Monday, October 29, 2007


I am ready for October to end. I am ready to catch my breath.

That is all.

- Chris

Friday, October 26, 2007

Another note...

I had forgotten how essential music is for my soul, how deeply interwoven melody is with my being: how much an evening spent praising with my fingers and my voice helps me turn back to my God and my King. There's a reason David wrote songs we call Psalms... and there's a reason God has wrapped music around my heart. To worship Him.

In peace...
- Chris

Thursday, October 25, 2007

How could it be?

I am a person of dark heart, depraved mind, and stubborn will. I have, for a time now, been rebellious and unfaithful. Not in big ways. But in lots of little ones. God is dealing with me. I'm thankful for that.

It throws His holiness into sharp relief, when we see our own unrighteousness. His glory contrasted with the darkened surface of the mirrors we are made to be but have so sinfully dimmed... His glory revealed in the sanctifying work of cleaning those mirrors to show Him as He truly is. His incomparable mercy and the riches of His perfect love in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for the ungodly. For you. For me. Even me when I'm like I have been: recalcitrant and wanting my own will, though I know that His is best. What a God we serve.

- Chris

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

3 Seconds: The Power of Thinking Twice review

I (finally!) finished another book I've been meaning to read and review for a while, Dr. Les Parrott's 3 Seconds: The Power of Thinking Twice. The book was published by Zondervan earlier this year, and is one of many books by the author dealing with the basic topic of succeeding in life. The book is relatively short, at 193 pages (I'm not including the promotions for other Les Parrott books at the end), though not so short at the last book I reviewed. Parrott is a widely published (and widely read) doctor of psychology who founded the Center for Relational Development on at Seattle Pacific University. This particular book examines how one can live a more meaningful and impactful life by choosing not to immediately respond to one's first impulse and to embrace six patterns Parrott believes characterize successful people.

The book's length is broken down into a brief foreword by John C. Maxwell, an introduction in which Parrott lays out his thesis, six chapters corresponding to his six important impulses, and a conclusion summarizing his arguments. Parrott's thesis in essence is that taking three seconds to pause and re-examine one's decision: rejecting a primary impulse and embracing a secondary, less natural but more effective, impulse. The chapters cover the following negative and positive impulses:

  1. Empower Yourself: "There's nothing I can do about it," vs. "I can't do everything, but I can do something."

  2. Embrace a Good Challenge: "It's too difficult to even attempt," vs. "I love a challenge."

  3. Fuel Your Passion: "I'll do what happens to come my way," vs. "I'll do what I'm designed to do."

  4. Own Your Piece of the Pie: "It's not my problem, somebody else is to blame," vs. "The buck stops here."

  5. Walk the Extra Mile: "I've done what's required, and that's that," vs. "I'll go above and beyond the mere minimum."

  6. Quit Stewing and Start Doing: "Someday I'm going to do that," vs. "I'm diving in ... starting today."

In each chapter, Parrott dissects the initial impulse, analyzing its appeal and how and why it leads to failure, then follows up with his own second impulse and provides both statistical and anecdotal support for his solution to the problem. Woven throughout each chapter are not only motivational stories but referenes to Scripture (typically without direct, in-text citation, but typically also direct quotes).

Parrott's style is that of the counselor; his background as a psychologist comes through clearly. He deals primarily in the realm of human issues and speaks clearlywhen it comes to our mind's patterns. His writing is clear and simple. He doesn't have a distinctive voice, instead opting for a largely neutral tone that is informative and concise. While this doesn't lend itself to a particularly memorable style, it also keeps any idiosyncrasies from becoming overwhelming or annoying. Each section clearly states the thesis, expounds on it, and then neatly summarizes the ideas presented, along with several anecdotes for each chapter. Parrott doesn't spend a great deal of time dealing with things from a Scriptural perspective, focusing instead on the issues at hand from a psychological perspective (more on this below).

The merits of the book are its clear and concise writing, its skillful use of anecdotes, and its accuracy. As I noted in the stylistic analysis, Parrott's writing isn't particularly stylish, but it is simple and as such has a certain elegance. It's not cluttered, and this works to his advantage: the book gives you the information you want in a way that is easy to read, easy to understand, and easy to remember. The anecdotes presented bring the concepts to life in a way that help ensure that they do not remain mere abstractions. One interesting point in the book's favor, interestingly, is that the book is really not explicitly "Christian." Parrott is a psychologist, and a good one - but he is no theologian, and he makes no claim to be. He cites Christ at several points to build his case, quoting directly from Scripture, but the book is of the sort that it could easily be read by a non-Christian who would still come away having learned something. Perhaps more importantly, the book could easily be read by a non-Christian without feeling like Parrott was beating him or her over the head with the Bible in an attempt to Christianify, if you will, notions that are simply not terribly theological (though of course theology has implications for them). This might strike you as odd, but I see it as a huge advantage to the book: it is general enough to appeal to a broad audience, but has sufficient scriptural hooks to perhaps interest the non-Christian in taking a deeper look at Scripture.

The demerits, interestingly, parallel the merits: they are in the writing style, and the use of anecdotes. The downside to Parrott's lack of a distinctive voice is that the book, while informative and useful, is not terribly memorable. I didn't remember the principles presented without explicit review when I sat down to write this selection only four days after finishing the book. The book's emphasis on pure psychology absent much Scripture, while advantageous as noted above, could prove a turn-off to many Christians (though this is a less a demerit of the book than of the Christian publishing bubble, in my mind). On a related note, explicit referencing, even in footnotes, of the relevant passages would have been a huge boon to the book insofar as it does reference scripture.

I applaud Parrott for having written a credible and useful piece of non-fiction that is simply a good piece of work: that is, for being a good psychologist whose view is informed by his relationship with Christ, not a good Christian psychologist whose work is made irrelevant to the non-Christian by his lack of quality work. Too often I've seen authors who know their Christian audience will buy their book because it's by a Christian, instead of turning out quality work informed by their faith. While I can't say that the book should be mandatory reading, per se, I do think it's worth picking up if you have time. I know the Holy Spirit used it to bring me conviction in some of the areas Parrott addresses, and in so doing motivated me to pursue Him and His will in my life to a greater degree. If you've got some leeway in your schedule (or perhaps more importantly if you don't), you should consider this as one possible read.

- Chris

Sunday, October 21, 2007

3:16 - The Numbers of Hope Review

I just finished Max Lucado's most recent book, 3:16 - The Numbers of Hope. The book was launched, auspiciously, on September 11 as a hopeful note to counter the five-year commemoration of the /11 attack, in what Zondervan deemed one of its boldest publishing moves. I agree, though perhaps not for the reasons they intended. The book is a short text followed by a forty-day devotional. Lucado created the book as an exposition on what is perhaps the single most-quoted and well-known text of the New Testament, John 3:16: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." The text is a remarkable one, to be sure, and Lucado spends each chapter discussing either some aspect of the passage or ideas suggested by it.

The text itself is short, around 160-175 pages of general text followed by about 60 pages of devotional material. Each chapter is quick reading in and of itself, almost devotional length at my quick reading speed, but probably about 35-45 minutes reading for the average reader. The book itself took me only about an hour and half to two hours to read start to finish. Lucado essentially steps through the text of the verse in question, inserting several chapters that diverge from the text itself but follow related concepts and ideas. He also brings in a considerable number of anecdotes from present-day life to contemplate his meditations on Nicodemus' questions and Christ's answers.

The text reads much like what I imagine Lucado's sermons sound like: conversational, low-key, and very down to earth. This isn't high-brow theology; it isn't even low-brow theology: it's basic exposition, which is often an area neglected by preachers who either run towards deep theology or, on the other end of the spectrum, simply jump off into helpful advice with little reference to Scripture. His style is more that of a speaker than a writer; his words are quick-flowing and conversational. He integrates exposition on Scripture with his own stories, typically using the former as introduction to and conclusion to the chapters and the latter as filler. The devotionals are quick and snappy, filled with short thoughts that, while not directly related to the text, are also expository on the text and intended to inspire reaction to the power of the words of John 3:16.

The merits of the book are its focus on the incomparable grace of God and His work in our lives. Lucado draws our attention to the power of the words of John 3:16, which have been heard so many times that they have perhaps become something of a cliche in Christian circles, to the point where we miss their meaning. His meditations on the passage are always Scriptural, which is a pleasant change from some other books I've read recently which bordered on (or outright crossed into) heresy. This was particularly valuable when he spoke about Hell, pulling no punches about Scripture's clear demarcation of the line between salvation and condemnation. Most of the stories he offers as helpful commentary are fairly fresh and engaging. There were few to no grammatical or spelling errors in this book (a pet peeve of mine).

Unfortunately, the demerits of the book outweigh its merits. While Lucado's intent was apparently to take a fresh look at John 3:16 and invoke a new sense of wonder at the text - something well worth doing - I don't believe he succeeded. Indeed, I wonder if this book won't simply reinforce the very stereotypical and trite views of many Christians. Why? Because Lucado offers no profound insights here: he simply hashes through the verse, and instead of taking the time to dive into Scripture's riches, he relies on his own anecdotes. Anecdotes are great, but they are not living and active and powerful, nor do the pierce even to divide between the thoughts and the intentions of the heart. He rarely if ever references Scripture outside of John 3:16 itself, and this is usually set-up for his thoughts on the matter, rather than for looking at God's grace displayed throughout history as recorded by Scripture. Moreover, the time he spends on expository teaching is minimal, as compared to the feel-good anecdotes that, while nice, unfortunately take up most of the space in the book with what is ultimately neither convicting nor inspiring by and large. They may not be hackneyed cliches, but they are also not soul-piercing metaphors for our existence. The book is too short, and the unrelated nature of the devotionals to the rest of the text makes their addition seem an attempt to fill out the short text length. Lucado's lack of skill as a writer also comes through, for better or for worse. While nothing he writes is terribly egregious, and he doesn't make any terrible mistakes, his writing was incredibly bland - to the point where I had to force myself to keep going at points.

The book, to be perfectly honest, disappointed me. While Lucado came highly recommended, the book was not at a level that I find even slightly useful. I cannot recommend it, even to young believers for whom the content would possibly be informative. Read something better written and with more depth - and especially with a stronger call to pursue the glory of God.

Friday, October 19, 2007


Lots of things buzzing around in my head the last few days. I'll try to write them up shortly.

I just finished reading Dr. Les Parrott's 3 Seconds - pretty good book, I'll have a review of it up by this weekend. I also finished Max Lucado's 3:16: The Numbers of Hope last week, and should have a review up this weekend as well.

I'm going to start working more regularly on my book. I need to, if it's ever going to get done. I'm also working on a piece I'm going to try to sell; I need to make some significant revisions, tighten it up, and then send it to the folks I want to sell it to.

Speaking is something I love doing and I'm good at, and I'm starting to consider how I could actually go about doing it instead of just thinking about it.

Writing music remains a passion, and I need to sit down and do it more regularly, rather than in the spurts I do right now. Same thing with playing guitar and practicing piano.

For all of these things, I have the time. I simply need to discipline myself to use it effectively and well. That's a challenge, but one worth pursuing. (Interestingly, that fits right in with some of what Jon Randles spoke about tonight at Paradigm. It's unsurprising, given that I specifically prayed for God to reveal to me what areas I needed to work on. He always does.)

I'm going to make a list, either Saturday or Sunday, of my current goals both immediate and long-term, so that I can get a better sense of vision and purpose right now. I need to refocus on my passions: while I should be responsible in the areas I have been given responsibility in at the moment, that should not come at the cost of shirking my duty to pursue the passions that God has laid on my heart.

And I need to begin more seriously examining what I'm going to do when I graduate, because that point is rapidly approaching, and preparatory points are approaching far more quickly still.

Now I need to sleep so I can start making progress on realigning my schedule once and for all this semester!

May the peace of God guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. And go read 1 Chronicles 16; it's a fantastic passage!

- Chris

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

It fluttered, yellow...

It fluttered, yellow, just across my path, darted to touch me, fled as I twitched in surprise...

One moment I was caught in the mundane. The next, this other creature had jerked me from my stupor into a startled reverie. A flash of brilliant color and a touch on my finger... the day changed.

Just an instant in time, frozen now in memory, in the passing seconds of its happening an eternity of surprised contemplation: that of all the people in this butterfly's path, it landed for that fraction of a second on me. And then thrown out of my own considerations into a moment of marvel: at the pattern across the spiraling wings, at the wind-dance of green behind it, at the penetrating cerulean canvas this day has been painted on ever since the off-white curtain covering it was tugged away by the gentle hand of a golden sun. The air made me blink: it tasted clean, had a hint of a bite though it was warm, not so wet as the summer: fall in my nose and across my throat.

And then I walked on: plunged once more into insipidity. Stoplight ahead and cars flooding through it, crowd surrounding me, flurry of unceasing noise both external and internal, concrete beneath my feet. The background thrum of construction two streets removed, the vibrating echo of the jackhammer one down, the insistent murmur of the dozens on their way to or from class, the unceasing grind of gears in some machine, the dull roar of passing aircraft, the waxing and waning intensity of the swishing and humming of automobiles of every variety. A world of single colors - some bright, most dull - splashed in no particular pattern against a gray, black, and white backdrop which varies only in the distance between the cracks.

The contrast: striking, yet completely unnoticed and unnoted even in my stream of conscious thought. Two worlds coexist, so deeply intermingling and yet so utterly separate from one another: the one sublime, in every moment, the other - in which I nearly always walk - unrelenting almost unreal in its presentation of reality as we have made it.

Beauty is a fragile thing; and it is impossible to destroy: but not impossible to miss. Our perception of it hinges on the trivial, soaring in majestic flight the one moment and plunging to depths of obliviousness the very next, our minds captured by some detail one direction or the other. The transcendent transcends for a singular moment, is again vanished and mysterious the next.

Thoughts flicker hither and thither, dragged down into darkness or thrust up into dazzling light by a single alteration in the same event: test grade, conversation with girlfriend, job review, walk from lunch to dinner and interminable temporal distance between the two. Her frown, his smile, their approval - or not. Confusion at divine choices and befuddlement at mortal decisions. Splendor and tragedy painted on the same canvas and written on the same page - crossing paths and never seeing each other: certainly never realizing the ways in which the twain are one. The sky is bluer when spotted with majestic puffs of pearl. Air is never so wonderful to the lungs as after the rain.

Conversations propel us, thoughts impel us: always forward. Unceasingly unflinchingly unwittingly and all too often unconsciously. Reacting. Rarely acting. Tortured by our inability to control; tormented by our unbreakable grip. Basking in freedom and terribly bored. Loving our jobs and hating to do them.

Pausing? hardly...

Contemplating? rarely...

Meditating even the passing of a breath on the passing of a breath? ...never

We have a penchant for irony no less than for infinite self-distraction.

It fluttered, yellow, behind me into the trees. Forgotten.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

The Superlative Grace of God

It's been about a year...

Today was OU-Texas. (Not, as a friend of mine was surprised to hear, Texas-OU. It made me chuckle: who would ever put it backwards like that?) A year ago, friends and I were in northwest Arkansas, covering the beautiful expanses of the Ozarks. It was glorious.

It was also the beginning of a painful but exhilarating and life-changing period of time. I'm in awe, looking back, how much God has done in my heart, in my mind, in my life in the last year.

I was a jerk on that trip, to be blunt. It was a fun trip, nevertheless, but I was not in a good place. More and more certain habitual sins of mine (especially pride) were coming to the forefront. Arrogance. Argumentativeness. Anger. Irritability. That's a picture of a vile and depraved heart, one reveling in its own self-sufficiency and glorying in self-idolatry. It's me without Him. Me trying to do things in my own strength.

Praise be to God: that He has given me , loyal friends, faithful friends who never stopped seeking my good, even when I had hurt them grievously; that He has given me faithful parents who prayed for me and continued to speak truth in my life; that He has the heart of a perfect Father, ever calling us to Him despite our constant rejection. I am in awe of the fact that He is so good. And His goodness is made infinitely more apparent by comparison to my own utter lack of holiness.

It's funny... I wasn't expecting that set of conviction. But I'd been praying for weeks for God to start a move in my campus ministry, breaking our hearts and convicting us of sin. I explicitly asked Him to start with me. Amusingly, I don't think I actually expected Him to do so. The irony of self-righteousness and arrogance.

It's funny, because looking back I'm disgusted by the darkness in my heart a year ago. But it's also worth paying attention to, because it throws into sharp relief how much depravity remains in my own heart: there is much that God continues to expose on a daily basis. The way I speak. How ungentle I am at times. The still-present (though thankfully diminishing) tendency to win and crush others along the way.

God is faithful, even when we are not, and I am so grateful for His favor in my life, for His continued work, for His love demonstrated through continued conviction. If He has done this much in the year past, how much more will He do in the year ahead?

Again I return to the overwhelming sufficiency and adequacy and abounding nature of His grace. It amazes me, humbles me, shakes me to my core. His glory so perfectly displayed in a way that we in our finite minds would never imagine: by mercy and grace, by making us like Him rather than simply wiping the slate clean and eliminating us once and for all.

His grace.

- Chris

Celebrate victory

I was talking with a friend the other day, and we were discussing various battles with sin in our lives, considering how we work and struggle to overcome them. The Spirit brought to mind something I'd not thought of in quite some time.

We tend to beat ourselves up when we fail in a particular area we've struggled with - pride, selfishness, lust, anger, jealousy, whatever our particular weakness may be. We receive the conviction and heap it back on ourselves several times over in a self-inflicted mental penance. (That's a problem in and of itself. Christ already paid the price for our sins; we need not beat ourselves up every time we fall short. Come to a place of true repentance and brokenhearted-ness? Absolutely. But find some way to atone by beating ourselves up? No.)

But in our rush to chastise ourselves for our failure, we miss an important part of the way God dealt with the Israelites.

Namely, celebration.

Celebration of all He had done, celebration of freedom, celebration of victory.

So why do we not celebrate when we see significant advances in our battles against sin? I am not suggesting that we minimize the ongoing nature of those struggles. Rather, I am suggesting that we celebrate when God has given us victory: even when the war is not over, it is a good thing to celebrate the winning of a battle.

So he and I agreed: when we've both hit certain markers in various ongoing sin battles, we're going to have a party. It will involve pizza, ice cream, and praising of God, rejoicing in all He has accomplished in our lives.

Something to look forward to.

- Chris

Thursday, October 4, 2007

With heavy sigh

It's 2:48 am, and I can't seem to fall sleep tonight. I'm tired, but not sleepy. I hate nights like this...

God, give me grace and peace.

- Chris

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Desultory meditation

I'm going to shave my goatee off on either October 31st or November 1st - whichever day the Society of Physics Students start the 3rd Annual Jim Hicks Memorial No-Shave November Beard contest. Then I'm growing a beard out the rest of the moth. I'll keep it neatly trimmed, but I'm going to give it a shot and see how it goes. There'll be pictures up on here so people can track from far away. It should be amusing, to say the least.

I love being an RA. Sometimes the job is hard, and sometimes it's frustrating, but overall I love the job. I love the people I work with; I love the guys on my floor. We may not spend a ton of time together, but I've enjoyed all the time we have spent together. Nights like tonight, it's trying, since I'll be up till about 1 am. It makes it harder to get up at 6 am. It also makes it harder to have a good quiet time and devotional with God; I have to fit it in instead of before bed.

Il ike rain. It makes me happy. It was just about two years ago that two friends and I went for a long walk in the rain... it started nice and warm, and then turned cold. Good memories, though long ago. I don't miss much of that year: not who I was, not how things were, not what my classes were, etc. I do miss some of the friendships I had then. It's hard to wax nostalgic, though, when God has drawn me so much closer to Him in the time since then, dealt with so much depravity in my heart.

Every once in a while I miss my future wife. I'm looking forward to falling in love with her some day. God's timing will be perfect. Until then, I'm rejoicing in this season of singleness.

Writing music is a delight and a joy to my soul. There is opportunity to worship in the midst of it that is paralleled nowhere else in my experience. Whether it be a simple praise song or a complex suite for piano or a string quartet for a friend's wedding, I love composing.

I read a book on worship recently. I liked a lot of it. Much of it frustrated me, though: his hermeneutics were terrible, and he clearly had a few views that he wanted to advance that was not necessarily well supported by Scripture. There was some good conviction from it nevertheless: a call to dedicate my thought life more toward God and less toward "vegetative" patterns.

I'm just about to finish The Everlasting Man, by Chesterton. While I have a few theological disagreements with him - he was, after all, Catholic, and I am solidly Protestant - I find that his arguments in this book are by and large general enough and fundamental enough that they are compelling on a number of levels. I highly recommend the book; it makes an excellent follow-up read for something like Lewis' Mere Christianity.

I had two midterms each of the last two weeks. They went well. I have another one next week, and I think it, too, will go well.

This semester has been fun. I've been learning good time management, and oddly enough, I've got a lot more time than I'm used to having to do non-scholastic things. Not because I'm not busy: I am. But God has given me grace and helped me see how to effectively use the hours I have been given. Even now, there is much time I could spend more wisely...

There is much learning.

But more than that... there is much opportunity to know God.

I love living for Him.

Good night!

- Chris