Monday, June 30, 2008

Music Monday - There is a Higher Throne

By Keith & Kristyn Getty

There is a higher throne
Than all this world has known,
Where faithful ones from ev'ry tongue
Will one day come.
Before the Son we'll stand,
Made faultless through the Lamb;
Believing hearts find promised grace—
Salvation comes.

Hear heaven's voices sing;
Their thund'rous anthem rings
Through em'rald courts and sapphire skies.
Their praises rise.
All glory, wisdom, pow'r,
Strength, thanks, and honor are
To God our King, who reigns on high

And there we'll find our home,
Our life before the throne;
We'll honor Him in perfect song
Where we belong.
He'll wipe each tear-stained eye
As thirst and hunger die.
The Lamb becomes our Shepherd King;
We'll reign with Him.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Grace Abounding

I have just finished another audio recording, this time of a great Christian classic, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners by John Bunyan.

Grace Abounding is the spiritual autobiography of John Bunyan, who also penned Pilgrim’s Progress, perhaps one of the most significant pieces of Christian literature, second only to the Bible. Grace Abounding follows Bunyan’s struggle to find true repentance and forgiveness, his battle with Satan’s temptations of unbelief, his comfort found in the Bible and his overarching victory gotten by the grace of God through Jesus Christ his Son. Readers familiar with Pilgrim’s Progress will recognize that many of the allegorical points in his famous work came out of Bunyan’s own struggles and discoveries, and it has been said that Bunyan could not have written Pilgrim’s Progress without first going through the battles chronicled in Grace Abounding.

If you would like to listen to the unabridged audio book (total run time is just under 4 hours), you can download entirely free by following this link.

Here is an excerpt from the book:

But I had no sooner began to recall to mind my former experience of the goodness of God to my soul, but there came flocking into my mind an innumerable company of my sins and transgressions, amongst which these were at this time most to my affliction, namely, my deadness, dullness, and coldness in holy duties; my wanderings of heart, of my wearisomeness in all good things, my want of love to God, His ways, and people, with this at the end of all, Are these the fruits of Christianity? are these the tokens of a blessed man?

At the apprehension of these things my sickness was doubled upon me, for now was I sick in my inward man, my soul was clogged with guilt; now also was my former experience of God's goodness to me quite taken out of my mind, and hid as if it had never been, nor seen. Now was my soul greatly pinched between these two considerations. Live I must not, Die I dare not; now I sunk and fell in my spirit; and was giving up all for lost; but as I was walking up and down in the house, as a man in a most woeful state, that word of God took hold of my heart, Ye are 'justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus' (Rom. 3.24). But oh, what a turn it made upon me!

Now was I as one awakened out of some troublesome sleep and dream, and listening to this heavenly sentence, I was as if I had heard it thus expounded to me: Sinner, thou thinkest that because of thy sins and infirmities I cannot save thy soul, but behold My Son is by Me, and upon Him I look, and not on thee, and will deal with thee according as I am pleased with Him. At this I was greatly lightened in my mind, and made to understand that God could justify a sinner at any time; it was but His looking upon Christ, and imputing of His benefits to us, and the work was forthwith done.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Music Monday - Gabriel's Oboe

Today’s highlight is from the 1986 film The Mission entitled “Gabriel’s Oboe” composed by Ennio Morricone. It’s an absolutely beautiful and introspective piece of music that you can’t help but be drawn into, tugging at your emotions for some inexplicable reason. I’ve posted two different videos of the song, both well worth watching. In the first video (through 2:23), a single oboist is back by a full orchestra led by Morricone and plays with such intensity and passion. In the second, Chloe Agnew of Celtic Woman sings words (Nella Fantasia) that were originally written to the same tune by Sarah Brightman. Agnew has such a beautiful voice and adds a whole different dimension to the already gorgeous piece. The ease with which she sings the high notes astounds me. The oboist accompanying her is her father, David Agnew. Watch, listen, and enjoy.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Crummy Outlook

I haven't been able to go out and do any train photography for awhile, but with the weather warming up, I might be able to spend a little time on my lunch breaks. Here's a shot I took a few months ago from the MLK Jr. bridge. I call it "Crummy Outlook." On a separate note, there is now a railcam overlooking the Art Musuem, downtown Roanoke and the area of track just behind the museum. Check it out at

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Slow Down and Smell the Asphalt

The group sits in a circle, some lounging easily, talking with some of the others. A few sit tensely, arms crossed, eyes darting back and forth. You can always tell who the newbies are. They probably flipped someone off even on their way to the meeting. Then again, a few old timers still have regressive moments. Okay, time to start.

“Hi everyone, my name is Stephen and I’m a road rager.”

“Hi Stephen,” comes a chorus of replies.

“Thanks to this program, I have been able to slow my driving down, spare my wife a few premature gray hairs, and have even increased my gas mileage.”

[cheering and applause erupts from the group]

“When I first entered this program, I was constantly driving as if I was in a race with the car next to me. You’d have thought we were drag racing when the stop light turned green. Nobody wanted to be stuck behind that car just up ahead doing 30 in a 45 mph zone and it was a race to see who get ahead just enough to either pass him or prevent the other guy from passing him. Sometimes I won, sometimes I didn’t. If I wasn’t pushing 65 mph going home, it wasn’t fast enough.”

“Then gas prices really started going up. That’s when I knew I had to do something. I was consistently getting around 17 miles per gallon. When I found this program, I decided to give it a shot, just to see if I could save some money. And I did! This morning, I filled up my tank (which was still expensive!!) and when I calculated my mileage, I discovered my truck had gotten just over 20 mpg just by slowing down. For you new guys here who are probably pretty skeptical of these claims that not going over 55 mph will get you better gas mileage – it’s true! I use to think this was just some conspiratorial plot by some government safety guy to get us to drive safer, just like those old ladies that watch you to make sure you don’t run with scissors. By not going over 55 mph and accelerating slower, I improved my gas mileage by 3 mpg. That’s an extra 50 miles per tank of gas.”

“But you know, a funny thing happened. By making a habit of driving slowly, I was less stressed out while driving. I didn’t need to worry that I wasn’t the fastest driver out there. I didn’t get annoyed as easily about being stuck behind a slow driver. And by being relaxed, I was in a better mood by the time I got home.”

“That’s my story. Here’s to slowing down!”

Monday, June 16, 2008

Music Monday

Welcome to a new feature on the blog - Music Monday! I hope to post videos of music that has stuck out to me or moved me in some way - sometimes with commentary, sometimes not. I hope you enjoy the feature and if there is any music that you like in particular, I'd love to hear about it!

This week I've been listening to Sing Over Me, a wonderful album that is marketed as lullabies. While the songs certainly have a softer feel to them, the words and style of the music is absolutely amazing. Nichole Nordeman's "You Are Good" is the one song from this album that sticks out to me more than the rest. It is simple, yet offers up such profound truth and comfort in extolling the goodness of God. In the mundane things of life, God is good. When life brings unexpected change, God is good. When it seems like there is no hope for tomorrow, God is good. During the final choruses, the song "It Is Well" is intertwined beautifully, encouraging us that because God is indeed good, it is well with our souls.

When the sun starts to rise and I open my eyes
You are good, so good
In the heat of the day, with each stone that I lay
You are so good
With every breath I take in, I'll tell you I'm grateful again
When the moon climbs high before each kiss goodnight
You are good.

When the road starts to turn, around each bend I've learned
You are good, so good
And when somebody's hand holds me up, helps me stand
You are so good
With every breath I take in, I'll tell you I'm grateful again
Cause it's more than enough just to know I am loved
And you ARE good

So, how can I thank you? What can I bring?
What can these poor hands lay at the feet of a King?
So I'll sing you a love song, It's all that I have
To tell you I'm grateful for holding my life in Your hands.

When it's dark and it's cold, and I can't feel my soul
You are so good
When the world has gone gray, and the rain's here to stay
You are still good
So with every breath I take in, I'll tell you I'm grateful again
And the storm may swell, even then 'It is Well'

So, how can I thank you? What can I bring?
What can these poor hands lay at the feet of a King?
So I'll sing you this love song, It's all that I have
To tell you I'm grateful for holding my life in Your hands

I'll sing you a love song! It's all that I have!
To tell you I'm grateful for holding my life in Your hands!!

Friday, June 6, 2008

The Audacity of Death

This is one reason why I will not be voting for Barack Obama.

The Audacity of Death

By Daniel Allott

According to Barack Obama, Gianna Jessen shouldn't exist.

Miss Jessen is an exquisite example of what anti-abortion advocates call a "survivor." Well into her third trimester of pregnancy, Gianna's biological mother was injected with a saline solution intended to induce a chemical abortion at a Los Angeles County abortion center. Eighteen hours later, and precious minutes before the abortionist's arrival, Gianna emerged. Premature and with severe injuries that resulted in cerebral palsy. But alive.

Had the abortionist been present at her birth, Gianna would have been killed, perhaps by suffocation. As it was, a startled nurse called an ambulance, and Gianna was rushed to a nearby hospital, where, weighing just two pounds, she was placed in an incubator, then, months later, in foster care.

Gianna survived then, and thrives now (see for yourself here), because, as she told me recently with a laugh, "I guess I don't die easy." Which is what the abortionist may have thought as he signed his victim's birth certificate. Gianna's medical records state that she was "born during saline abortion."

As an Illinois state senator, Barack Obama twice opposed legislation to define as "persons" babies who survive late-term abortions. Babies like Gianna. Obama said in a speech on the Illinois Senate floor that he could not accept that babies wholly emerged from their mother's wombs are "persons," and thus deserving of equal protection under the Constitution's 14th Amendment.

A federal version on the same legislation passed the Senate unanimously and with the support of all but 15 members of the House of Representatives. Gianna was present when President Bush signed the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act in 2002.

When I asked Gianna to reflect on Obama's candidacy, she paused, then said, "I really hope the American people will have their eyes wide open and choose to be discerning....He is extreme, extreme, extreme."

"Extreme" may not be the impression the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have bought Obama's autobiography have been left with. In The Audacity of Hope, Obama's presidential manifesto, he calls abortion "undeniably difficult," "a very difficult issue," "never a good thing" and "a wrenching moral issue."

He laments his party's "litmus test" for "orthodoxy" on abortion and other issues, and even admits, "I do not presume to know the answer to that question." That question being the moral status of the fetus, who he nonetheless concedes has "moral weight."

Those Statements are seriously made but, alas, cannot be taken at all seriously. Obama has compiled a 100 percent lifetime "pro-choice" voting record, including votes against any and all restrictions on late-term abortions and parental involvement in teenagers' abortions.

To Obama, abortion, or "reproductive justice," is "one of the most fundamental rights we possess." And he promises, "the first thing I'd do as president is sign the Freedom of Choice Act," which would over-turn hundreds of federal and state laws limiting abortion, including the federal ban on partial-birth abortion and bans on public funding of abortion.

Then there's Obama's aforementioned opposition to laws that protect babies born-alive during botched abortions. If partial-birth abortion is, as Democratic icon Daniel Patrick Moynihan labeled it, "too close to infanticide," then what is killing fully-birthed babies?

On the campaign trail, Obama seldom speaks about abortion and its related issues. But his few moments of candor are illuminative. When speaking extemporaneously, Obama will admit things like "I don't want [my daughters] punished with a baby." Or he'll say that voting for legislation allowing Terri Schiavo's family to take its case from state courts to federal courts in an effort to stop her euthanasia was his "biggest mistake" in the Senate. Biggest mistake?

Worst of all are Obama's accusations against anti-abortion advocates. He recently compared his relationship with unrepentant domestic terrorist William Ayers, a member of a group responsible for bombing government buildings, to his friendship with stalwart pro-life doctor and Senator Tom Coburn.

In his campaign book, Obama accuses "most anti-abortion activists" of secretly desiring more partial-birth abortions "because the image the procedure evokes in the mind of the public has helped them win converts to their position."

All this explains why the National Abortion Rights Action League voted unanimously to endorse Obama over Hillary Clinton, as did abortion activist Frances Kissling, who called Hillary "not radical enough on abortion."

It's surprising that 18 to 30 year olds, the most pro-life demographic in a generation, is the same voting bloc from which Barack Obama, the most anti-life presidential candidate ever, draws his most ardent supporters.

What's not surprising is that Gianna Jessen, who turned 31 last month, plans not to support Obama.

In The Audacity of Hope, Obama denounces abortion absolutism on both ends of the ideological spectrum. That is audacious indeed considering Obama's record, which epitomizes the very radicalism and extremism he denounces.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Book Review: God At Work

In evangelical Christian circles, you might often hear the encouragement to “do everything to the glory of God,” an exhortation taken from 1 Cor. 10:31. But just what this means or how this is to be done more often than not goes unsaid and ends up coming across as a meaningless platitude. While Christians should indeed pursue the glory of God in everything they do, how to go about doing this can sometimes remain a mystery.

In God At Work, Gene Edward Veith seeks to help Christians in understanding what has been called the doctrine of vocation, crediting much of his writing to Gustaf Wingren who in turn wrote on Martin Luther’s stance on the doctrine. It would be safe to say that this book is largely about how Christians interact with their culture and how indeed Christians find the presence of God in the ordinary, everyday activities of life.

For example, when we ask God to “give us this day our daily bread,” Veith writes sensibly that in meeting this provision, God does not simply rain down bread from heaven, although this certainly isn’t impossible as was shown during the Israelites’ journey from Egypt. Rather, God provides our needs by the hand of the farmer who grows the wheat, the baker who put this and other ingredients together to make the bread, and the many other people involved in the process. Or when we are sick and pray for healing, while God may indeed choose to miraculously heal us without any human intervention, the more common method is using the knowledge of physicians to diagnose and treat the illness.

Vocation then, according to Veith, is seeing how we and those around us interact with one another through roles God has placed us in and how God is honored when we do so. Veith rightly and quickly points out that while our relationship to God is not based on how we live out our vocation, our relationship to our neighbors is. He quotes Gustaf Wingren in saying “God does not need our good works, but our neighbor does.”

Chapters discuss how a person goes about determining what his or her vocation is, how we are to live within the vocations we have been given, and what certain vocations look like, namely in the family, in the citizenry and in the church. Veith provides an excellent discussion on how Christians interact with the culture around them in each of these areas, bringing it back to showing just how this does indeed bring glory to God.

Two areas are worth mentioning in detail, one good and one not so good. First, Veith excellently points out that the work that a Christian does most often will not look any different than the same kind of work a non-Christian does. As he puts it, “There is no distinctly Christian way of being a carpenter or an actor or a musician. Christian and non-Christian factory workers, farmers, lawyers, and bankers do pretty much the same thing.” The key to recognizing the difference between the Christian’s and the non-Christian’s vocation is that “Spiritually the Christian’s life is hidden with Christ in God” and that “just doing our jobs” is found in “ordinary men and women expressing their love and service to their neighbor.”

The not-so-good detail is that in one section of the book, Veith argues that our vocations are not our choice and are out of control, yet later seems to imply just the opposite. I can understand that our backgrounds and capabilities (physical, mental, etc) control our options as well as the desires of others (in other words, I can’t marry a girl who wants nothing to do with me!). The problem is that he then carries this forward to an illogical and incorrect assumption that ALL choices are outside of our control.

This last point aside, however, this is a great book for providing a framework in viewing how we as Christians interact with the world around us. Veith aptly points out that we are not called to be Christians who sit in a monastery, isolating ourselves from the world, but that it is our responsibility to reach out and serve those around us.