Saturday, June 20, 2015

On Beardly Resolve

A beard's (to most) a silly thing -
Just facial hair allowed to cling
Upon its bearer's face too long.
“'Tis best,” say they, “to shave. C'mon!”

With bearded men this hallowed truth
Is known quite well; they swear: “Forsooth!
My beard is not some whiskered shame!
'Tis crown, and rank, and lion's mane!”

And, would you ask the buck to lop
His antler's off with chopping block?
Why then the pleas for faces nude,
And not my manliness exude?

Did Erikson with bald face sail?
Or Shakespeare take up ink and quill
And write with smooth and beardless grace?
Did Plato teach with shaven face?

Did soft-cheeked Leonidas fight
With beardless Spartan manly might?
Or Peter, Paul, and Jesus preach
With hairless, girly, rosy cheeks?

I hope you've seen o'er time and age
That warrior, preacher, and wise sage
Each one their manliness allowed
To show with beard grown long and proud.

Thus I shall keep my face unshorn -
With locks my cheeks and chin adorn.
For bearded face is how God made
This man. So bearded I shall stay.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

On Windsuckin', Mountain Preachers

It's funny how people take to different styles of preaching. Some folks view the loud preachers as condemnatory and mean. Not my daughter Moriah.

Recently we enjoyed a vacation in Tennessee with my in-laws. On Sunday we visited a Baptist church in the area (Pigeon Forge). The preacher there was one of those (as I call them) "windsuckers." They scream every word and gasp for breath between every eight or so. Moriah (5 years) was astonished at that style of preaching, having never been subjected to it before.

Later she confided in me: "Daddy, that preacher sure loves God A LOT!"

"What makes you say that? "

"Because when he talks about Jesus, he does it really, really loud! That means he loves God a lot."

So, for all you windusckin', leather-lunged, barn-stormin' pulpiteers out there, you've got at least one person who appreciates your sermonizing style.

Monday, January 3, 2011

On Mundane Grace

The dishes that really delight our taste buds are often hiding a secret ingredient that gives that particular culinary delight the extra edge it needs to go from “good food” to “this is what I want to eat before I die.” Perhaps it’s a pinch of cinnamon or nutmeg laced unsuspectingly into a casserole, or maybe it’s a dash of cayenne pepper or dill that sneaks up on our after-taste to hit it over the head with a flavor we didn’t expect.

Funny thing about secret ingredients is nobody realizes their presence until they’re missing, and when we become aware of their addition, their familiarity makes the dish all the more enjoyable.

As with secret ingredients, so also with God’s benevolent grace. God is good – to everyone. The just and the unjust, the righteous and the wicked - all are recipients of God’s daily dose of common grace. His mercies are new every morning as He serves His creation a fresh batch of blessings.

A clear, star-filled night sky, brisk winter air that smells of pine and smoke, a warm bed to tuck the little one into, the loyalty of a four-legged friend, or a stout cup of coffee that massages every taste bud in your mouth – all are everyday blessings flowing from the hand of a benevolent God.

Funny thing about God’s common grace is we are often oblivious to it until God withholds a few of the blessings we have taken for granted. But when we are aware of mundane grace, its familiarity makes the day all the more enjoyable.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

On New Year's Resolutions, or, "Spit in the Dirt and Get Back in the Fight"

New Year's resolutions. Passé? Silly? Self-centered? Shallow? A futile excursion into self-reliant moralism? Maybe. They certainly have become everyone's favorite holiday punching bag. Rarely is a kind word said about them.

But I like New Year's. I like do-overs. I like second, third, and thirty-seventh chances. I like trying to be better than I was.

I look at a new year's beginning like the scene in the old westerns - the one where the good guy, embroiled in a cantina throw-down, gets a chair over the head and a boot in the rear that sends him somersaulting outside into the dirt. The pugnacious crowd peers mockingly over the swinging doors and laughs at him before they return nonchalantly to their saloonish distractions. What does our man in the white hat do? Quit? Run? Cry? No. He picks up his dislodged hat, dusts himself off, spits some blood in the dirt, sets his jaw with a wipe from his sleeve, and saunters back into the den of iniquity to give the bad guys what-for.

That's New Year's to me. 2010 cleaned my clock, just like 2009 and the rest of their gang. Time to dust myself off, spit blood in the dirt, and get back in the fight. That's my New Year's resolution every year: get back in the fight.

"Resolved, Never to give over, nor in the least to slacken, my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be." - Jonathan Edwards

Saturday, July 17, 2010

On Sermon Writing in Six (Not-So-Easy) Steps

1. Determine sermon text.

2. Read sermon text.

3. Write out all the questions you have about sermon text.

4. Write out all the questions others may have about sermon text.

5. Study until you find all the answers.

6. Preach those answers.

Monday, June 28, 2010

On Professors or Possessors?

The sun had set and a cool breeze was blowing down the main drag in Maplewood. We were soul winning.

I like working the bus stops. People at bus stops are usually bored. They seem to like talking to friendly strangers. Most of them.

Bored people. Cool breezes. A good night for talking.

A young man looked at me curiously as I approached the bus stop, and then looked away quickly. I’m used to that. A white guy in a shirt and tie – people assume I’m either a Mormon or a cop. When they discover I’m a Baptist preacher they are either relieved or revolted. Usually relieved.

I gave him a tract which he accepted with grateful curiosity. We had some small talk. He looked older than he really was. Hard living will do that to you. He occasionally rubbed a tattoo on his forearm, as if his subconscious wanted to wipe it off.

He was old enough to be on his own, and probably started out sooner than he should have. Girlfriend. Baby. Small apartment. Part-time job.

I listened to his brief biography. His story was a common one today: a rough childhood that led to colossal juvenile failures, which paved the way for colossal adult misery. Always trying to pull himself up by his own bootstraps. God? He was up there somewhere, far away.

He needed the Gospel.

He was a sinner. He knew that. He was unsure of his eternal destiny. I carefully explained the Roman’s Road. He listened politely, but with a look of familiarity on his face.

I know that look.

I finished my evangelistic presentation and asked him “Would you like to pray and receive Jesus as your Savior?”

“Oh, I already did that.”

“You have? When?”

“Long time ago - when I was a kid. I went to church with a friend…I don’t remember everything that happened. There was a church guy, and he took me and some of my friends to a little room, right? And he showed us some stuff from the Bible. And then we prayed. I already did that.”

Hmm. “I did that.” That was the extent of his experience with the most powerful force in the known universe: the life changing power of Christ.

I did that.

What do you say to someone who says that?

Well, were you sincere?

Did you mean it? I mean really, really, mean it?

You need to do that again.

And then what? Have him repeat another prayer so in the next ten years, after he has explored the broad horizons of sin and failure he can tell another Baptist preacher “I did that.”

No. He needed something more than a five minute dissertation and a repeated prayer. He needed more than a Baptist preacher who likes cool breezes and bus stops. He needed Christ to come to him and say, “Pick up your cross and follow me. No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

I felt useless. Inconsequential. Powerless.

His bus came.

Sometimes Baptist preachers learn more from conversations than the people they intended to inform. Sometimes we learn more about the Gospel from someone who doesn’t know the Gospel.

“It is not possible for us to accept Christ as our Savior unless he also becomes our King, for a very large part of salvation consists in our being saved from sin’s dominion over us, and the only way in which we can be delivered from the mastery of Satan is by becoming subject to the mastery of Christ.”  -Charles Spurgeon

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Hack a Vintage Book into a Custom Journal

I love old books: their smell, their feel, their look. I love their secret history and all their nostalgia. I love to read the owner's name inscribed in a book that's a hundred years old and wonder about the person's life - how long ago were they born? how long did they live?

I enjoy journaling and sketching. I prefer paper and pen to digital tools - I just love the scratch of a pen on good paper, and doodling helps me think, so I'm always looking for another notebook or sketchpad.

I would love to have a Moleskine, but I have a hard time justifying $15 for a notebook. So I decided to make my own custom notebook bound with a vintage book cover. Here's how I did it:

1. Find an old book.

I chose an old hymnal. I love the color and the nostalgia. I picked this one: Tabernacle Hymns Volume 3, circa 1939.

2. Read up on DIY book binding. Here's a helpful link:

3. Make a book binding jig.

This is the book binding jig I made from scrap lumber and a couple of wing nuts. I didn't follow any plans; I just copied the best I could from photos at the site linked above.

4. Pick your paper and trim it.

I chose some gray stationery I had left over. Nice and thick so there won't be any bleed through. I cut it so each page could be folded in half, which will make a stronger binding.

5. Clamp your paper down in the jig and glue the binding.

Bookbinders recommend PVA glue (it's still flexible when dry). Home Depot didn't have any, so I just used some Gorilla glue I already had on hand. I spread a light coat with a cotton swab.

Let the glue dry for at least a couple of hours. I let mine dry overnight. Don't be surprised when the Gorilla glue expands as it dries...doesn't make the prettiest binding - but it will hold.

6. Carefully cut the old pages out of the old cover.

This is sort of a heart breaker...but old books are usually a dime a dozen. It's not like anybody was actually using this hymnal anyways. I kept the pages. I'm not sure why. I definitely would not do this to an antique book that had value. This is just for cool looking old books that have no value at all. I have an old hand-size Bible with a fabulously decorated cover, but I couldn't bring myself to cut up a Bible, so it still decorates my desk.

Here's a picture of the inside cover with it's fragile binding:

7. You may have to reinforce the binding.

I did so with a peice of old t-shirt and some 3M spray adhesive. Nothing fancy here. NOTE: the spray adhesive is still sticky after it dries, so watch your overspay.

8. Glue the reinforced cover on to your bound pages.

I seemed to have lost the pic to this step, but it should be pretty self explanatory. I used Gorilla glue again to bind the cover to the already glue-bound pages. Let it sit overnight, clamped and weighted binding side down.

9. Enjoy your unique, customized vintage journal!

Use it however you want: journaling, planning, organizing, sketching. Right now I'm considering using mine as my planner/organizer. I'm not sure though. I did a mix of plain and graph paper for more flexibility in how I use it. (I downloaded the graph paper PDF from here:

I kept some of the first pages for added nostalgia:

The label was already over the name when I got the book. It said: "Rev. K. L. Snow". I wonder who he was or what church he pastored.

Can you read the prayer typed on a scrap piece of paper and glued to the first page? It's so old that the type is really beginning to fade. I wonder how often Pastor Snow prayed that prayer. What a wonderful way to start and end your day.

The next page is stamped by:

Thos. W. Hage
"The Christian Supply House"
Muskegon, Michigan

I did some research (read: "I googled") on this bookstore and came across this article dated May 15, 2008 about Thomas Hage's son:

Hage Inc. is still a functioning Christian bookstore. Here's their website:

Here's some things I will do differently next time:
1. I would like to learn how to stitch binding instead of glueing. Stitch-bound books lay open better, but glueing is so much easier.

2. I don't like the color paper I chose. Next time I will pick a tan or white instead of gray. But gray is the only color of heavy weight paper I had this time around.

3. Perhaps a larger book. I dunno.

All in all, it was a fun project, and my notebook is the only one like it. If you're not into making stuff, cuttin' and pastin', then you should probably just stick with the store-bought notebook. But if you're slightly creative, have an abnormal fondness for old books, and prefer analog over digital, then this is a project I'm sure you'll enjoy.