- The (Graphic Novel) Book of Revelation
The iPad has proven itself a game-changing medium in many ways, not the least of which is in being a medium that Christians can use to share the good news of Jesus Christ. A few weeks ago I came across a fascinating app calledThe Book of Revelation App, a graphic novel adaptation of Revelation. I have been enjoying the app and recently got in touch with Chris Koelle, the artist, to ask him about the project. I hope you enjoy this interview.
Tell me a little bit about yourself—who you are, where you go to church, and so on.
I’ve been doing art and freelance illustration full-time for about 7 years now. Alot of my work has been providing illustration for books, graphic novels, documentaries, and album art for CDs and vinyl records. My wife Annie is one of the most wonderfully inspiring and passionate artists I know. We have a 4-year-old son named Marshall. We are, with much joy, a part of Downtown Presbyterian Church in Greenville, SC. I love a hot mug of strong coffee, cold, grey sweater weather, experimental music of all sorts, and intaglio printmaking, among other things.
Why did you decide to make a graphic novel adaptation of the book of Revelation?
Well, at first, it wasn’t really my idea at all. The big decision to create a graphic novel adaptation of The Book of Revelation was a very thought-out, much-discussed collaborative one. Here’s some backstory…
In 2009 I was commissioned to illustrate a 130-page graphic novel written by L.A.-based Matt Dorff (the adapter of the Revelation script), titled Battle Surgeon. The story recounts in gritty detail the experiences of a brilliantly gifted Navy surgeon, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, who is sent to Afghanistan on a top-secret mission. Throughout the course of this year-long project that explored issues of life and death, hope and despair in the face of suffering, Matt and I grew closer as collaborators and friends. Gradually our long-distance conversations began involving friendly discussions of our personal lives. I was open about my personal life of faith and my relationship to Jesus, the Gospel, and the Church, just as Matt, who considers himself an open-minded skeptic who loves a great story, was growing increasingly interested in these things—faith, the person and work of Jesus, the Apostles, etc. And so, from coast to coast, through phone calls, Skype, and email, our relationship was cultivated over the year.
After finishing Battle Surgeon, we kept in contact and eventually began having talks about what our next collaboration might be. During the summer of 2010 I was commissioned by The Austin Stone to create about 50 illustrations for The History of Redemption, a beautiful retelling of the great metanarrative of the Bible, using only Scripture verses. Meanwhile, as Matt became more fascinated by the power of the ancient Biblical narratives through the Old and New Testaments, especially the story of the Gospels and the early Church, we began discussing the idea of adapting some of these ancient texts in a fresh, graphic way. Matt Dorff eventually proposed the idea of creating a fully-illustrated graphic novel of The Book of Revelation, to be initially released serially on iPad and iPhone, with other formats to follow.
To be honest, at first, the idea seemed (to me) laughable because of its ambitious scope and complexity, and then the prospect simply became paralyzing. A fully-illustrated, moment-by-moment visualization of the entire Book of Revelation had never really been done before. In the end, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and after some time I agreed to take up the challenge. It’s been a wild ride, for sure.
Why did you decide to combine the drawings with a fresh translation of Revelation? Was this purely logistical (so you wouldn’t have to license the use of an existing translation) or was there some ideology behind it?
This was primarily a decision between Matt Dorff and one of the co-translators, Father Mark Arey, Director of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. They were introduced to each other through actor Chris Diamantopoulos (producer), with whom Matt had worked on various film projects. After Matt read the translation, he proposed to Father Mark the idea of creating a graphic novel of the text for the digital age. The translation really is so colorful and vivid in its language, it was perfectly suited for a graphic adaptation. More details on Mark Arey and the translation can be read on the RevelationApp Facebook page here.
There has been no shortage of things I’ve enjoyed in the app so far, but let me point out a few favourites. I love the way you portrayed the 12 Sons of Israel. You had to draw 12 brothers, one portrait for each of them, and without any physical descriptions to go on. Yet you made them all look distinctive and each one has character that is all his own. It’s a simple part of the book but one you gave a lot of time and attention to. I also really like the way you portrayed the Laodicean church as the man sees his dim reflection in the water and sees that he is “wretched and pitiful, destitute, blind, and naked.” And, of course, I’ve got to make mention of the Four Living Beings that are within the throne and around the throne. What has been the most difficult challenge so far?
It’s almost impossible to single out just one as the most difficult so far. Deciding how to depict the seven-horned, seven-eyed Lamb in a fresh but meaningful, reverent, appealing way was extremely challenging, the result of hours of discussion and debate between myself and Matt Dorff. The introduction of the Dragon and the subsequent events in Chapter 12 were quite a painstaking, time-consuming process. Any scenes representing God / the One on the throne are of course very intimidating, even if only because of having to decide what *not* to show. That maybe one of the most difficult challenges overall: overcoming the instinct to always want to reveal more detail or atmosphere; choosing my illustrative battles wisely. There are only so many hours in a day, and pacing myself to invest just the right amount of time and energy into each illustration—nothing more, nothing less—is a continual challenge of decision-making and problem-solving I must face head-on, panel by panel, day after day, week after week, month after month. Like I said, it’s a marathon of marathons!
I can’t deny that I was slightly surprised and even a little disappointed at your treatment of the Nicolaitans. Though it’s not quite sexually-explicit, it’s certainly a little bit suggestive. From my research it seems like historians aren’t entirely certain what the sins of the Nicolaitans are. Why did you choose to make them sexual in nature?
Let me start off by saying that each step of the way throughout illustrating the book is very much thought-through and heavily discussed among myself, Matt Dorff, and Mark Arey. With any given text, while continually striving to be true to the text and maintain a point of view from John’s own understanding of his world, we are always asking ourselves, “What is the most visually interesting, emotionally resonant image to illustrate or add insight to this part of the text?”
You’re correct in that scholars aren’t exactly certain what the specific sins of the Nicolaitans were. At the same time, in some of our research, overindulgence and polygamy were among the possible sins cited by some sources. On one hand, we simply wanted an emotionally striking depiction of what they very well may have been doing that Jesus and the church at Ephesus “despised.” So we eventually arrived at a depiction (suggestive, not explicit) implying male domination, sexual abuse, indulgence, and polygamy. We were aware that this was one of the specific points in the art that would likely raise some eyebrows among the Christian community. Sexual abuse is all too real today as it was then, and I attempted to evoke a sense of disgust with it (the dark, cold light, the shadowed secrecy, the enslavement of the women).
I might also add that some of the images were actually more explicit in their initial state, and we did exercise discernment in what to show or not show, what to suggest, doing our best to thoughtfully consider our more sensitive readers, while not shying away from what the text seems to be getting at. This approach goes for the entire book. We’re definitely trying our best to respect the text and respect its readers!
What are some of the ways that working on this app has been important in your spiritual walk?
That’s a great question, with a few different answers. On one level, just the immense challenge of the workload itself has caused me to feel utterly dependent on God for mental and physical stamina. Sometimes just knowing what to draw, or how to draw it, feels like running on a treadmill in my heart and mind, and a year-long project such as this is indeed a marathon of marathons! So God has been very tangibly teaching me to trust Him for strength and wisdom in basically handing over my energies in service of this task that has been given to me for the time being. In spite of my own personal weaknesses (artistically, physically, conceptually, spiritually), even in them, God’s grace is seen and felt to be sufficient, energizing me and even my wife to serve a purpose much larger than ourselves, because He is totally sufficient.
In perhaps a seemingly more direct way, there are definitely profound moments when I find myself worshiping God, worshiping Jesus Christ, through reading and meditating on the Scripture text, whether it’s John’s terrified vision of the glorified Christ in Chapter 1, or the seemingly weak, mortally wounded, supremely worthy Lamb standing triumphant with the scroll firmly grasped in his scarred hands in Chapter 5, or the slippery newborn baby boy-“a Son Who will shepherd the Nations with a rod of iron”-rescued from the jaws of the Dragon in Chapter 12. At the very end of Chapter 12, there is a scene in which a little boy, the only son of parents who are faithful believers in Jesus, is killed by a ravenous wolf. The text reads, “Then the Dragon went wild with rage because of the Woman and set out to attack the rest of her offspring, who persevered in the commandments of God, witnessing to the testimony of Jesus.” (12:17) The chapter ends with the father and mother holding the bloody, lifeless body of their only son, reminiscent of the Piet. I used my self, my wife, and my son as the models for these scenes. God forbid that I ever lose my son; words cannot express my love for him. But it is a sobering reality that sometimes terrible, senseless suffering is attempted by Satan to destroy the faith of the believing, and often it is by attacking and destroying what is so precious (seen so vividly in The Book of Job).
So in these ways, through basically a very prolonged meditation on this Scripture text, I see and feel the Word confronting my own faith (or lack of faith) in God and in the testimony of Jesus, who is the both the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, and the Lamb Who was slain.
What is your philosophy on drawing images of Jesus Christ? And how will you represent God without actually drawing what is un-drawable? Are you concerned about possibly violating the 2nd commandment?
I remember in my college days, among my Christian professors, art instructors, and fellow art students, the idea of representing Jesus and/or God in visual art was, for the most part, regarded with solemn caution and obligatory reminders of the 2nd commandment and its application for our contemporary culture. I think the general climate / idea was that because Jesus was/is the Word of God made flesh, and since God has given the world the sufficient revelation of Himself most fully in Jesus and in the objective written Word about Him, then visual depictions of Jesus and God were, by contrast, purely subjective, and therefore potentially very misleading. The concept of idolatry would inevitably come up in discussions about representing God in visual art (which people have been doing for centuries). But it seems clear to me now that idolatry is, at its root, hoping and trusting and being captivated by something other than God to be and do what only God is and does. The sin of idolatry is not merely the worship of some physical object or visual image for its own sake. At the same time, we cannot help but deeply enjoy things that are beautiful simply for their beauty. Being in the presence of something beautiful is its own reward (think of music, art, or sublime experiences of the natural world).
But the Israelites knew that the Egyptian and Canaanite cultures believed that to get what you want in life, you have to learn how to manipulate “other gods.” These “other gods” were associated by an object that represented them. Yahweh had made it undeniably clear to His people through the plagues and the miracles of the exodus that He was in sovereign control over every aspect of creation. He was not confined by aspect of creation or physical form, and so ought not to be represented by any object for the purpose of worship.
To be perfectly honest, I really don’t like having to visually represent Jesus Christ or the invisible God! But I’ve taken on the job of illustrating The Book of Revelation, verse by verse, and I’m trying to respect the Scriptures and, I hope, evoke in readers (and in myself!) at least some hint of what God is like, as He’s revealed himself through the law and the prophets and through Jesus. I do take this very seriously. John says, according to his eyes, “the One Who sat on the throne was like an epiphany of jasper and sardius-deep translucent bloodstones both.” (4:3) What in the world should we be thinking when we read that? Prismatic, cubistic refractions of red and white light? Why? Let’s think about it. There’s also a green emerald rainbow around this One on the throne, says John.
There are so many signifiers for God Himself throughout the Scriptures. Fire, smoke, earthquakes, wind, darkness, an epiphany of jasper and sardius, a loving father, an unblemished lamb… the list goes on. He is of course not merely these things (pantheism). But the experience of God’s presence through these things happened in the presence of real people-the people of God. We know God is an invisible Spirit. He is most definitely undrawable, I confess! But I believe He wants to shake us out of our stupor of unbelief and bring us to worship Him, and sometimes that’s facilitated by arresting metaphors and physical, visual experiences and visions. If I can weakly attempt representing some of those clues we’ve been given through His word and see some peoples’ reactions of worshiping God, then mission accomplished: glory to God!
Jesus Christ was a hard-working Jewish carpenter who totally loved kids and outcasts and who eventually was tortured and killed on the same earth we find ourselves on. So that’s something to be reminded of, visually, however imperfectly, to help us love Him more. Jesus Christ is also “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the word of His power.” (Heb.1:3a) John, the beloved disciple, was totally mortified when he saw the glorified Christ in Revelation 1: “When I saw Him, I collapsed at His feet like one dead.” That is also something that would do us well to meditate on and imagine, with the goal of worshiping God “in spirit and in truth.” John’s vision was recorded for us to read and imagine and worship the triune God. My job just happens to be imagining these things a little more vividly for the time being.
I’d also like to add that Francis Schaeffer’s Art & The Bible has been extremely influential in shaping my philosophy of art. Highly recommended!
The visual medium is very, very powerful, and perhaps especially so in our culture where it seems to be preferred to the word. Yet God chose to give us the Word, not the Picture. Do you think there’s any concern that people might read this graphical adaptation of the Bible and prefer it to the Word that God gave us? What is the relationship between this graphic version of the bible and the “real” Bible?
You’re right. People will always love pictures, whether static or moving. Because of the kind of work I’m doing, “illustrating” the written Word, I’ve thought about this tension quite a bit. God gave us the Word, and He also gave us our five senses and the imagination-for His glory, as means of worshiping Him above all else. It’s inevitable that people will gravitate towards provocative images as opposed to black words a white page. I think that fact is one of the causes for creating this illustrated work. The RevelationApp creators and I would hope that this graphic version of the Word would ultimately compel people to look more intently at the Word itself. Honestly, I think of the imagery as nothing but big flashing arrows pointing to the whole Bible, saying, “Look at what this is actually saying!” Or at least, “Look at what this might be saying!”
God and I both know that I’m goofing up left and right (I joke with friends that John must be looking down just laughing at me this whole time-“You got it all wrong! LOL”). I have no delusions about my hermeneutical prowess. But making pictures for this text is my job for now, and I’m giving it my best shot. I’d hope that some of the imagery, however ambiguous or explicit it may be, would help people to take the Scriptures themselves more seriously, more worthy of deeper investigation and meditation. There are so many visual metaphors and descriptions from other parts of the Bible (both the Old and New Testaments) that have informed certain aspects of the artwork throughout. These are ongoing attempts at letting the Word inform my imagination and the imagery.
Growing up under countless hours of preaching, often during any given sermon I’ve had the convicting realization that the preacher’s “sermon illustration” felt more interesting, more captivating than the infinitely more worthy Reality behind the illustration. It is a sad (and potentially disastrous) thing to be more interested in a shadow than the true Substance, and that signifies a lack of knowledge of God and misplaced worship. I’d hope that this illustrated adaptation causes some people to be more deeply affected by what the text is actually saying-about God, about Jesus, about people, about sin, about the world itself-resulting in more spiritual and more truth-based worship of God as He has revealed Himself through Jesus and the Word.
It may be a little bit early to be asking this, but do you intend or hope to create adaptations of other books of the Bible?
I’ve seen The History of Redemption and John Piper’s Job (out of print) both resonate so deeply with so many people, so I’ve been working to further spread these experiences in various formats such as licensing packages for church community events and motion graphics movies. As for future Biblical projects, it’s definitely possible. But, let’s just say I plan on taking a vacation after I finish Revelation.
- Teach Me How to Pray
Last year I was ordained to the ministry at Grace Fellowship Church. Since then I went on-staff as a part-time pastor and, more recently, as a full-time associate pastor. Needless to say, this has given me great opportunity to closely examine the calling and task of the minister. At its heart, this task is very simple. “We will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the Word” (Acts 6:4). Prayer and Bible; praying for and with people and teaching them the Word of God. If the job description is so simple, why is it so hard to do?Of these two tasks, I feel much more confident and equipped when it comes to teaching. Words come easy to me. While I may labor over a sermon for many days, I am at least confident that in the end the words will come and the result will be adequate at least. But I find prayer far more difficult. While I feel the desire to pray and while I often long to pray, I find myself especially frustrated in organizing my times of prayer; often times I find myself giving up, or at least wanting to give up, because of the frustration involved in remembering all the things I want to pray for and in actually bringing them before the Lord.To that end I have turned to a few pastors I know to ask them how they manage the task of prayer and in the days and weeks to come I plan to share some of these with you in the hope that you will find it helpful. The first man I turned to is Tim Kerr, pastor of Sovereign Grace Church here in Toronto. Tim is a dear friend to our church and a man who feels a special burden to pray. I asked him how he prays, and here is what he sent me.
Over the years I have tried many “systems” for prayer but have settled on a very basic pattern that keeps things uncomplicated. I use a pattern that incorporates both a simple plan (categories) and spontaneity. I am not a naturally disciplined person, so the planned side keeps me from neglecting important items that I need to be praying about.
The system I use reflects the particular prayer assignments I believe God has given to me so they may or may not be helpful to others. My prayer life primarily revolves around a list of people that I keep in a prayer journal (mine is leather as a simple reminder of its importance).
- First I pray for my family by name. I try to do this every day, and since I love them and care for them, it is relatively easy to keep doing this. My requests for them are based on what I observe as well as requests they share with me. Beside each of the written requests, I write a promise from scripture that speaks to the issue directly. I find praying God’s promises back to Him adds a lot of leverage to prayer and increases my faith as I pray.
- Next I pray for pastors (This is a category that I feel a special burden for) Right now I have 26 pastors I pray for regularly. 18 of those are Sovereign Grace pastors. I don’t have a formula for praying for these men. I pray for as many as I can as often as I can. I don’t obligate myself to pray for certain names on Monday, others on Tuesday etc. This may work for others but it hasn’t worked for me. When there are special needs, I spend more time praying for those men in particular. Many years ago I heard a message by John MacArthur on Col 1:9 that made a lasting impression on my practice of prayer. He taught that the preceding verses spoke about a group of believers that are doing well and this becomes the motivation for Paul to pray for them (note beginning of verse 9). Paul didn’t just pray for believers with spiritual problems, he also prayed earnestly for believers who were doing well spiritually! Shortly after that I started praying more for leaders, the faithful “core” of the church, and pastors outside of our church.
- I also carry a burden for pastor’s children. This is especially true of those who are not believers yet or who are wandering away from the Lord. Some of my most agonizing praying has been over children of pastors who are in “a foreign land” (Jer 31:16-17). For years I was one of those children and a small group of godly senior believers begged God to bring me back to Himself. All but one are in heaven today and I guess I feel I need to be one of the ones filling the gap left by their absence.
- Next I pray for the people I pastor. Since I pastor a small church this is possible for me. I realize that many pastors could not do this with the size of their congregations. But maybe they could pray for their fellow pastors and small group leaders. Our family often prays for different families in our church after the dinner hour when we read scripture together. But I do this privately as well.
- I also pray for special needs. For example, I have prayed for various single women to find godly husbands etc.
- Finally I pray for the nations. I see this as a huge theme of scripture and as an act of obedience to Jesus’ command in Matt 9:38. There are so many promises about God’s heart to reach the nations with the gospel! We use Operation World as a guide in our family worship and I regularly pray for a particular team of church planters working in an unreached part of the world.
Well, that describes my basic list. I do have other items and people that I add to it, but these categories cover the main themes of what I seek to pray about.
The other dimension of my prayer life (that intersects with the above list) is praying spontaneously throughout the day with offered words of trust, gratitude, and SOS’s as needed (both for myself and others). This aspect of my praying is done according to the leading of the Spirit and the burdens he puts upon my heart. Many times when I pray this way, verses come to my mind that I take to either be verses to direct my praying for those I am praying for, or verses that I need to share with them for their encouragement, usually by email.
[I asked Tim one follow-up question about the actual system he uses, or what his prayer journal actually looks like. He replied as follows:]
I don’t have columns. I usually group people by families (except singles of course). I write down their names and one or two requests beside their name (usually but not always). Sometimes I will write out a full promises & other times I will write a reference beside the request (I usually know the reference so the verse comes to mind when I come to their name). Most of the requests are usually long term requests that don’t change from week to week (conversion of a son, someone learning to live more by faith and less by feelings, that God would put the fear of God in their hearts, for courage to share Christ with a co-worker, for ongoing encouragement and “sightings of God” in the Scriptures in a crisis etc). I do try to pray as specific as possibly and will often pray for specific manifestations of the general requests to display that God is at work (for example a son coming and confessing sin and asking for forgiveness will show conviction of sin—an encouraging sign if I am praying for the son’s conversion). I have found that most people are poor at keeping you up to date on requests and answers, so I chase them down in emails or in person and try to find out how things are progressing. In pastoral ministry, I have found that one of the things that endears us to our flock is to do home visits and together share the encouragement that comes from answers that have come from our prayers for them!
My thanks go to Tim for sharing what for all of us is a rather intimate part of our lives. Our hope is that other Christians, and perhaps pastors especially, will benefit from it.
- A La Carte (9/7)
For those who are enjoying all the recent Kindle deals, here are a few more that are worth checking out: Living in God’s Two Kingdoms by David VanDrunen, Why Pro-Life?by Randy Alcorn and Stand, edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor, can all be had for $2 or $3.Wrestling with an Angel – Dan Cruver writes, “Greg Lucas’ Wrestling with An Angel: A Story of Love, Disability and the Lessons of Grace is one of the top 5 books I have read over the past 12 months. Few books are able to take the reader on a journey further into the Gospel as you move through their pages.” He goes on to interview Greg Lucas.The Mechanic Muse – This is a great article from the NY Times. I’m not sure that I agree that the greatest feat of the printed book is allowing us to read non-linearly (though certainly anyone who has tried to skim a book on a Kindle has seen how much more difficult is). Still, the article is a great read and gives words to what a lot of us are thinking about the transition from printed books to ebooks.An Exemplary Recipient of Grace – Parents will do well to read this and to ponder it a little bit: “One of the biggest struggles I have as a father to three boys and a girl is fighting the urge to pretend that I have it all together. To reduce what it means to lead my children and be their example to merely keeping all the rules myself.” (HT)Reverent Contemplation – Things like this are always a little bit forced, but they are also a good opportunity to do some reverent contemplation.9/11 Ten Years Later – You can download the most recent issue of Ligonier’s Tabletalkmagazine for free if you like. It reflects on 9/11 ten years later.
In My Seat – Speaking of 9/11, here is a video about the man who should have been piloting American Airlines Flight 11. He has a powerful testimony.
In an effort to get the work of the Lord done, we often lose contact with the Lord of the work. —A.W. Tozer
- A Back-to-School Kind of Giveaway
Back-to-school seems like an appropriate occasion to mark with a giveaway, and especially so since I haven’t done one of these giveaways for a while. Crossway recently released the ESV Student Study Bible, an adaption of the ESVStudy Bible that is targeted squarely at high school and college students.
With 12,000 clear, concise study notes, the ESV Student Study Bible provides numerous new features—including nearly 900 “Did You Know?” facts, 120 new Bible character profiles, and 15 new topical articles. It also features a new glossary of key terms, more than 80 full-color maps and illustrations, an extensive concordance, and 80,000 cross-references. These and many other features make it the most comprehensive, colorful, and content-rich student Bible available today. Suited to high school and college students, theESV Student Study Bible is also a versatile resource for anyone engaged in serious study of God’s Word.
Created by an outstanding team of more than 100 evangelical Christian scholars, teachers, and pastors, the ESV Student Study Bible is adapted from the highly acclaimed and best-selling ESV Study Bible. With numerous new features, the ESV Student Study Bible is an invaluable resource. For high school and college students, but equally for all students of the Bible—for everyone who loves to read and learn more about God’s Word.
I have had the chance to look through one of these Bibles and I really like it. Those “Did You Know?” facts are actually very useful (and just happened to answer a question my son had asked just moments before—“Why does the book of Mark use the word ‘immediately’ so often?”). You can visit the ESV site to get more information, to watch a video, to download sample pages, and so on.
Today I am going to give someone 2 copies of the ESV Student Study Bible; the winner is free to keep them or to give them away. The winner will also take home a complete set of the Crossway Classic Commentary series—all 26 volumes. This series of commentaries offers some of the best historic Bible teaching on many of the books of the Bible and makes a great foundation for a reference library.
All you need to do to enter is input your information below. For this giveaway you’ll need to have a Facebook account. And don’t feel that you need to be a student to participate; it’s open to everyone. Even if you’re not a student, I know you’ll put those Bibles to good use.
If you cannot see the giveaway script, try refreshing your browser (or, if you’re reading via Facebook or RSS, click through to my actual site).
- 30 Minute Reviews
Here is a list of books I have received over the past few weeks, but have been unable to read in full. Instead, I have given each of them at least 30 minutes and tried to get as much of a feel for the book as possible in that time.Note to Self by Joe Thorn – This is a book dedicated to modeling the discipline of preaching the gospel to yourself. Joe Thorn has written a series of notes to himself—48 of them in total—to remind himself of the gospel and to remind himself how to live as if it is true and as if it has done a work of transformation in his life. It is quite a unique book and it beautifull suits the format. He divides the notes into 3 categories: The Gospel and God, The Gospel and Others and The Gospel and You. The letters have titles like “God Does Not Answer to You,” “Be Humble in Your Theology,” “Honor Your Parents,” “Don’t Be a Fan Boy” and “Suffer Well.” In every case, Thorn simply seeks to bring the gospel to bear on a particular area of life. With each letter just a couple of pages in length, it’s a good book to read at a pace of one chapter per day.The Dragon’s Tooth by N.D. Wilson – I sat down with the family to read N.D. Wilson’s latest novel, The Dragon’s Tooth. After reading one chapter I saw that my daughters (aged 8 and 5) were not interested and that my son (aged 11) was too interested to wait for me to read it with him. So we abandoned the read-aloud project and my son went ahead and devoured the book in a day. Nick says it is, “Very, very, very good. A bit confusing at times. They definitely need to write another one.” We will take that as high praise. And, of course, this is only part 1 of the “Ashtown Burials” series, so his wish for a sequel will be granted. I’d recommend all of Wilson’s novels.Absolute Monarchs by John Julius Norwich – I spotted this book, a history of the papacy, when it made its way onto the New York Times list of bestsellers. I made a valiant attempt at reading it, but in the end, found that it was, well, kind of boring. Norwich takes a look at the papacy, focusing in on some of the scandals that have always dogged the Roman Catholic Church. You’d think that would make for riveting reading, but the book moves at a snail’s pace as Norwich tries to take a look at just about every pope there has ever been. He looks at so many different men (and one woman, of course) that they all begin to blur together. After a couple hundred pages of this I moved on to something else. I guess I’m not sure where this book really fits; it’s too casual for the academic reader, but a little too focused for the casual reader. My guess is that 90% of the people who bought it didn’t ever finish it.Tomatoland by Barry Estabrook – Here’s another interesting book that covers a rather niche topic—the tomato. Tomatoland answers the question, Why do grocery store tomatoes taste so bad? It turns out they taste so bad because they are all picked long before they are ripe and are then gassed to make them turn red. They never truly ripen. What’s more, they are grown in a soup of chemicals and pesticides and are often picked by what is essentially slave labor. I read this book almost to the end, but decided not to finish it or write a full-length review because of the niche nature of the topic. If you’re looking for some interesting and casual reading, you could do a lot worse than this.
- A La Carte (9/6)
Yesterday at dinner I asked the kids for their favorite summer memory. My son went with winning the baseball championship with his little league team. My 8-year-old daughter went with spending time with family in Georgia and Tenneesee. My 5-year-old daughter went with watching movies in the car on the way to Georgia and Tennessee. Sigh.A Great Kindle Deal – You can get Eric Metaxas’ award-winning Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy on Kindle for just $1.99. This may be a one-day deal, so take advantage now!A Bible on the Moon – “The first lunar Bible traveled to Earth’s satellite on February 5, 1971, on board Apollo 14. Lunar Module Pilot Edgar D. Mitchell brought the Bible with him to honor Apollo 1 astronauts Ed White, Gus Grissom, and Roger Chaffee who died in a cabin fire during testing of the Apollo 1 vehicle. It had been a dream of White’s to bring a Bible to the moon’s surface. Mitchell turned that dream into a reality.”Roots and Wings – This documentary on Indelible Grace looks really interesting. You can view a trailer here.Grace To Muslims – This is pretty cool and definitely worth praying for: “Renowned preacher and author John MacArthur opened the four-day ‘Truth Matters’ conference Thursday evening by announcing that his evangelistic television program began satellite TVbroadcasting to the entire Muslim world for the first time that afternoon.”Four Deadly Food Disasters – “Hurricanes in the northeast are pretty rare and can leave people at a loss for how to prepare for extraordinarily severe conditions. At the very least, there are standard pieces of advice you can use to more or less muddle through a nasty situation. But perhaps even rarer are freak events involving food that cause a lot of damage. Those with an appetite for tragic tales might enjoy the following…”
Sermon Hymns I – This is an interesting presentation. “‘The Gospel of Jesus Christ’ is the first movement of a planned multi-movement composition entitled Sermon Hymns. This composition is a multimedia work for piano with electronic audio and video playback.” Be sure to give it a fair listen as it begins to really swell near the conclusion.
The smallest tract may be the stone in David’s sling. In the hands of Christ it may bring down a giant soul. —Robert Murray M’Cheyne
- It’s a Fact, Eh? – Labour Day
I have an occasional series on this site that I’ve titled It’s a Fact, Eh?. The series looks to various facts related to the great country that I live in. Today I want to extend that series to Labor Day (or Labour Day, if you’re up here in Canada), because if you’ve got the day off, you’ve got Canada to thank.Working conditions near the end of the 19th century, whether in Canada or the United States, were very different from what they are today. The 40-hour work week was unheard of. Instead, many laborers were expected to work close to double that; the law offered them few rights and very little protection. Needless to say, resistance was growing.In 1869 the Toronto Printer’s Union forwarded a petition to their employers, asking for a reduction in the work week to a “mere” 58 hours—this was at a time when most printers and other laborers were expected to work 12 hours per day, 6 days a week. The request was immediately denied by the owners of the printing shops. Three years later the request had turned to a demand, but it was still denied, and so the printers went on strike. The strike spawned a parade with 2000 workers marching through Toronto to the site of the provincial parliament. By the time it had arrived there, the crowd had swelled to closer to 10,000. Resistance was growing.At that time union activity was technically illegal and the 24 men who headed up the strike committee were imprisoned. However, Canada’s Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, was watching from afar and was eager to score some political points. He quickly passed a Trade Union Act, allowing and protecting union activity, which, not coincidentally, gained him a great deal of popularity with the working class. While many of the striking laborers were immediately punished by their employers, unions soon began to dominate the trade and soon all unions were demanding the 54-hour work week. This was a couple of decades before unions in other large cities in North America began to make similar demands. So here was the first legacy from Toronto’s labor movement—shorter, more reasonable, work weeks, first in Toronto but then across the continent.There was another lasting legacy from this movement—Labor Day. Every year the unions set aside a day for a celebration that would mark the occasion. Parades would be held to honor the marches that had been an integral part of the legalization of trade unions in Canada. In 1882 an American labor leader named Peter McGuire witnessed one of these festivals, having been asked to speak at just such an event in Toronto. He decided to implement the same thing in New York City and chose September 5 as the annual date.Labor Day gained traction on both sides of the border and it was declared a national holiday in both Canada and the United States in 1894.
Since then many traditions have arisen around the day. It is the symbolic end of summer and, at least around here, the return to normal life after a long summer. It is traditionally the last day that a person can wear white and be considered fashionable. It is the last day of summer vacation, which means that tomorrow is the day that Canadian children will return to their schools. And at least in Toronto, it is still the occasion of a labor parade.
So as you enjoy your day off, and as you look forward to fall, whether you believe in unions or despise them, at least know that you owe this day off to Canada. You’re welcome.
- A La Carte (9/5)
Justine’s Story – I think it is good for us to read stories like this every now and again, lest we forget the horror and devastation of abortion. “On the 23rd anniversary of her abortion, Justine Kyker warns others of side effects and regrets.”Loving Christ…Practically – Erik Kowalker looks to J.C. Ryle to find some practical implications of loving Christ.The Sermon, One Hour Later – Here is a question I asked Brian Croft, and he was kind enough to answer it at his Practical Shepherding blog: “How does a pastor evaluate his sermon one hour after preaching it?” In other words, if someone comes to me shortly after preaching and says, “How did your sermon go?,” how do I answer?Electronic Self-Projection – Dane Ortlund asks some good questions about social media and its tendency to make us into self-promoters. “And the amount of self-foregrounding that takes place on these media—by Christians—by pastors—is troubling. Promotion of our own books, letting everyone know where we’ve been and whom we’ve met, drawing attention to what others are saying of us—how easily we Corinthianize and employ the world’s mindset for ostensibly kingdom purposes.”9/11’s Spiritual Impact – Just about everyone is looking back to 9/11 and trying to understand its impact, 10 years later. Here is one of many attempts to guage its spiritual impact.Astronomy Picture of the Day – This is a fascinating picture if, for no other reason, simply because there is so much going on at once.
What fools are they who, for a drop of pleasure, drink a sea of wrath. —Thomas Watson
- Linger, Linger, Linger
A few nights ago a friend shared a powerful little piece of writing that deals with the incarnation of Jesus. A bit of research shows that it comes from the end of a song by the rapper Json. It is obviously from a sermon, though I’m not sure who the preacher is. Maybe someone can fill in the details. For now, here it is. It seemed poetic, so I put it in the form of verse.
In order for Jesus to suffer and die,
He had to plan way ahead of time
because he couldn’t die.
Immortal, He didn’t have a body
And yet he wanted to die.
So, He planned the whole thing
by clothing himself with a body,
so that He could get hungry
and get weary
and have sore feet.
The incarnation of Jesus is the preparation
of nerve endings
for the nails,
the preparation of a brow
or thorns pressed through.
He needed to have a broad back
so that there was a place
for the whips.
He needed to have feet
so that there was a place
He needed to have a side
so that there was a place
for the sword to go in.
He needed to have fleshy cheeks
so that Judas would have a place to kiss
and there would be a place for the spit
to run down that the soldiers put on him.
He needed a brain and a spinal column
with no vinegar and no gall,
so that the exquisiteness of the pain
could be fully felt.
So I plead with you, when you’re reading the Bible and you read texts like: “He loved you and gave himself for you,” you wouldn’t go too fast over it. Linger, linger, linger, and plead with Jesus that your eyes would be opened.
- Weekend A La Carte (9/3)
Pull the Plug! – Randy Alcorn: “Here is a sad and bewildering commentary that captures in one example the utter inefficiency and sometimes craziness of a government that talks about controlling spending, but never seems to actually do it even when it would appear so easy—as in JUST PULL THE PLUG!”Sola Scriptura – Canadians (or Americans who live close to the border) may want to take a look at this year’s Sola Scriptura conferences. They will be held in London, Toronto and Vancouver.The O.T. on One Page – Here is David Murray’s attempt to sum up the contents of the Old Testament books on one page.The Book of Revelation – John Dyer’s article on the writing of Revelation is well worth the read: “John didn’t just look up passages that supported his point. And he didn’t memorize a few powerful proof texts to argue and impress. He knew the Scriptures. He lived the Scriptures. The words of God were a part of him that couldn’t help but flow from his pen.”There Never Was Such Another – Kevin DeYoung was was moved by this touching description of Charles Hodge with his fifty-one year-old dying wife Sarah. You probably will be too.The Speed of Information – Funny and pretty much true.
Christ is so in love with holiness, that at the price of his blood he will buy it for us. —John Flavel