Home Work

When we had the bookstore, I really, really hated selling devotionals. I mean, to the order of talking people out of buying them so that they would get something else. Anything else.

Because let's face it: not every devotional is When I Don't Desire God, right?

And from my standpoint, children's devotionals ... ugh. Most of them are just ... look, let's not revisit the past. I'm not writing this review of What does the Bible Say About That? because it's part of the gin mill of sad and sorry time killers which substitute for real discipleship or study of God's word.

This book is actually different.

Now, before I gush on this book, let's make sure we frame my praise properly: this is a book for ages 8-12, and it's meant to be a devotional, not a 12-hour semester in post-graduate seminary training. But for about $16 (less from CBD), you get about 340 short devotionals like this one:

The page/topics are listed in alphabetical order, and the topics range from things as theologically-rich as the Trinity and Blasphemy to practical topics like Personal Hygiene and Competition. While it's a book designed for children, it's not just a book for kids: it's a book well-suited for family devotion time that can give you the opportunity to talk about our faith as if it was a real thing. You can call it "home work" if you're clever.

It's another winner from Crossway. At some point, other publishers are going to have to take notice and start committing themselves to top-shelf content like this for all ages.

Who didn't see this coming?

You know what Global Warming needs? It needs the U.N. to run the whole world. Because they have done such a great job of running the world, the only safe place for their little house is the USA.

D-Blog meta repository

Gummby demanded that I open up a thread to discuss the goings-on at D-blog.

This is it -- you people know I can't say no to Gummby.

What all gospels have in common

In this post, you will find how the mind of me, the blogger you came here to observe, really thinks about things. Some of you will be revolted, and others will walk away sort of giddy like a 14-year-old who has just had his first half-beer.

Alert Reader "Jude" linked us to a NYT story which he thought was good fodder for our on-going tirade against Global Warming, and superficially, it is. Nice work, Jude.

But in that story is this interesting piece of columnizing, and read it carefully:
“I don’t think of myself predicting things,” [Freeman Dyson] says. “I’m expressing possibilities. Things that could happen. To a large extent it’s a question of how badly people want them to. The purpose of thinking about the future is not to predict it but to raise people’s hopes.”
You know: you get brilliant things said by brilliant people all the time. In fact, in this day and age when almost every word muttered is somehow replayed in some media or other, there is so much brilliance out there that it's like Syndrome's wicked plan to subvert the world of Supers: when everybody is brilliant, it's just another way of saying that nobody is brilliant.

And Freeman Dyson is one of those people that, as they say, you only read about in newspapers. Freeman John Dyson FRS (born December 15, 1923) is a British-born American theoretical physicist and mathematician, famous for his work in quantum field theory, solid-state physics, and nuclear engineering. He is a lifelong opponent of nationalism and a proponent of nuclear disarmament and international cooperation. Dyson is a member of the Board of Sponsors of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

But think about what Dyson is saying here -- the underlined part especially. The purpose of thinking about the future is not to predict it but to raise people's hopes.

If you want insight into the human condition, people, and what it is we can do to actually deliver the Gospel, think about what Dyson says here. What he is saying here, in considering the world, is that the world is what it is -- but when we think about it, we have to think about it in such a way that it results in hope for the future. You see: this is what all alleged "gospels" have in common: they give people hope for the future.

And they have this in common because, frankly, they are imitating the actual Gospel, the actual good news which is good tidings of great joy to all the people. The problem we Christians have is that we have completely lost sight of this fact. When we are considering the future with people, our vision ought to be full of hope.

This is why I have such a love for our post-millennial brethren: they get this. I mean, they are not building bunkers because Christ is going to return to a burned-out ash and make all things new inspite of us Christians and the rest of the sinners we didn't evangelize: they want to live for Christ, knowing that to die is gain.

So somehow, get this part of the Gospel into what you're talking about out there. The Gospel is given to us in part that we might raise people's hopes about the future..

I forgot to mention: Freeman Dyson is a practicing Christian. Are you?

A beef about study bibles

During the release last year of the ESV Study Bible, I made some randy comments about my opinion of study bibles – and because I didn’t want to be seen as a hater, I held back my thoughts on study bibles until after the hoopla had settled down.

You know what? Lots of people own study bibles. Lots of people own concordances. Lots of people own commentaries. LOTS. So if you own any of these devices, I say good on you – learn to use them wisely and so be it.

But here’s the truth: most of the people who own these things don’t really know how to use them. And for many people, my experience is that all that extra paper and ink gets in the way of actually reading the Bible itself. If you add half-again the volume of the actual Bible to the Bible, and nobody was reading the Bible itself before you added all that other stuff, why would they read the Bible-plus-stuff afterwards?

My 2-bit opinion is that people substitute a study bible for bible study – and let me be as specific as possible about this. Often people will buy a “study bible” for a new believer, or an older teen, and hand it off to them as if that’s all they need – go and make yourself a disciple now.

But that’s not actually the Great Commission, is it? The Great Commission is, “Go, therefore and make disciples.” That means somehow you personally have to get involved with somebody to help them grow in the faith.

So my beef with Study Bibles in general – not the ESV specifically, but as it resides in the universe of Christian publishing among similar items – is that they usually are an inadequate replacement for actual study and discipleship. And like much of Christian publishing, they are unintentionally-harmful to the local church and to believers because they stand in the way of real fellowship, discipleship, and the building of a local community which God has established and ordained to glorify himself.

I am sure that’s more than you wanted to know. Now back to work with you.

pure spite

Hey -- somehow I'm not officially a Southern Baptist Blogger anymore (Tony Kummer is apparently the Csar of such things, and I am shamed to be what I am), but the fix is in.

Go to this page and do one of two things:

[1] vote for iMonk if you're a Sanjaya-should-have-won kinda blog reader.


[2] vote for Timmy Brister is you are truly reformed and don't want to be banned for a decade from commenting on this blog and/or teamPyro.

No pressure.

return of the DebateBlog

Phil Perkins has apparently thought better of, um, whatever it was he was doing before, but Pastor Stuart Wood has offered to open up a discussion at DebateBlog regarding the issue of Limited Atonement.

After some bartering over the thesis statement, I will defend the following thesis:

For someone to say that the doctrine of limited atonement changes the definition of the Gospel is nonsense.

I am sure it will be interesting -- he's apparently a converted Lutheran who thinks Luther never taught limited atonement.

Desperate housewives

It has probably been months since I have posted anything of real substance here, yet there you all are -- still coming back for the community.

I think that's the sign of success. This blog is habit-forming.

I ain't got what it takes

I wanna be a rock star
But, I ain't got what it takes
The drive and the determination
And the lucky breaks
I wanna be a rock star
But, I ain't got the face
I wanna be a rock star
But, I ain't got what it takes

Seeing my face up on the TV
Hearing my songs on the radio
People waiting all day in line to see me
Doing my pose for Rolling Stone

Well, it's alright, yeah it's alright

Living lifestyles of the rich and famous
Turning all heads in the music scene
Flying in my own jet plane to Vegas
Riding in a big black limousine

Well, it's alright, yeah it's alright

No, I ain't got nothing
But, to you I'm something
Something so much more

chaos theory is my hero

You'd think, given its liberal bent, Wisconson would be that last place we'd get a demystification note of news from. But it turns out that chaos theory proves there's no such thing as global warming.

That's even better than the other link everybody and his mother sent me about global hurricane activity.

Quantum Morality

Consider this:

Now consider this: at what point does one take this theory of all things seriously and determine to make moral judgments based on it?

It seems to me that while this description of things may be factually true -- or true insofar as we can establish the facts regarding things too small to actually see -- it has no relevance to what we actually have to do between getting up in the morning and going back to bed at night.


Stop asking me

I gave kudos to iMonk for getting pretty much global recognition for his "death of Evangelicalism" piece, right? So credit where credit's due and all that.

Many of you have e-mailed me to ask, "yeah, but what do you think about the essay?" Look: I'm not going to take the bait. The truth is that Michael and I get along pretty good as long as we don't talk about things we blog about, and I'm really intent on keeping it that way as I have no free time to speak of.

That said, here's what Doug Wilson thinks about that essay, and I would endorse without comment Doug's affirmations and denials.

The problem is not that there's too much conservatism: it's that there's a lot of unfounded, flabby conservatism running around with plastic fishes attached to it rather than a robust, young, and dangerous conservatism riding around on the fat, noisy Harley which is the Gospel.

imonk update

You know, it's one thing to write a long post which everyone will agree with.

It's another to get it published in the Christian Science Monitor.

It's a whole 'nother thing to get it on the from page of Drudge:

Congrats, Michael: that's the blogger's highest achievement award right there.

fair warning

Haloscan is eating comments. I dunno why.

Be sure that if you are posting a mangum opus that you have composed off-line before you hit "send".

Not good enough for Dan's Blog ...

... but we take risks here.

OK: Be warned that this video lulls you into a pleasing little zone of coffee house mellowness, and then you get Rick Rolled, and then there's a sudden outburst of Chris Crocker set to mellow jazz guitar, and then it ends with the Power Ranger's theme.

If you can not be offended, and you like this sort of thing, and you want to show Dan Phillips that you are the better blog readers by toughing it out through the Crocker outburst, I present this to you:

oh, pickle. OK. Nevermind.

If you are spoiling for a fight or whatever, just go away. This was clever, but it has nothing to do with the Gospel -- and I'm not preaching the Gospel here. I'm blogging in a very casual way. Hold it against me if that's how you are.

Read this more than once

Let me say this: there is no greater human motivation than the need for other relationships. The question is only if we will make the right choices.

And that's not only for those who are lonely: it is for those who read James 2 and want to be doers of the word and not hearers only. Wishing others not to be lonely is not the same thing as standing in their loneliness with them and fighting for hope. If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in fellowship, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be content as you are," without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?

Indeed: what good is that?

I have a better idea

What if people really cared about people? Let me suggest that if Christians, without giving up one iota or one inflection mark of doctrine, actually loved other people besides their own families, the Japanese would be a lot more interested in replicating faith in Christ rather than building machines which can, well, you read that story.

It would be harder than what we do now. It would hurt us more. It would be worth it.

profoundly wrong

Today President Obama called cloning "profoundly wrong", which made me wonder about how that works out in the moral calculus.

Ending the life of a baby to collect stem cell tissue is apparently not profoundly wrong, but cloning a baby -- or me for that matter -- to do anything with it (collect stem cells, make me a new heart for my bum ticker, get skin grafts in case I burn myself, etc.) is "profoundly wrong".

See -- I think all of it is an abomination. All of is it tantamount to infanticidal cannibalism. But I have a point of reference for saying that -- what's Obama's point of reference?

Blogroll Update

OK -- I'm going to clean up the blogroll this week as Blogrolling.com has finally gotten its feet back under itself.

If your blog is on the blogroll, and you're happy about it, do nothing.

If you want to be added, go to the blogroll's homepage by clicking the "Scum of the Earth" graphic and follow those instructions.

They read that here

WSJ called Obama "Jimmy Carter".

I said it first. They are obvioulsy reading in spite of my spotty posts.

A Pathetic Tell

Some of you watch "professional" poker, I know, and some of those guys are ridiculous.

OK: all of those guys are ridiculous, but some of them have a really solid poker face -- but many of them have a pathetic "tell". You can tell when they're bluffing.

Turns out the Global Warming saints have a terrible tell. In fact, they cannot wait to turn their cards over to show you they were bluffing all along.

This, btw, is why Hillary didn't get elected president: nobody believed her. Every time her lips moved, we knew she was lying -- we just couldn't quite tell how big a fib she was floating. Now, at least, we know.

No Phil Perkins update

Apparently woodchucks have dug up the one good Internet trunk line in Montana or something. Phil has gone eerily silent.

Maybe he's getting ready to expose the Shepherd' Conference as secretly in California and therefore in league with all manner of evil or something.

What it doesn't mean

Ok -- seriously now.
March 2, 2009 -- For those who have endured this winter's frigid temperatures and today's heavy snowstorm in the Northeast, the concept of global warming may seem, well, almost wishful.

But climate is known to be variable -- a cold winter, or a few strung together doesn't mean the planet is cooling. Still, according to a new study, global warming may have hit a speed bump and could go into hiding for decades.
That's not the best part by a long shot. Here's the next paragraph:
Earth's climate continues to confound scientists. Following a 30-year trend of warming, global temperatures have flatlined since 2001 despite rising greenhouse gas concentrations, and a heat surplus that should have cranked up the planetary thermostat.
See: a 30-year trend one way -- that's a global disaster. But if we have, say, a 30-year trend the other way, that's a "speed bump". "decades" of cooling will not disprove Global Warming.

You have to read the whole thing to believe it, folks. Even after reading it, you won't believe it.

FYI: the Blogroll

for those of you following the blogrolling.com saga, and the stagnation of the "Scum of the Earth" blogroll, allegedly blogrolling.com will go back on-line tomorrow.

We'll see ...

Friendly advice from a podcast listener


OK -- I got this e-mail from Justin Taylor after I posted this blog entry, and he communicated this post to the crew at Desiring God. Now, before we get to the outcome there, I didn't think that I was known as a person who was poking a finger at the DG ministry. I see myself as sort of a gushing fan of them, and I think my rep is as sort of a fanboy for Dr. Piper and all things coming from his direction.

So when I got this e-mail from JT regarding the audio from the last conference, last session, and the guys at DG thought I was representing them as "thoughtless", I was a little taken aback.

I didn't intend to say that they could have recorded that conference using Radio Shack mics and a hand-held recorder and gotten a better result -- and if I did, I was too harsh. I used that example only to point out that even the best people and best podcasters sometimes put out a less-than-satisfactory result.

If I offended anyone, I apologize. My only intent here was to give those who are looking to break into podcasting a sort of "errors to avoid" chunk of advice, including the error that it requires a jillion dollars of equipment to make a passable audio product.

That said, read on.

I am an avid podcast listener.

I mean, I listen to about 2-dozen podcasts when they come out, and there are probably another dozen I sort of monitor for the occasional laugh or whatever. I have decent commute-time to work and back home every day, so I have time for that.

But let me say something as clearly as I can here to all podcasters and wannabes: please -- think about your listener for just 5 minutes and apply some basic audio standards to your podcast.

For example -- and I use this example because it's such a visible example which generally does much better -- the DG pastors' conference audio Q&A session had the moderator's mike as some kind of direct source for recording, and the the panelists all were being recorded not directly from their mikes but by some kind of mobile unit picking up the ambient sound in the room. ugh.

Look: this is not brain surgery. My podcast (such as it is -- I am a failure as a podcaster because there is not an extra 20 hours a week in my schedule to write, produce, edit and publish a podcast) has been recorded on less than $150 worth of equipment, using less than $50 worth of software, and it sounds at least like something recorded from a mike within 15 feet of my face rather than a tin can on a string.

So here is my advice to everyone who wants to read about it on how to record your podcast with what I would call the minimal AM-radio quality that doesn't cause your listeners to constantly adjust the volume or wander what the dickens you just said. If you go with the full monte I suggest below, you will do better than AM quality. You'll approach low-band FM quality talk.


Now, look at that picture. It's a scan of my condenser mike, which I bought at Radio Shack for less than $30 including tax.

It's the RS 33-3012, and it takes a V-357 watch battery as a self-contained power source. There is nothing more critical to a successful podcast that at least one decent mike. If you are doing interviews, buy two of these. Please.

And if you have to patch two mikes into a single 1/8th inch jack, buy a basic stereo splitter and plug both mikes into the splitter and the splitter into your recording device. Use the tie clips and mount the mikes at mid-chest of the speakers if they are speaking at a conversational tone of voice.

Now, since you're reading this, I assume you have a computer. If you have a computer, it has a mike jack. And if it has a mike jack, all you need is recording software.

You Mac Users are all "Garage Band" at this point, and to that I say "AMEN". That's the right Mac option. For you PC users, download the open source software "AUDACITY" right now, and you will be ready to record using your decent external mike in about 20 minutes.

So for a max of $30, you can record a podcast that will fulfill the basic expectations of your listeners, namely that they can understand you; for $60, you can have 2 mikes and record interviews competently.


Now listen to me: using your computer like this is fine, but what if you're teaching in a classroom, or lecturing, or meeting with someone over coffee at a diner or something? Do you drag your workstation into the great unknown and hope the place has a decent outlet or your battery doesn't go belly-up?

Yeah: that stinks. So you have your mikes and your splitter. Now you need a quality recorder.

The Olympus WS-210S is exactly what you need -- and the image you see here is ACTUAL SIZE. It takes one "AAA" battery, and connects to either your MAC or PC via USB like a flash drive -- you move files from the device exactly the same way you move them from a flash drive. It records to .WMV file type (a complication we will deal with in a minute), but can record up to 100+ hours of audio (depending on quality) anywhere; you can, without fail, record up to 6 hours of highest-quality audio with this baby anywhere. It even has a built-it stereo mike pair which, frankly, are not great but can suffice in a pinch. The cost of this beauty is $75 at Radio Shack -- maybe less at AMAZON if you can find it used.

All my podcast files are recorded originally using the Radio Shack mike and this device, so go ahead and see for yourself what the quality is.

Now, obviously, my podcast is not in .WMV format -- that file format isn't handled by iTunes. So I bought a great piece of software for my MAC called "Switch" by NCH software (they have a Windows version) for about $40. You also need the extension "Flip4Mac" (free) so QuickTime will assist in converting the .WMV file to something more universally useful (i.e. - MP3).

I also found a completely-brilliant piece if FREE software called "LEVELATOR" from The Conversations Network. This will take your MP3 and manage the levels so that the whole thing comes out in a normalized format -- so your listeners are not constantly scrambling for the audio controls.

So far so good?

I could go into the advanced buy, but that involves putting together about $500 worth of equipment including soundproofing for the room/closet you will be recording in. It's geek-speak at best.

Don't bother with that.

For less than $200, you can definitely get into all the equipment you need for a normalized, well-recorded podcast that doesn't assault the ears of your listeners.

Try it out. You can do it. Help your listeners love you.