Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Favorite Books of 2013

At the beginning of the year I set a goal for myself to read 25 books this year and blog about each one. Of course I did neither of those things. However, I did manage to read a few books this year that really had an impact on me. The following list (in no particular order) are the books that I read this year that stood out as my favorites. Not all of these books were published this year but were simply books I read during the year.

Mansfield's Book of Manly Men by Stephen Mansfield

Our culture has tried to redefine what it means to truly mean to be a man to the point that most men don't know what is expected of them. What does it really take to be a man? How can a man become his most masculine self? These are the questions that Stephen Mansfield addresses in this excellent book. It is a call to action for men everywhere to become the men that they are supposed to be. I heartily recommend this book.

A Higher Call by Adam Makos

As a history buff, I enjoy hearing stories of our past particularly those set against the backdrop of World War II. I think we often make the mistake of thinking that all Germans were Nazis and that there were no men of honor in their armed forces. Not true as we find out in this excellent book. This is a story about honor that we don't hear about much anymore. A small gesture in the midst of battle would forever change the lives of two men. This is a book that reads more like a novel than non-fiction.

Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung

Busyness is a trap that we all seem to fall into. Technology that is supposed to make our lives easier only compounds the problem. How do we become so frightfully busy? More importantly, what do we do about it? Kevin DeYoung offers some insight into the sin of busyness and challenges  us to think about how we use our time to avoid the trap of being too busy.

The Happiest Life by Hugh Hewitt

Those who are living truly happy lives are those who live their lives as givers. There are gifts that they give to others that serve as an encouragement to others and at the same time enrich their own lives. As we enter 2014, pledge to become a giver of the gifts that Hugh Hewitt outlines in this book. Follow the examples he provides through numerous personal anecdotes and see the tremendous change that will come about as a result.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain

Our world cherishes and applauds the extrovert. We have this false picture that in order to be successful in life we need to be outgoing and gregarious all the time. But there is great power in being an introvert. In fact, introverts should be embracing who they are and realize there are tremendous assets in having an introverted personality. I found this book particularly encouraging as it helped me realize it was not only just okay to be an introvert but it is something I should embrace and use to my advantage.

Daily Links 12-31-13

In today's roundup:  how to make perfect lemonade, how to be your most productive, who belongs in Baseball's Hall of Fame, and more.


According to this post, the secret to making perfect lemonade is to rub sugar on the lemon peels first. This looks like it is worth a try.


This seems a little counterintuitive: schedule your most important tasks of the day at 5 p..m.  The only thing I am likely to be focused on at that point will be quitting for the day.


Peter Gammons weighs in on who he thinks belongs in the Hall of Fame.


There's been a lot of discussion about the fact that kids are leaving church in droves particularly once they reach college age. However, here are three notable characteristics of kids who don't leave church.


A fascinating list of 11 things you won't see in movie theaters any more. I am actually old enough to remember when some of these things were common in theaters.


The history behind the ad campaign that tried to convince people that coffee was bad for kids.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Book Review:The Happiest Life by Hugh Hewitt

What are the hallmarks of someone who is truly happy? How can you tell that someone has a happy life? More importantly, how can you achieve that same happiness in your own life?

These are all questions that radio talk show host and blogger Hugh Hewitt addresses in his latest book The Happiest Life which will be released on January 7th.

In the first half of the book, he focuses on the characteristics that exemplify someone who not only is happy themselves but is also concerned with increasing the happiness in others. Those gifts are encouragement, energy, enthusiasm, empathy, good humor, graciousness, and gratitude. Through a number of personal stories he provides concrete examples of individuals who personify each of these gifts.

In the second half, he turns his attention on the givers explaining how the gifts are incorporated into the lives of individuals as parents, spouses, teachers, family members, friends, co-workers, and even as churches.

As I was reading through the book I found the numerous anecdotes and personal experiences from over a decade in talk radio. No doubt Mr. Hewitt has had some amazing opportunities to converse with a broad range of fascinating individuals. As a keen observer of human behavior he has been able to use those experiences to draw out the lessons of the book.

But the most important point he makes is the one that is absolutely inescapable: true happiness cannot be achieved apart from a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. If Christ is dwelling within you than these gifts will naturally spring forth from you to those around you.

A life of significance is one that is lived for others rather than oneself. In The Happiest Life, Hugh Hewitt has not only shown us how this is possible but has given us numerous tangible examples of how that life is being lived by others. We would do well to learn the lessons from this book and commit to being the type of giver that he describes in this book. I heartily recommend The Happiest Life.

Note: An advance electronic copy of the book was made available by the publisher for this review. No consideration was received apart from the book in exchange for this review.

Daily Links 12-30-13

Good morning. Here are a collection of links that will help start your week off right. In today's edition: minimalist Disney posters, the art of conversation, reflections from Richard Sherman, and more.


A really cool collection of minimalist Disney posters.

Hat tip: Neatorama


Seven weird (and sometimes dangerous) ways that kids amused themselves before video games.


Author Sherry Turkle is on a mission to save the lost art of conversation:

The conclusion she’s arrived at while researching her new book is not, technically, that we’re not talking to each other. We’re talking all the time, in person as well as in texts, in e-mails, over the phone, on Facebook and Twitter. The world is more talkative now, in many ways, than it’s ever been. The problem, Turkle argues, is that all of this talk can come at the expense of conversation. We’re talking at each other rather than with each other.
Conversations, as they tend to play out in person, are messy—full of pauses and interruptions and topic changes and assorted awkwardness. But the messiness is what allows for true exchange. It gives participants the time—and, just as important, the permission—to think and react and glean insights. “You can’t always tell, in a conversation, when the interesting bit is going to come,” Turkle says. “It’s like dancing: slow, slow, quick-quick, slow. You know? It seems boring, but all of a sudden there’s something, and whoa.
Occasional dullness, in other words, is to be not only expected, but celebrated. Some of the best parts of conversation are, as Turkle puts it, “the boring bits.” In software terms, they’re features rather than bugs.

Hat tip: Acculturated


Speaking of conversation, here is some timeless advice on the art of conversation from 1866.


Richard Sherman reflects on what it was like to work on bringing Mary Poppins to the screen with her creator, P. L. Travers:

"Nobody knows the Sturm und Drang we went though," said a vigorous Mr. Sherman last month, sitting near his two Oscars and assorted other honors in the library of the spacious Tudor-style house he has lived in for some 40 years. "Let me make a calculated understatement: She was a very difficult woman. It was awful to be in a room where everything you said was contradicted. She made us feel terrible constantly. But Walt said: 'Don't let her get to you. Just keeping doing what you do.'" 

As depicted in "Saving Mr. Banks"—and corroborated on audio tapes made at her insistence during story conferences—Travers was as determined to exclude songs or animation from any adaptation of "Mary Poppins" as Disney was to include those very things. "She didn't recognize that her character lent itself to a musical," Mr. Sherman recalled. "She had no imagination for other mediums, just the page. We added to what she had already created."

Travers wrote eight "Mary Poppins" books before she died, at age 96, in 1996, but in the 1960s there were only five—all loose collections of vignettes ill-suited, in their original form, to screen adaptation. "Everybody thinks Mrs. Travers wrote the story for the film, but it was Don DaGradi and Bob and Dick Sherman who wrote it," Mr. Sherman said. "Walt asked us to read the first book and tell him what we thought. We knew the gauntlet had been thrown. But these stories had no plot, so we created a viable storyline. And then Bill Walsh came in and made a great screenplay with Don."


Three influential writers share why they blog. I think folks will start blogging for any number of reasons and all three have some interesting things to say about writing and why they have chosen to blog.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Weekend Playlist: Sweet Pea

This week's selection is another in a long line of Pandora songs. I listen to Pandora a lot (probably too much) and continue to be amazed at how well they can tailor song selections based on a user's tastes. I had never heard this song before finding it on Pandora but I liked it the first time I heard it. It has a little flavor of Dixieland to it. Overall it's just a fun song and I think that's probably why it appeals to me so much. Enjoy.

Daily Links 12-27-13

In today's edition: the story behind the iconic moonrise photo from Apollo 8, how we need men of gravitas, historic speeches no one has ever heard, and more.


This week marked 45 years since the Apollo 8 moon mission which was the first mission to achieve lunar orbit. NASA has produced this video narrated by Andrew Chaikin, author of the excellent book A Man on the Moon, which explains how the crew managed to capture the photograph.


On a related note, Rick Moran reflects on how Apollo 8 saved 1968. He's absolutely right that if the astronauts had tried the same thing today they would be fired.


This is interesting: A list of speeches that no one has ever heard. Including the speech drafted by Richard Nixon's speechwriting team to be delivered in case the Apollo 11 moon landing failed.


A call for men to be real men in this article entitled "Dude, Where's Your Gravitas?"

Our culture wants men to be featherweights when it comes to conviction, seriousness, responsibility, discipline, courage, and truth. The Creator of these men does not. He wants gravitas.
Gravitas comes from the Latin gravis, which means “dignity, seriousness, or solemnity of manner.” In line with the expectation upon men seen in the entire breadth of Scripture, it is my argument that every Christian man should aim, by God’s grace and for his glory, to be characterized by this trait, with the effect that people can look at him and say, “That is a man of gravitas. There is a solemn weight to the way he carries himself. He believes in truth. He walks in love, joy, passion, and conviction. There’s an undeniable winsome seriousness evident in his character, his words, his thoughts, and his motivations.”
Hat tip: Challies


Three steps to becoming a more effective reader. I'm planning to do more reading in the coming year. Having a few books on my nightstand from Christmas doesn't hurt, either.


How about a little coffee shop tourism? Here are 7 must-see shops.


Thursday, December 26, 2013

Daily Links 12-26-13

In today's roundup of links: productivity tips from the book of Proverbs, things Christians should stop saying, being careful about what you share on the internet, and more.


This is interesting: a list of 22 productivity tips from the book of Proverbs. (Hat tip: Aaron Armstrong)

The Book of Proverbs has a lot to say about productivity. Not only does it teach us how we can be more productive, it teaches how we can be more biblically productive. 
Some of these principles you can find in secular productivity literature today. (Indeed, many of the proverbs can be found in secular ancient Near East literature, verbatim.) But seeing them in God-breathed Scripture reminds us to adopt those principles with a God-centered perspective. Other principles in the list don’t get as much ink or pixels in productivity books or blogs. Let us consider how to incorporate those in our mindset and our workflow, so that we can glorify God all the more in the work that we do. 


A list of five things that Christians should stop saying. I agree with every single one especially #1 and #3.


A warning to be careful about what we share on the internet:

It can happen to any of us. It does happen to almost all of us. 
We see a story online that shocks us and seems just true enough. 
Normally, we check things out before we share them, but this is so unbelievable we need to get the news out as soon as possible. 
We post it on Facebook or retweet it. Before we know it, others have shared the story.
Only then do we find out the truth – it was fake.

Some enterprising Arizona State University students have converted retired food trucks into bookmobiles. What a great idea. (Hat tip: Book Riot)


Why C. S. Lewis still matters fifty years after his death.


The delightful love letter from Mark Twain to his wife on the occasion of their sixth wedding anniversary.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Daily Links 12-24-13

Good morning! Here are a few links to brighten your day: how A Charlie Brown Christmas almost didn't get made, being offended, male friendship and the lost art of conversation, and more.


It's a safe bet that if A Charlie Brown Christmas was being pitched to television executives today there is no way the program would get made. A brief look at the special's history explains why.


On being "offended":

No one has a right not to be offended. Sometimes there are questions of such importance that we are compelled to engage in public discussion knowing that it will be upsetting to do so. Imagine how you would feel if someone suggested that you shouldn't be allowed to argue for positions with which they disagree simply because they are incapable of controlling their emotions.



A library designed to look like a bookstore:



Speaking of libraries, one Ohio library unearthed quite a surprise: a first edition of A Christmas Carol was in their collection.


A collection of 12 epic reading rooms:

I want one.

Hat tip: Book Riot


Why we sing Auld Lang Syne on New Years' Eve.


A wonderful piece from Acculturated on male friendship and the lost art of conversation:

Men tend to take more time to reach the good depths of conversation, the deep personal stuff that women can plumb to in a few minutes. This is why I believe that one of the factors leading to the erosion of male friendships is that our digital culture doesn’t allow men the time necessary to truly talk to each other, and thus get to know and love each other. I went to high school at an all-boys Prep school in the 1980s, and while a lot of the usual male traits were evident at the place – drinking, girl chasing, sports obsession – there was also the cultivation of conversation. We didn’t have cell phones. We would routinely stay up all night talking, especially in the summer when we would spend weekends at the beach. It was in such conversations that deep bonds were forged. You might start out the night with jokes and sports and girl talk, but as the hours passed you’d move into the heavier stuff: God, the meaning of life, what you live for, what makes you cry. A particularly vivid memory is when a popular kid was killed in a drunk driving accident. After the funeral a bunch of us went up to the roof of an apartment building where his family lived and stayed up all night talking. There was no bleeping iPhone, no constant texting to interrupt the rhythm of the journey ever deeper into a genuine and non-sexual intimacy. It just took us longer to deal with the heavy stuff than the girls, who were more in touch with their emotions.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Daily Links 12-23-13

A roundup of links to get your week off to a great start. In today's edition: the pros and cons of the new NIV, hilarious warning labels, advice on being a better writer, and more.


This is a great side-by-side comparison of the original 1984 NIV and the 2011 updated NIV. I still have a 1984 NIV and will use it from time to time in my own personal Bible study. However, I am not comfortable with the new NIV for reasons that are well documented in this article. (Hat tip: Challies)


Via Neatorama, a hilarious collection of warning labels. It's sad to think that we have declined to a point in this country where such labels are necessary.


It's not politically correct to say so but the fact is that both boys and girls do better when their father and mother are together. It's even more politically incorrect to point out that it's the boys who suffer disproportionately when the family disintegrates.


Here are six pieces of advice from successful writers on how to become a better writer. The first step is easy. Write. Then write some more. Repeat.


From the Smithsonian, the wonderful history of the crossword puzzle which just turned 100.


Before there were e-books, paperback books turned the publishing world upside down.


Finally, Opening Day of the 2014 Major League Baseball season is still a few months off but here's a little something that makes me wish it was back a lot sooner: a 1998 clip of Vin Scully singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame".

Friday, December 20, 2013

Weekend Playlist: It's Been Going 'Round

Today's selection is what I consider a coffee house song. By that, I mean an acoustic song by a singer/songwriter that is typically heard in a coffee shop. If you're a SiriusXM subscriber just flip over to The Coffee House to get an idea of what I mean. (Side note: I'm amazed at the number of coffee shops I walk in to that are actually playing the channel in the background)

Anyway, this particular song is one that I happened to discover while listening to the Coffee House. But this particular version is a little unique. It's referred to as a Trolley Show. The video is part of a series of songs that were filmed on a trolley. It's actually a whole lot of fun. It also requires the songwriter to strip the song down to its barest essentials. This, in my opinion, just increases the appeal of the song. Hope you like it.

Daily Links 12-20-13

Some interesting links for your weekend reading: America and the culture of vulgarity, combating legalism, why men don't listen, and more.


Interesting thoughts on the coarsening of American culture from Dr. Albert Mohler:

The collapse of the barrier between popular culture and decadence has released a toxic mudslide of vulgarity into the nation’s family rooms—and just about everywhere else. There is almost no remote corner of this culture that is not marked by the toleration of vulgarity, or the outright celebration of depravity. 
Lee Siegel has seen this reality, and he doesn’t like it. “When did the culture become so coarse?,” he asks, adding: “It’s a question that quickly gets you branded as either an unsophisticated rube or some angry culture warrior.” 
Siegel wants us all to know that he is neither unsophisticated nor a culture warrior. In his recent feature essay in The Wall Street Journal, “America the Vulgar,” Siegel recites his cultural bona fides. As he relates, “I miss a time when there were powerful imprecations instead of mere obscenity—or at least when sexual innuendo, because it was innuendo, served as a delicious release of tension between our private and public lives.” 


Dealing with the problem of legalism:

The “L” word. It’s one of the ugliest of all words: legalism. Defined as the idea that we can earn right standing with God, it does violence to the glorious gospel of Christ. It says, “No, sorry, it’s not enough,” to the substitutionary atoning work of Christ. It confuses the way to forgiveness, it tarnishes the gospel of grace, it lays up heavy burdens that no one can carry, it crushes hope, and fuels despair. It declares that man possesses finesse to propitiate the just wrath of God due our sin. For that, legalism is deadly and must be opposed at every level. Paul called it another gospel whose proponents are condemned (Gal 1:8-9).
Consequently, labeling something/one legalistic ought to be done with caution. To bring the charge is to say that this thing or person is in danger of propagating an unsavable system and trampling the cross of Christ. So if we label something legalistic, we better thoroughly understand the gospel, the definition of legalism, and what exactly is happening with what we are labeling as legalistic. Otherwise, we are sinning by erroneously labeling something in opposition to the cross of Jesus Christ.


Kevin DeYoung has some tough questions for those he refers to as the semi-churched:

This is one of those posts I've wanted to write for awhile, but I wasn't sure how to say what I think needs to be said. The danger of legalism and false guilt is very real. But so is the danger of disobedience and self-deception.
I want to talk about church members who attend their home church with great irregularity. These aren't unchurched folks, or de-churched, or under-churched. They are semi-churched. They show up some of the time, but not every week. They are on again/off again, in and out, here on Sunday and gone for two. That's the scandal of the semi-churched. In fact,Thom Rainer argues that the number one reason for the decline in church attendance is that church members don't go to church as often as they used to. 
We've had Christmas and Easter Christians for probably as long as we've had Christmas and Easter. Some people will always be intermittent with their church attendance. I'm not talking about nominal Christians who wander into church once or twice a year. I'm talking about people who went through the trouble of joining a church, like their church, have no particular beef with the church, and still only darken its doors once or twice a month. If there are churches with membership rolls much larger than their average Sunday attendance, they have either under-shepherds derelict in their duties, members faithless in theirs, or both.
I know we are the church and don't go to church (blah, blah, blah), but being persnickety about our language doesn't change the exhortation of Hebrews 10:25. We should not neglect to meet together, as some are in the habit of doing. Gathering every Lord's Day with our church family is one of the pillars of mature Christianity. 


Matt Walsh has some observations on why guys don't listen and what we can do about it.


House plans from classic novels:

More novels featured at the link.


A collection of vintage ads for libraries and reading:

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Daily Links 12-19-13

In today's edition: how Tom Hanks became Walt Disney, fun facts about Mary Poppins, the psychology of grocery stores, and more.


Tom Hanks portrays Walt Disney in the new movie Saving Mr. Banks which opens nationwide tomorrow. Here's the story behind how he transformed himself into the entertainment icon:

“This film portrays a side of Disney we haven’t seen before,” Director John Lee Hancock reveals.
“It’s not the Walt we know from The Wonderful World of Disney, which was fun to explore,” Hancock continues, “but, someone had to play Walt Disney, become Walt Disney. Who would that be? There was really only one person that all of us could think of—Tom. I wasn’t trying to put a rubber mask on Tom and make him look exactly like Disney. I wanted Walt Disney to come from inside. Tom is such a fine actor that that’s where he begins his work—from the inside. 
“Tom grew his own mustache,” Hancock continues in describing Hanks’ physical “transformation” for the role. “There’s a lot of voice work, the way he walks, the body position, the way he holds his hands, the way he touches his mustache. How he phrases things and lets sentences roll off the end. He simply became Walt Disney to me and I was completely amazed.”


And, since we are on the subject of Mary Poppins, here are 21 things about the film you probably didn't know.


This looks like a fun site: Pulp! the Classics.


Yes, the way your grocery store is laid out is designed to mess with your head:

As we’ve seen in Guy’s Grocery Games, navigating a grocery store is not an easy feat. You go in for milk and leave with six bottles of wine (on sale!) and a bag of chips. Our friendly grocers are just honest businesspeople trying to sell some food. We would never accuse them of Jedi mind tricks. 
Okay, yes we would. No consumer arena has been as psychoanalyzed as much as the grocery store. Like any responsible business owner, grocers have studied their consumers and learned what makes us tick. Often referred to as “the racetrack,” a grocery store is designed to get you into the “track” and make you go as slowly as possible through every aisle. Most of the major products have been strategically placed to maximize your time and money spent.


The incredible story of one of the most amazing pieces of music every written, George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue (complete with links to the song).


Some words of wisdom from Casey Stengel

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Daily Links 12-18-13

Good morning! In today's roundup of links: bestowing a long overdue honor, surprising ways to make decisions, Frozen, Saving Mr. Banks, Tim Keller on pastors who write books, and more.


Tony LaRussa, Bobby Cox, and Joe Torre are all being inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame next year for their managerial careers and rightly so. But there's another inductee who is receiving some long overdue recognition as well: Roger Angell. Follow the link for a sampling of his terrific work. (Hat tip: Book Riot)


Six surprising ways to make decisions. It's an interesting list.


Another interesting review of Mansfield's Book of Manly Men: An Utterly Invigorating Guide to Being Your Most Masculine Self.  Perhaps most interesting is that it is written by a woman.


Disney celebrates sisterly love in Frozen. Haven't seen it yet (at least as of the writing of this post) but plan to take the family soon.


Speaking of Disney, another movie I am looking forward to seeing is Saving Mr. Banks. Here's a list of 10 things you should know about this real life story.


Tim Keller on whether pastors should consider writing as part of their ministry and when they should start to write books:

Pastors can write as a valid part of pastoral ministry. It is part of the ministry of the Word. The ministry of the Word does not mean only the spoken word. But when they should write is the question.
I don't think ministers should produce much in the way of book-length writing in the first half or even two-thirds of their ministry. Why? 
1. Because they are still growing in their wisdom and understanding of the Word, and they are likely to change their mind on some things. 
2. Because (yes) it will distract them from the two main ways they can grow into wise and skillful ministers with something to say. Those two things are regular preaching/teaching and a lot of pastoral involvement. 
3. I think younger ministers should earn their credibility through building up some fruitful and effective ministries. That takes literally all one's time for a long time. They should not divert valuable time for ministry to writing. I know that if a young minister sees his church grow rapidly he will be bombarded with offers to write books, but even if his church grows to thousands of people by the time he is in his early 30s, he is still not really time-tested, nor does he yet have the insights and knowledge of the Bible he will have later.
4. If you wait to write until you are older, the writing will go much faster, because you will have reams of material and many layers of thought about a lot of subjects and texts. Writing a book in your 50s will go twice as fast and be twice as good as if you try the same book in your 30s. It's just good stewardship to wait.

Hat tip: Justin Taylor via Twitter

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Daily Links 12-17-13

In this morning's roundup: how to deal with a job you don't like, responding to the "In Christ Alone controversy", lessons from It's A Wonderful Life, and more.


From the indispensable Art of Manliness, how to deal with a job you don't like. These are some really good tips that anyone in the workplace should consider since it's more than likely you're going to have at least one job you're not going to enjoy over the course of your career.


Some thoughts on developing skills in critical thinking. This is something that's not only confined to reviewing books but in other areas as well. By the way, I agree with the author's assertion that it's a good idea to occasionally read books that I am not likely to line up with theologically. It is a helpful process.


Bull Durham on Broadway? I'm not sure how I feel about that.


Mark Driscoll has been a hot topic of conversation in Christian circles over a lack of citation of sources in his latest book. But that's not the real problem. Nor is plagiarism. The real problem is the lack of attribution for those who helped him write the book. 


Keith Getty, co-writer of "In Christ Alone" responds to criticism of the song. Two groups had wanted a lyric changed that dealt with the fact that God's wrath was satisfied through Christ's death on the cross. Here is Getty's succinct answer on why it was important that the lyric was not changed:

First, it's important to express how truly honored we feel that these groups would consider adding "In Christ Alone" to their hymnals. We support the approach they take of studying the lyrics of hymns as they select music worthy to be sung and preserved. 
However, we believe altering the lyrics would remove an essential part of the gospel story as explained throughout Scripture. The main thread of what we see revealed throughout the Old and New Testament is the need for man to be made right with God. The provided path toward reconciliation came through Christ's predetermined and perfect sacrifice on the cross, satisfying God's wrath once and for all. The two hymnal committees wanted to change the lyrics to focus on how Christ's death on the cross magnifies God's love for the world. And indeed, God's love was magnified on Calvary's hill. Yet the way this occurred was through Christ doing for us what we could not do for ourselves—shedding his own perfect blood to atone for our sins.

Be sure to read the whole thing. (Hat tip: Challies)


7 enduring lessons from It's a Wonderful Life.


Finally, a little Calvin and Hobbes:

Monday, December 16, 2013

Daily Links 12-16-13

Good morning. Here's an assortment of links to help you start off your work week. In today's post: why Switchfoot won't sing Christian songs, church worship centers are getting smaller, letters from Presidents, and more.


Switchfoot lead singer Jon Foreman was asked if they are a Christian band. His response is worth reading and considering carefully. (Hat tip: Blogging Theologically)


Nine reasons to consider verse-by-verse preaching. Some interesting thoughts here on how pastors should consider changing their preaching style to reach the millenial generation. (Hat tip: Challies)


Via Mental Floss, a collection of ten wonderful letters from Presidents from the Letters of Note archive. Here's my personal favorite from Ronald Reagan while governor of California to his wife Nancy:

My Darling Wife
This note is to warn you of a diabolical plot entered into by some of our so called friends - (ha!) calendar makers and even our own children. These and others would have you believe we've been married 20 years. 20 minutes maybe - but never 20 years.
In the first place it is a known fact that a human cannot sustain the high level of happiness I feel for more than a few minutes - and my happiness keeps increasing.
I will confess to one puzzlement but I'm sure it is just some trick perpetrated by our friends - (Ha again!) I can't remember ever being without you and I know I was born more than 20 mins ago.
Oh well - that isn't important. The important thing is I don't want to be without you for the next 20 years, or 40, or however many there are. I've gotten very used to being happy and I love you very much indeed.
Your Husband of 20 something or other.


Some useful tips on how to increase comprehension of what you are reading.


After years of churches building larger and larger worship centers it looks like they are going to start getting smaller. Thom Rainer has seven reasons to explain this trend.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Daily Links 12-13-13

For your weekend reading enjoyment: the music of Mary Poppins, how to drive in icy conditions, the Lost Colony of Roanoke County may have been found, pigeons and bats as bomb guidance systems, and more.


Richard Sherman, one of the composers of Mary Poppins reflects on the difficult time he and his brother Robert had on dealing with author P. L. Travers. It's hard to imagine the movie without their music.


J. I. Packer's Knowing God is forty years old and still a beloved classic:

Forty years after its publication in 1973, Knowing God continues to bless readers around the world. It continues to inspire authors, too, as it does what very few books have been able to do: present page after page of carefully nuanced Christian doctrine in a style that people actually enjoy reading
In so many churches, even those that pride themselves on serious preaching, you will hear pastors pause apologetically to warn their congregations, "Now, I'm afraid we have to stop here for a moment for some theology."
(One wonders, of course, what they thought they were doing before that, and what they think they will be doing after the dread theological interlude….) 
J. I. Packer's Knowing God, however, makes no apology for theology. Or, rather, it does: itdefends the value of theology from its very first pages, both telling and showing that knowledge of God, while it might pose dangers to conceited souls that delight in condemning other people's doctrinal shortcomings, is nonetheless essential to knowing God: to loving and serving and enjoying this Person at the center of our lives and our cosmos.


Six embarassing things that you do and why. Yes, I will confess to having done most of these things (but I won't say which ones).


Don't tell PETA: how pigeons and bats were used in experimental bomb guidance systems during World War II.


Researchers believe they may have unearthed clues that will help them figure out what happened to the Lost Colony of Roanoke County. (Hat tip: Neatorama)


Lifehacker tip of the day: how you can use the floor mats of your car to drive in icy conditions.


In the 19th century, arsenic was the murder's poison of choice. Here's a fascinating article explaining its colorful history.


Nine lies the media likes to spread about evangelicals. The author is right in stating that some of these lies are ones that some (but not all) Christians help perpetuate.

Weekend Playlist - Isn't This a Lovely Day

I've mentioned it before but it's worth repeating: one of the most ingenious pairings in music history has to be that of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. Never before had two singers with such different styles been paired together with such tremendous success.

It's a Lovely Day is not necessarily their best known duet. But thanks in part to wonderful writing by Irving Berlin (what else would you expect?) this is quite a gem of a song. This is just another example of what a wonderful pair Fitzgerald and Armstrong made. Enjoy.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Daily Links 12-12-13

In today's link roundup: some neat history, Stephen Mansfield on why he wrote his latest book, behind the scenes of Disney animated movies, how to listen to music, and more.


This is cool. The actual immigration form completed by the Apollo 11 astronauts when then returned to Hawaii.



One of my favorite books I have read recently is Mansfield's Book of Manly Men: An Utterly Invigorating Guide to Being Your Most Masculine Self (my review of the book is here). In this post, author Stephen Mansfield explains why he wrote the book. 


A neat gallery of behind-the-scenes photos from Disney animated movies.


Helping men dealing with pornography addiction by understanding why they look at pornography in the first place.


A vintage guide to 7 essential skills in listening to music.


A classic novel that almost wasn't. George Orwell nearly drowned in a whirpool midway during writing 1984. (Hat tip: Book Riot)


Here's a fun post for your kids: the faces behind the Disney princesses.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Daily Links 12-11-13

A daily roundup of interesting things found on the web. In today's edition: two perspectives on preventing an affair, ghostwriters, pastors who write books, thoughts on modesty, and more.


Two different perspectives on preventing an affair. First, Tim Challies shares some thoughts from a recent conference. Then the Christian Pundit weighs in with a female's perspective. Both of them make an important point: as with any other temptation, it is important to be proactive in dealing with sin. Thus it is best to have a strategy for dealing with temptation when it arises. (Related recommended resource: Hedges by Jerry Jenkins).


This is an interesting infographic:

Homeschooled: How American Homeschoolers Measure Up
Source: TopMastersInEducation.com


This is an interesting take on modesty and an attempt to debunk some of the myths surrounding it. I'm always fascinated to hear a woman's perspective on this issue.


Aaron Armstrong shares a few thoughts on the dangers of ghostwriting. I was not aware how common a practice this is in evangelical circles. In a related post, Kevin DeYoung has a few words for pastors who write. Two quotes worth highlighting:

There is nothing wrong with being a writer first, but that’s simply not the calling of a pastor. I need to be a faithful preacher and a caring shepherd before I am a good writer. I’m very fortunate to have a church that values study and supports me in my writing. But I owe it to them, and to my calling as a pastor, to make sure that I do not become an author who pastors a church on the side.

Agreed. I wonder about pastors who are prolific writers and how they can manage to churn out books and shepherd a church at the same time.

Then there is this:

Whether in sermons or in print, it’s not okay for pastors to take credit for something that is not theirs. Granted, the lines can be blurry. But that doesn’t mean the line doesn’t exist. And just because it feels like the sin of sloth more than the sin of theft doesn’t make it less of an error.

Having personally encountered this situation I can tell you that this is a huge problem. Our churches need to be holding our pastors accountable to prepare their own sermons.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Daily Links 12-10-13

In today's roundup of links: a century of baseball games, advice for book reviewers, kids leaving the church, and more.


One of my favorite sites, Retrosheet, has just announced they now have the past 100 years of baseball games on their site. This is an invaluable resource for anyone who wants to look back at the details of any baseball game.


Since I tend to stockpile books and seem to be constantly finding new ways to receive them to review I found this to be a good process to consider in whether I should read a book.


This is scary: 10 reasons our kids leave church:

We all know them, the kids who were raised in church. They were stars of the youth group. They maybe even sang in the praise band or led worship. And then… they graduate from High School and they leave church. What happened? 
It seems to happen so often that I wanted to do some digging; To talk to these kids and get some honest answers. I work in a major college town with a large number of 20-somethings. Nearly all of them were raised in very typical evangelical churches. Nearly all of them have left the church with no intention of returning. I spend a lot of time with them and it takes very little to get them to vent, and I’m happy to listen. So, after lots of hours spent in coffee shops and after buying a few lunches, here are the most common thoughts taken from dozens of conversations. I hope some of them make you angry. Not at the message, but at the failure of our pragmatic replacement of the gospel of the cross with an Americanized gospel of glory. This isn’t a negative “beat up on the church” post. I love the church, and I want to see American evangelicalism return to the gospel of repentance and faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sins; not just as something on our “what we believe” page on our website, but as the core of what we preach from our pulpits to our children, our youth, and our adults.


Quiz time: 75 of the best animated movies of all time. How many have you seen? I only scored 35 but that's because most of the animated movies I have seen are Disney films.


A little homeschool humor, via Pinterest.


Monday, December 09, 2013

Daily Links 12-9-13

In today's link roundup: World War II in color, gift ideas for Star Trek fans, a Nutella bar opens in Chicago, and more.


Check out these stunning World War II era photographs. The wonders of Kodachrome.

Hat tip: Glenn Reynolds


The perfect gift for a Star Trek fan:

Hat tip: Boing Boing


Understanding the meanings of common British slang phrases. This could come in handy in case I ever make it back across the pond.


This exists. A Nutella bar at Eataly Chicago.

Photo by Marc Much - Eater Chicago
I have to see that the one thing I miss about living in Chicago is the food. There were always an abundance of great places to eat. Can anyone say road trip?

Hat tip: Neatorama


Inspired by the soon to be published book Letters of Note: Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience (which is an outgrowth of the website of the same name) Flavorwire compiles their list of 12 collections of letters that are worth reading. I love reading letters from writers as it gives an insight into their thoughts. (Hat tip: Book Riot)

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Book Review: Mansfield's Book of Manly Men

I have long been a fan of Stephen Mansfield's books. I have even had the privilege to interview him. But I have never anticipated a book as much as his latest volume, Mansfield's Book of Manly Men: An Utterly Invigorating Guide to Being Your Most Masculine Self.

His inspiration for this book was drawn from King David's deathbed instruction to his son Solomon: "I'm about to go the way of all the earth. So be strong and show yourself a man." (1 Kings 2:2). Solomon would have likely known exactly what David meant by that statement. But most men today would not because our culture has so utterly confused men about what their true role should be. Or as the author puts it:

My goal in this book is simple. I want to identify what a genuine man does - the virtures, the habits, the disciplines, the duties, the actions of true manhood - and then call men to do it. (pg. 8)

He starts out by setting out four principles that he refers to as Mansfield's Maxims:

  1. Manly Men Do Manly Things (pg. 21)
  2. Manly Men Tend Their Fields (pg. 28)
  3. Manly Men Build Manly Men (pg. 34)
  4. Manly Men Live to the Glory of God (pg. 37)

After presenting these principles, he then explores a number of virtues (such as honor, integrity, vision, etc.) that a real man should reflect in his life. With each principle there is an example from history of someone who personified that virtue in their life. This is a very useful approach as I think men tend to understand these principles much better when there is a concrete example to look upon who demonstrates these virtues. Most importantly, at the end of each chapter are a series of questions that are intended to be used for individual reflection and application of these principles.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it to other men to read. In addition, if you have a son of your own this is a book you will want to read together. The questions throughout the book also would make it ideal for small group discussion.

It's time for men to step up and fulfill the role that God has for them. Thanks to Stephen Mansfield, we have a guide to show us how to do it.

Author's note: A copy of this book was provided to me by Booksneeze. No other consideration apart from the book was received in exchange for this review.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Weekend Playlist - If I Had You

A little jazz with a French twist for your weekend. This is another song I discovered on Pandora. Have I mentioned how much I love listening to Pandora? Anyway, this is another example of a song from the Great American Song Book that has been reinvented and given a different twist. Connie Evingson is handling the vocals on this track and is backed by the Hot Club of Sweden (whom she coincidentally met on a trip to Stockholm). Enjoy.

Daily Links 12-6-13

Happy Friday! Here's a roundup of links for your weekend reading pleasure: how Alton Brown created one of the Food Network's signature shows, Undercover Boss and hard work,


Of all the shows that have aired on Food Network, Good Eats is still considered one of the most popular. It was also one of the network's most original shows because it broke all the rules when it came to cooking shows:

Underneath the complex gizmos and jokey foofaraw, almost every episode of Good Eats boils down to one ingredient, or sometimes a process—let’s call it a building block. The show doesn’t maintain the illusion that viewers are following along at home, à la the dump-and-stir instructional shows that came before it, but it isn’t an entirely passive experience, like the current crop of entertainment-minded Food Network shows, either. To watch Good Eats is to take a 22-minute cooking class—a very entertaining, frequently quite silly cooking class, but a generally effective one nonetheless. Like Mr. Wizard and Bill Nye before him, Brown—who wrote, directed, and starred in every episode of Good Eats—was a master of edutainment, of dressing complicated ideas up in foam rubber, dioramas, and deceptively childlike mnemonic devices. Longtime Good Eats viewers probably can’t think of yeast without picturing the burping sock puppets Brown used to represent the wee little beasties, and could probably sketch a reasonable representation of a protein chain or sucrose molecule, thanks to the numerous craft-store-abetted models Brown created over the years. Repetition is key to making an idea stick, and Brown knew that, judging from the recurring catchphrases, models, and characters he trotted out again and again in service of different foods and recipes that were all, in the end, built on the same scientific building blocks. 
That repetition was useful in terms of education, but it also strongly bolstered to the show’s entertainment value. It’s doubtful someone could watch Good Eats for years without absorbing at least a little culinary knowledge, but even if they didn’t, they’d at least be well versed in the unique little world of Good Eats. Not many cooking shows bother with things like world-building, but Good Eats exists in its own universe, one as distinctive and well-defined as those of many narrative series. There’s the character of “Alton Brown” at the center—not far removed from the actual Brown, but with a certain lovable, crazy-recluse vibe tacked on—but also an established cast of supporting players both fictional (kitchen-gear specialist “W,” disembodied helping hand Thing, long-suffering intern/assistant Paul) and real (nutritional anthropologist Deborah Duchon, dietitian Carolyn O’Neil, a.k.a. “The Lady Of The Refrigerator,” and other various experts and food professionals). And while Brown’s kitchen set serves as the nexus of the show, his fictional home sprawls into a bunch of nooks and crannies of dubious verisimilitude, including a dungeon basement (where Igor lives, ready to provide his master with implements of culinary torture, such as meat tenderizers and tortilla presses) and a virtual-reality chamber where Brown can practice his ordering skills at a fictional sushi restaurant. Then there are the countless recurring phrases and gags and callbacks—not to mention more Dutch angles than you can shake a wooden spoon at—enough for the show to warrant its own extensive page on TV Tropes. None of these things are necessary, or arguably even very desirable, on a cooking program, but they all contribute to the sense of play at the heart of Good Eats.


How Undercover Boss restores our faith in humanity:

At the end of each episode, a couple of stand-out employees, often people who have overcome some sort of adversity or who are dealing with some personal struggle, realize the “new guy” is actually the head-honcho, and are rewarded generously with promotions, raises, cars, homes, etcetera, tailored to the personal need of the employee. One single mom of three can’t pay the rent. She gets a forty percent raise and her boss pays her rent and bills for a year. Nearly every single employee breaks down and cries, and the emotion is not canned.
Their stories are the authentic stories of everyday human suffering: A young girl whose mother is in prison and whose brother died at 14 because their mother used drugs while she was pregnant with him, a young man who grew up never knowing his parents but wants to go to design school, an immigrant who works hard so his children can attend prestigious schools far away, causing him to miss them terribly.
Their jobs are not glamorous, they sell strip-mall wedding dresses, wipe the tables at frozen yogurt shops, deliver pizzas.
Yet the profiled employees somehow manage to elevate the mundane aspects of their work with their cheerful spirits, their thankful attitudes, and their professional integrity. They embody the virtues of handwork, perseverance, and ambition that characterize the type of American capitalism that made America great. They do their work with pride, always looking for the next opportunity and never expecting anything more than a fair chance.

The idea of a cool pastor is just plain disturbing.


Links to a 1983 article in Muppet Magazine featuring a fascinating interview with author Isaac Asimov.


The fallacy of replacing faith with positive thinking:

American Christians tend to forget it because so many have had it so easy for so long. Many mix their faith with the national cult of positive thinking. The result is a hybrid religion that's less Christianity than complacency, watering down the actual Christian faith and adding a large dose of  everything-will-work-out-OK optimism. God wants you to have it all in this life, so you will: It's just a matter of time.

If you think this way, you're building a faith on a false foundation — and if you encourage others to think this way, you're urging them to do the same. Far from fostering a faith that will last, you're promoting one that will crumble under pressure. What will they do if the hard times come and last a very long time without getting better? If the good job never comes, or is lost and never comes back? If they get well into their 30s and 40s and the spouse and children they'd hoped and prayed for never come along?


A collection of five obscure Looney Tunes cartoons. I confess I have never heard of any of these films.


Here's a real find: 92Y has posted thousands of audio and video interviews from their archives online:

Kurt Vonnegut once commented, in an interview with Joseph Heller, that the best audience he had ever encountered was at the 92nd Street Y in New York. “Those people know everything. They are wide awake and responsive.” 
Located at the corner of 92nd Street and Lexington Avenue, the 92Y has a venerable history of public performance, conversation, poetry and beyond. Vonnegut himself appeared at the 92Y seven times to read aloud from his own work. (Including this reading from Breakfast of Champions three years before the book was published.) 
Cultural programming has been a focus at the 92Y since it opened in 1874. Originally, it served mostly German-Jewish men (note, it isn’t a YMCA, but a YM-YWHA—Young Men’s and Women’s Hebrew Association). But the Kaufmann Concert Hall opened in 1930, and that’s where a veritable Who’s Who of noted entertainment, politics, sports, and science figures have appeared over the years, speaking to that “wide awake and responsive” audience. 
Lucky for the rest of us, the 92Y recorded the vast majority of those performances. And now 1,000 recordings appear on a new site, 92Y On Demand. It’s a fantastic archive of audio and video files, searchable by topic, year or performer name.

This is the kind of site I could get lost on for hours at a time.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Daily Links 12-5-13

In today's roundup of links: Ben Franklin's awesome feats, Bill Cosby on blue comedy, heroic acts, and more.


He held off six enemy tanks and several waves of infantry all while firing from the top of a burning tank. The incredible heroic story of Audie Murphy.


Ben Franklin was a man on many achievements. Here's a list of some his lesser known feats.


Be afraid of everything! A warning to parents not to be overprotective.


Bill Cosby recently appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and took Stewart to task for his use of profanity in his stand-up routine. But this also speaks to a larger point about our culture:

Cosby was alive when things like segregation and institutional racism still legally existed. The way most cultural influencers today would have you think about it, anything that comes from a time before Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” topped the charts is not worthy of remembering because everyone was super racist back then. The “snobbery of the present,” as C.S. Lewis called it, tends to dismiss or discount anything that came before one’s current day.
And so here is an elderly black man – one who is active and vocal in the black community – telling not only us, but some of the greatest comedic minds of our time, that there was something better and more respectable about the way people used to do comedy. He has walked the walk and talked the talk for nearly half a century with his unique brand of humor. His sitcom The Cosby Show spoke to a generation of Americans from across racial and socio-economic divides. He’s not perfect, and he’s suffered immense personal tragedy along the way, but Bill Cosby is someone who actually cares where his culture is headed. 


A process for taking notes while reading. I don't normally take notes while reading a book but I think it may be worth a try.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Daily Links 12-4-13

A daily roundup of interesting things from the Internet. In today's links: Maurice Sendak and the love of reading, whatever happened to male friendship, and more.


An amazing collection of posters that were created by Maurice Sendak that celebrate the joy of reading.


Whatever happened to male friendship? Leave it to an ad to remind us of what we are missing.


What C. S. Lewis would have to say to us about friendship:

How does our society undervalue friendship?  One doesn’t need to think too long about how Facebook has changed our understanding of the subject.  In the virtual “community,” one can have thousands of friends, some of whom one might never have met or only know of through degrees of separation.  Though they may never have spent time together, two “friends” can view each other’s lives unfolding (or at least the best, happiest version of a life that is posted) by scanning photos, status updates, and commentary from other people.  They need not share any history, any present experiences, or even hope of meeting in the future. Twitter doesn’t even bother to characterize virtual relationships in terms of friendship; as someone’s “follower,” you need not even hope for reciprocated affection.
To this Lewis would offer, “We picture lovers face to face, but Friends side by side; their eyes look ahead.  This is why those pathetic people who simply ‘want friends’ can never make any.  The very condition of having Friends is that we should want something else besides Friends.  Where the truthful answer to the question, Do you see the same truth? would be, I see nothing and I don’t care about the truth; I only want a Friend,” no Friendship can arise.  There would be nothing for the Friendship to be about…and friendship must be about something…Those who have nothing can share nothing; those who are going nowhere can have no fellow-travelers.”
For Lewis, real friendship cannot exist in the virtual world; not only does one need to walk with someone throughout the joys and sorrows of life to be their friend, one must be walking with the other person toward shared truths – moral, religious, or otherwise.   Exchanges of ideas (or pictures and statuses) alone cannot make a friendship; exchanges of persons, in body and soul, do.

This is interesting: 8 foods you've been eating the wrong way.


A fascinating list of 13 things that mentally strong people avoid.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Evaluating the Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot

Few things cause as much arguing during baseball's offseason as the annual Hall of Fame Ballot. Last week's announcement included 19 newcomers to the ballot and a total field of 34 names. Interestingly, this year's class is pretty loaded (though not quite as loaded as I had suggested it could have been a few years ago).

This is also the season where we hear griping from sportswriters that the wrong people are voting and that the BBWAA should change the rules on who votes (and they have a point). There are also complaints that it's unfair to limit a voter to 10 players on the ballot (I disagree). There are a few easy choices right off the bat (Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Frank Thomas are all no-brainers to me). What to do with the remaining 7 votes is a little trickier. Here's my list of 7 players who would earn a place on my ballot and whether I think they will be inducted.

1. Jack Morris - it's his last year on the ballot. Last year he garnered 67.7% of the vote (2nd highest total). His 254 career wins are a good number but not the automatic induction number that 300 wins represents. If it were any other year without the three clear inductees on the list I would say he has a better chance of getting in. I think he'll still get a lot of votes and may manage to squeak in.

2. Craig Biggio - he had the most votes of any player last year. 3060 hits is good enough in my mind to warrant automatic induction. The big negative - PEDs. Not because he necessarily was guilty but because voters have sought to punish a lot of guys unfairly because of the rampant steroid use of the 90's. If he doesn't make it this year it has more to do with who is getting in rather than a knock against him. It's only his second year so if not this year he should be a favorite to get in next year.

3. Jeff Kent - His 377 career home runs are the highest for any second baseman. However, the Hall tends to overlook second basemen as they are typically valued for their glove more than their bat. That puts guys like Kent at a disadvantage when voters are looking to offensive statistics as a guide to determine whether they are worthy of enshrinement. I think he's got a good case to be inducted in the Hall but he may be waiting a couple of years before that call comes.

4. Tim Raines - along with Rickey Henderson (who's already in the Hall of Fame), Raines was considered one of the preeminent base stealers of his era. His 808 career steals are far above anyone else in this class. He's fifth all time in steals (and coincidentally all four players ahead of him are in the Hall). While it's unlikely to be inducted this year (it's his 7th year of eligibility) I think it's likely to happen at some point in the future.

5. Lee Smith - He's third all time in saves. The two pitchers ahead of him (Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman) are sure to be inducted on their first ballot. .He has nearly 100 more saves than Dennis Eckersley who is in the Hall of Fame. He also happened to be (along with Eckersley) one of the most dominant relievers of his era. His candidacy has suffered in part because of who he has been up against for election. If he doesn't make it in by his final year of eligibility it's a safe bet the Veterans' Committee will vote him in.

6. Jeff Bagwell - A key part of Houston's playoff teams in the late 1990's and 2000's, Bagwell should be eventually enshrined. He spent his entire career in Houston. And although his overall offensive numbers are solid but not spectacular his home run total (477) should be enough to convince voters on the fence that he belongs.

7. Mike Piazza - Another solid player with good but not great numbers. However, he was a prodigious home run hitter (427 for his career) makes him worth consideration. He has two big strikes against him. First, he was primarily a catcher which is a position that is woefully under-represented in the Hall. Second, he played during the Steroid Era and has been treated by many voters as guilty-by-association rather than there being any clear evidence of steroid usage. It will probably take more years than it should for the steroid outrage to die down  enough for him to get the consideration he deserves.