A new book and free books

I’ve been following Frank Viola’s books and blog for a little while now. He has a fresh outlook on the nature of the church and our relationship with God.

His new book, God’s Favorite Place on Earth, has just released. If you get the book between May 1st to May 7th, you will also receive 25 FREE books from over 15 different authors.

Click GodsFavoritePlace.com to ordering information and easy instructions on how to get your 25 free books.


Here are what a few people have to say about the book:

“In Frank Viola’s hands, the story of Lazarus—like Lazarus himself—once again comes to life. In a world where hope is battered and life can so easily beat down the human spirit, we are reminded once more of the possibility of becoming a host of Life.”

John Ortberg, pastor and author of Who Is This Man?

God’s Favorite Place on Earth realigned my heart toward Jesus and His mysterious, confounding, surprising, beautiful ways. It’s not often I learn something new when reading a book, but Frank Viola’s sharp storytelling and insightful interpretation made me hunger for more of the real Jesus.”

Mary DeMuth, author of Everything: What You Give

“God’s Favorite Place on Earth is the kind of book I’ve discovered I need to periodically find and read. Frank Viola’s pen and voice are consistently both penetrating and trustworthy. Beyond his invitingly beautiful writing skill—which makes reading a joy and a sight-seeing tour that brings God’s Word into 3-D when he relates narrative passages, I’m grateful for the depth of his themes.”

Pastor Jack Hayford, Chancellor of The King’s University, Los Angeles

“This is a masterfully engaging book that distills the vision of the Christian life into one focused quest: To be God’s favorite place on earth today. I recommend this little volume to all Christians and Christian leaders.”

Mark Batterson, New York Times bestselling author of The Circle Maker


How Dad fixed his family

Salsola tragus, dry

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my father’s last morning on this earth, I was privileged to sit alone with him for over an hour.

The night before, I realized that the family had come to tell Dad goodbye and assure him of their love. But Dad wasn’t able to speak at that point and I went to his bedside that last morning with one idea in mind: to speak what I thought he’d like to say to us.

I assured him that we knew he loved us. We knew he’d worked hard for us and that he had provided very well for our mother. I told him that we knew many practical things because of his teachings.

And then I launched into stories that I knew he’d remember.

“Remember our neighbors up north? Remember when they had a sick horse and called the vet but by the time he arrived, the horse had died. So the neighbor met the vet at the driveway. ‘The horse died. Do you want to see it?’ The vet shifted his pickup in reverse. ‘Naw, I’ve seen plenty of dead horses.'”

My dad loved a story and had told this one to the family many times.

I took his hand that morning and searched my memory for another story.

“Remember when you were tired of buying fly swatters for Mom? She was murder on those flies but the swatters splintered under her stern hand.”  I swabbed some water in Dad’s mouth before going on. “You decided to cut a fly swatter from an inner tube and punched holes in it. That fly swatter could take on Flyzilla. The only problem was the black marks left on the walls when Mom went fly hunting.”

Once Dad would have snorted with laughter. Now he blinked and swished drops of water in his mouth.

“You’ll remember this one better than me,” I went on. “But I hear that when I was two, I could escape the fence around our yard and go exploring. When a guy doing groundwork with grader found me watching at the edge of his field, you decided to fortify that fence. I could shinny under the gate and I could climb up the wire fence. So you jammed railroad ties under the gate and put barbed wire at the top of the fence. It was that way until we moved. I was 13 by then, Dad!”

No chuckle. Once he would have leaned his head to the side and told me that he couldn’t be sure about me at 13, either. Not this time.

I gripped his hand like it might slip away at any moment. “You were always a little slow to talk about your World War II days, Dad. Being an orderly kept you away from the front lines. Maybe that was a failure to you but it was great to me because it meant you came home in one piece.”

No one drifted down the hallway past our room. Even the horse in the painting on the far wall seemed to hold its breath this morning.

“I remember the story you told about the young soldier who arrived in a body cast. The nurse insisted on pulling the bedsheets tight and clamped that young man’s feet flat to the bed. When he cried in pain, she called him a baby. But you came behind her and jerked the sheets off his feet. I still remember you bobbing your head as you said, ‘And he said “thank you” after I did that.'”

As Dad’s health had declined over the years, so had his ability to fix things. Whether inventing a better fly swatter or freeing a soldier’s painful feet, Dad responded to problems with a solution.

In his final years, Dad had not been able to solve what he had once easily fixed. He needed his children, whom he’d taught.

On that last morning, I wanted him to know that his gifts were remembered. And that his family, who had watched him for many years, could carry on what he had begun.



The Bible: Navigating Genres

The Bible is a massive collection of books written by many authors spanning hundreds of years. Because if this variety, we have to learn to recognize the many genres used in the Bible so that we can appreciate meaning as expressed through the writing style.

A genre is a class of writing having a particular content or technique.

Ship Obvious ones in the Bible are poetry and narrative. But that just gets the pump started. The Bible also includes satire, prophecy, epic, oratory, drama, epistle, and much more.

Recognizing genre helps us recognize techniques of writing.

I directed a puppet team for several years and our favorite performances always included parodies. We thought we were clever with our spoof of the Ghostbusters theme song until we discovered lots of people spoofed Ghostbusters, including Apple in 1984.

But the parody can be an effective way to comment on an original work. The Bible uses parody to that end. Here’s an example.

Proverbs 23:29-35 includes an intriguing poem:

Who has woe? Who has sorrow?
Who has strife? Who has complaints?
Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes?
Those who linger over wine,
who go to sample bowls of mixed wine.
Do not gaze at wine when it is red,
when it sparkles in the cup,
when it goes down smoothly!
In the end it bites like a snake
and poisons like a viper.
Your eyes will see strange sights,
and your mind will imagine confusing things.
You will be like one sleeping on the high seas,
lying on top of the rigging.
“They hit me,” you will say, “but I’m not hurt!
They beat me, but I don’t feel it!
When will I wake up
so I can find another drink?” NIV

First, we have to recognize that this is poetry and so the rules for history or epistles don’t really apply. Instead, we see repetition: woe, sorrow, strive, complaints, needless bruises, bloodshot eyes.  As the words progress, the meaning emerges.

Notice how the lines move from woe to bloodshot eyes. That’s a nice segue to the observation about those who are drawn to drinking wine. Someone might come to wine because of woe but they depart with bloodshot eyes.

The wine sparkles at first but in the end bites like a snake and poisons like a viper. The similes (bites like a snake, poisons like a viper) help direct our understanding.

A description of drunkenness follows: your eyes will see strange sights and your mind will imagine confusing things.

By this point, the poem has also veered into humor: “when will I wake up so I can find another drink?” This idea comes after the snake and viper images and after the strange sights.

Ultimately, this poem teaches a lesson: too much drinking results in negative circumstances.

This poem also uses parody to make its point. It is modeled after an ancient drinking song, using parody effectively by employing a drinking song to reveal the downside of too much drinking.

The Bible uses genres expertly to reveal meaning in many ways.

More on genres next week.

Checking into blog readers

I follow several blogs and can’t physically navigate to all those sites every day just to check in. Some bloggers post regularly and some don’t. I found that the “don’t” blogs were getting ignored, even when they were written by people special to me.

Image representing Google Reader as depicted i...

Image via CrunchBase

When I discovered Google Reader, life was good. I could visit one site and check in on all my blogs. I could decide which I wanted to read and I could manage subscriptions easily. The list of my subscriptions in a sidebar showed me who had added a new post. Google Reader was a simple but practical solution for my blog viewing.

All was good until Google decided to cancel Reader. What’s up with that? Suddenly I needed a new RSS reader for my blogs.

I’ve spent some time researching ideas. Here are some options:

  •  Feedly – my current choice. I was able to transfer my subscriptions from Google Reader seamlessly. I don’t have time to re-subscribe so this was important. I like the appearance of Feedly as more of a magazine layout, although sometimes Feedly’s guesses on what my priorities are vary greatly from what my priorities really are. Jury is still out on this one. I’m using it but trying others. It is web-based but also available on IOS and Android mobile devices, which I like. 
  • Newsblur – I am trying this one as well. It was a bit more complicated to set up. Nothing serious but I had to log in a couple of times before I could get my subscriptions imported into Newsblur. Also, I am limited to 64 sites free and then I have to pay. I’m at 60 so we’ll see how this one goes. The format is simple without the slick magazine look but its similar appearance to Google Reader makes the transition simple. This one is web-based but also available on IOS and Android.
  • The Old Reader – Just as then name implies, this one is old-style. It is an exact replica of the web-based Google Reader. If you like simple, this may be your choice. I haven’t tried it yet. Two Reader trials are enough at one time. This one is only web-based, which is a mark against it for me.
  • Flipboard – I’ve used Flipboard on my IOS devices. I love the magazine look but I didn’t care for the magazine-look limitations. Articles were selected without regard for my reading preference and only the first paragraph or so were displayed, meaning I had to then download the rest of the article. This might be great for you. For me, it finally led to uninstalling the app. I want a reader focused on blogs rather than the wider range of news articles. You might want something different. But Flipboard is very cool-looking and I may try it again at some point. Flipboard is only IOS or Android.
  • Google Currents – Google’s attempt at a Flipboard look-alike, I’m told. I haven’t had time to check out this one yet. If you do, let me know what you think.
  • WordPress Reader – If you have a WordPress blog, you already have this. WordPress blogs offer a simple “Follow” button that is very easy to use. Read a blog and want to read more? Press “Follow” and the blog is now in your WordPress Reader. The Reader itself is beyond simple. I’d rather have a list of subscribed blogs in a sidebar so I can choose which I want to read at the moment. For now, WordPress Reader compiles all new blog posts into a list that has to be scrolled through. Barely adequate. There could be so much more offered after the ease of subscription. I hear rumors there are new features coming so we’ll see.

How do you read blogs? Has the loss of Google Reader impacted you?


Not your Bourne car chase

Hollywood’s car chases keep getting faster, louder, more explosive and destructive. Where would we be if Jason Bourne hadn’t destroyed innumerable police cars, several taxis and a few SUVs?

But my favorite car chase included a few cell phones, corn fields and an arrogant thief.

After holding up a convenience store on the Interstate highway in western Nebraska, the young man leaped into his car and raced away. As his speed zoomed over 100 mph at times, he probably assumed he could outrun the State Patrol.

Soon he had the Patrol out in full-force following him into Colorado. The driver may have realized he couldn’t outrun their radios and that reinforcements were assembling in front of him.

So, as a couple of towns flashed by, hardly blips in his vision at his speed, he swung onto an exit and headed into farm country.

Out where only corn and wheat fields swayed in the wind. That ought to be secluded enough for him to escape law enforcement.

So the driver flew down dirt roads with no worries. He’d lost his trackers.

But he didn’t understand the nature of the rural mind.

Farmers tend those corn and wheat fields. And they know the traffic on those country roads. When an unknown car flashed by at high speed, a farmer grabbed his cell phone and called a neighbor. That neighbor called a neighbor.

Before long, the sheriff was alerted as farmers tracked the car careening through the farmland through cell phone calls.

While the racing thief thought he had outsmarted law enforcement, the network of farmers calmly plotted his course and helped the sheriff lay out a plan.

think the farmers were willing to block the road with their humongous tractors but the sheriff nixed the idea. What if there was shooting?

In the end, the sheriff and his deputies blocked the road ahead and behind because they knew exactly where their man had been. And was going.

The thief who thought he had outsmarted his pursuers hadn’t counted on the creativity of some farmers and their cell phones.

The Bible: Interpreting the Human Experience

The Bible means different things to different people. For some, it is a valuable spiritual guidebook pointing to the nature of God and his plans. For some, it is a powerfully written piece of literature rich in metaphors and figures of speech.

And for some, the second leads to the first.

What is literature?

  • Literature portrays the human experience.
  • Literature interprets the human experience.
  • Literature is an art form. The style of expression is as valuable as the content.

The Bible uses skillful technique and beauty to portray and interpret the human experience in the light of God’s nature.

cain & abel

cain & abel (Photo credit: gabork)

Let’s take a look at the story of Cain and Abel. (I’m not really stuck in Genesis but the Genesis stories are rich and deserve analysis.)

The story of Cain and Abel is a classic tale of sibling rivalry. We meet the perfect child contrasted with the problem child and we encounter violence within a family. We see the consequences of a grudge nursed to bitterness. We learn the consequences of giving in to evil impulses. None of these are lightweight topics and each topic studies human experience.

Cain, jealous that God has approved of Abel’s sacrifice while rejecting his, lures Abel into a field and kills him. God had urged Cain to resist the lurking evil and it was God who called Cain to accountability:  “Where is your brother Abel?”

In God’s confrontation, we learn that evil actions have consequences. Obviously, Abel was dead. That alone was a severe consequence for submitting to bitterness and jealousy. But not the only consequence.

We read Cain’s trial. God confronts, listens to Cain’s defense (“Am I my brother’s keeper?”) and sentences Cain.

All the elements of a classic criminal story are here.  We meet the criminal, learn his motive, witness the crime, and then watch the arrest, trial and sentencing.

The story contains a beginning, middle and end. We discover artistic story crafting and word choices.

For example, when God speaks to Cain before the murder, he describes the danger in a powerful imagery: “Sin is crouching at your door. It desires to have you but you must rule over it.”

Earlier, God had given Cain the way out by explaining that “if you do what is right, will you not be accepted?”

There, in a nutshell, was the problem and solution. Cain’s sacrifice was not accepted because he had not done what was right. That was correctable but Cain not only refused to do what was right, he chose to do what was wrong.

In a gripping story that probed deeply into the human experience, a powerful lesson was taught. Skillful technique brought vivid meaning.

We’ll continue next Friday.

Vlog with YouTube

Although I’m learning to do video editing, I’ve done some video documentary shoots, and I know how to set up lighting for an interview, I am not planning to do a vlog anytime soon.

I know you didn’t ask but a friend of mine did.  She wants to start vlogging on her blog site and asked me for suggestions.  I had to face this facet of blogging.

A vlog is a basically a video blog. You can include video interviews, shots of you speaking rather than writing, even a movie of the impending snowstorm if that grabs you.

Since I know something about video cameras and editing and lighting, I promised her that I’d do some research.

My research consisted of a Google search: vlog editing free.


youtube (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

Although I’m learning to use Adobe Premiere and have dabbled with iMovie, I wanted something simpler for my friend. And I was surprised to find that YouTube offers a simple video capturing and editing option.

If you have a YouTube account, log in and locate a button at the top of screen labeled “Download.” When you click that button, a new screen offers a place to upload your file but also to create videos.  Options include webcam capture, photo slideshow, Google+ hangout and video editor.

Assuming you have a web camera attached to your camera, you can select the Record button below Webcam Capture and start recording. If you want a video of yourself talking about your blog or your favorite cat or your take on the latest news story, YouTube can record your rant – er, your verbal essay – and save it.

Then select Edit under the Video Editor label and you’ll have a simple video editor for your use. You can’t do a lot but isn’t that the point of a simple video editor?

The videos you have uploaded to your YouTube account will appear in the upper left corner. That should include the webcam recording you just did. All you have to do is click on the video image and drag it to the line below marked by the camera at the left side. Clever, huh?

You can cut the clip, rotate it, add a title, include transitions. Simple but useful. Any sound that was imported with the video will remain and you can also add a YouTube soundtrack to your project. A preview window to the right allows you to watch your project as you edit.


And, of course, YouTube makes it easy to save the edited video to YouTube. You can link it to your blog and, suddenly, you have your first vlog.

Simple. Free. YouTube. I’m not associated with YouTube in any way. I just discovered that this is a pretty simple way to get started in video work.