Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Most Remakes Are Awful - A Couple of Exceptions

I'll go ahead and say it: most remakes of hit songs are unnecessary. That is, more often than not, a singer covering a well-known song is doing something that the world would be better off without. In most cases, they simply do an inferior job; the new version isn't as good as the original. It typically plays out one of three ways:

1. Sometimes, the remake is so identical to the original that you have to ask "what's the point?" 

2. Some artists will try to avoid that scenario by making such radical changes to the song that it becomes barely recognizable. And usually, that's a disaster.

3. Many artists fails to realize that their voice simply isn't right for a particular song.

As with all truths, however, there are exceptions.

A notable exception to #2 above is Chantay Savage's masterful reworking of the Gloria Gaynor's anthem "I Will Survive".  One listen of this slow jazz version will abolish any notions of this as a disco song.

For situation #3 above, Sara Evans provides a nice antidote when she covers Rod Stewart's "My Heart Can't Tell You No". Her voice is so perfectly suited to this tune that it becomes obvious that Evans should have been the one who recorded this tune first. I can't take Stewart's version seriously anymore.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What I Read in 2011

Because I write reviews as part of Thomas Nelson Publishing's Booksneeze program, I have posted reviews of most of the books I have read this year. Click the link to see the review.  I don't get all my books through Booksneeze, so I didn't write a review of every book I read.

I listed these books roughly in order, starting with my favorite, but I liked each one. The top 3 are pretty much interchangeable in terms of preference. Also, I reviewed two bibles and several children's books, which I didn't rank. 

My Favorite Books I Read in 2011:
(this one has a comment from the author!)
Paper Angels
(So does this one!)

Fahrenheit 451  (I read several times as a kid, but re-read it this year)
The Book of Man
(this review got picked up by Burnside and generated some conversation)

Erasing Hell

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Too bad this one was Rated R; there's a great story in there if you get past the unnecessary titillating stuff)



The year isn't quite over yet, and I am currently reading
Raising a Modern-Day Knight
Twelve Mighty Orphans
5 Conversations You Must Have With Your Son
Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

Friday, December 09, 2011

Storms of Life

Image from AP: See bottom of page for link
It's the eternal question: why do bad things happen to followers of Christ?

I found an answer that works for me, in a portion of the story of Noah and the Great Flood, located in the 8th chapter of Genesis. This passage has given me guidance on how to react to the hard things in life.

It's important to remember that much of our Christian walk is described in the bible in pictures. The Flood was caused by an intense and lengthy storm, and storms often represent trouble in our lives. Read on for just such a representation:

Genesis 8:1
"And God remembered Noah, and all the animals, and all the cattle that were with him in the ark; and God made a wind to pass over the earth, and the waters subsided."

The first verse opens with a reminder that God doesn't forget His people, especially in storms. This truth applies even when the trouble is the consequence of our own sin. Often we have storms in life that we bring upon ourselves. Noah didn't cause this storm to come about, but Mankind did. Man brought this destruction on himself. 


Before continuing in Genesis 8, we need to take time to balance what was said in the preceding paragraph. That example was given to show that we often can be the ones at fault for the appearance of storms in our life. However, it needs to be emphasized that the opposite is true, as well. It is entirely possible to be in the middle of a tough situation which we had no hand in causing.

Here's an example:

Mark 4:35-40 MKJV
"And evening having come, He said to them on that day, Let us pass over to the other side. And when they had sent away the crowd, they took Him with them as He was in the boat. And there were also other little boats with Him. And there arose a windstorm, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was now full. And He was in the stern of the boat, asleep on a headrest. And they awakened Him and said to Him, Master, do You not care that we perish? And He awakened and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, Peace! Be still! And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. And He said to them, Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?"

We see here that Jesus is the one who directed them to go where they would encounter the storm, and with it, an opportunity to learn a thing or two about trusting in Him.

I wanted to include this passage to make the point that God will allow storms to surround us, and we need not feel guilty about such circumstances. One of the tricks of Satan is to try and make us blame ourselves when things go wrong, or worse, to think that God is punishing us for our bad behavior. Hopefully, this passage will expose the enemy for the liar that he is.

Now, back to Genesis 8:1:

His mercy

God has been sorry He made man, but He shows mercy by allowing Noah to continue to live. We may go through storms, but He won't let us get destroyed completely; however, the destruction that does happen is for cleansing. Parts of us are being chipped away, parts that do not fit into the mold of His character.

A Need-To-Know Basis

Additionally, let us keep in mind that the storms will stop in God's time, not our own. Matthew Henry's commentary points out that God had told Noah when the flood would come, but He didn't tell Noah when and how the storms would end. God had to tell Noah about the flood ahead of time, as it was necessary to his preparing the ark, but telling him about the end of the flood would keep Noah from being able to exercise his faith and patience.

Genesis 8:2-3
Faith means not relying on what you can see

Modern pictures of the account of the Flood depict Noah as out on the deck, not unlike a cruise ship. In fact, however, he had closed the Ark off, and stayed down below. He didn't rely on what he could see; he relied on hearing from the Lord

Genesis 8:7
"And he sent out the raven, which went forth going to and fro, until the waters were dried from the earth."

The thinking of the carnally minded person vs. the Spirit-led person
It seems as though the raven never came back--not because he found land (he didn't). He probably went from one dead carcass to another, eating what he could. He never came back to the safety of the boat, which was provided by God. He may well have drowned. He represents carnality; the mind focused on this world, finding supposed safety and solice in what the world has to offer.

Contrast this with the dove in verses 8-11, who came back for rest and safety. In Scripture, the dove represents the Holy Spirit; or Spirit-led person; in this passage, it represent one who may go and look around to see if the storm is over, but knows to always return to the Lord, and trust in Him for safety and rest, and comfort.

Genesis 8:8-11

"And he sent out the dove from him, to see if the waters had become low on the ground. But the dove found no resting-place for the sole of her foot, and returned to him into the ark; for the waters were on the whole earth; and he put forth his hand, and took her, and brought her to him into the ark. And he waited yet other seven days, and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark. And the dove came to him at eventide; and behold, in her beak was an olive-leaf plucked off; and Noah knew that the waters had become low on the earth."

The meaning of the Olive leaf

The Hebrew word used here for olive means "something which yields an illuminating oil." Oil has spiritual significance as well, and usually represents the spirit.

Of course, the Olive branch also symbolizes peace; always remember that God does not look at His people as enemies.

Genesis 8:12-14

"And he waited yet other seven days, and sent forth the dove; but she returned no more to him. And it came to pass in the six hundred and first year, in the first month , on the first of the month, that the waters were dried up from the earth. And Noah removed the covering of the ark, and looked, and behold, the surface of the ground was dried. And in the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth was dry." 

Waiting on God's direction

Notice that even though Noah saw that it looked safe, he didn't leave the boat until told to by God. Waiting on the Lord is hardest when it seems safe, but as this story shows us, it only seems safe in our eyes, to our logic. And human logic always which falls short of God's wisdom.

Genesis 8:15-20

"And God spoke to Noah, saying, Go out of the ark, thou, and thy wife, and thy sons, and thy sons' wives with thee. Bring forth with thee every animal which is with thee, of all flesh, fowl as well as cattle, and all the creeping things which creep on the earth, that they may swarm on the earth, and may be fruitful and multiply on the earth. And Noah went out, and his sons, and his wife, and his sons' wives with him. All the animals, all the creeping things, and all the fowl--everything that moves on the earth, after their kinds, went out of the ark. And Noah built an altar to Jehovah; and took of every clean animal, and of all clean fowl, and offered up burnt-offerings on the altar." 

The Importance of worshipping the Lord

The first thing Noah did after unloading the boat was an act of worship. How is your worship life? How is it while in the middle of a storm? How is it when the storms have done their damage?

Genesis 8:21
"And Jehovah smelled the sweet odor. And Jehovah said in his heart, I will no more henceforth curse the ground on account of Man, for the thought of Man's heart is evil from his youth; and I will no more smite every living thing, as I have done."

You may recall that God cursed the ground in Gen 3:17, but here He takes it back. He acknowledges that man has an evil heart. "From his youth" implies that it's genetic, not learned; it's the way we are, at least until God works through us to make us more like He wants us to be.

Genesis 8:22
"Henceforth, all the days of the earth, seed time and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night, shall not cease."

God doesn't just restore life to the earth, He restores order to the world; the seasons are now lined up according to His plan. Always remember that God will use storms of life to bring order to your life, to bring about the circumstances that are best for you.

Link to original image, along with many other amazing photos of Hurricane Irene.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Three Cups: A Review

As a member of Thomas Nelson Publishing's Booksneeze program, I get the occasional free book for review purposes. My latest one is a kid's book: Three Cups, by Tony Townsley, Mark St. Germain, and April Willy. Three Cups tells a story of a child who is given a way to place money that is given to him: one cup each for giving, saving, and spending.

I got the book for my own kids, and sadly, it was a couple of years too late. The book is written at a level of a boy or girl who's around age 4 or 5. It's probably the type of book which is best read to a kid.
That said, it's a great little book, and the story is interesting enough that the kid who hears or reads it doesn't realize he's being preached to or being taught.

Yet, they are being taught an important lesson: it's good to know how to manage your money, and it's good to spend some, to save some, and of course, to give some.

I like this book a lot. Just wish I would have gotten it a few years ago.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Forgiveness: New Thoughts

A short time after I started driving at age 16, I got my first speeding ticket, and countless more followed over the next few years. As I was working low-paying jobs at the time, I had to find an inexpensive way to resolve all these tickets. (Don't bother telling me about the best option--simply driving at or below the speed limit like a good citizen--I am very aware of that.)  I tried deferred adjudication, I tried getting a lawyer to get it off my record, and I even tried taking the defensive driving option.

Each of these remedies has its pros and cons, but I have to admit that I rather enjoyed my annual trips to defensive driving class. After attending it several times, I have become so familiar with the material that I feel like I could teach the class myself.

Another teaching I have heard countless times is the sermon about forgiveness.  I've been a Christian for a long time, and it's been a frequent sermon topic wherever I've been. Because of my frequent and prolonged exposure to this teaching, I thought I knew all there is to know about forgiveness. So imagine my surprise when I ran into some ideas in my personal prayer time that were fresh and new, at least to me. It all started when, a few weeks ago, I began to remember an incident which happened with I was just a 7th-grader.

Here's the scene: I was outside at school, during 6th period off-season workouts for football players who weren't on the basketball team. For reasons unknown, an 8th-grader came up and punched me in the face. To this day, I have no idea why he did this. But he hit me repeatedly, and by the time I gathered my wits enough to defend myself, others came over to break it up. Because nobody was around when this kid initiated it, it appeared to everyone that the two of us were fighting.

The head football coach, Coach Miller, came over and asked why were were fighting. I told him that I had no idea why, but this kid started hitting me. The kid said I shot a rubber band at him, which was not true. The coach had to decide who was telling the truth. He chose to believe the other kid, and then administered punishment to the both of us.

Whistle Sprints
This punishment came in the form of whistle sprints, an unpleasant practice where we are to run at full speed on the football field until the coach blows the whistle. When we hear that, we are to dive horizontally, straight ahead, and slide on the grass, then get up and start running till the whistle blows again, at which point we dive. Because this was winter, the grass was brown and not even a little bit soft. We were basically having to jump into hard ground which contained a negligible bit of grass.

I was upset, of course, that I was being punished so harshly, but even more painful was the fact that the coach didn't believe me.

Many years into my adulthood, I saw him in a restaurant, and I could have walked over and shaken his hand, but I chose to pretend I didn't see him.

The Scene As I Imagine it Would Happen
I had pretty much forgotten this unfortunate episode of my life, but recently it came back to mind. I began daydreaming. I imagined seeing the coach again, perhaps at a restaurant, and then telling him how wrong he was. I imagined him with a sad, remorseful, look on his face.

But then, I came back to reality as a sudden thought shook me: I realized that I had not forgiven Coach Miller for hurting me.  This came as a shock, because I really thought I had this forgiveness thing down. I began to ask God to explain this to me, and it was as if He said that as long as I held onto my right to tell this man how his actions had caused me pain, then I had not really forgiven him. My wish that Coach Miller would feel horribly guilty upon hearing this was effectively a desire to see him punished, and it was a desire that I would be the one administering the punishment.     

So What is Forgiveness, Really?
Since then, I have been re-thinking what I know about forgiveness. Perhaps it's not what I think it is. I do know this: it's separate from forgetfulness. As many commands as I can find in Scripture to forgive, I have yet to run across one instructing us to forget. But in my case, I was holding on to the idea of letting him have it--verbally--and that thought is based on revenge. Revenge and forgiveness cannot be roommates. If I choose to live with one, then the other has to go.

A couple of weeks ago, a video clip has been making the rounds, getting laughs. Two Canadian football legends, now in their late 70's, were brought together onto a stage for the purpose of discussing their playing days on rival teams. It turned out that the two men were still angry at each other over a hit in a game some 50 years ago. They got into a fight, right there on stage. One man hit the other with his cane, then the fists started flying.

Although someone shared this story with me for humor purposes, I didn't laugh. What I saw was two men who let anger and unforgiveness suck the joy right out of their lives for 5 decades. Can anything be more sad?

In Unbroken, author Laura Hillenbrand describes the main character's obsession with revenge toward a cruel POW guard, then says this: "The paradox of vengefulness is that it makes men dependent upon those who have harmed them, believing that their release from pain will come only when they make their tormentors suffer."
I have been praying that God will show me if there is something I have been holding onto for years or decades. He has answered my prayer, and uncovered a couple of things I am not going to delve into here at this time. But the responsibility is now on me to truly let go, to forgive people I may never see again in person. It's on me to let go of my "rights" to make someone feel as miserable as they made me feel. I need to move forward, and not delight in the idea of letting someone have it.

God help me do it. Life's too short to let stuff like this drain the joy out of my life.