Friday, May 30, 2008

The Wealth of Nations, Book 1

Events in the year 1776 were to be ones that changed the political face of the world for the rest of history. The fledgling United States of America was embroiled in its fight for independence from the British Empire, what was perhaps at that time the greatest power in the world. In July, the Declaration of Independence, authored principally by Thomas Jefferson was adopted by the United States, officially announcing its independence from the British Empire.

There was another document published that year, albeit one that was not quite as important and monumental as the Declaration of Independence. On March 9, 1776 Adam Smith published what was to become one of the greatest works in the field of economics and would help to change both the political and economic understanding of nations from that time on. The Wealth of Nations is “widely considered to be the first modern work in the field of economics…and the first comprehensive defense of free market policies.”

Over the past 6 months I have been working on recording Book 1 of The Wealth of Nations in conjunction with Librivox, a volunteer-based web site that offers free audio books of literature that is in the public domain. I am very happy to announce that Book 1 is now complete and available for listening. I am now working on Book 2 and hope to have this one completed by September 2008.

If you enjoy audio books and would like to listen to what is continually listed in the top 100 books of all time, follow this link. I hope you enjoy listening as much as I enjoyed reading.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Book Review: Love That Lasts

Most books I’ve read by Christian authors on love, romance and marriage fall into one of two categories. There are those books that are heavy on psychoanalysis with a dozen warm and fuzzy illustrations to get the few common sense points across. Unfortunately, these rely more on the illustrations than on Scriptural support, if any. These books are usually easy and perhaps quite fun to read, but in the end don’t tell you anything you already didn’t know or leave you wondering if its advice has any foundation in the Bible. The second category of marriage books goes to the other extreme of turning the book into a theological dissertation that leaves the reader finishing the book and wondering what the author said. The idiom “too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good” aptly describes these tomes.

Call me cynical, but when Love That Lasts: When Marriage Meets Grace by Gary and Betsy Ricucci was recommended to my Bible study group, I didn’t have my expectations too high in what the book would have to say. I definitely wanted something different, something that didn’t fall into the above mentioned categories, but didn’t expect it. As soon as we started reading the book, however, I knew that this book was indeed different. The further we got into the book, the more this fact was solidified. Right from the start, it was evident that, while there were certainly plenty of illustrations, the bulk of the book was solidly based on Scripture, but not in a way that made it read like a theological treatise. As author Jerry Bridges puts it in his recommendation on the back of the book, “Love That Lasts is thoroughly biblical, very practical, and quite convicting.” There is one small note worth mentioning in the preface. The authors point out that this book is actually an updated edition of an earlier 1992 printing. The original subtitle was “Making a Magnificent Marriage,” which as the authors point out was “certainly a worthwhile goal, [but] seemed to put the emphasis on human effort, for human ends. The new subtitle, ‘When Marriage Meets Grace,’ reminds us that it is God and his glorious power revealed in the gospel of Jesus Christ that are the beginning, the means, and the goal of marriage.” This change in subtitles points the direction in which the authors are headed and right from the start reveals that this book was indeed different.

The Ricuccis start off by asking some very good questions in how a marriage is defined Biblically. The importance of laying this groundwork is essential in what would follow in the rest of the book. Without this basis, the rest of the book and the teaching of God’s grace in marriage goes out the window. Questions such as “Does your marriage find its purpose primarily in God?” and “Does your marriage find its hope in the gospel of grace?” immediately puts marriage in light of the gospel. While this may sound similar to what other theological marriage books say, the difference is that the Ricuccis don’t stop at talking about the nebulous and abstract ideas, but take it right down to where the rubber meets the road. For example, consider the following points made in discussing the second question:
-“Because of the gospel, Christians have become new creations (2 Cor. 5:17). Therefore, in our marriage, our past does not define us, confine us, or determine our future.”
-“Because of the gospel, we are accepted by God (Romans 15:7). Therefore we are not dependent on a spouse for who we are or what we need.”
-“Because of the gospel, we have hope (Romans 5:1-4). Therefore we can endure any marital difficulty, hardship or suffering with the assurance that God is working all to our greatest good (Romans 8:28)”

Each of these points brings the gospel into everyday life and shows how it should affect a marriage. They conclude this section by saying “Nothing is more essential to a marriage, and nothing brings more hope, than applying the gospel of Jesus Christ.” With these words, the authors are ready to launch into other areas of marriage more commonly thought of when marriage books are considered.

Gary and Betsy each write a chapter directly to either husbands or wives regarding the roles that each bring to a God-honoring marriage. Gary talks about the responsibility of the husband to lead and love his wife in the same manner that Christ leads and loves the church. Here they both do an excellent job of pointing out that while there are differences in roles, these differences in no way imply superiority or inferiority on either the husband’s or the wife’s part. This distinction is made while at the same time affirming the biblical concept of leadership on the husband’s part and submission on the wife’s part. You’ll have to read the book yourself to discover just how they do this!

Three chapters are devoted to the ever-important subject of communication, including what the goal of our communication in marriage should be (intimacy), how husbands and wives communicate differently, what hindrances there can be in developing intimacy, and how to restore intimacy in times of conflict. All of these are wrapped firmly in the cloak of the gospel and how it applies to what our marriages look like. Expect these three chapters to be convicting and to get your toes stepped on!

The last two chapters cover the parts that I’m sure many people turn to first – romance and sex. (I admit it, I skimmed these sections first!) Here, too, the authors bring the topic right back to how our marriage is to be built on Christ, reminding us that God “isn’t just interested in love. He is love (1 John 4:16).” After discussing the “why” of romance, the authors offer some very practical suggestions for the “how” of romance, such as being creative, giving little gestures, and offering spontaneous surprises, having date nights or weekend getaways, and many others. The chapter on sex is candid and includes a section for husbands and a section for wives, both discussing the importance of communication and frank openness that can lead to greater sexual intimacy. As with all the other chapters, this chapter ends by asking “In what area must I improve? Where do I need to grow in order to serve my spouse more effectively…”

What we found especially helpful was the included study guide at the end of the book. Most study guides simply point you to the chapter to find the answer printed somewhere in the text and doesn’t take much thought. These questions, however, while pointing back to the chapters, are more pointed and designed for some serious discussion on how the reader views such and such an issue, or what views the reader had that might agree or disagree with the authors and why. Again, these questions aren’t ones that can be simply answered then forgotten in order to move on to the next one. Questions such as “Ask your wife or fiancĂ©e if any person, activity or possession, at any time, seems more important to you than her,” while they may be difficult to ask and even harder to answer, are designed to put into action what the authors write about.

A key point made near the end of the book summarizes the point Love That Lasts is trying to make: “God’s ultimate purpose for romance is the same as his purpose for marriage: to bring himself glory, to bring us blessing, and to demonstrate the remarkable relationship between Christ and the church.” The Ricuccis write in such a way as to make it crystal clear that their goal was not to simply help people have better marriages, but to have marriages that reflected God and the church. And instead of coming across as either being a psychologist or by being preachy, they write as if they were an older couple mentoring a younger couple, complete with their own flaws readily acknowledged, but ready to help you and your spouse to keep growing in your relationship with each other.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

It's YouTube Tuesday! Enjoy!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Holy Hip Hop

I’ve never been a fan of rap/hip-hop. Just couldn’t get into it, but mainly because of the lyrics. Let’s face it, when you think of rap/hip-hop, you think of guys rapping about the less-than-savory things they like to do and who they’d do them with. I’ve always said that any type of music can be used for the furtherance of the gospel and for the glory of God.

Shai Linne, Timothy Brindle and others at Lamp Mode Recordings are doing an excellent job of changing my mind on the first point and solidifying my belief on the second. As their website says, “We rock truth all up in your stereo.” And truth is exactly what you’ll hear in their music.

I’ve posted a clip of Linne’s song “Jesus is Alive” from his newest album, “The Atonement” an album that centers entirely on the cross of Christ. Before you watch that clip, watch the following interview with Shai Linne in discussing the album. There’s more doctrinal truth in his rap than most other Christian music in stores today. Consider the following quote from the interview:

“One of the things I’ve noticed just as we’ve looked around at what’s been being released in terms of Christian hip-hop, the cross is the kind of thing that has become assumed but not proclaimed.… It’s like, okay, we already know this, we know that Jesus died for our sins. Now let’s move on to ‘whatever.’ So, what happens is after awhile, you move on to the ‘whatever’ and you find yourself talking more about the ‘whatever’ than the actual cross that makes the ‘whatever’ meaningful.”

And now, "Jesus is Alive"

And for an encore, here is Timothy Brindle's "
Humility of Christ"

Sunday, May 18, 2008

I Hate Sundays

I hate Sundays.

There. I've said it. Twice in fact. Not sure if this makes me a bad Christian or not, but it's the truth. I used to enjoy it and look forward to it. Going to church to sing and hear God's Word taught was one of the best things of the week.

Then I had kids.

Now I dread Sunday mornings. My wife and I get up, knowing that the next 5 or 6 hours are going to be grueling. We wake up the two oldest (7 and 3) who, for some reason, are hardly ever in a good mood on Sunday mornings. We fight with Jeremiah to get him to eat the breakfast that only yesterday he was begging for. Carlos complains his tummy hurts, but in the next breath is sure it will feel better once we get to church and he gets a snack in Sunday School. The youngest two (1 and 2 months) are fed, clothed, and re-clothed after one or both has an eruption out of one end or the other. Between all this, we're trying to shower and get ready, too. As we rush out the door (already late), Carlos is asking me to help him with his memory verse so that he can get a prize. Not sure why he couldn't remember during the week, but anyway.

We arrive at church, Carlos is off to his Sunday School class, and my wife takes the three youngest to the nursery where she stays during Sunday School. Off I go to teach my class.

Between S.S. and the church service, I have to discipline Jeremiah for throwing a huge fit because he couldn't have a snack and this is because he didn't eat his breakfast. I drop Natalie off kicking and screaming in her nursery, and we all make our way into the sanctuary. We sing a few songs - or at least, part of them as we keep reminding Carlos to turn around or to stand up or keep Jeremiah from falling off the seat he is trying to stand on. The rest of the service goes pretty much the same. Sarah has to go feed Ben and I eventually have to take Jeremiah out (again!) for more disciplining opportunities. By the time the service is done, I'm exhausted and I honestly couldn't tell you what the sermon was about. I pick Natalie up from the nursery while she lets me know in no uncertain terms she is highly upset at being left in the nursery.

So, yes, I hate Sundays. But this morning, I was greatly encouraged by a couple in our church who I greatly admire and respect, and whose own children are grown now. They had sat behind us in the service and as we were walking out to the van, they said to me, "Stephen, I just want you to know that it does get better. Just remember that right now you are in a training period. You probably can't stand Sundays and we didn't either (they DO know what it's like!!)! Don't expect to get anything from the sermon, but again, remember that you are training your children and teaching them to hear God's Word." I swear, I could have hugged them both! So while Sundays aren't exactly at the top of my list of most favorite days, it helps to know that, first, others have gone through this and survived (their kids too!). And second, I am fulfilling my role as a father, hard as it may be, to teach my children the importance of church and hearing God's word being taught.

And on the way home, Carlos asks if we are going to church this evening, too.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Rip-roaring Trends

Ever notice that trends and fads are usually of a nature that requires you not to think about them for too long? This is because if you do think about it, you’ll easily convince yourself that it ranks high on the list of dumbest things you’ve ever experienced.

Take, for example, the desire to display perfectly good objects as broken, torn, smashed, ripped, cracked, faded or any other form of imperfection. I have no idea when this started, but perhaps it all began when Og the Caveman returned home after a grueling mammoth hunt, his primitive saber-toothed-tiger-hair outfit torn to shreds. His friends see this and Og’s social standing immediately skyrockets since everyone now knows he survived the ordeal, but was close enough to ruin his good hunting cloths. Either that, or Mrs. Og thought “My, how hot is that?!” Before you could say Archaeopteryx, everyone was clamoring for the torn look and the rest is history.

Fast forward a few thousand (or million, depending on your view of earth’s age, but anyway) years and young people still pay big money for jeans that look like they’re ready to be thrown out. Unfortunately, as this generation aged, the need for social acceptance based on wild and crazy hunts didn’t go away. True, they don’t go around wearing jeans with huge holes in the knees (factory installed) anymore, but now this need manifests itself in other ways. Now they sport fake bullet holes on their car, apparently still trying to convey the image that they’ve had a dangerous run in (with someone who obviously can’t shoot) and have lived to tell the tale. Or perhaps instead of the bullet holes, they have a sticker on their window making it look like someone put a baseball halfway through the window. I’m not exactly sure how wanting people to believe your car window has been smashed by an errant baseball fits in with the whole “moving-on-up-the-social-standing-ladder” theory, but I’m working on it. I haven’t done a demographic study of the kind of people who usually have such stickers, but I’d be willing to guess that these are the people who probably wouldn’t be anywhere near a sporting event where there would be a chance of a wayward ball hurtling through their window, but at the same time they want to appear cool.

Computers are by no means exempt. Thanks to Stumbleupon (a very cool Firefox feature, by the way), I came across this article detailing how to create your very own “Sawed Off USB Key.” Why would someone want a computer accessory that looked like a ripped cable and had the potential of being tossed in the trash? Og had no idea what he started.

But of course, my first reaction was “Whoa, how cool is that?!” Then I made the mistake of thinking about it for more than 15 seconds and behold, this blog post was born.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

You said it, Charlie Brown.

I love today’s Peanuts comic strip. It reminds me of what is really important to my kids – having me be there for them. Oh sure, they might get some satisfaction from boasting about some achievement I’ve made. But when it comes right down to it, what trumps anything I could ever add to my resume is if they can say, “My dad stays home nights!"