough to grab your attention and hold it.  Probably the best compliment I can pay to the crust is that it was reminiscent of the splendid flavor of the crust at Breadeaux (which is my all-time favorite and beloved pizza chain).  It didn’t top the master, but was certainly worthy of joining the ranks of Breadeaux in style of crust.

4) Toppings The pepperoni was incredibly meaty, the veggies added a perfect mix of cool crispness in taste; the toppings at Stone Canyon cannot be praised enough!  I think I will really make it a habit of combining pepperoni with red onion and green pepper; truly it is accurate to bequeath this concoction as the Jordan’s Favorite.  Give it a whirl the next time you’ve got a craving for some pizza!

Book Review: Communicating For A Change

January 15, 2011

Communicating For A Change

Andy Stanley & Lane Jones

As a missionary, I find myself in an unusual position when it comes to applying all I learned in Bible college about preaching.  You see, I currently rarely speak to the same audience twice as I travel around the country, challenging churches for missions and sharing the ministry to the Philippines I represent.  As a result, rather than crafting a new sermon every week (or 2 or 3…), I recycle my messages, honing them to their most effective and tweaking them for every unique audience.  No two churches are the same and, although I use the same basic message, it never comes out the same either.  Through the variable of the Spirit moving and leading me in my speech and the Spirit working in the individual hearts of those listening, the effect of the message is always unique to the church I am visiting.  That being said, this current situation won’t always be the case in regards to my preaching experience and I am eager to continually improve my ability to communicate the message God has laid on my heart.

This book was a challenging and refreshing read for that very purpose.  Andy Stanley cuts to the heart of why preaching is both relevant and life-changing and aptly illustrates how to retrain our focus away from just going through the motions and back to preparing a message from God to man.  Probably the single biggest point he got across to me was the need to communicate just one single point and cut out the excess.  I realize now that there were Sundays that I thought I was preaching a message on missions, but in reality I was really preaching a 3-month sermon series, condensed down into a single information overload.  People were undoubtedly walking away overwhelmed by everything I had worked into my message and forgetting most of it by lunchtime.  But now I am keeping my eyes open to my natural tendency to say too much and now I working to hone in on a single point for them to take away and remember.

I have yet to write a brand new sermon since reading this book but I am eager to start that process this next week and apply the many great lessons I learned.

Book Review: The Plot

January 14, 2011

The Plot:  The Secret Story of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion

By Will Eisner

I first learned about the falsified inflammatory “historical” document The Protocols of the Elders of Zion this past year during the course of reading through The Orientalist by Tom Reiss (read my review here of Reiss’ historical/biographical/adventure travelogue).  I believe it was merely mentioned in passing while discussing how Hitler fanned the flames of anti-semitism in Germany, with some additional details contained within a footnote.  I certainly was no expert on this controversial propaganda tool, but at the very least it was now on my radar.  While browsing through the Hutchinson Public Library earlier this fall, I came across this book and immediately snatched it up.  I was interested to learn a little more about The Protocols, which have had a profound influence on the history of this past century that has largely gone unnoticed by the average person.  I was aware of Will Eisner by reputation only (comic book legend, creator of The Spirit, and the inventor of the “graphic novel”) and was eager to sample his work.

In a nutshell, The Protocols was a document forged during the 1800’s by Russian agents that depicted a manifesto put forth by Jewish leaders stating their intent to essentially rule the world and secretly overthrow or control the world’s governments and economies.  Why a secret plan would be publicly published escaped the logic of the masses during the time period, but the end result was an excuse for the Russian pogroms (bloody persecutions of the Jews).  Since that time, The Protocols have been proven time and time again to be a forgery, a fake.  Yet in spite of this fact, it has been repeatedly hoisted as truth and used as an instigation for attacks on Jews, most famously by the Nazis.  Eisner here seeks to again attempt to put its “authenticity” to rest through the medium he knows best:  by depicting the history of The Protocols through the use of sequential art in comic book story-telling.

Eisner’s art is detailed and engrossing, leading the reader along this intricately researched historical narrative.  Although it can get a bit wordy at times, Eisner’s artistic panache keeps the story popping along and demonstrates a perfect blend of cartoonish exaggeration and realistic portrayal.  I will admit that, for a book about the evils of manipulating statements to suit one’s own agenda, oftentimes the  corrupt motivations of the perpetrators behind the creation and abuse of The Protocols comes across as Machiavellian speechifying, as Eisner imagines what these historical villains were thinking and saying.  But overall it was an eye-opening read.  The history books would do well to devote more time to teaching about the far-reaching impact of The Protocols.

The tragedy of it all (and what Eisner failed to realize or address) is that mankind, as a whole and as individuals, is evil by nature.  The problem goes beyond bringing to light the falsehood of a hateful document forged 150 years ago; people will believe what is convenient and expedient for them to get what they want (money, power, influence, etc.), even (and especially) at the cost of other people.  So long as man continues on enslaved to his sin nature, this will always be the case.  Thankfully, Jesus Christ came to save us from our own wickedness and offer us the one true escape from the hopeless cycle of hate and destruction that The Protocols was intended to (and has quite successfully) perpetuated.  Eisner does a great job of illuminating the lie but ultimately fails to then point to the Truth, the Answer to the Problem.  Still, as in all literature, there is much for the Christian to learn here about the nature of sin.  A fascinating read for anyone fascinated (and appalled) about the history of this world, as Eisner himself would agree that those who refuse to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

Boulevard of Broken Wings

January 13, 2011

Do you ever have one of those moments where a random memory pops into your head, unbidden from the recesses of your mind?  Yeah, that happened to me the other day.  Whatever the trigger was, I found myself remembering last September, as Nikki and I drove from El Paso, TX to Phoenix, AZ, across the red-rock-filled desert on I-10.  About a half-hour past Tucson, a strange sight greeted me off in the distance to my left.  Hundreds of airplanes sat lined up in row after row about a mile away, at some kind of weird airport.  It was just out in the middle of nowhere and there was such an eerie stillness surrounding the place; not a single plane was lifting off or landing.  They just sat there, abandoned.  I logged it away in the back of my mind, curious to learn more about this oddity but it was eventually forgotten.

Fast forward to the present.  For some reason my mind drifted back to that day’s drive and the airport out in the desert.  Through a little bit of Google Map magic, I was able to trace my route along I-10 using the satellite view and locate this lonesome landmark.  Check it out and see for yourself:  Pinal Airpark, a repository for decommissioned commercial aircraft, stored in the dry climate to stave off corrosion in case they ever get pressed back into service.  It is a veritable airplane bone-yard.

Why do I share this?  Well, I guess this small-town Kansas boy just hasn’t seen anything quite like it, so it struck a chord in my memory and I just had to share it.  But it also seems to me that this would make an interesting focal point for a story of some sort.  Who works out there?  What does there day consist of?   What is it like to be surrounded by empty metal shells  that once defied gravity and carried hundreds of people up in the air and across the globe, in a feat that just over a century ago seemed like science fiction?  What is it like to spend everyday in a monument to the temporary lifespan of the pinnacle of human achievement, a reminder of the finite window of usefulness of both man and machine?  Perhaps there is a kernel of creativity that will spring forth from my mind in regards to these varied reflections pin-balling around inside my subconscious.  I guess I will have to keep that one in my back-pocket for a rainy day.

So if you are ever driving down that stretch of I-10 northwest of Tucson, take a look out on the horizon and take a gander at a unique and unusual sight.

Book Review: Crazy Love

January 12, 2011

Crazy Love

By Francis Chan

I was a little slow getting through this book, but not because of any lack of fascination by what Francis Chan had to say.  Quite simply, this is the kind of read that you must slowly digest and savor, soaking in everything written and the full implication it should be having on your life.  Chan’s reflections on how radical God’s love is for mankind and the radical response it should merit in our own hearts is exactly what this privileged, self-indulgent, materialistic generation of the American church needs to hear.  I cannot recommend it enough.

I think what I like most about the way Francis Chan writes is just how absolutely every sentence and paragraph is utterly dependent upon Scripture.  There are countless verses quoted verbatim; in fact, I would dare to wager that at least 50% of the book is either entire Bible quotations or paraphrases.  Far too often in Christian literature have authors fallen into the trap of speaking biblical truth and expounding upon their perspectives of what the Bible says without actually emphasizing what the Bible says!  That Chan holds God’s Word in high regard is beyond question.  He displays an earnest transparency in sharing his own spiritual journey and personal struggles, coupled with a matter-of-fact, no-punches-pulled, in-your-face examination of how God’s love displayed through Jesus Christ should alter the way we live.  At times I felt excitement well up inside of me, threatening to burst forth in a show of jubilation.  Other junctures in my reading witnessed me humbled, shame-faced, in pain from my own spiritual inadequacies as if I had been hit across the face with a 2 x 4.  At all times I was challenged by the Holy Spirit concerning areas in my sanctification that require attention, for which I am truly grateful to Chan.

If you have yet to pick up this book, then I cannot urge you enough to rectify the situation.  This is without a doubt one of my hands-down top picks from 2010.