Monday, October 31, 2011

Birthday sonnet from one of my students (shmoozing for extra credit)

Thanks to the many of you who sent me birthday greetings and good wishes! It is heart warming to hear from so many of you. One of you (ahem... Looocy!) especially warmed my heart with a sonnet for my birthday--all in iambic pentameter. Thought I'd share it (she's delusional through much of the thing--rabbit trails? What's that?)

Again another year has come around!
No worries: not a thing to cry about!
Despite your age, you're still one to impress,
With journals, push-ups, curry, and the rest!
And though your lectures tend to rabbit-trail,
And all your classes taught seem to entail
Opposing views on worship songs and such,
Most everyone will make it clear how much
Our favorite teacher always makes our day!
So please, allow me one more time to say,
We love to laugh at words you cannot name:
"mature, italian," it's all the same.
You cause us all at CHS to grin.
In all our hearts, we'd NEVER trade you in!!! :D

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!! (feel free to give me extra credit because that was all in iambic pentameter!)

Friday, October 28, 2011

Take a tour of Wales with Isaac Watts in this awe-inspiring video

Sit back for a few short minutes and worship with the Welsh male Fron Choir from Llangollen, Wales. They sing Watts' When I Survey the Wondrous Cross like few others I have ever heard--absolutely thrilling. What's more, they sing on-location in a wonderful gothic setting, like many we will visit on THE HYMNS FOR ALL TIME TOUR, August 11-21, 2012. Early registration discount deadline approaches. Learn more here.

To listen paste in the url and sit back for a treat (would not let me inbed for some reason).

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Kissing at the YMCA

While waiting at the local YMCA today, I observed something that deeply touched my heart. I'll set it down as I did then.

"He also serves who only sits and waits," said the elderly woman, her voice gaspy.

Her husband looked up from his magazine. In her left hand swung a portable oxygen bottle, defacing tubes criss-crossing her features, harnessed to her nostrils like a bridle. Easily in her middle seventies, she had spoken the words borrowed from Milton in an affectionate tone. She halted in front of the man, bending over him, her lips puckered, and partially blocked by the oxygen hoses.

What would he do, I wondered, staring at the pair. Frankly, it was not a particularly romantic moment, not by Hollywood standards.

Lifting his face to hers, the man broke into a smile and puckered his lips. They kissed.

I don't remember what else she was talking about, but with a grunt, the old man hefted himself to his feet, and the couple walked slowly toward the exit. The last thing I heard was her breathy, though cheerful, chatter as they disappeared around the corner, hand in hand.

Left alone, I contemplated the beauty of what I had just witnessed: a love that lasts through aging and wrinkles, through arthritic joints and lung disease. A man and his wife, after many decades of marriage, seeing past the oxygen tubes and kissing on the high street.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

INTERVIEW podcast on HYMNS FOR ALL TIME TOUR of England & Wales


Plenty of Americans dream of taking a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Europe…to see the Eiffel Tower, hear the chiming of Big Ben, and float along the romantic canals of Venice.  But for many devoted Christians, the idea of a Reformation Tour never crosses their minds.  Today, Douglas Bond tells us about the Reformation Tours he leads across Europe, giving us a glimpse into how they bring Reformation history alive for families–and provide an even richer once-in-a-lifetime vacation.
For our readers, Douglas has kindly provided a $200 discount for adults who’d like to join his Hymn Tour through England and Wales next August (2012).  You can talk to him about family discounts as well, if that would work better.  To get the discount, you must preregister by November 8 of this year.  Just contact him or see his webpage and mention you heard about the tours on
Of course, not all of us will be able to join Douglas on his tours.  Thankfully, he has poured a lot of his passion and knowledge for Reformation history into his books for kids!  We actually have four of his Mr. Pipes books which bring to life the history of church hymns, and we’d like to give them away to some of our readers.  Here’s how it works:  Leave us a comment telling us where you’d like to visit on a Reformation tour.  Gutenberg’s printing press?  Isaac Watts’s home?  The door on the Castle Church in Wittenberg?  We’ll choose four of you to receive Douglas Bonds’ Mr. Pipes books this Friday.
So, I hope you’ll enjoy getting to know Mr. Bond better in this podcast and through his books.  I can’t think of anyone better to introduce children to the rich spiritual heritage of the Reformation.
For more history-rich posts, see our Podcast with Douglas Bond on his Mr. Pipes series,  our interview with amazing illustrator and author Cheryl Harness, or a review of books on the Scottish Covenanters, including Mr. Bond’s.
P.S.  We’re working on getting the audio to play smoothly.  For now, if you’ll just click on Download in the player below, you can listen to it on your computer or other device.  Thanks for your patience!  EW

Friday, October 21, 2011

Join me in being weak for Jesus, and you don't even have to break your neck to do it

Joni Erickson Tada at ACSI Tacoma (Nexus)

Joni described flipping the pages of her bible with a stick in her mouth looking for words like suffering, affliction, pain. What she found was how often Jesus was in the vicinity of afflicted, weak, ill-equipped, unfit people, choosing the inept, the unlikely, the timorous, the youngest, the last, and makes them his firsts.

Why does he do this? God chose these people because of their weakness, not in spite of it. He, and he alone would get the glory when the job gets done, done his way, by his means, and for his glory.

This is not the way we do things, is it? We bring together the best. Weak people need not apply. Folks with physical handicaps, no way. But this is not God, the sovereigns way. He opens his arms to the poor and ungifted, the unlovely, those who are not of noble birth, not wise, not influential, so that when the work is done all the glory goes to God.

For Joni, the first decade of her life in a wheelchair, she had to learn that God works this way. He uses the damaged the unwhole, they lead with power because of their weakness. Jesus himself led with power because he was a nobody in the world’s eyes. He became a servant, washed their feet, even Judas’s feet. Always modeling the vision to empower the weak that gathered around him.

Sent his disciples out into the highways and byways to bring in the riff-raff. The disciples were bewildered by this. Who cares about a blind beggar beside the road? Jesus. She has come to appreciate that all her afflictions, even her recent breast cancer are God’s means of his power showing up best in weak people. She wants to be a powerful visual aid of this. She wants to show people the heart of Jesus with her life.

God is not interested in my strengths. God’s power shows up best in weakness. This is real for Joni every morning. She has to constantly be reminded of this. Her daily routine is daily reminder. Bed bath, friend coming in to attend her. But what she feels is incapable of doing this again. O Jesus, I have no resources for this but you do. I have no strength for this but you do. I can’t do quadriplegia today, but you can. Lord Jesus, let me borrow your smile, do this through me. A miracle happens every day, hard fought for and straight from heaven.

Maybe the really handicapped are those who hop up under their own steam and feel their strength and take pride in it. But God is against the proud, resists the proud. God can even be against Christians who live proudly, neat tidy, God figured out in a box. But he gives grace to the humble. Those who wake up knowing they need God desperately. The right way to wake up in the morning.
She described next her cancer treatment, everything fell out. She almost purchased that Brooke Shields eyelashes deal, but the fine print: leads to thoughts of suicide. Suffering is like a little splash of hell to remind us what Jesus has rescued us from. And then what are the splash overs of heaven? Finding Jesus in your hell. That is precious and lovely.

There’s a lesson in this for ACSI teachers.  Celebrating weakness in Christian schools. Funding is always the problem. But maybe deeper. Something huge is missing in education of our young people are barred from the weak and ill. Told story of handicapped girl who became essential part of her Christian school. Jessie died and over a thousand people at that funeral, students with more heart and enthusiasm for their weak sister.

Disability is costly, slows down the process, but the lessons it teaches cannot be calculated.  Let God bring into the classroom who are not normal, who are weak, who don’t fit the norm. The value to the students is immeasurable. CH Spurgeon “The knowing of things is not education. Ed does not have a finish line. It is an endowment, to teach young people how to live contented lives in the face of adversity…. Always anxious to come to the end of things, until things come to an end.”

She concluded with Paul, “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (I Corinthians 1:27-31).

“Join me in being weak and finding your boast in the Lord, and you don’t have to break your neck to do it.” She concluded singing My Jesus I Love Thee, while we hummed along. She has a lovely voice. I doubt there was a dry eye anywhere in the hearing of this. Mine aren’t.

"Legalism is tidy. Grace is messy"

“Legalism is tidy. Grace is messy.” I have been challenged the last two days at the ACSI conference in Tacoma. Dr. William Brown, President of Cedarville College, warmly confronted me. He challenged me to care for the lost more like Jesus cared for the lost. At the masses of souls in Jerusalem, Jesus looked at the “harassed and helpless” (Matthew 9:35-38) lost with compassion; he ‘suffered with’ them, but more he looked on them and felt ‘from the gut’ for their peril, their lostness.
“Christianity has grace at the beginning, grace at the end, and grace in between,” said Brown. And, yes, “Grace is messy.” And we don’t like messy in homeschool, in Christian schools, in the church. We are so much more concerned with outward conformity, behavioral outcomes, external performance, test scores, achievement that shows the world how clever we are, how much better our kids are than the world’s kids. He talked to us about how we view homosexuals, Muslims, Jews, others who oppose Christianity and the gospel—and how to prepare the next generation to love the lost like Jesus does.
I had an experience the other day, in the car on the way home from—of all places—church. As I slowed to turn left, there was a woman walking slowly, pulling a suitcase; she was stooped and had the most anguished despair on her face. What did I do? I slowed down, pointed her out to my family, and—I am so ashamed to admit it—kept driving. I glanced in my rearview mirror. The woman, who looked Native American, had stopped on the sidewalk and had bent over resting her forehead on the handle of her suitcase. I asked my 8-year-old to pray for her; he did—but, bad as I felt for her, I kept driving.
Why did I do this? “Grace is messy.” I knew that if I stopped, this woman’s problems were so great that things would get messy. What could I do for her? Could we take her into our home? “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus’ parable describes the messiness of grace, and the cost of grace, cost in time, cost in money, cost in emotional energy, cost to my family—helping her would disrupt my family’s Sunday afternoon dinner, rest, reading together, listening to Alistair Begg together. If we stopped to help this “harassed and helpless” lost woman, whose life must have unraveled, perhaps long ago, this woman who was dumped out on the street, rejected by her family, abused by her husband; she may be a drug addict, prostitute who had gotten too old, worn out, beauty long destroyed by indiscriminate handling. It would be messy to help her, and I was afraid we would not be able to sustain helping her.
Maybe, deep down, I distrusted the grace of God. How could I expect to reach out to her and bring her to church, get her to conform outwardly to legalistic expectations, expect her to listen to a erudite lecture that puffs up the preacher, but conveys nothing of the grace of God and the sweet gospel of free grace to a woman “harassed and helpless,” who does not need a pedantic lecture. She needs the gospel. She needs grace. And grace is messy.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Toplady biography finished--read a sample

What are we to make of a man described as “strangely compounded, peculiarly constituted, and oddly framed”? It conjures up in the mind an image of Stevenson’s Mr. Hyde, or Shelley’s Frankenstein, or Hugo’s Quasimodo. But such is J. C. Ryle’s (1816-1900) description of Augustus Montague Toplady (1740-1778), author of what has been called the best-loved English hymn. One wonders why someone would bother writing a biography—or reading one—about a strange, peculiar, odd person. Nevertheless, Ryle declared that no account of Christianity in England in the eighteenth century would be complete without featuring remarkable Toplady.
Not one of his contemporaries surpassed him, and hardly any equaled him. He was a man of rare grace and gifts, and one who left his mark very deeply on his own generation. For soundness in the faith, singleness of eye, and devotedness of life, he deserves to be ranked with Whitefield, or Grimshaw, or Romaine.
Ryle ranks Toplady among exalted company indeed. But he had so much less time to achieve worthiness of that ranking. Consider that Whitfield outlived Toplady by nearly twenty years, Grimshaw by about the same, and Romaine lived over forty years longer—more than twice Toplady’s lifetime. Yet Ryle ranks Toplady on a level with these great Christian leaders, all who lived decades longer than he. In his thirty-eight years of life, Toplady rose to the rank of a foremost scholar, theologian, pastor, and hymn writer.
Not everyone, however, has shared Ryle’s exalted opinion of Toplady. His was a life of sometimes bitter contending for gospel orthodoxy in The Age of Reason. And for this contending he was dismissed by critics as “a wild beast of impatience and lion-like fury," an extreme Calvinist, a copper-bottomed controversialist, and a “chimney sweeper.”
But today we’re far more likely simply to be ignorant of Toplady. People who know something about 18th century Christianity, who might actually recognize his name, may connect his name with a hymn, but more likely he will be remembered as the vitriolic controversialist with John Wesley. Politely pushed to the side; end of story. I find myself in a continual process of learning that the more I think I know about someone, about whom I actually know very little, the more certain and inevitable it is that I will draw distorted conclusions about that person.
The story of Toplady’s life is a prime example of my tendency to draw ultimate conclusions about someone based on very partial information. I suspect I am not alone in this. “There is hardly any man of [Toplady’s] caliber,” laments Ryle, “of whom so little is known.” [He was, however,] most loved where he was most known.” He further laments that what is known and remembered about Toplady, by those who bother to do so, are primarily his frailties.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Pre-Release Reader Comments on WEAPONS OF VENGEANCE

I have several kind folks who read manuscripts for me before they get sent off to the publisher for their knife. My rule is that they can't gush only; they must give me meaningful critique, helpful analysis of how things are working, and help me find my typo blunders. My publishers tell me my manuscripts are some of the cleanest that they get from their authors. As I am tempted to preen myself with pride at their comment, I am reminded of all the skillful and opinionated eyes that have helped me get it to that clean stage: preeminently, my mother; the Spear gang; John Schrupp; Paul Walker; and others on occasion. Here's what some of them have said about my 8th century Anglo-Saxon historical crime fiction novel.

"Magnificent! The whole thing reads aloud so well, like a sung ballad in its words and cadence. Amazing.” Mother of three

“Well, as much as I loved the Crown and Covenant Trilogy and thought they were written well, this new book is on a different planet.  I love it!” 11-year-old reader

"What a great yarn!  The story thread worked very well, not predictably, and with enough twists and turns to keep attention riveted.  It read great, both aloud and silently.  I applaud the flow and cadence."

"Your descriptiveness is wonderfully done and strikes the mark, providing depth and nuance, and immersing the reader in a certain beauty of word and mind-picture."

"Early returns are an enthusiastically wild thumbs-up from the natives.  Creates a dilemma, of course, for they are ready with their sharpened knives and indeed do prefer using them in season and out. Of course, my red ink pot has its lid off, but is becoming a little forlorn.  Surely something will come up to critique, lest we all lose our job and the author falls into pride:-)"

You can listen to an excerpt at WEAPONS OF VENGEANCE

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Cedric featured on OKC Television

Cedric was featured on an Oklahoma City television spot about paddling and rowing sports being centered in OKC. Check out the article here:,0,6758407.story

There's a video but not behaving right now so maybe I can get it up later.