Book Review: A Full Life

A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety

My Rating – If you are looking for something

Level – Easy, short (just over 200 pages), but a little slow

Summary
This isn’t a book about his presidency, he almost spends the least amount of time on that (his shortest chapter, by one page, is about his entire political career leading up the presidency). It is quite an autobiography either, because it isn’t comprehensive enough, though it is obviously written in the first person perspective. Mostly, it seems to be just a few thoughts on most of the major events in his life.

The book is broken into eight chapters – Archery & the Race Issue, this is the town in which he grew up, with additional thoughts on race at the time (and now to some extent); Navy Years, about his time in Annapolis and in the Navy including the first nuclear submarine, up until his father dies; Back to Georgia, leaving the Navy, taking over the family farm, foray in to politics; Atlanta to Washington, from running for Governor to running for President; Life in the White House; Issues Mostly Resolved, major political issues that he considered mostly complete/accomplished; Problems Still Pending, the issues that were not resolved; Back Home, post presidency, including his work with the Carter Center and Habitat for Humanity.

My Thoughts
I generally enjoyed this book. It is written well enough, but it can be a little slow. In some ways, it feels like talking with an old man, the stories are a little long winded, and some don’t seem to have a point. I didn’t mind this too much, it reminded me of talking with my granddads (both of which passed away last summer). They were from Georgia and South Alabama, both born a few months after Jimmy, and both served in the Navy. The one from Georgia, also named James, likewise taught Sunday School in a Southern Baptist Church for decades. So, for me, there was some very familiar about his life stories (except political office aspects).

Carter was out of office four years before I was born, and up until a few years ago, all I really knew about him was ‘stagflation’, ‘malaise’, and that yankees (especially Kennedys) didn’t like him. Granted, by his own admission, these are his views of events, but it does make me want to go find his official biography of his presidency. I didn’t know that he created the Departments of Energy and Education, that he was a proponent of Universal Healthcare, or supported decriminalizing weed. It is honestly a little depressing that we are still having these debates more than 40 years later with little to no progress.

The other thing everyone knows about Carter is that he is the ‘greatest ex-president ever.’ This certainly shows in the book, as he was in his early 50s when he was out of office, he felt he had a lot to do, and didn’t want to ‘just’ have a museum or library. That is why the Carter Center exists, he wanted a place to work, and it has done a great deal of good, especially as it pivoted to tropical diseases over the past few decades.

The two issues chapters were some of the most interesting, especially to see a politician state such clear positions, and to see how many are unfortunately still issues today. I don’t agree with all of his politics, but I appreciate his articulation and reasons behind it. If you have interest in Jimmy Carter, this alone probable makes the book worth it.  A little slow, but short and easy to read, he gives us something between a diary and an autobiography. Overall, I think it is one worth putting on your list.

We are all feeling this right now

A little old, but it has been making the rounds. Pretty accurate for what I’ve been experiencing recently. Prior to a month ago, I don’t think I had done a video conference. I’ve done some video chats with some family members, but never multiple people or groups at once. I saw this a few weeks ago, but didn’t quite get all of it. Now, having done multiple conferences over the past week weeks, this only gets more funny.

 

It is Still Lent

Believe it or not, it is still Lent. Everything seems to have gone to the wayside, due to Pandemic, but it is important to remember. Not necessarily Lent, as most people know it, but Good Friday next Friday and, of course, Easter Sunday. I’ve written some thoughts on Lent before, because it has always been a little odd to me. Some people hate it and don’t do it because the Bible doesn’t say we have to, others do it, because their Church says they have to. I don’t always participate, because I feel as if I am not ‘doing it right’. But it should at least be a reflective time. I time to think about our own brokenness and remember of what Christ experienced our punishment for us.

This included being separated from God. Right now, while we are all separated from most everyone and everything, and we are all too aware of the brokenness of the world, it is just that much more important to focus on the Cross and especially the Resurrection. It should point us to our future hope, when there will be no more pain and suffering, no more death, and no more separation. This is a good Lenten practice anyway, but with so much going on right on, I pray everyone is remembering where we can find hope and that that can bring come level of comfort during this time.

Thoughts on Covid-19, Quarantine, and Community

I suppose it was inevitable that I would write something about all that is going on. I wanted to get back to posting my reviews and some other thoughts, but it seems impossible to get Covid-19 off your mind, especially after having remote church service again yesterday.

Providentially, perhaps, I was reading part of Psalm 42 yesterday. Psalm 42 & 43 were likely originally one but were broken up at some point for an unknown reason. The psalm is a pretty well-known one, it is where we get the song ‘as the deer pant(eth) for the water.’ It is not written by David, but by the Sons of Korah (or Korathites), yet it is often attributed to David as a prayer and during a when he is away from the temple, possibly when he was hiding from Absalom. Some modern critics, of course, give no attribution to David, but what is not in dispute is we have a man who is not in Jerusalem, and is longing to be back so that he can worship God.

Because of the work of Christ on the cross, we no longer need a temple or priest or anything else to worship God. We can go directly to God with our prayers, songs, praise and lemants. However, when we are seperated from our community of worship, as we have been the past few weeks, there is a sense of loss. The psalm is in three stanzas, each ending with –

Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
    my salvation and my God.

It struck me how I do long to praise him again, in community, with other believers and friends at our church home. Again, we can all sing and praise God on our own, in our homes, as we have been doing. But I think it is important to remember that it is still lacking, something is missing, it just isn’t the same. Pastors can ask their congregants to post pictures of their families singing and taking communion together, and that helps, but we must acknowledge the longing. We miss some aspects of God that He reveals to us in and through community and taking communion together. So, I feel that deeply right now, that as a deer longs for streams of water, I long to worship again in community.

This time of longing should also remind us of future hope. That one day in the new Earth we will have perfect communion, all believers worship together, before God himself. We need to remember, always, that one day perfection will come and all the feelings of missing and lacking will be no more.

While it isn’t as enjoyable, please remember we are all ‘social distancing’ for the good of others. This is loving your neighbor. It is important to remember that no matter how inconvenient it is to be stuck in your house, it is far less of a pain than being hospitalized or seeing a loved one on a ventilator. It is a sacrifice for us, but Christians should not be scared to love others in this way. Another thing to remember is that while you may be able to work from home (which, again, is quite inconvenient) others may have no work at all.

Ask your pastors or community group leaders if they know of someone in your community in need, someone who has not received a paycheck in a week or who may not receive one in the next few weeks. I’d challenge everyone to personally decide if the need all (or any) of the stimulus money they are receiving in a few weeks. Maybe you need to shore up your own emergency fund first, but if you are still receiving your regular paycheck, consider giving most or all of it to your Church to be distributed to those who really need it. This wouldn’t be the first time Christians did this (see Acts, Galatians, etc. in the New Testament) and is unlikely it will be the last.

Also, keep in touch with your community and your actual neighbors. Maybe some are old or immunocompromised and cannot go out to the grocery store or to the pharmacy. This should be a time of Christians being once again known for charity in the community.

Remember, too, that while it is annoying, staying at home will help. In a month or so when rates are (hopefully) dropping, let’s remember not to look back and see it was all for nothing, that not that many people were impacted. It will be because of the actions we took to slow the spread, that the rates will decline. As a population, it is hard to see counterfactuals, something that cannot be proven. It is easy to see rates drop and be flippant, but it is because they are actually effective measures that are taken. It is a good reminder that the original vaccine was for Cow Pox (vaccine roughly means ‘no cow’ in Latin) and it took only a single generation before we have the original anti-vaxxers, people who questions the use of vaccines (and this was over 300 years ago). Of course, we still have these problem today, such as the measles outbreak last fall, a disease that was eradicated in the US 20 years ago.

Finally, look for the good where you can. Sure, maybe your babies are crying during communion, but maybe you also have the opportunity to talk with your other children about the significance of communion or what it means to be baptised. Our daughter is too young to attend service at our church regularly, but now she watches it with us. And she loves to sing, whether she knows the words or not. If she doesn’t, sometimes we laugh as she pretends she does. Or yesterday, there was a song she did know – It is Well – which is quite significant to us and so she sings and you wish you had closed the windows because no the pollen is getting to you and making your eyes water. Maybe like us, you have tried to keep your community group going by video conference. It isn’t always the best, and soon all men will have only two hairstyle – buzz cut and hat – but it is good to see everyone and at least check in on each other.

So, keep connected, everyone, we will be together eventually. Admit that longing to be together again. Remember that we are in a fallen broken world, but will live on day perfectly, together. Hope in God.

Book Review: Jesus Skeptic

Jesus Skeptic

My Rating – Put it on your list

Level – Easy, moderate length (300ish)

Summary
The subtitle does a good job of laying out the premise of the book. As a trained skeptic (journalist) he looks into the impact of Christians and into the credibility of the claims for Christ. The latter is a kind of a classical apologetics for Christ, while the former is more of a modern defense and response to some of the attacks against Christians today.

The book is broken into three parts – Skeptics Welcome, Measuring Christianity’s Impact on Society, and The Most Influential Person – as well as preface, intro, conclusion, and three appendices. The first part is autobiographical and how he came to start exploring Christianity. As an aside for this section, I didn’t like his capitalization of ‘primary evidence’ or him treating the term like it was new or proprietary. The second part looks at things like scientist who were Christians during the scientific revolution, the early Christian efforts to care for people which led to the creation of hospitals, as well as the establishment of public education and Universities. The final part is mostly classic apologetics – did Jesus exist, what did he do, what did his followers believe about him.

My Thoughts
This is also a little nit-picky, but the subtitle doesn’t match the order of the next parts in the book. He explore impact first. Of course most early schools were started to train pastors, and public schools were established to teach literacy, so that people could read the Bible. He takes this to combat the attack that Christians are anti-intellectual today, and as general evidence of the goodness of Christianity (especially with hospitals). He is a little all or nothing in that approach, because there are certainly anti-intellectual Christians, and many of those are big in the home school movement and the general attack on public school that exists today (all with no trace of irony). He has a chapter on the scientific revolution, and the impact of Christians who were important scientist. The stories are good and the evidence of their belief is pretty clear, but I don’t think it will have the apologetic impact he seems to think it might. Similarly, he focuses on abolitionist and slaves that were Christian, but I think attacks on Christianity will only focus on defenders of slavery (which he does acknowledge) or generally doubt the validity of the slaves beliefs.

The final section is the best part of the book, and probably the most useful for young or new Christians. Proof that Jesus (the person) existed is overwhelming and not in dispute in academia, I think the only doubters are internet Atheists, but he does a good job displaying the information from sources outside of Christianity. A common attack against Christian beliefs is that the Resurrection and Deification of Christ were much later additions to the established Church (despite clear evidence to the contrary in the Bible). I think the Divinci Code makes this claim, so it is pretty popular now. Of course there is non-Christian written evidence by Jewish and Greek historians written a few decades (not centuries) after Christ that state that Christians claim Jesus was raised from the dead and that they worshiped him as a god.

The final chapter alone is worth the book. The middle section is good. It is important for Christians to know their history and the impact we’ve had on the world, but the apologetic aspect of the last part is of greater importance. As a church, we’ve done a poor job education our people and this is especially true in history and apologetcs. The books is really well written and very accessible. My hope would be that it would spark some interest in Christians knowing more about ourselves and better able to defend attacks. If you are starting this topic, or already interested, this is a book to add to your list.

*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Bible Tells Me So…

The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It

My Rating – If you are looking for something

Level – Medium length, easy read (Enns is an academic, but writes for a popular audience)

Summary
In some ways it is a little difficult to summarize this book. This is one of his few books that is written entirely for popular audiences, and he uses a unique form/structure, so it bounces around some. If you are familiar with Enns, there won’t be too much new here. For the most part you are getting some higher criticism, difficult passage in the Old Testament (as in, both things we just don’t like and unclear Hebrew), Jesus reinterpreting the Old Testament and changing the Law (because he is God), and Paul doing the same (in light of the resurrection).  The first chapter is autobiographical and touches on the subtitle of the book, but the following chapters mostly fit into the above outlines.

There are seven chapters – I’ll take door number three; God did what?!; God likes stories; Why doesn’t God make up his mind?; Jesus is bigger than the Bible; No one saw this coming; and The Bible, just as it is. The last chapter is a mostly summary and concluding remarks. Each chapter is broken into short (usually just under 5 pages) writings on anecdotes or individual passages form the Bible.

My Thoughts
If you never read any of Enns, this book could be a good places to start. If you have read most of his other books, maybe pass. Alternatively, if you want a summary of this book and response you could read Longmen’s Confronting Old Testament Controversies. You do get a little bit more of the his life story in the first chapter, but I was expecting more on the subtitle. I thought there were be more a thesis regarding our hyper focus on arguing/defending the Bible, and then the impact of that on how we read it. I agree with the former, and was really hoping on my insight on the later. However, often the subtitle and sometimes in the the title are written by the editors/publisher. I might have passed if I had know how small a part of the book this idea was.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. I really like Enns as a writer, his style is short and funny. Everything is very readable, almost like a large compilation of blog posts (but better/more organized). There are points with which I disagree, and some of his translation seem a little too lose, making them lead more to the point he is trying to make than a stricter/better interpretation. It wouldn’t be a the top of my list, but if you’ve read a good bit about OT issues/problems/’contradictions’ or the way Jesus/Paul change/reinterpret them and you are still looking for something, this would be a good option. He has an appendix of notes and further reading from people who agree and disagree with him.

2020 Reading Challenge

I didn’t not reach my goal last year, so I’m trying to be even more realistic this year. I was really torn on setting the goal at 12 or 15. Going with 12 really seems doable, but that isn’t very challenging is it? So, I’ll try to push myself and get the 15 I’d like to read. I have 10 laid out already, one more fiction that will be one or the other depending on which one is in stock at the Library this weekend. The other four will be some combination of the many books on my past few challenges that I have not gotten to yet, a book I want to borrow from a buddy, and ARC books (which, I really plan to ramp down this year).

Non-fictionGödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, at 822 pages, this is the second biggest book on my list for this year and one of my top five life goal, big book, non-fiction books to pick up. I started it last year, and only went a few chapters in, it isn’t really the amazing book I had heard, but maybe it picks up. If not, it will be the first major book I’ve given up on. If I have time, I want to get to is The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, which is a book I bought for Mrs. MMT a few years ago on the advice of MxPx front man Mike Herrera

Biography/autobiographyA Full Life: Reflections at Ninety was on my list the last three years, but I didn’t make it to it, so I’ll stick it back on this list. Thankfully, Jimmy has hung on with me.

Fiction – At 864 pages, Anna Karenina, will be my biggest book this year and the third longest single volume fiction book I’ve ever read. This was on my list last year, but Mrs. MMT stole it; however, she did enjoy it. Next up for fiction is either Dune or The Gunslinger. I’ve heard good things about both, and I always like sci-fi, but even better, they are both intro’s to long series, which is nice because I don’t have to think about what to read next. Not sure which it will be, heading to the library with Sprout this weekend and I’ll grab which ever they have. Rounding out fiction for the year will be The World’s Great Short Stories, because I like short stories.

Christian-y type books – Only four books are planned in this category this year, though this categories tends to be the largest due to ARC books and loans from friends. Technically, I’ve already one (Jesus Skeptic). The other three are The Meaning of Marriage by Keller, which is supposed to be one of the best and one my community group may do. One we’ve already started is The Great Divorce. Another book I’ve had on my list for a few years is Speaking Truth in Love, so I fully intend to finally knock that out.

This category is also good for my unplanned mostly due to ARCs, but also my long list of books I’d like to read such as Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hand, Basic Christianity, and Church History in Plain Language. I also have the idea of potentially read reading Prayer (Keller), which is something I rarely do.

Commentaries, Theology, and Language – No big commentary this year and Greek for the Rest of Us, will, unfortunately, remain on the backburner for now. The only goal I have this year is Foundations of the Christian Faith (Boice). I’ve read chapters of this at various time for different studies of Theology, but I’ve never sat down to read the whole thing cover to cover, despite it being the one I recommend to people. Boice was a pastor, so this volume is less technical than others, while still being thorough (740) pages. To that end, it is on the list because Mrs. MMT wants to study theology, so I am reading it with her.

Time permitting, I’ll finally knock out Five Views on Biblical Inearrency. This has also been on my list for about three years, and it has been awhile since I’ve been able to read one of the X Views on… type books, so maybe I will be able to get to it at some point.

Devotional – I read the Bible last year (ish), so I’m back to a true devotional. It must be the year of Keller for me, so I’m doing Songs of Jesus, which is a devotional based on the Psalms. I did a devotional/commentary on Psalms a few years ago and really enjoyed it.

That is it for this year, hopefully life will permit me to get to these.

 

2019 Reading Challenge Review

TL;DR – Fail.

I had 20 book on my 2019 Read Challenge, 16 that were specifically called out and four that were TBD’s, overall, I only hit 10 (depending on how you count) with only four that were on my specific list. Turns out that a twin pregnancy, and actually having two infants, is a bit more tiring and time consuming that I had originally thought. Who knew?

I didn’t get to many on my list, six of them I never opened, but two I started and didn’t finish. One was Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, which I’m a few hundred pages into, and may actually give up on. It is well written, and kind of funny, but it is long and tedious and incredibly repetitive. I know people on the internet love this book, but I’m either too dump or too smart, so I guess I’ll never know. It sounds funny, but the other book I didn’t finish was the Bible. Specifically, the M’Cheyne reading plan, which I’ve written about before and generally liked. This year, however, I didn’t like it. So, there will be a forthcoming post about the pros/cons. I also didn’t have 30 minutes to read the Bible each morning as I had hoped. I feel good that I read all the parts that I wasn’t sure I’ve read before, so at least now I’m confident I’ve read the Bible in it’s entirety.

Here are the books I did read:

The Rise of Endymion (reviewed) – Final book in the Hyperion Cantos series. Somewhat of a weak ending, but overall on of the great Sci-fi series I’ve ever read.
Just After Sunset – Collection of short stories from Stephen King, who might be favorite fiction writer of all time. The stories were hit or miss, but mostly good, with one story line making it into my nightmare, so that is a good sign.
Einstein Never Used Flashcards – I’ve had this book on the list of a bit, but thought it had more to do with that 3-5 range for children. Instead, it is more broadly about how small children learn, starting as young as six months. It has a lot of cool experiments you can run on your own children.
New International Greek Commentary on Mark – I’ll have a review of this later, but a different kind than usual with thoughts on the other two-three commentaries I skimmed.
Knowing God – Short study on the attributes of God, even better than I thought it would be. Still need to review it.
The Bible Tells Me So – I still need to get a review out for this, but I was little disappointed. In some ways, if you’ve followed Enns at all, there was knowing new, and the subtitle (how defending the Bible left us unable to read it) was less a part of the book, and therefore less challenge, than I anticipated.
12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You (reviewed) – This was an interesting read after reading Irresistible. I wouldn’t say it is necessary a Christian take on it, but maybe how we should react as Christians. It is also specifically focused on smart phones.
Confronting Old Testament Controversies (reviewed) – Probably the best book I read this year, would recommend it over The Bible Tells Me So.
The Power of Christian Contentment (reviewed) – This was one of the few ARC titles I read this year, and providentially came at an important time in my life.
Narrative Apologetics (reviewed) – Another one of the ARC books I received this year.
A Christmas Carol – I’ll probably put of the review of this book until December, for obvious reasons. I know the story well, I watch two-four of the movie adaptations every year and have done so for decades. I’ve even seen this play (as an adult, I think it is the only one I’ve ever seen). It is one of my all time favorite stories, and now one of my favorite books.

So, that’s it for me this year. I’ll reload a few more on to the 2020 Challenge and see if I can do better this time.

Top Post’s of 2019

Doing a top post’s of a year is what all good, lazy bloggers do at the end of the year. This is actually only the second one I’ve done because I didn’t know until last year that WordPress gave me all these stats. Anyway, overall, this year was a little better than I thought. I had the least post since I started taking the blog a little more seriously back in 2016 (I had over 100 post that year), with only 16. I was happy to see that my views/visitors were actually higher than 2017, but dipped from last year (63 post and almost 50,000 words). I think this is due to finally have some legacy past, some that keep showing up in search engines. For instance, Sapiens led in 2017 and 2018, despite being posted in 2016; it dropped to 11 this year. This has led to an interesting impact, as no a single posts I actually wrote this year made it to my top 10 viewed post this year. So, here it is, my most viewed posts of 2019:

Book Review: We’re Pregnant
Book Review: Disciplines of a Godly Man
1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11
Book Review: Imperfect Disciple
Book Review: Darkness is My Only Companion
Book Review: Five Marks of a Man
Book Review: Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life
1 Thessalonians 1-2:12
Cheat Sheet to the Minor Prophets
Book Review: Practicing the King’s Economy

Unsurprisingly, seven of the 10 were book reviews. For my review last year, I noted that these are the majority of what I did, and also the most popular, and that I should do more of them. Yet, my goal was to actually do less and focus on more original content, however that didn’t really happen this year. Of the seven book reviews, six were in the top ten last year (Five Marks of a Man being the outside), which I think must have more to do with the popularity of the book than with what I have to say about it. What was surprising, where two of my seven part Thessalonians, series were in the top 10, and my Cheat Sheet (which was my intro) to the Minor Prophets made its way up there, despite being written back in 2016. The Minor Prophets series (which I never finished) and the Thessalonians series are probably the two series/set of writings I’m most proud of, so it was cool to see them pop up. 

Of posts actually written this year, I’m Still Here was number one. I would think the page view would skew heavily towards things written in the January, but interestingly, while 2019 Reading Challenge was number 3 (and my second post written), my 2018 Reading Challenge review (first post written) was the least viewed of the year. Maybe bad timing.

I’ll post one prediction for 2020, I think the Review I did this year for Confronting Old Testament Controversies will be up there. It is a great book, and I hope it takes off. So, that is it for 2019. I appreciate everyone who has read or commented on my posts. Thanks for playing along, I’ll try to do better next year.