Friday, July 31, 2009

Around The World

I hope these links to what is going on with the Church around the world will make informative material for prayer. First the negative stories:

Reports have come out of North Korea that a mother of small children has been executed by the state for witnessing. Her husband and children have been incarcerated. This incident is part of a recent crackdown on the Church in North Korea. The motives for the latest crackdown by the government may be that the ailing leader's son is being groomed to take over soon and the only legal worship in this atheistic state is the worship of the supreme leader. The Taliban has taken a beating on the battlefield recently, but it is still a force for persecution of Christians where its power is not challenged. Despite the election of a new government in India replacing the militant Hindu government, persecution is still a major threat for Indian Christians. Doug Groothius shares his concerns for a minstry to the African nation of Liberia, a nation that has suffered from civil war. The recent political turmoil in the Central American nation of Honduras is proving to be a major obstacle to current missionary efforts. The government of the Island of Fiji has banned a nationwide Methodist Conference that was to begin with massive choral worship. The government fears that such a musical display will promote political instability. The organizers of the event were jailed for three days and are not allowed to appear in public. The United Nations has refused to recognize a Christian organization because it would not reveal the names and addresses of its operating officers in China. The organization, The Dynamic Christian World Mission Foundation, fears that to do so would jeopardize not only the groups work in China, but the safety of its workers as well. The spread of the Gospel in the Third World should be a cause of celebration in the Church worldwide. Even if there are some elements of the theology of Third World Christians that should cause some concern, one should not slander the entire movement of God in these regions. Unfortunately, that is what an article on the Christianity Today website has done. The author, upset that new Evangelical churches in Latin America have no theological connection to American and European Calvinism, slanders the entire movement as the worst of Prosperity Gospel teaching and worse. Shame on the article's author for slandering his brothers and sisters because they do not adhere to his theology!

Here is what should be good news. The Russian government has mandated religious or ethical education for students in the public schools. This is indeed good news coming from a formerly atheistic empire. Yet for Christians, only one brand of Christianity will be studied in schools, the theology of the Russian Orthodox Church. Is this a move to suppress other forms of Christianity? See here and here.

Here is an article by Albert Mohler on the future of the Evangelical Missions movement.

Here is a post on a successful ministry to children in Taiwan.

Here are some fact concerning the health of the Church in non western countries compared to U.S. and European churches. As the article states, Europe and America may be the next major mission field.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

In Defense Of The South

The right side won the Civil War. The actions undertaken by the Federal Government in the 50's and 60's to secure the equal rights of African Americans were the right things to do. That being said, the complaints of southerners that they are now being unfairly singled out by the charge of racism by the rest of the nation should not be dismissed out of hand. Whatever their opinions concerning the past, many southerners believe the South is being unfairly branded as being the only region where prejudice exists in this country. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and subsequent Federal legislation guaranteeing fair elections applies only to the South. The South rightly claims that much progress has been made in race relations. The Supreme Court has taken notice of this recently. While it refused to overturn the 1964 act, the Court did indicate that it might consider legal challenges to the act in the future. I lived in Jackson, MS for four years, attending Seminary. At least in Jackson, it appears both black and white wish to move on and not fight past battles. When out of state forces tried to rid the state flag of its Confederate symbol, the African American population stayed home on election day, defeating the efforts to change the flag. The African American community just did not care about this issue. While I cannot speak with experience concerning the rest of Mississippi, in Jackson the relationship among the races appears to be better than in the Mid West, where I currently reside. Southerners can point to recent events such as the incident of African American children being denied access to a Philadelphia swimming pool and the arrest of Professor Henry Louis Gates (see here and here) in Cambridge, MA as evidence that racism is not just a southern phenomenon. Without accepting one side's story in either case, these cases do demonstrate that racial tensions do exist in all parts of the United States. A new book has recently been published, "Sweet Land of Liberty." It chronicles the fight for Civil Rights for African Americans in the North. The struggle for equality has been a nationwide struggle, not just a southern one. Even in the Church there are racial tensions. Sometime this year, or next, I will read "Reconciliation Blues", a book written by an African American Christian critical of how the Evangelical Church handles matters of race. My impressions of this book will be posted here. On 2/20/1958, William Faulkner had this to say concerning the matter of the United States and race in a speech in Virginia:

"It is easy enough for the North to blame on us, the South, the fact that this problem is still unsolved. If I were a northerner, that's what I would do: tell myself that one hundred years ago, we both of us, North and South, had put it to the test, and had solved it. That it is not us, the North, but you, the South, who have refused to accept that verdict. Nor will it help us any to remind the North that, by ratio of negro to white in population, there is probably more of inequality and injustice there than with us." (From "William Faulkner: Essays, Speeches & Public Letters")

Friday, July 24, 2009

Prison Ministry: Year Three

(Originally Published on 3/30/08)

My third year of prison ministry took place in the year 2006-2007. This ministry was totally different from the previous two in that while I label it prison ministry, this ministry did not take place within the walls of a prison. I ministered with my local church in Champaign, IL to men in a State sanctioned Christian ministry. This organization is in Rantoul, IL, outside Champaign. Its purpose is to disciple certain men picked by the State for early release. The men live in a renovated motel in a structured environment for a term of ten months. They work around the facility and attend several ministries that educate them in Christian living. Eventually, the men find employment. I ministered to these men twice a week with one of the elders of the church. On Tuesday mornings, the men drove to the Church; on Thursday afternoons, I drove to their place with the Church elder. I taught on both occasions. The men also came to our church services when they could and I was able to preach to them on these occasions. I went through "The Sermon on the Mount" and John 13-17 with these men, among other lessons. Both the church elder and I had to counter certain teachings from some of the mens' more charismatic teachers. My time with this ministry came to an end. They began to run out of men sent by the State, and the ones the State did send quickly found jobs that made them unavailable to be ministered to. Of the ones I ministered to, only one has gone back to jail. (The evidence against him was VERY suspect.) These men have greater community support than those I ministered to in my hometown.

What are some of the lessons I have learned in these three years of ministry? First, while ministering to those incarcerated, do not sugarcoat sin or their need for a savior. Sympathize with them all as well as you can without thinking of them all as victims. Emphasize repentance and the transformed life that is theirs in Jesus Christ. Minister with the Word of God; rely on the Holy Spirit to open up the Word to these men (and women). Remember, our primary task is not just to preach, but to make disciples. While your teaching must be tailored to your audience, while you must teach so you are understood, understand that these men are just as capable of understanding mature teaching as well as anyone else who is truly seeking after God. After a shorter period of time than you might expect, you will be amazed at the truth they have grasped, even some of the truths of the Trinity. When I was in seminary, some of the theology I learned in Systematic Theology I was able to incorporate into my teachings in jail. These same lessons from class and the required reading was instrumental in transforming my own mind and lifting these men out of the spirit of negativity. Here is a link to a previous blog article about how I incorporated Trinitarian thinking into my teaching. . The point must be made that these men were able to grasp truth because deep down in their hearts, they wanted God and were determined not to walk away from Him again. I have taught the same truths to other Christians who didn't want to follow God as these men wanted to. These other Christians told me I was preaching over their heads. One last lesson. My life before conversion was as moral as moral could be. No alcohol, drugs, or sex. Some Christians may think this would hinder my witness to men in prison; it might be thought that these men would not give me any credibility because I have not experienced what they experienced. Such thinking is counter to the counsel of scripture and shows a lack of confidence in the power of the Holy Spirit to use anybody to spread the Gospel. Of all the men I spoke to in those three years, not one rejected what I had to say because of my background. In fact, when I described my background, the men were interested in someone who avoided what they did not avoid and yet needed a savior as much as they did. (It is interesting to note that not one person in jail doubted the claims I made about my almost squeaky-clean life before Christ. The only ones who have doubted have been good Christian people.)

Here is a link to Dr. Matt Friedemans other blog where he gives his perspectives on prison ministry: . (Scroll down to 12/3) The observation that really resonates with me is no.2. It is true. I did not always want to go out to the jails. But I always came back strengthened in my spirit after seeing men be transformed by the Holy Spirit after I delivered a message I thought would be a failure. Even those called to ministry by God have times that they would rather not be pursuing their calling.

Remember, in the Titus 2:7, Paul commands shepherds to perform good works so their flocks can observe and do likewise. It benefits both the minister and those receiving the ministry, and God is glorified in the process.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Prison Ministry: Year Two

(Originally Published 3/30/08)

My second year of prison ministry occurred during my last year at Wesley Biblical Seminary, ,2003-2004. On Monday nights, I boarded a bus and was driven to a county jail. If my memory serves me right, I believe it was the Rankin County Jail outside Jackson, MS. With me was Seminary Professor Matt Friedeman ( ) seminary students Bill Coppedge ( ), Jeff and Andrea Wolheter ( ), Troy Gentry ( ),Matt Johnson, Bill Blair, Michael Smith, Josh Cougle and Stuart Kellog. Others from Dr. Friedeman's church joined us as well. Our trip to the jail took about one half an hour. We did not waste the time socializing. We sang hymns and prayed part of the way and reported on what happened to each other on the way back.

This jail facility is different from what was in my hometown. This is a massive security building where we were searched and led through several security doors. The prison population is divided into several sizable Cell Blocks. Entering these Cell Blocks, one comes upon a vast space where the prisoners are free to roam outside their cells. These blocks contain two floors of cells. Only one floor at a time was let out to meet us, so when I preached, I spoke loudly, so those locked upstairs could hear me. ( Often they would respond from their cells to what I was saying.) Often I preached to thirty or forty men at a time. I was able to mingle freely among them.

Dr. Friedeman taught us not to spend the whole hour preaching to them. These men may be glad to hear us, yet they don't want to be forced to sit and listen to someone speak for a whole hour. One person violated that rule. He was a great speaker and at first the men responded well to him. But as time went on, they became annoyed and shut him out for the rest of the time. We mixed preaching with worship (I was terrible at this.) [About the only songs the prisoners knew was "Amazing Grace" and "Jesus Calling on the Mainline."] , sharing, and prayer. We ministered usually two to a cell block, sometimes both of us preached. I preached an average of just twenty minutes. Then while one led worship, the other would minister to those locked in their cells. We encouraged the men to pray in public and encouraged those who showed evidence of growth to step out and be ministers themselves.

This was my first experience giving weekly sermons. I wanted to put as much care into these sermons as I would if I was speaking in front of a Church. This experience was helpful later when I became a pastor.

Beyond that, this experience produced permanent spiritual changes in my life. During my first three years at seminary, I was not involved in any sort of ministry. At the beginning of my fourth year, I was a total mess spiritually. At first, when I began going out Monday nights to the jail, I would be lifted up emotionally and spiritually for a day or two. Then I would return to my despondent state. I soon realized that those in jail were caught in a cycle of negative thinking; they believed that there was no deliverance for themselves. They needed to hear how not only the Gospel saves them, but how the Gospel transforms them through the working of the Holy Spirit. I had to search the scriptures for messages about breaking this cycle of negative thinking. As I developed these messages and preached them, the Holy spirit worked in me to transform my own mind and strengthen my own spirit. Instead of being uplifted for just a day or two, I was permanently changed and able to live the Christian life better than before. This has been four years ago and still what God worked in me in those days has sustained me to this day, even during this period of my life, which is more a valley than a mountain peak right now. Toward the end of that year, I ended up preaching to the same Cell Block. That gave me a chance to see a group of men mature in their faith. One told me he had learned how to leave the realm of negativity that Satan kept him bound in. I saw that one hour a week, every week, we could work through the Holy Spirit to bring transformation to men in despair.

(Continued in Part Three.)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Prison Ministry: Year One

(Originally Published on 3/30/08)

Thanks to Tim Sheets (See also the links section of this blog) for his request that I relate what I have experienced while engaging in prison ministry. Recently he came across my new blog, , and read my profile. He saw that I have three years experience in prison ministry. He is involved in such a ministry himself and wanted to know what I meant by the term "prison ministry" and requested that I relate my own experiences concerning such ministry.

I use the term "prison ministry" to refer to any ministry that is involved with reaching those incarcerated in jail or on parole with the Gospel. Each year I was involved in such an outreach was different from the other two. The term refers to all types of ministry done inside and outside of jails. I never really gave a lot of thought to the term I use to describe these ministries. When Tim asked me to describe my experiences, I thought that I ought to share them with all those who may read this blog. I hope these next three articles will be beneficial not only to those who are involved in similar endeavors but for all who are called to share God's Word concerning salvation and discipleship. Even though there was much material to be covered, it did not take long to write the draft; I found the experience great fun and a blessing to recall how I saw God work during these times.

My first year of prison ministry was from 1999-2000 in my hometown before I went to seminary. For one year, I went to the County Court House where the local jail was located. This facility, which no longer exists, was the first step for those accused of crimes, be they murder, burglary, or car theft, etc. I was recruited for this ministry by someone in my home church. We had two hours, 7-9 P.M., to reach all the men on all three floors of the jail. These men were allowed to be out of their cells but still behind bars while we spoke to them from a little alley way of a hallway. This arrangement precluded any formal preaching. We came to listen, pray, and respond to these men from God's Word. Never before had I seen the power of the Holy Spirit empower the presenting of God's Word to impact lives to such an extent. We relied on nothing but the power of the Spirit to open these men's eyes to what Scripture was saying to them. We used no methodologies or apologetics to speak of. We listened, and the Holy Spirit never failed to have the answer to their questions.

There was one scripture I have always found effective in these settings, Matt 7: 9-12. (This was a verse that was instrumental in my own conversion.) Among its many meanings, it tells us that while all men and women were born in sin, there is a form of goodness in all men. It tells us that Church is not just for the "good people" and that "bad people" are excluded. One guy shared with me that when he had accompanied his girlfriend to Church, many in the Church objected to his presence. One woman claimed that he had a "devil." I used Matt. 7: 9-12 to demonstrate that even as sinners we had a capacity for goodness, yet all, no matter how good, needed a savior; Jesus had to die for our sins. No one is so good that they are worthy of going to Church while others have been so wicked that God wants nothing to do with them. The Lord ministered to that man and all who heard us that evening. Those who were hostile to the Gospel saw for the first time that the Gospel is for all, even for them. And they wanted to hear more. (Incarceration makes people want to talk to someone, anyone.)

During this time I learned that most people in jail have had some exposure to the Gospel. Some nights, 100% of those I spoke with had some relative praying for them or had had some contact with Scripture. Often times the Christian witness they had been exposed to had been faulty: someone had taught them falsehoods or had lived a double life before them. Exposing these men to what the Bible had to say concerning what they had been taught or had observed created in them a desire to know more about the authentic Christian life.

The first people in jail that I led to the Lord were ready to receive the message. The second such person actually asked me when I first approached him, "How can I be saved?" As time went on, I met with more and more challenging situations. One evening, when twenty minutes was all we had left, I approached a young man. He told me that he had twenty-eight different personalities and that he had just tried to kill his mother. He declared that it was too late to pray for him. Speechless, I just listened and waited to see if he said something that could be used as a bridge to the presentation of the Gospel. When he told me that Church did not work for him, I had that bridge. When I asked him why Church did not work for him, he replied that he went every week and he did not change. I asked him what change he expected from Church attendance alone and told him that Church attendance without faith will not change anyone. At the end of twenty minutes, he consented to be prayed for. That incident occurred at the end of my ministry there, so I do not know what had happened to him. I do know that those who were saved often ended up back in jail partly due to the lack of ministry available on the outside.

Not only were the inmates ministered to, the guards and administration of the jail were as well. Some Christians consider the guards and the administration as the "enemy" and all those behind bars as "victims." This attitude could lead to a lack of respect towards those in authority by ministers and create a bad witness. We had a better attitude. We asked them if they needed prayer, and they had the opportunity to hear the Gospel and learn about the Christian life by listening as we spoke to the prisoners. I remember one guard in particular. He was very hostile to our presence in the jail. Once, my knee brushed against the bars and he chewed me out. Yet at the end of that year, he was opening up to us, glad we were there, and asking us for prayer.

(To be continued in Prison Ministry: Year Two.)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Around The World

Here are some items in the news that should spur us on to pray:

For the past year Christians in the Indian state of Orissa have been suffering violent persecution from radical Hindu groups. (See here and here) Recent nationwide elections in India have forced the ruling Hindu party, which campaigned to transform India into an all-Hindu nation, out of office. However, the Hindu party did win a majority in Orissa. Lets pray that the recent elections will mark a turning point for the Christians in Orissa. At best, lets pray for a complete cessation of violence. However, if acts of violence continue, lets pray that the new Indian government will act decisively on behalf the Orissa Christians.

Dr. Andrew Jackson does not support the present American military actions in Afghanistan. Whether of not we agree with him, his recent blog post on Afghanistan features much needed spotlight on the plight of women in Afghanistan. He also links to an informative article on the ethnic strife in China.

Here is an article examining the Church's options in dealing with those who are involved in polygymous arriages who come to Christ for salvation.

In Great Britain, a bill that would allow families to transport their terminally ill family members to Switzerland to be euthanized without being prosecuted in Britain has been defeated by the House of Lords. A good day for the disabled in Britain. Praise the Lord!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Friday Night Frozen Dinner And An Intellectual: "William Faulkner: Essays, Speeches & Public Letters"

Its been over twenty years since I have read William Faulkner, who most critics maintain is the greatest writer of 2oth century America. I first encountered him in 1981 or 1982 when I read "The Bear." My exposure to classic literature was limited then and when I chose to do a paper on Faulkner for a American Lit. class and chose to read "The Bear" (because it was short, just a little over 100 pages), it literally blew my unformed mind. I was unable to grasp the full import of what Faulkner was conveying and his style is difficult as it is, but I understood enough to know that the conflict of man verses animal and man verses civilization portrayed with such raw realism and humor was simply a unique achievement. At West Virginia University, I had eight classes to Dr. Ruel Foster, who with another wrote the very first critical work ever written on Faulkner, which gave me a great background on American and Southern history and literature in general and on Faulkner in particular. The past three Friday evenings I have been home in West Virginia reading "William Faulkner: Essays, Speeches & Public Letters" edited by the late James B. Meriwether. One of those Friday evenings I ate Mexican, which is more appropriate for a Hemingway or Steinbeck novel. I don't have any appropriate music to read Faulkner by; the best music to listen to while reading Faulkner would be banjo and hammer dulcimer instrumentals.

The essays contained in this collection are a mixed bag; some of them are "must reads", especially his over forty page essay "Mississippi." It contains all the history of Faulkner's mythical creation, Yoknapatawpha County, and the families he populated it with: the Compsons, the McCaslins, the de Spains, the Hoggenbecks, and villainous Snopes clan. Even the Mississippi River (The Old Man) appears as a character as it tolerates man's alterations to its boundaries and path and without warning reminds man how much more powerful it is than those who attempt to tame it:

"Then having proved that too, he--the Old Man--would withdraw, not retreat: subside, back from the land slowly and inexorably too, emptying the confluent rivers and bayous back into the old vain hopeful gut, but so slowly and gradually that not the waters seemed to fall but the flat earth itself to rise, creep in one place back into light and air again: one constant stain of yellow brown at one constant altitude on telephone poles and the walls of gins and houses and stores as though the line had been laid off with a transit and painted in one gigantic unbroken brush stroke, the earth itself one alluvial inch higher, the rich dirt one inch deeper, drying into long cracks beneath the hot fierce glare of May: but not for long, because almost at once came the plow, the plowing and planting already two months late but that did not matter: the cotton man-tall once more by August and whiter and denser still by picking time, as if the Old Man said, 'I do what I want to, when I want to. But I pay my way.' "

In "Mississippi", Faulkner weaves the fictional history of his stories with his view of Mississippi's actual history: a history replete with man's crimes against man and nature, the white man's crimes against the black man, the loss of power by the Planter class supplanted by avaricious ignorant types like the Snopeses. The destruction of the land and man himself by modern civilization is also chronicled. Yet unlike some modern writers, Faulkner was hopeful that man would endure, as he stated in his speech accepting the Nobel Prize for Literature. Because of his style, sometimes the reader does not know if Faulkner speaks of his fictional characters or his own experiences. Having background knowledge of Faulkner helps.

The main drawback to Faulkner was his style. He lived in an age when writers were experimenting with new styles of writing, such as "stream of consciousness." Faulkner's experiments produced some astonishing stylistic achievements such as "The Sound and the Fury", he also wrote some jumbled prose that takes time to decipher. Its a pity because his traditional prose is so powerful few if any could rival him. But those who refuse to aim high always fail to reach the heights. Two of Faukner's articles for Sports Illustrated which appear in this collection illustrate his sometimes overly ornate prose, as do a piece on his impressions of post-war Japan.

I especially enjoyed some of Faulkner's earlier essays which seem to be free of modern experimentation. Here is one paragraph from an essay on the works of Sherwood Anderson that is classic Faulkner:

"Horses! What an evocative word in the history of man. Poets have used the horse as a symbol, kingdoms have been won by him; throughout history, he has been a part of the kings of sports from the days when he thundered with quadrigae, to modern polo. His history and the history of man are intermingled beyond any unraveling; separate both are mortal, as one body they partake of the immortality of the gods. No other living thing holds the same place in the life of man as he does, not even the dog. One sometimes kicks a dog just for the sake of the kick."

More posts concerning this collection may appear, depending on the content. There is one essay entitled "On Privacy(The American Dream: What Happened To It?)" that is prophetic. I will publish a separate article on that as well as two or three others. I will also examine Faulkner's views on race in the South as well. Reviews of three Faulkner works: "Go Down, Moses", "Light in August", and "Absalom, Absalom" will appear as well.

"William Faulkner: Essays, Speeches & Public Letters" was published by "The Modern Library."

American Order and Jefferson's Mind

There is a rumor floating around the intelligentsia that the Founding Fathers were heavily influenced by Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes most quoted statement is "Life is nasty, brutish and short." His magnum opus is "The Leviathan", a work advocating an all powerful government (a monarchy) in which the people (base savages) would be kept in check. It is true that the Founding Fathers had a pessimistic view of mankind, that men will usually act upon self interest rather than the good of all. That is why they gave us a Constitution which so separated the powers among the three branches (Executive, Legislative, Judiciary) that neither would come to dominate the other. The most common phrase for such a system is "Checks and Balances." But the ultimate beneficiary of such a system is not the ruling class, but the people as a whole; "government by the people for the people" is preserved with such a system. If Hobbes was so influential on the Founders, then why did they act to preserve our individual liberties rather than restrict them? Here is a link to an article on Russell Kirk's "The Roots Of American Order" which goes into more detail on this issue.

Who says that there is nothing new to learn concerning American History? A new book is out on Thomas Jefferson: "The Road To Monticello." Its not a standard biography but a book that breaks new ground. It is a biography of Jefferson's mind. It seeks to document the development of Jefferson's thinking by focusing on Jefferson's reading. Any examination of Jefferson's political principles would cite obvious sources such as Locke. But this book documents sources that many would not think of. This book should illuminate Jefferson's thinking process in ways past historians have not. This may be my patriotic July reading for next year. Thanks to my friend David Bartlett for sending me the link to this article.

Friday, July 10, 2009

This Could Have Been Us

As the celebration of 233 years of Independence is now history, I thought it would be interesting to reflect on a particular attitude among us Americans: some of us seem to suffer from a cultural inferiority complex. We just assume that the general population of Great Britain knows a whole lot more than we do. Part of this phenomenon arises from watching too much British programming on PBS. We tend to think that the British far excel us in all branches of knowledge and have the manners of Jane Austen characters. The following are actual questions and answers from British quiz shows featuring average Brits. (Thanks to my brother for providing them.) These examples ought to put to death this nefarious stereotype concerning our intelligence as compared to theirs. If we didn't split from the Brits, this could have been us!
BEG, Borrow Or Steal (BBC2)
Jamie Theakston: Where do you think Cambridge University is?
Contestant: Geography isn't my strong point.
Jamie Theakston: There's a clue in the title.
Contestant: Leichester.

BBC Norfolk
Stewart White: Who had a worldwide hit with "What A Wonderful World?"
Contestant: I don't know.

Stewart White: I'll give you some clues: What do you call the part between your hand and your elbow?
Contestant: Arm.
Stewart White: Correct- and what was Lord Mountbatten's first name?
Contestant: Louis.
Stewart White: Well, there we are then. So who had a worldwide hit with the song "What A Wonderful World?"
Contestant: Frank Sinatra.

Late Show (BBC Midlands)
Alex Trelinski: What is the capital of Italy?
Contestant: France.
Alex Trelinski: France is another country. Try again.
Contestant: Oh, um, Benidorm.
Alex Trelinski: Wrong, sorry, lets try another question. In what country is the Parthenon?
Contestant: Sorry, I don't know.
Alex Trelinsky: Just guess a country then.
Contestant: Paris.

The Weakest Link (BBC2)
Anne Robinson: Oscar Wilde, Adoph Hitler and Jeffrey Archer have all written books about their experiences in what- prison, or the Conservative Party?
Contestant: The Conservative Party.

Beacon Radio (Wolverhampton)
DJ Mark: For 10, whats the nationality of the Pope?
Ruth from Rowley Regis: I think I know that one. Is it Jewish?

University Challenge
Bamber Gascoyne: What was Gandi's first name?
Contestant: Goosey?

GWR FM (Bristol)
Presenter: What happened in Dallas on November 22, 1963?
Contestant: I don't know, I wasn't watching then.

Phil Wood Show (BBC Radio??? Manchester)
Phil: What is 11 squared?
Contestant: I don't know.
Phil: I'll give you a clue. Its two ones with a two in the middle.
Contestant: Is it five?

Richard And Judy
Richard: What American actor is married to Nicole Kidman?
Contestant: Forrest Gump.
Richard and Judy
Richard: On which street did Sherlock Holmes live?
Contestant: Er...
Richard: He makes bread...
Contestant: Er...
Richard: He makes cakes...
Contestant: Kipling Street?

Lincs FM Phone-In
Presenter: Which is the largest Spanish-speaking country in the world?
Contestant: Barcelona.
Presenter: I was really after the name of the country.
Contestant: I'm sorry, I don't know the names of any countries in Spain.

National Lottery (BBC1)
What is the world's largest continent?
Contestant: The Pacific.

Rock FM (Preston)
Presenter: Name a film starring Bob Hoskins that is also the name of a famous painting by Leonardo de Vinci.
Contestant: Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

The Biggest Game In Town (ITV)
Steve Le Fevre: What was signed to bring World War I to an end in 1918?
Contestant: The Magna Carta.

The James O'Brien Show (LBC)
How many kings of England have been called Henry?
Contestant: Er, well, I know there was a Henry the Eighth...Er...ER...Three?

The Chris Searle Show (BBC Radio Bristol)

Chris Searle: In which European country is Mount Etna?
Caller: Japan.
Chris Searle: I did say which European country, so in case you didn't hear that, I can let you try again.
Caller: Er...Mexico.

Paul Wappat (BBC Radio Newcastle)
Paul Wappat: How long did the Six Day War between Egypt and Israel last?
Contestant: (long pause) Fourteen days.

Daryl Denham's Drivetime (Virgin Radio)
Daryl Denham: In which country would you spend shekels?
Contestant: Holland?
Daryl Denham: Try the next letter of the alphabet.
Contestant: Iceland? Ireland?
Daryl Denham (helpfully): Its a bad line. Did you say Israel?
Contestant: No.

Phil Wood Show (BBC GMR)
Phil Wood: What "K" could be described as the Islamic Bible?
Contestant: Er...
Phil Wood: Its got two syllables...Kor...
Contestant: Blimey?
Phil Wood: Ha ha ha ha, no. The past participle of run...
Contestant: (silence)
Phil Wood: OK, try it another way. Today I run, yesterday I ...
Contestant: Walked?

The Vault
Melanie Sykes: What is the name given to the condition where the sufferer can fall asleep at any time?
Contestant: Nostalgia.

Lunchtime Show (BRMB)
Presenter: What religion was Guy Fawkes?
Contestant: Jewish.
Presenter: That's close enough.

Steve Wright In The Afternoon (BBC Radio 2)

Wright: Johnny Wisemuller died on this day. Which jungle-swinging character clad only in a loin cloth did he play?
Contestant: Jesus.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

"Washington's God: Religious Liberty And The Father Of Our Country" by Michael and Jana Novak. An Audio Review, Part II

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Running Time: 8 Minutes/36 seconds.

Links to purchase the book or to seek information concerning the authors are to be found in Part I of this review.

I did much better at delivery, yet I see the need for me to speak up a little more. Some individual words cannot be heard which I blame on the phone connection between my new cell phone and Blogger.

The Novaks were requested to write "Washington's God" by the organization that maintains Mount Vernon, Washington's home. The book was written for the general public, not scholars (although the bibliography contains many scholarly sources), therefore the style is not difficult. Not even I agree with everything asserted in the book. For instance, the Novaks ascribe to the rise of Protestantism the modern philosophical separation between faith and science. I have never come across such a view before. Most who examine the subject, Protestant and Catholic, trace the roots of this phenomenon to the philosophical writings of Descartes ("I think, therefore I am.") In fact, much of the Scientific Revolution sprang from a Reformation world view. For this, consult Francis Schaeffer's "How Shall We Then Live", the most quoted book on this blog.

Other cites of interest concerning George Washington: here and here.

Monday, July 6, 2009

A Sobering Thought

As a big fan of Sarah Palin, to describe my initial reaction to her resignation as Alaska's governor as profound disappointment would be an understatement. Some Conservative commentators labeled her resignation as a shrewd move designed to better position herself to run for the White House in 2012. Watching clips of her press conference, I did not see someone who was thinking to herself what a politically shrewd move she was making. I thought I saw someone being forced by circumstances to take a course of action she did not want to take. I do believe she made her decision to prevent politically inspired ethics investigations of her from eating up all the family finances as well as to prevent anymore press attacks on her children who are not old enough to deal with such assaults upon them. Yes, I am disappointed in her resignation. I believe that by the time 2012 rolls around, Obama is going to be politically vulnerable and I believe Palin is the only GOP contender capable of bringing him down. If my speculations are wrong concerning her reason for resigning and that she did so to better position herself for a presidential run, her resigning will damage her prospects. For her to have served a full term, or better yet, to have been reelected governor would have enhanced her stature to overcome the press onslaught against her. However, as a Christian mother, she made the right decision for her and her family. 99% of other politicians would have continued their course, letting their family take the consequences. Had she continued as governor, her family would have suffered. Therefore, her resignation was God's will for her. Which leads me too express one sobering thought. Is it possible that God's will for our immediate future is bad political leadership? Perhaps our sins as a nation has forfeited the blessings we have experienced as a nation of free persons making our own decisions rather than the government?

Friday, July 3, 2009

"Washington's God: Religious Liberty And The Father Of Our Country" by Michael and Jana Novak. An Audio Review, Part I

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Running Time: 13 minutes/30 seconds.

I had indented to publish a review of this book at this time last year. After reading the first two parts, circumstances did not allow me to publish until now. I am getting better in my delivery of these audio blogs, but I still have a remnant of my last cold which made it necessary to clear my throat on occasion while delivering this review. My apologies.

While it must be pointed out that none of the evidence contained in "Washington's God" is proof positive that Washington was a born again Christian, the Novaks make a strong case that Washington was the product of a Christian world view and that world view determined his conduct in public and private, even when his own life, the fate of his army and the fortunes of the new nation were at stake. He believed in a personal God who is active in His own creation. I saw one review that stated that the Novaks sometimes engaged in hagiography of Washington in this book. I must disagree. In "Washington's God", they are focusing on only one aspect of Washington's life, his religious beliefs. A very important part of any one's life to be sure, but the Novaks do not in detail evaluate his actions as a Virginia planter, military officer, or President of the United States. Therefore discerning criticism of these aspects of Washington's career which we would expect from a regular biography or historical work are not necessary here.

To purchase "Washington's God: Religious Liberty And The Father Of Our Country", click here. Or you can go to the publisher's website, Basic Books.

Michael Novak's website, , appears in the Links section of this blog. Last year this blog reviewed some columns on his website.

Here is a link to books written by Jana Novak.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Friday Night Frozen Dinner And An Intellectual: "The Death Of Adam: Essays On Modern Thought" by Marilynne Robinson

Several of my recent past Friday evenings have been occupied with reading Pulitzer Prize winner Marilynne Robinson's "The Death of Adam: Essays on Modern Thought." No memorable meals were consumed during these Friday evenings, but on one of these evenings, during a rainstorm, sitting on my porch swing reading Robinson's essay entitled "Family", my eyes never left the text for seven minutes. During those seven minutes, my street flooded. I saw such sights as a neighbor on his roof climbing a metal ladder to reach a metal gutter during heavy rain, thunder and lightning and hail. (He is a former city councilman, no less.) I saw people drive fifty miles an hour into flood waters. (The neighbors screamed at one, asking if she knew better than to drive straight into a flooded street. Her reply: "I didn't know!) These cars were followed by police cars traveling the same rate of speed and getting stuck in the same flood waters. On another Friday evening, a tornado passed through, blowing down massive trees and electrical wires. Most of my neighbors lost their power, but I still had electricity to power my reading lamp. So I will always associate the reading of this book with experiencing the destructive power of nature and incredible human folly.

With that being said, I have found Robinson to be one of the finest essayists I have come across. In terms of boldness and style, there are few if any who approach these qualities displayed in "The Death of Adam."

What do I mean when I discuss her boldness. Robinson is what a Conservative would label a Liberal. She is an Obama supporter. She identifies herself as a Christian in "The Death of Adam", but is not friendly to the Evangelical persuasion of which I belong. Yet, in these essays, she does not hesitate to deviate from Liberal orthodoxy on a number of issues. She is not a Creationist, yet is no follower of Darwinism. Her criticism of Darwinism and the effect Darwinism has had on our culture is simply some of the best criticism of Darwinism from a non-scientist ever written. Robinson has the courage to reveal some of the ugly truths behind Darwinism's development and its impact on history. Here is an example from her essay "Darwinism":

"...Darwin freely concedes to the savages (as to the ants) courage and loyalty and affection. He describes an anthropologist's overhearing African mothers teach their children to love the truth. These things do not affect the confidence with which he assigns them to the condition of inferiority, which for him is proved by their liability to extermination by the civilized races." (p. 35)

Robinson correctly identifies the influence Spencer (of Social Darwinism fame) had on Darwin, and even more surprising, even traces the influence Darwinism had on the development of Nazi ideology. According to organizations that seek to stamp out any challenge to Darwinist orthodoxy, such as the National Center For Science Education, anyone who expresses such views as Robinson's is a narrow bigoted Protestant Fundamentalist out of step with the rest of "enlightened" society, even out of step with that "enlightened" institution known as the Mainline Church. (See my previous article.) In "The Death of Adam", Robinson identifies herself as a Christian who is partial to mainline Presbyterian churches.

Another example of Robinson's intellectual courage is her defense of John Calvin against those who portray Calvin as a frigid soul who was an enemy of liberty and whose theology spawned Capitalist greed. She accuses Calvin's critics of ignoring the Social Justice aspects of Calvinist theology, as well as charitable works done by Calvinists acting on that theology:

"If subsequent generations found in Cauvin a pretext for misogyny or rapacity or contempt for humankind, as historians sometimes claim, it is surely because they determined to find one. They could easily have found pretexts in his theology for acting well, if they wanted them." (p. 187)

Robinson breaks from accepted orthodoxy to make the case that the intellectual foundations of America's liberties has their roots in Calvinism as much as the Enlightenment. She is the first non-Evangelical I've come across who makes such a case.

In politics and economics, I am a Conservative. I am also an Evangelical. Robinson is none of these. In her essay "The Tyranny of Petty Coercion", she refers to Evangelical/Fundamentalists as " the clods and the obscurantists." She laments the rise of the "clods" who have ended the dominance in Christianity of the cultured mainliners who are, she believes, the true heirs of the Christianity that produced much that is good about Western culture. She has nothing good to say concerning Creationists even as she assails Darwinism. She believes that Liberals are the charitable givers in society, that it is the Liberals in and out of the Church who are most responsible for charitable works among the poor and those unable to take care of themselves. She is apparently unaware of recent sociological data that indicates otherwise. (See here and here.) Yet even if one disagrees with her, she does have insights that cannot be discounted. She is correct in pointing out how much our current prosperity is produced by a system that undermines the family by allowing employers to keep their workers on the job with little time off. I find much to disagree with Robinson in her essay "Wilderness." However, her overall thesis that Man, in always seeking to escape Civilization to live in unspoiled country, eventually causes the unspoiled country to become spoiled. Instead of seeking isolation, one should work to redeem Civilization. I can agree with that. (And Christians who are seeking to live where no man has ever gone before need to consider how their attitude is leaving many without a Christian witness.)

At first, I thought I would write a multi-part review of "The Death of Adam." However, I found that this would not be practical. There is so much good content that I did not know where to start and if I wrote all that I wanted to write, it would take more time than I have. So I'll have to put "The Death of Adam" away for now and return to it at a later date. Some would think it strange that an Evangelical/political and economic Conservative could find so much to agree with Robinson and yet not adopt her views on religion, politics and economics. Yet I can only engage any author's work through the filter that is an inseparable part of who I am.

"The Death of Adam" is published by Picador.

The next books I'll be reading for "Friday Night Frozen Dinner and an Intellectual" will be a collection of speeches, essays and letters by William Faulkner, "Fundamentalism and the Word of God" by J.I. Packer and a book on sharing the Bible with Muslims.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Clouds of Witnesses: "The Heavenly Man: The Remarkable True Story of Chinese Christian Brother Yun."

I have read the first five chapters of "The Heavenly Man" by Brother Yun and Paul Hattaway. This work tells the story of Brother Yun's conversion experience and call to ministry. Yun grew up in a remote Chinese village whose inhabitant's lives were dominated by the struggle to survive. Like Watchman Nee, his mother was a backslidden Christian. And like Watchman Nee, it was his mother's repentance that led to his salvation. Also leading to Yun's salvation, as well as the salvation of his whole family, was the miraculous healing of Yun's father who was dying of cancer. The mother, who was beginning to crack under the strain of the prospect of providing for her family with no husband, heared a message from God that Jesus loved her. Hearing this message, she fully repented. She had been brought to the Lord by missionaries before the Communists kicked all the missionaries out of China. With no one to teach her, and with the Church under Communist oppression, her faith had lapsed. After her repentance, she became a mighty servant of the Lord despite her inability to read and her limited knowledge of God's Word.

The book chronicles the miracles that Yun experienced, including receiving a rare copy of the Bible, visions of people (including specific individuals) in need and deliverance from government police trying to arrest him. Some of us here in the West may have problems believing that these miracles took place. I have no problem believing them. There are numerous sources for the existence of miracles in China and other third world countries. Missionaries from Islamic countries, where it is extremely dangerous to spread the gospel, have told me of God using miracles and visions to bring people to Jesus where missionaries could not travel. And in a land such as China, where the Communist government has such a grip on its people, it is just like our God to use such miracles to spread the gospel among a captive people who have no scriptures and can barely read themselves. There are those who have questioned Brother Yun's claims, but as this article demonstrates, there is ample evidence that the tale he tells is a truthful one and that these critics have no personal knowledge of Yun.

The chapters that I have read so far speak of Yun's conflict with the Chinese government in general terms. I have not gotten to the portions of the book dealing with his imprisonments. I was pleased to read that even in the midst of his trials as an evangelist always having to be on the run (what Yun refers to as "fleeing evangelism"), he had the faith to marry and start a family. Yun explained to his future wife, Deiling, what their life would be like, yet she agreed to marry him anyway. (Yun was arrested the day they registered with the government their intention to marry. After their wedding, they attended a illegal House Church meeting.) "The Heavenly Man" gives us accounts from Deiling's point of view.

In reading of "The Three Self" movement of the Chinese government to allow the Church to exist under government control, I was reminded of the book recently read and which I gave an audio review in June: "The Gospels Triumph Over Communism." In "The Heavenly Man", we read of individuals who sought to gain a position in the Church as government stool pigeons who persecuted true believers and fought any freedom for believers. Yun's description of believers in Jesus within the government approved Church as caged birds who fail to reproduce, on page 54 of the paperback edition, is unforgettable. As I read more of "The Heavenly Man", I will post more articles which I hope will spur you to purchase the book.